Automated pour. Robotic food preparation. Amazon just get out. The ever-growing list of technology developments coming to the stadium and arena hospitality sector led Levi to launch DBK Studio, working with startups and technology start-ups to experiment and scale new ideas.
“We actually receive 100 incoming ideas per month from new and existing companies that feel they have created the magical elixir for a fan, guest, or team member,” says Andy Lansing, Levi’s President and CEO. “DBK Studio, with a team of experts from all areas of our business with an amazing advisory board, will formalize the process we use to bring this new technology to market.”
DBK Studio, a wholly owned subsidiary of Levy, founded in 1978 with one DB Kaplan’s Delicatessen, and now operating in more than 250 venues and events worldwide, has been in operation for over a year and will officially become operational on January 20. DBK will Studios along with Levi’s Analytics Studio E15, launched in 2014, research the myriad ideas flowing in sports, entertainment and hospitality and work to test the most promising ones across the Levy Partner Network.
“What would be interesting for us, which I think would be the best way to see if a particular technology is actually going to work and scalable, is to decide not just what the success metrics are going to be, but where we want to try it out in five yards of NBA at the same time, sampling in 10 NBA yards or in one yard, or on one baseball field, or the Kentucky Derby, or the US Open? He will be able to quickly determine how to bring it up.”
DBK Studio will not focus on just one area, which is investigating technologies that aid fan experience, venue and staff management, operational logistics, sustainability, product improvement, and employee efficiency. The focus on fans highlights, first and foremost, a frictionless environment, Lansing says.
“Frictionless is just one small piece of this studio,” says Sandeep Satish, managing director of DBK Studio, noting that Levy has already used four different frictionless propulsion technologies — Amazon, Zippin, Aifi and Standard Cognition. “We are learning fast and moving from one beta phase to the next, with many of our partners looking at 10 to 15 to 20 of these sites or building entire venues to integrate this (technology).”
Then there are robotics, drones, and a lot of the technologies that DBK Studio is about to experiment with.
As the venue’s hospitality concept continues to evolve, Levi knows it needs to offer options. While the word hospitality once meant eye contact, workers asking how they could help, and treating a fan like a guest in the house, Lansing says many fans want hospitality that includes interaction with as little humans as possible. “We understand that and we have to play with those two types of people,” he says. “If I’m in the ‘please don’t make me have any human interaction,’ category, we can do that.”
Satish says this means exploring technologies on how to deliver the product, sustainably and effectively.
Working in tandem with E15, DBK Studio will determine how to measure success and more easily pick from among hundreds of new ideas it thinks might work. Then comes the creation of a test plan. “This is a big change from let’s try this here and let’s try it there,” Lansing says. “It adds a great deal of discipline and process to figuring out really good ideas in exchange for the flavor of the month.”
DBK Studio has also set up an advisory board, starting with Larry Levy, Levy’s co-founder and chairman emeritus, who remains in touch with innovation in hospitality and Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871, another Chicago local who through her work as a private incubator Already join Levy to help small tech companies grow and expand.
Through this process, Levy and DBK Studio will not invest in companies, using DBK Studio not as a money maker, but as an official value-added for partners. “If we invest, we can’t really be neutral and go to a partner and say that’s the best thing, I think it’s going to prove to our partners increased capacity,” Lansing says.
Having teams and partner venues proves key in the process. With a diverse mix of leagues, events and teams, Lansing says they can test technologies across a range of areas. “Everyone has a different feeling about whether they want to be #1 or #2 quickly,” Lansing says. “In fact, every partner wants us to be the most innovative, and for some that means they’re going to take big risks and try things first and others will let us see how these other buildings perform. We think DBK Studio will be a huge hit that you miss.”
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