On March 11, 2020, WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, said at a media briefing, “this is not just a public health crisis; it’s a crisis that will touch every sector. So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fight.” His words proved true as work-from-home mandates, social-distancing requirements, and government-ordered closure of non-essential businesses changed the game for everyone and brought the world to an abrupt halt. And as family entertainment centers (FEC), attractions and amusement parks are people-oriented, hands-on facilities that thrive on mass gatherings fell under the “dispensable” category. Within no time, it was one of the hardest-hit industries (the first to close and the last to reopen).
While many industry players hunkered down and went dark (closing their operations, hunkering down to ride out the storm), Renee Welsh, CEO of Embed, was standing on the shore, ready as can be to tackle this unprecedented storm. As a battle-hardened entrepreneur, she plunged into the unknown, betting on her business acumen to achieve the impossible. “It was unquestionably a period of uncertainty, getting through this and to the other side put my resilience to the test, but I could clearly see this was our chance to unify the entertainment industry and demonstrate Embed’s commitment to the entire sector’s recovery,” she reflected. “Our journey began with a dramatic pivot (working in 6-week cycles of innovation) to deliver a series of initiatives that helped pull the industry through the pandemic crisis.”
Demonstrating the Commitment to Innovate
Just a few days into WHO declaring COVID-19 as a pandemic, Renee led initiatives that enabled Embed to survive and actively huddled with the industry to pave the path forward together. The company also spotlighted industry insiders to share their insights through EmbedLIVE webinars (close to 100 segments) and published free Insight Paper: FEC 2.0, Getting to the Other Side. The company also implemented the powerful COVID-19 Relief Act to help customers and the industry.
In April, Embed’s COVID-19 Relief Act was introduced to the market, wherein the company offered its latest award-winning innovation, the Mobile Wallet, to everyone for free for 1-year. Being the only FEC business solutions provider to partner with tech-moguls like Google and Apple to gain compliance approval, the company is the only non-banking finance-payment or loyalty card business and brand card that sits in the mobile wallet. With no app download requirements, guests could seamlessly add the virtual game card to their Mobile Wallet and play. During the pandemic, operators used Embed’s Mobile Wallet technology to track what games consumers played for tracking and tracing purposes (in case of a breakout, they can contact customers and alert them).
Scary Strokes from Waldorf, MD, deployed Embed’s Mobile Wallet technology to attract customers and offer safe, contactless gameplay and redemption options. “When Embed introduced the Mobile Wallet, it seemed like a good opportunity for us to jump in and see what it was all about, and there’s nothing not to like about it,” says Doug Roth, President & CEO of Scary Strokes. “It’s clever and very convenient; there is no need to visit a kiosk or a staff member. Guests can do everything from the comfort of their phone.” By September 2020, their revenue was over 100 percent YoY—testifying to Embed’s solutions prowess. Even from a business point of view, Embed’s timing to launch the Mobile Wallet could not have been better. Renee adds, “A simple Google Search yields the ongoing research and data supporting the dramatic spike in mobile payments, which is why I’m so proud Embed is the first to go-to-market with The Mobile Wallet.”
Going back to May 2020, the company launched COVID-19 Resource Center, which includes free creative toolkits for all operators to use that facilitate a successful reopening (and creative that support implementation of public safety measures) and expedite business recovery. “We did this because we knew FEC’s did not have the cashflow to invest in developing creative signage (for hand-washing, social distancing measures, etc.) they could use in their operations when they reopened. This was an act of our commitment to our industry’s recovery,” said Renee.
Renee’s industry-transforming achievements are evident in her fearless leadership during the pandemic. “Consumers are pervasively aware and chronically worried about keeping their families COVID-free and safe. No one is going to a business they deem unsafe; they need to be reassured with the measures the operator takes to mitigate risk, keeping their employees, consumers, and community safe. It was important for us to reinforce the message to our team, clients, and industry that we were in this together and would get through this together, because that is what we firmly believe,” asserts Renee.
Delivering Award-winning Breakthrough Innovation
Even pre-COVID, Renee is renowned in the industry due to her long history of award-winning entrepreneurship and her background in travel, events, marketing, and eCommerce. She is one of the founding members of—her first start-up in 2001—RedBalloon, and then an online booking platform, GoDo, in 2005. Renee stepped into General Manage roles at Wotif Group, overseeing the marketing, product, social media, sales, and CRM teams for travel.com.au and godo.com.au. She co-founded the award-winning cloud-based booking and ticketing solution, Booking Boss, and was named Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 by Travel Weekly. In 2017, Renee sold Booking Boss to Helix Leisure and took on Helix Leisure’s Solutions Group’s CEO. As of now, she is responsible for two of Helix’s companies—Embed & Booking Boss.
"It was important for us to reinforce the message to our team, clients, and industry that we were in this together and would get through this together, because that is what we firmly believe"
Since then, she has led Embed to extraordinary success, introducing a series of integrated cashless business management systems and solutions such as contactless card readers, RFID wristbands, self-service kiosks, POS systems, and an all-in-one software solution. To date, these products have generated awards and recognition for their ability to aid business owners in achieving greater operational efficiency while reducing costs and increasing profitability. “At Embed, we are proud to be part of the Business of Fun. To work alongside our partners in the industry (including our high-tech partners at Apple, Google, and Amazon), our customers, the Fun Crusaders, and Embed employees makes my journey as a CEO so extraordinary,” concludes Renee.