December 24, 2015 - Passage
Detroit Experience Factory: Redefining What It Means To "Take A Tour"
By Emily Cedar
Owner and operator of Detroit Experience Factory, Jeanette Pierce, is a lifelong city resident. Her passion for Detroit is contagious, which could be part of the reason her entire staff also resides in the various neighborhoods of Detroit, Michigan. Jeanette has a unique way of showing Detroit to both newcomers and locals that is unlike any typical tour out there. As all good storytellers know, the best way to convey a message is to show, not tell. This is exactly how Jeanette and her team at DXF provide engaging and interactive tours for those seeking more knowledge about this historically rich city. Instead of simply using facts and figures to educate attendees, the DXF team shows people what it is truly like to experience Detroit. Through personal stories and introductions to local business owners and community members, the DXF tour allows you feel at home. By simply setting foot on a walking tour, one can quickly understand why Jeanette has made Detroit her home base.
How did this DXF get its start?
I really love Detroit, so in April of 2003 I moved downtown and haven’t driven to work since! I started DXF with a friend in 2006 that was originally branded as Inside Detroit. We wanted to give people the inside scoop on Detroit and even connect locals to their community. We both had day jobs, but then in 2008 got a space on Woodward and opened the first welcome center of Detroit. Shortly after, we moved the Welcome Center to 123 Monroe Street and settled on Detroit Experience factory.
We provide three free tours every week. Our customized group tours, innovative resources, and interactive experiences are intended to connect locals and visitors to Detroit. All of our staff lives in the city, so we can all give context for what has happened and what is currently happening in Detroit. During our tours we educate people using facts and figures, as well as personal experience.
We’ve customized our tours for corporations, universities, book clubs, scavenger hunts, and even state legislature. We recently took Dr. Schlissel, the president of Michigan, and his wife took a tour of Detroit!
Last year we took 12,000 people on tours, and this year, over 17,000. We are really proud of these numbers because we don’t do much marketing or advertising; it’s all word of mouth. We are happy to say that over the past ten years, we have taken almost 70,000 people around Detroit!
What resources (besides your tours) do you offer to newcomers and locals of Detroit?
Many people say that they’ve been everywhere and that they have nowhere new to explore in Detroit. The DXF team and I beg to differ. Nearly fifty places have opened in the past year alone. We have a downloadable checklist of 312 bars and restaurants in the greater downtown area. These are places that are open nights and or weekends (no Jimmy Johns). This list is updated every month or so. Another resource we offer at our welcome center is our Insider’s Map & Guide. For us, design is not an afterthought. The map is very detailed and informative, yet easy to read and understand. Also located under the “Resources” tab on our website, anyone can download our Downtown Detroit Self-Guided Walking Tour PDF, which is a great intro to downtown.
What makes your tours unique?
Our tours are unique because they are so interactive. We don’t just show you a bar that’s been around for thirty years; we introduce you to the bar tender and owner. We are constantly connecting tour attendees to business owners and community leaders. These people are our friends, our neighbors. When you’re telling a story that is a part of you, it’s much more interesting. Our tours are not scripted. Instead, we allow the personality of each guide to come out in the tour, as well as his or her passion for living in Detroit. I can train facts and figures, but I can’t train passion.
We always walk on our bar tours so that we can show people just how walkable things are. Detroit has really amazing local small businesses and more and more coming every day. By the end of the tour, you’ll feel like a star in the show Cheer’s; we make you feel like a regular after your first time there. One of the great things about Detroit is that it hasn’t been overrun by chain restaurants. Each place has it’s own story.
Although our maps, brochures, and other online resources can be very helpful, the most important thing that my staff and I can offer is our own testimonials and stories. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, which can be dangerous because people make false assumptions about the dangers of this city. Because we are all residents of Detroit, we are able to tell people the truth. I’ve walked home from the bar by myself for years. It’s important that visitors and locals alike hear the many positive stories about Detroit, not just the negative.
How do you engage the community?
We’ll be hosting another social media contest in the summer. We challenge people to visit as many places in Detroit throughout the summer as possible. Last year’s winner went to over two hundred places in ninety days! To participate, just tag us on Instagram along with #dfxchallenge.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
There are two assumptions that people make when they walk into our Welcome Center. The first is that they know everything there is to know or everything they need to know about Detroit. The second is that tours are boring. We do everything we can to dissolve these assumptions and go above and beyond expectations.
Demand has been off the charts; there are so many people that want to know more about Detroit. We are continuing to expand our staff, but our main goal is to move through the barrier of what people consider a “tour”. A lot of people think tours are only for tourists. Our way of moving past this challenge is simple- we talk to people. Once locals or newcomers talk to us, they get it. Then, they tell their friends and the word about our city continues to spread.
How do you connect your guests to the Detroit community?
People think we only focus on downtown, but we actually take people around the 139 square miles of the city. Our focus is not just on what’s new and fresh, but also help spread the word about the great neighborhoods and small business that have been here a really long time. We are the megaphone of those neighborhoods and strive to tell the stories that would otherwise be forgotten. We have incredible relationships throughout the community because we are the community.