$200 kids' event an ‘absolute disgrace’
A Sydney mum who forked out $200 on what was billed as an immersive Willy Wonka-style experience for her children has slammed the event as an "absolute disgrace", saying there were "no lollies anywhere".
Melanie Smith paid $40 a head for her two children, aged five and eight, and three adults to attend the Sugar Republic pop-up at Myer in the city on Sunday, only to find the "most poorly organised event we have ever been to".
Describing itself as "Australia's first pop-up Insta-museum, bringing wonder-filled interactive spaces and grammable backdrops to sweet-lovers everywhere", Sugar Republic features a series of candy-themed rooms and a giant pink ball pit.
The event arrived in Sydney last month after a successful run in Melbourne last year, where the MacRobertson Confectionery Factory was turned into a 14-room Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired playground.
But according to Ms Smith, her experience on Sunday consisted of a 40-minute wait to be handed a packet of Skittles and a scoop of ice cream before being "rushed through" the ball pit - the only "interactive" part of the whole exhibition.
"There was nothing to do," she said.
"In Melbourne it was all different rooms, here in Sydney they've done it on the sixth floor of Myer. It's a quarter of a floor cordoned off. When we first got in there I thought, we've literally paid $200 to spend less than five minutes in a ball pit."
Ms Smith, who works in events planning, described the customer service as "shocking", saying the young staff kept blaming a large private party that had gone through before. "I was really cranky at their reaction," she said.
"All the staff were very young, obviously untrained. I know it's not their fault, but every time we said there was an issue, they just said, 'We had a party'. You guys have got 10-plus sessions a day, you're making a fortune out of us, it's not good enough."
According to Ms Smith, there were two managers - one who was "trying his best" and his superior who refused to speak or even make eye contact with customers. "He wouldn't talk to anybody, it was really frustrating," she said.
Ms Smith says a number of other families were also unhappy with the experience. When she complained on Sugar Republic's Instagram page, her "pretty restrained" comment was deleted and the page blocked her.
"I only did it that way because there was no email, no phone number to contact," she said. "That's not asking a lot. Why shouldn't I complain? We had a really bad experience, and we're not the only ones."
After her post was deleted, a Sugar Republic representative emailed her to "address your comments, as there are a number of points that I believe require clarification".
He said a number of family bookings were pushed back to accommodate a child's birthday party earlier that morning - Ms Smith says she was given no choice and no way to respond to the notification.
"Our team have told me that you arrived just after 10am even though we had advised you to arrive at 10.30am and that you were given entry at 10.40am which is within our usual window for entry," he said.
He apologised if the ball pit time was "less than 10 minutes" and said "all of the other rooms and interactive features that are listed on our website when you booked your ticket were in operation today".
"Sugar Republic is a pop-up art space - it is new concept in Australia and we appreciate that it is not for everyone, but we want everyone to leave super happy," he said. "Your feedback will help us to continue to improve."
Ms Smith said the $40 pop-up seemed to be more designed for people to take photos for Instagram than as an actual interactive event for families and children - and this was not made clear enough.
"They've got a massive social media campaign, Broadsheet, everyone's promoting them," she said. "I almost paid for plane tickets to go to the Melbourne one. I thought it would be a fun, cute thing for the kids to do."
Working in events herself, Ms Smith says it "wouldn't have taken much to get your $40 worth". "It wouldn't have cost much more to put a couple of samples in each room with a staff member," she said.
It comes after attendees at Harry Potter-themed Wizard's Brunches in Sydney and Brisbane complained about the poorly organised, expensive events. A Mario Kart-style go-karting experience in Melbourne was also described as an "absolute rip-off".
"There have been too many events lately that are all promise and don't deliver," Ms Smith said. "I just feel it's really unacceptable to make money putting on these events."
Sugar Republic director Allison Jones said in an email she was "really sorry to hear that this customer was disappointed with her experience", and Ms Smith had been offered a full refund.
"Melanie's Instagram comment contained a number of statements which were potentially misleading to other customers, so we emailed her directly to respond to each point and offer a resolution," she said.
She said Ms Smith "arrived at the originally booked time, despite having agreed to the contrary, and was upset at the delay". "We apologised for this at the time and subsequently," she said.
"Our event is primarily a pop-up art event aimed at adults, and everything that we offer on our website was in place yesterday."
Ms Jones said social media posts by other customers from Sunday "show staff in the rooms handing out lollies and lots of customers enjoying the installations," and she had "not received any other negative feedback from other customers who were there".