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Krowne: How to move from basic supplier to high-end vendor in the venues world

We are in the age of specialization when it comes to the construction of new sports venues, as shown in the experience of Krowne, a stainless-steel-equipment firm that’s transitioned into a vendor of high-profile bars and hospitality spaces for the venues world.

Krowne, headquartered in Wayne, NJ, has a long history of supplying stainless-steel equipment to the hospitality industry—some 72 years’ worth—as Krowne’s products range from custom underbar and refrigeration, to hand sinks, faucets, gas hoses and more. But the move into the arena and stadium worlds meant evolving from a supply firm to a manufacturing and design company, working closely with designers and construction firms to create and implement the unique spaces today’s fans expect. If you’ve bellied up at one of the high-profile new venues opening in the last decade, ranging from the new Yankee Stadium and Little Caesars Arena to Allegiant Stadium to the renovated PHX Arena (formerly Talking Stick Resort Arena), you’ll encounter Krowne work.

In fact, Allegiant Stadium, opening this fall as home of the Las Vegas Raiders (NFL), represented one of Krowne’s major installations—some 36 custom bars. Little Caesars Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Detroit Pistons (NBA), involved over 30 custom bars, including the one at the top of this article. That custom design work extends to Cincinnati and Austin MLS stadiums opening next year, and potentially more arena and stadium projects still in the planning stages, according to Krowne President Kyle Forman.

In a way, the development of Krowne into a high-end supplier of bar installations mirrors the move toward customization in the venue industry. It wasn’t that long ago that Krowne would have been the supplier of standard equipment into a concessions space totally devoid of customization save a sign at the top of the stand. But with the evolution of venues as high-end spaces with unique offerings that include distinctive clubs, Krowne invested $7 million in factory automation to address custom design. That includes all the fixtures—all the unglamorous stuff like faucets and hand sinks.

“We geared our factory to be able to handle mass production,” Forman said. “We were more used to doing production job by job, with a couple bars per stadium.” Still offered: a modular stadium series of products. 

The equipment for an Allegiant Stadium isn’t the same as what you’ll find at your local gastropub. The bars at Allegiant Stadium are designed for a high-volume operation, with plenty of rugged equipment, with all 300-series stainless-steel construction. (Arenas, ballparks and stadiums tend to places where the fans can be a little hard on equipment, to be sure.) Plus, a heavier gauge can be used for outdoor bars to withstand the elements.

Technology and Bar Culture

Peer behind the curtain at venue design these days, and you’ll see that it is almost totally driven by technology—even in those cases where an inspired architect sketches out a basic, conceptual design that later becomes the framework for a completed design. That back-of-the-napkin sketch will bear little resemblance to the immensely detailed plans that result. A modern venue is part competition space, part player playpen, part TV production space and part fan-experience space, and all the systems must interact and be coordinated, especially during what is now a complicated construction process.

And every space is designed differently. “Sometimes we have final specs, where the design is approved and we don’t get much ability to make changes,” Forman said. “In other cases, we get to do all the design from scratch. We are able to use our AR design to show the client what the bar would look like.”

Keeping in line with the high-tech emphasis in new venues, Krowne also invested in technology, with an emphasis on augmented reality/virtual reality. In a situation where a client wants to design a bar space from scratch, Krowne offers an online design tool to lay out and eventually price an installation. Once a design is approved, Krowne can train bar staff on the bar layout via virtual reality, letting employees get up to speed before setting foot behind the bar.

“We hired a former videogame programmer to create an immersive VR experience, beginning with the bar layout,” Forman said. “We added liquid to visualize how the bar would work, so their bartenders can simulate making a drink, as well as footstep analysis. We want to eliminate all unnecessary steps, creating a ‘zero-step’ design.

“Employees were working in VR and training behind the bar. They were ready to work the next day after equipment was installed.”

The tech evolution mirrors the changes at Krowne, where Forman recently took over as president from his father, Roger Forman, who launched the company’s move into the venue business. Started by Nat Krowne in 1948, Krowne was purchased by Kyle’s great uncle Peter Miller, who then sold it to Roger Forman, who served as Krowne president for more than 36 years. It’s gone from a small regional shop with eight employees to one with over 100 employees today.

“I started at Krowne when I was 12 in our distribution center for $4 an hour,” 28-year-old Kyle Forman said. “I’ve worked in every single department.”

And the latest trend addressed by Krowne? COVID-19 mitigation. This came up as an issue in Phoenix, where an offseason renovation of the home of the Phoenix Suns (NBA) required changes on the fly, as the team preps for an opening in December to the 2020-2021 NBA season. When the renovations were initially designed, COVID-19 wasn’t yet a pandemic, and the Suns were expecting business as normal for the 2020-2021 season. Now, with COVID-19 mitigation impacting operations for the coming NBA season and likely the next season, the design parameters were overhauled to allow more social distancing on the fan side and additional safety measures on the bar side. That includes plenty of Plexiglass, additional washing stations and upgraded sanitization measures across the board, like antimicrobial surfaces and liquid Co2 to instantly sanitize and clean equipment.

Images courtesy Krowne.

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