Harnessing Imagination

Written by Allison Dempsey

With more than 2,500 projects across 60 countries, FORREC, a world leader in experiential design, creates compelling guest experiences through creativity that genuinely inspires awe in onlookers and audiences. Add to that a proficiency in strategy, planning, and innovation.

Producing captivating visitor experiences in imagination and immersive storytelling for location-based entertainment such as theme parks, tourist attractions, water parks, mixed-use, and resorts, Toronto-based FORREC operates across six continents. Its policy is to work with the best partners, operators, brands, and developers to achieve success around the world.

The five pillars

Maintaining that success, however, means constantly striving for improvement.

The team consciously base their efforts on a solid foundation of five key pillars, embracing elevated creativity, unparalleled experience, unprecedented relationships, exceptional talent, and delivering the vision. FORREC also constantly looks to make advances in its brand awareness, including a long-term strategic plan using an outside consultant in 2020.

During this study, it became clear that FORREC’s existing brand reflected neither who it was as a company today nor its aspirations for the future. As part of this exercise, FORREC included a goal to undergo a rebranding to better align with its new strategy, values, identity, and dreams.

Led by FORREC’s marketing team, the company set up a small internal task force to help create a new look and feel for FORREC, with a logo redesign, new website, and new brand positioning, along with bringing in creative agency Cundari to help the company evaluate its biases and preconceptions, and also define the brand’s core.

“In addition, they helped us identify our brand purpose and how to achieve this purpose—the way we talk and focus on our offering,” says Cale Heit, President and CEO. “In many ways it was like lifting a heavy cloak off our shoulders. We don’t want to lose sight of our tremendous history and how we got to where we are today, but rather celebrate and honour our past so we can welcome new opportunities for the next generation of FORREC.”

Speaking of the company website, Heit adds that it’s a very important tool that helps to communicate FORREC’s brand to the outside world, but when push comes to shove, the old-school way of word-of-mouth still reigns supreme. “Our reach is most effective through the FORREC team, and through our relationships and network within this amazing experience-design industry we work in.”

Focus regained

Heit goes on to say, “As with many companies, over time we had lost our brand essence and focus as the company evolved over the years and slowly made adjustments that inevitably lost alignment with its original vision. With our new brand, we now communicate in sync with the tool kit created through the new brand development.”

In keeping with the original vision, FORREC continues to grow as a company in many areas, from project types and size to markets, scope, and deliverables, says Heit.

“We realize that our relationship with our clients is the key to our success,” he adds. But it’s clear that equal in importance to these relationships is the effect of FORREC’s outstanding talent. As a company that celebrates “we,” FORREC is highly collaborative, creating project teams of professionals from many disciplines working closely together to exceed anything that their clients themselves could have dreamt of.

“To achieve this, we are continually looking to find amazing people who share similar values, are opportunistic, and wish to grow in an exciting industry,” says Heit. “We also need to ensure we have the expertise to deliver on our expanding services to our clients. In addition to our internal expertise, FORREC as lead consultant in the design of projects continues to expand upon our external partners to provide a fuller end-to-end service offering.”

Those services include a wide variety of experiences such as innovative VR to help clients visualize parks, and sustainable design elements to make operating a park as efficient and eco-friendly as possible.

“We live in a three-dimensional world and are very much attuned to visualizing in 3D,” Heit says. “I can recall well over 25 years ago when most of the design happened on a 2D plane where our designers were reliant on sketches, storyboards, and physical models to communicate what the project would look like. I recall lugging a model on an airplane as we travelled the globe to have a meeting with our client,” he shares.

“We travelled with extra material and lots of glue to repair the damage from the trip. In those days, FORREC was pioneering and exploring ways to digitally visualize in model form through the computer. It was rudimentary and labour-intensive.”

Added dimension

Times have changed, however, and today there’s access to an amazing variety of tools that allow FORREC’s design team to communicate three-dimensionally, with VR being just one such tool.

“We use it to allow our clients to virtually experience the design for an overall feel of the environment,” Heit says, and while there are issues with hardware and accessibility for all to engage virtually, other 3D tools are currently more conducive to sharing across an enterprise to provide ongoing visualization, coordination, and interface review of a project.

“No doubt as software and hardware evolve, I could see more effective use of AR and the metaverse as two additional avenues for visualizing design.”

Aiming for sustainability

While FORREC is a leader in sustainable design within the industry, the location-based entertainment industry itself has some catching up to do, says Heit.

“Sharing about our industry first, I strongly believe that leading with a purpose and corporate social responsibility (CSR) whether you are an operator, brand, developer, or vendor is critical to our success for our people, our business, and for our planet,” he says. “Whether we are trying to attract guests, build brand loyalty, lease or purchase property, or employ the best talent, CSR is at the top of initiatives as a corporation.”

To that end, FORREC created a sustainable task force more than five years ago to make a difference in the office, community, industry, and projects. Starting at grassroots, the company knows its team cares strongly about the environment and the impact of their actions and what they design on the planet. FORREC set a benchmark of following the UN Sustainable Development Goals and of the 17, narrowed them down to just those that they could “really influence in our daily practice.”

That means not only talking the talk, but walking the walk, or riding the bike. “We encourage active transportation and even have a customized FORREC office bike for loan to anyone who needs it,” Heit says. “Our new hybrid work policy has also had a significant impact on reducing the CO2 emissions by allowing individuals to work remotely and not having to commute to the office.”

Additionally, during the challenging times of the pandemic, FORREC’s wellness program was vital in allowing employees to disconnect while providing a physical and mental break.

“This year we are super-focused on implementing even more sustainable measures on our projects,” Heit says. “We have been quite good at incorporating measures in the past, however, globally this can be challenging with different standards and viewpoints on the value versus costs. We all need to get behind sustainability and FORREC believes we can make the greatest impact through our projects no matter where in the world.”

Always evolving

Whether it’s LEGOLAND Korea or the Niagara Parks Power Station, FORREC’s aspirational elements can be seen globally, reflecting ideals that go back to the company’s foundation.

“To stay relevant in the ever-evolving experience-design industry we must be nimble to better serve our clients to create repeatable and memorable experiences that make guests happy,” Heit says. “To do so we must remain true to who we are as a creative team and the values we have as a team. As a trusted partner to many of our clients, they rely on us to continue to provide the creativity and industry know-how they expect.”

But to deliver this in this highly competitive and changing world means offering even more services, whether through a highly creative internal team or with industry-leading partners. “As a lead consultant on many of our projects, we perform as design managers ensuring that our clients receive the best value and the most amazing experiences,” adds Heit.

In the case of LEGOLAND Korea Resort and the ongoing development of their resort projects globally, FORREC continues to provide a full-service offering for the entire development from programming, master planning, and creative design through to detail design for the majority of the project elements.

“We collaborate well with the client’s development and creative team to develop engaging experiences,” Heit says. “Our cross-sector approach allows us to not only deliver our industry-leading expertise for theme parks, attractions, and water parks, but we are also able to provide full services in hospitality and mixed-use development such as a retail dining and entertainment precinct for two of the projects.”

This also means providing a full spectrum of services from design management, planning, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and graphic design services to lighting, audiovisual, mechanical, electrical plumbing, kitchen design and others through FORREC’s trusted partners.

Niagara Parks is another impressive project that utilized FORREC’s creative vision to transform the defunct Niagara Power Station into an attraction focused on guest experience, heritage, inclusiveness, and sustainability. Working with the team at Niagara Parks, FORREC proposed a phased strategy to repurpose the existing infrastructure into a one-of-a-kind tourist destination at the heart of the falls.

FORREC’s experienced team also collaborated with the client to audit the facilities, recommend the strategy for implementation, and program and plan for the revitalization of this landmark. Since the completion of this scope, Niagara Parks has rolled out several “must-see” experiences, says Heit.

From challenge to achievement

Along with its numerous successes, the company has experienced its share of challenges, including the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

“The pandemic impacted globally on the hospitality industry of which we’re a strong part,” Heit says. This impact has included restrictions and complications in global travel, the challenges of talent availability—especially in this particular market—and the overall increasing cost of business with regard to people, global travel, and the usual costs of doing business. “In a highly competitive world, all these issues have made it challenging.”

The company’s accomplishments have been numerous, however, with FORREC overcoming so many major challenges over the past few years.

“One example is that we continue to service our clients with the same level of creativity, quality and collaboration while working in our new hybrid work model,” says Heit. “As a global company, even before the pandemic, we had a tremendous amount of experience working remotely away from our clients and sometimes with our team away from home and on the road.”

While the pandemic forced FORREC to effectively step up the flexibility of its working methods to the next level in just a few weeks, the transition was “almost seamless,” Heit adds, which isn’t unusual for a company that prides itself on developing and maintaining elevated creativity, and has gained hard-won and unparalleled experience.

Whether it’s continuing to build and support unprecedented relationships or exceptional talent, FORREC looks to deliver its vision around the world for years to come, says Heit. “We continue to utilize this model to effectively service our clients, improve our employee experience and carry out our business more sustainably.”



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