We believe in the power of the customer experience. In a digital world, it is sometimes hard to find the personal side of things. We sat down with entrepreneurs Chris Dortch and Rose Cox to talk their new arthouse movie theater, THE PALACE, taking risks, and how customer experience plays a role in launching a successful small business.
You’ve had this vision for a cutting edge, experiential arthouse cinema for a long time. What’s the most challenging part about overcoming the inertia from vision to actually starting a business?
Dortch: It takes finding the right person who’s as crazy as you are to dive into those deep waters because when you’re not asking for permission—when you’re just making up a new thing—you can kind of look like a troublemaker. For us, it wasn’t about being trouble makers; we didn’t want to ask anyone for anything until we figured out how to do it ourselves. For lack of a better way of putting it, I think it was about reverse engineering—starting everything with a pop-up movie screening and making sure the audience was there before we even dipped a toe into the deeper waters of trying to do a film festival or now an art house.
So you feel like proof of concept was important to develop?
Dortch: The proof of concept was important to us—to know that we weren’t just going to go bankrupt and drive ourselves insane in the process, too.
How is the customer experience important to your product? People talk all the time about customer experience and I know there are a lot of different facets of running a business, but talk to me about how the customer experience drives your product and vision.
Cox: I feel like it’s the most important aspect of our business, because the enjoyment of that entertainment is extremely important for return customers, so it’s really important to us that people enjoy themselves.
Dortch: I agree so much. When people come to [The Palace], they’re coming to us for a heavily curated experience—something they can’t get from a cookie-cutter big box theater. If we’re not doubling down on what they experience when they walk through the door then why are they going to keep walking through our door versus any other theater?
So how do you create an environment that—as Chris has famously said was held together by bubblegum and movie popcorn? How do you create an experience that keeps people coming back?
Cox: My favorite thing about [our proof of concept] was that we knew every person that came in the door every time we opened the door. And we knew them by name. We knew them because they were friends before. We knew them because they came to the film festival. We knew them because they were volunteers. Our volunteers were exceptional and they brought people back, because people just loved the way they were treated while they were there. If you didn’t know someone that was there already you knew them by the time you left, you know what I mean? You made friends while you were there.
Dortch: It was–like you said–at first we knew everybody, and then by the end there were new people coming to every screening. By having this almost speakeasy feeling to a movie theater, you felt like you were in a secret club and that you were in on something. We’re both lifelong movie buffs and in putting together the kind of environment that a person like us would feel safe, more of our kind felt safe and they began to emerge from the woodworks–from below rocks and out of caves, and really I’ve loved watching it.
Cox: There’s something to say about the onscreen experience. I think that that’s dying in the world.
Dortch: You’re right; it’s a level of personalization. I believe that fun is the most important part of the equation–and that’s the experience we want people to have. We want to over deliver always.
You both have had different entrepreneurial ventures before–some successful, some maybe less successful. What is something that you wish you had known starting out as an entrepreneur? Something you wish you had known coming into this that you learned the hard way that maybe a new entrepreneur could glean wisdom from?
Dortch: For me it’s, “choose your partners carefully.” It really took finding somebody that not only thought “Okay, cool a movie theater” but completely linked up eye to eye with what the commandments were, like audience first and art before commerce, but also believed that that intersection between art and commerce did exist and helped me—from a business standpoint—understand how the rubber could meet the road with something like that.
Cox: I think one of my biggest things is to take risks, because they tell you not to really in business. People get really vocal and they’ll scare you; they’ll make you feel intimidated to be yourself and do your thing and trust yourself and trust your instincts. I have never felt so confident in another business partner. I’ve never looked at someone and said that person is the exact opposite of me and that’s perfect, that’s exactly what I need.
How have we helped you as entrepreneurs?
Dortch: What I didn’t know about starting a business could roughly fill the Atlantic Ocean and coming to you guys, I felt a lot less fear about that. What you’re doing is a pretty valuable thing. I look at it as the starting a business apocalypse survival kit—it’s everything you need in this box to make it out there in the wilds. It turns something that was for me personally a great mystery at the beginning and puts it in more palatable terms and makes it seem a lot more turnkey.
All of the things that I think we’ve been afraid of PUSHTOSTART put into context that we didn’t need to be so afraid of,and really kind of helped us light the path, and you did that in a way that also made a point to completely understand our brand. PUSHTOSTART not only gave us the tools you put us in a position to understand how to us them.
You guys are way too nice. Thank you.
To learn more about The Palace, check out their social media.
Ed. Note: For ease of reading, the interview transcript has been edited for clarity.
Actual client. Client has not been compensated for its testimonial. Every client is different and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.