The preparation for the Gulf Bank 642 – Special Edition race was going on strong. Two of the categories sold out and the rest of them filling up very quickly, everything was falling right in place. Production of the arches, banners and carpet was done and ready to be installed. Team structure was done, volunteers confirmed, the weather was in our favor. The division of the race into three locations was a challenge but with planning and a strong team, it was all going according to plan. The concept of dividing the locations was to avoid any mass gathering and implement the covid 19 protocol in terms of safety and social distancing. We believe It was supposed to be the best way to come back into the event season.
Until… 8 days before the race when the Kuwaiti authorities announced a complete shutdown of all sporting activities, facilities, and group activities. With the rising covid-19 positive cases in the country, the ministries decided to halt any and all major activities in the country. It was devasting news for us. With everything set for the race, postponement, cancellation, and rescheduling – all were out of the question. Everything produced had the “Special Edition” labeled on it and could not be used in a future event.
Although it was all unexpected, what we had done was pre-recorded a video about postponement, just in case the weather conditions or regulations were not in our favor. We launched that on our social media platforms and emailed it out to all participants, which allowed us some time to think and come up with a plan. With that being released on Thursday 4th February, we had a team meeting to brainstorm solutions with the current scenario. With several ideas being thrown on the table, we all agreed that we had to pick up one concept and stick with perfecting it for this race to be successful. So the idea that we all voted for and felt was the best fit for the current situation was to go virtual. Of course virtual will be the least favorable option to the participants. And all our focus was on how to differentiate this virtual experience from other virtual races. The findings were that the time to get your kit and medal after a race was a big minus. We have insisted to kick off the race on the same day of the actual race and hand over the kit on the same days but without any interaction with the participants through our contactless vending machine. We have turned the company into a call center and tried our very best to convert the participants from canceling or postponing their registrations to convert into virtual with a great experience.
We promised to race now and get your medal at the same time! And this was one of the biggest pluses into the race. We were manged to convert more than 67% into the virtual category.
The vending machine idea was something we worked on during the beginning of the pandemic and worked on for several months until its arrival a weebeforeto the chaos. We had worked on it during the summer by integrating it with our website’s registration platform where bib numbers were automatically assigned upon sign-up. All the integrations had been done – the only thing left to do was to do some final physical testing and ensure that all components were working as planned.
As event organizers we’re always hoping for the best but planning for the worse, but this was not even part of our ‘worse case scenario’ plan. However that didn’t stop us, it only gave us an extra push and motivation to work our heads off, no matter how long it took to make this happen, with perfection. We joined forces as a team, put together small committees to work and resolve matters. We had a whole team dedicated for communication in both English and Arabic, through all the platforms; hotline was activated, emails, Instagram, whatsapp – all channels were being answered minute by minute. Meanwhile the operations team was in the warehouse working and ensuring the integration of the vending machine with the website was done correctly without any errors. The whole weekend, day and night was spent on preparation to activate this vending machine; packaging the race kit into small boxes so the vending machine can easily dispose it without them getting stuck inside, labeling the boxes, screen display messages everything was being worked on simultaneously.
The contactless vending machine was ready, the communication was out – after all the chaos and complains we were ready to receive people on the 11th February morning. We set out the vending machine in front of one of the sponsor’s prime location and were eager to see people’s reaction upon using it. With all the mess and negativity around us we were overwhelmed with the joy when we saw how well the idea was received! The happy faces and astonishing reaction upon getting their kits made us feel like all the sleepless nights and hard work was worth it. The vending machine soon became the talk of the town where everybody wanted to try it and get their race kit. Those who had decided to refund or transfer to the next race soon changed their mind and decided to come and race virtually just to be able to use the vending machine. Technology and some problem solving brains turned this whole scene from a disappointment to a new experience that everyone wanted to be part of. We continued the process of medal collection through the vending machine as well, which made it even more fun for the finishers.
Along side the Suffix.Tracker app was doing its magic greatly with notifications, audio messages and several other features loved by the participants.
With hard work, effort, brainstorming, and teamwork we overcame the biggest chaos that we had ever faced as a company within a few days. Turning a situation around by focusing on the solutions is what resulted in the first ever race kit disposing vending machine that does not require a whole team of organizers or volunteers to be present for the kit collection process. Instead, you just need a good vending machine, strong and smart integration, and you are good to go.