The pandemic nearly killed those Instagram-ready pop-up experiences. Places like Color Factory and Museum of Ice Cream laid off employees as the world shut down, and they tried, seemingly unsuccessfully, to re-create their photogenic experiences online. But now, they’re back, raising money, and opening new locations.
Color Factory tells The Verge it recently closed a $10 million fundraising round from private equity and angel investors, which it’ll use to expand and hire people who help build the sites. Today, it’s additionally announcing its next location: Chicago. It’ll be opening a Color Factory in the Willis Tower, a major sightseeing destination that brings in nearly 2 million visitors a year on its own. The idea is clearly for Color Factory to benefit from the people already visiting the building and to attract new visitors who might care more about Color Factory’s setup than the Willis Tower’s Skydeck.
At the same time, Color Factory seems to be entering a new stage, one where building a location might not be enough to propel the business forward, and instead, the team has to encourage repeat visitors. They, for the first time, renovated multiple rooms in their original New York City location and will upgrade the camera system in the coming months to allow for people to take home actual prints of the photos they take. (Seemingly the team is now acknowledging that its locations are no longer pop-up experiences and will stay in a space for as long as it’ll have them and be successful.)
“Eighty percent of our business [in New York] pre-pandemic was tourism, like people going one-and-done, so you didn’t need to make exhibits that you wanted to go back to three or four times because most of our consumers would come once and never come again, or not to that facility, or they would leave and come again years later,” CEO Jeff Lind says. Now, however, the New York City location mostly caters to locals who the team wants to keep coming back for years. That means exhibit updates.
Color Factory’s main competitor, Museum of Ice Cream, also just announced its newest location: Austin. The photogenic experiences are spreading.
But all of this news comes at a time when Instagram’s own CEO declared the platform as “no longer a photo-sharing app.” Still, Color Factory, its competitors, and its investors see potential in the space. In 2019, Lind and his team told me their work wasn’t all about the ‘gram, and these changes, as well as the deemphasis on photos on Instagram, might test that belief.