The Crayola Experience in Easton, Pa.
By Joseph Bush
If you think you know all about Crayola—that it's a crayon company—a visit to headquarters in Easton, Pa., could brighten your view.
Most reading this grew up with Crayola crayons … the famous scent, the unique names for color shades, the yellow boxes. In modern times, the 110-year-old company has expanded its expertise to markers, paint, chalk, electronic toys and digital applications for tablets, and has the kind of brand equity companies aspire to.
More than 300 Crayola-branded products are sold in 84 countries, and the brand can be found in 85 percent of U.S. households with children. It has 50 brand licensing partners in 75 categories. According to the 2012 annual Young Love study of more than 7,000 kids and parents regarding 20 categories and 270 brands by youth and family research firm SmartyPants, Crayola is the most well-known brand among moms and No. 21 among kids (fifth among girls).
In 2011, the company decided it was time to create an attraction worthy not only of the brand's popularity and place in the fabric of families, but representative of its varied creative tools. It had opened a tourist attraction in 1996 as part of Easton's downtown revitalization, and in 2011 began discussing how to re-size, refurbish, remodel and retrofit the four-story space to reflect all Crayola had to offer minds young and old.
The result is The Crayola Experience, nee The Crayola Factory, opened on Memorial Day Weekend in 2013. The 60,000 square feet of iconography, hands-on activity, customization and state-of-the-art technology rivaling Harrisburg's HersheyWorld attraction is on pace to draw more than 400,000 people for the year, according to Crayola Experience sales and marketing manager Kristen Luise.
"The reason we renovated is because the Crayola brand now offers a product for every age, and it's so much more than crayons, which we don't think everybody realizes," Luise said. "We decided to renovate so the attraction was truly reflective of the range of experiences a child gets when they create with Crayola products, but in a larger-than-life way. How do we make it more Crayola, so that everything a person does or touches is iconic?"
The company employed design consultant Jack Rouse Associates, which counts among its clients Legoland, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, Universal Studios Florida, Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, the GE Learning Center and Kellogg's Cereal City USA.
JRA planned, designed and managed the project; operating consultants Management Resources helped with flow; Boyle Construction handled the dirty work; app designer Twenty Twelve helped make the iPad-centric Art Alive attraction, with an assist from camera-enabled gesture recognition company GestureTek.
The experience begins at the curb, as exterior colors, site furnishings and crayon statues and characters blare the fun to be had inside. Digital images, murals, columns that look like crayons, paint splotches—all greet visitors in the lobby. The first floor includes the Crayola Store and Café Crayola, both of which feature items exclusive to the site. In the store, visitors can buy a 2-pound crayon with a customized label that shows the crayon's birth date and weight, while the café features cupcakes with rainbow color filling and Icees named after crayon colors.
Luise said before the remodel, which began physically at the end of 2012, the building had 14 attractions; when it re-opened, there were 21. The entrance fee rose six dollars, to $15.99 for all ages; the admission price includes tokens to be used where necessary, and three attractions cost extra. Luise said visitors are spending an average of 3.5 to 4 hours at the Crayola Experience, and the most popular activities are Wrap It Up, Crayon Factory, Art Alive and Drip Art.
In Wrap It Up, visitors use touchscreens to design a label for a crayon, print it out and wrap it around a crayon for keeping. Art Alive employs iPads to help kids create works of art, which are then projected onto the walls; when touched, the art on the wall will move.
The Crayon Factory is a show that uses a live speaker (a Crayonologist) as well as animated crayons Turk and Scarlet to show the audience how crayons are made. Drip Art, on the fourth floor, lets visitors put a crayon of their choice into a machine that melts it and drips the wax onto a spinning canvas.
There is also a two-story playground; a creative workshop; a place to make puzzles to take home; a dark room featuring lighted art and interactive floors; an area to play with Crayola's moldable clay, Model Magic; a caddy that holds thousands of crayons, just for sitting and coloring; a green screen feature for photos with plenty of background choices; and a room to mix colors for a customized marker which is then put together.
"What was really important was variety," Luise said. "We wanted to create a place where guests could immerse themselves in the brand."