One thing worse than living through a recession is trying to write about it at the same time.
“You've got to tell it straight and not sugar-coat reality,” one reader told me. “It's terrible out there.” But another says, “Please — enough of the woe-is-me stories! Can't you write about good news for a change?”
Here are two stories about the event business that should satisfy both of my readers: They're the truth about the recession, but with happy endings.
First, I heard some good news from Steve Anthony of American Event Rentals in Stockton, Calif. He has three companies: a group of home and garden shows, a trade show decorating company and a party rental company. His show business is down by half, he says, a headache faced by many in that segment. And with slow business in shows, his show decorating company is suffering.
But his party rental business is holding steady and some months is even matching numbers from the good old days two years ago. His secret? Customer service. “Kill your customers” with great service, Anthony advises. “When they know you care and they feel your interest in their events, it really makes a difference.”
For the flip side of this story, consider my entrepreneurial friend (who asked to remain anonymous).
He operates several businesses, with the linchpin being his catering operation. When it began to falter this year, jeopardizing all his endeavors, he reluctantly fired his longtime sales manager and took over sales himself. And that decision is saving him.
As he began working with potential clients, he learned a lot — a scary lot — about how his former sales manager handled requests from customers.
One bride had asked for a four-tier wedding cake. But the sales manager thought three was plenty and said so. The bride went elsewhere. One bride wanted her cake table in a certain spot in the room. But the sales manager didn't agree and had the table moved — during the reception. With the sales manager gone, business is picking up.
This story not only echoes Steve's point about the crucial role customer service plays, it also reminds us that it's fatal to assume that everyone on our team — even longtime employees — is handling such basics as excellent customer service properly.
What does “good service” mean to your team?