Ginger Kramer proposes a radical new way to build the business you really want

The idea hit Ginger Kramer on New Year's Eve 1999. The successful caterer and event producer, founder of the former Coast Special Events and Catering in San Jose, Calif., wanted to redirect what services her company provided and what clients it served. So she took a radical step, signing away her facilities and equipment - and to two of her competitors, no less. And she thinks other businesses might start doing just as she has done.

Special Events Magazine: What prompted you to reconfigure your company?

Ginger Kramer: Our company's growth theme for 2000 was based on mergers and acquisitions. They are happening so frequently now. Consolidation will be another key factor. We took a serious look at consolidating our efforts, our employees and our experience. It applies to our clients as well. The point is not gathering all the clients you can, but being all you can be for your clients. We said goodbye to clients we were frequent with but not profitable with.

Q: How did you transform your company?

A: We eliminated the hands-on food and beverage side. We acquired - and left independent at the same time - two other caterers, our two best competitors. We all came together, sorted out our warehouse, and each person took what they needed to build their business even better. One company, Something Special, took over the lease on our 7,200-square-foot commissary. The other, Catered Too, obtained our inventory of off-premise cooking and serving equipment, including the mobile kitchen. The value of our inventory was well over $300,000.

Q: But what did you get in return?

A: We settled all finances through the catering business we gave them throughout the year. Everybody won.

Q: That sounds incredible. How did that happen?

A: Our time is better spent making sales calls. We launched ourselves into sales and marketing. And the two caterers have added over $500,000 collectively last year alone to their book of business.

Q: What does the new version of Coast do?

A: Coast Special Event Architects offers strategy, design, logistics and management with results. I now have more time to sell what is happening in the industry. I can keep pace with the speed at which new products are coming on in the market.

The design side of the business has really come alive. But we don't inventory decor or design items. We consolidated our offices. We offer clients more, but we outsource; that is key.

Q: Has your client base changed since your reorganization?

A: On the mega-productions, it has truly become an international effort. I've been to London five times in the past year as well as South Africa, Spain and France.

Some business segments have been in retreat. But when you're in the hospitality industry, you're not prohibited from serving anybody. At any one time, some industries excel and others retreat. We strategize where we're going next. Right now, leading companies are pharmaceuticals, and that's where marketing efforts should be turned. Now we can research a market segment and put our literature in their hands within two days; we have the time for that now. We're in control.

Q: How has your employee base changed?

A: We now have people from the hotel industry, who process food and beverage and event orders more quickly. In the event business, you have to be up to speed with documents and computers. It's a different skill set from culinary operations.

Q: How can other special event and catering companies reconfigure their operations to eliminate some services and focus on others?

A: Look at the mergers and acquisitions process, even if it isn't a financial transaction. Start a partnership.

This is a new way to look at how to expand. You don't have to exit from the industry. You can realign yourself to where you would like to be.

Kramer is president of San Jose, Calif.-based Coast Special Event Architects and a member of the Special Events Magazine Advisory Board. She can be reached at 408/244-9700 or via e-mail at mail@eventblueprint.com.