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SXS Events

  • 9 Ways to Choose the Right Supplier

9 Ways to Choose the Right Supplier

As an event organiser your choice of suppliers can make or break your event.

Having worked in events for over fifteen years I have seen many success stories, as well as a few disasters with supplier choices.The article will give you advice on how to choose the right suppliers for your event.

Types of suppliers

The suppliers you may look for could include caterers, marquee companies, designers, safety managers, sound companies, lighting companies, generator companies, cleaners, security, transport, fencing and many others.These types of businesses all work differently and have their own quirks.I will keep this article to general rules that apply to all supplier types.

1. Don't let yours be their biggest event

The events industry has many small companies who are aspirational and want to do work beyond their capabilities. While this may be inspiring and entrepreneurial it does not translate to a company providing the reliable, consistent quality of service you need.When working with professional companies it should be very easy to establish if your event is one within their capabilities.There are a few things you can do to check:

  • Ask for case studies of previous similar events – all established companies will be able to provide case studies outlining the work they did with photos and videos showing their work
  • Ask for photos of previous work that is similar or larger than your event
  • Ask for references from clients who have used them for similar work

If there is reluctance to provide any of these it is best to be aware of the potential risks of using that supplier.

2.Make sure they have the resources they need to do your event

Many companies utilise the subcontracted services, skills or equipment of third parties.This practice is commonplace and quite acceptable when the items being provided are non-critical fringe items.However, it is very important that your suppliers have the core resources they need to do your event in-house.If your supplier has to rely on third parties for elements of their work that are critical there is a risk element being introduced to your event in the quality and reliability of the third parties. By relying on third parties lead times are increased, costs are less controlled and there is a risk of that third party not being able to deliver.

Many suppliers openly work as an agency and solely source services from third parties.In this case it is a good idea to check out all their suppliers.Most good agencies will be happy to agree to transparency about who their suppliers arewithin their service level agreement.

3. Make sure they are what they say they are

You need to understand the details of your supplier's businesses.It is quite easy for a new company to make bold claims about what they are, what they have, their capabilities and the work they have done.It is important to understand the extent of accuracy of this information. As such I strongly advise that you visit a supplier's premises prior to committing.All established and transparent companies will be very happy to have you visit their place of business.If you sense any reluctance to do this I would suggest caution when dealing with the company.

4. Ensure best value

Even when a supplier fulfils all the requirements outlined in this document it is still important to ensure that you are getting good value.

The best way to check this is put your project needs 'out to market'.Do this by finding at least three new companies you like the look of or have been referred to and send them a brief.Click HERE to see an article on how to write a brief.

5. Understand what you will actually be getting

Events are often a creative process whereby concepts are discussed and outlined in vague and general terms.This is perfectly acceptable and is an important part of the creative and collaborative process. However, when it comes to making a contractual or financial commitment to a supplier it is important that you know precisely what you are getting.Vagueness will invariably work against you, not for you.

As such you should insist that a supplier provides at least three of the following documents - which ones will depend on the type of business they are.

  • A list of specific items to be provided and quantity of each (for all types of supplier)
  • A schedule of how they will deliver their service leading up to and on the day of the event (especially relevant to caterers, security companies, venues and anyone providing staff)
  • Itemised pricing (in all cases)
  • Technical drawings with dimensions (essential for marquees, staging, rigging or construction-related suppliers)

6.Get references

Good companies have happy clients.Happy clients are generally willing to help their favourite suppliers by offering references.

Insist on copies of thankyou letters or references.In some cases it may also be appropriate to speak to previous clients, but do not be put off if your supplier is not happy to give out their client details.

7. Get Drawings or Plans

When dealing with items like marquees, staging, flooring, fencing or anything where spacing is important technical drawings are critical.Personally I do not see how an event can be effectively designed without doing proper scaled CAD drawings.I do CAD drawings for all my projects and this helps enormously to ensure that everything runs smoothly.Scaled drawings allow the designer to identify issues such as spacing and sight lines in advance which saves time and money later. Drawing events makes it easy to communicate with others exactly what is happening and how it is going to look.Most importantly a drawing makes it very clear what you are getting.

All professional companies providing marquees, rigging, staging and production services will be glad to provide 3D CAD drawings.Such companies will typically have the capabilities in house.

Avoid production companies that do not provide technical drawings - this is an indication that they are not working at a professional level.

8. Check their financial position

All too often I have seen companies in the events industry go out of business with very little warning.With all suppliers you should check their financial position.I usewww.duedil.comwhich gives access to the publicly available financial information about a company.Create a due dil account and search for the companies you are considering using.This will then show who the directors are, who the shareholders are and financial data.You can learn a lot from this, but the key things to look out for are:

  • 'Net Worth' figure – This gives an indication of the 'worth' of a business.If this number is negative it means the company is insolvent (ie has more debt than assets) in which case they should be avoided altogether.
  • 'Cash' – how much cash they had to hand at their last year end.In itself this is not a major factor but gives an idea of liquidity which can be an indication of their ability to fund a project if this is a factor for your event.
  • 'Total Liabilities' – this shows the total debt the company has.Whether this number is high or low needs to be considered in the context of the scale of operation and level of assets held.

Many transparent companies will be happy to provide clients with full year-end and management accounts.In cases where the project is large or the relationship ongoing this is a reasonable request.

Should your supplier be reluctant to provide this information you should ask why and what (if anything) they are hiding.

Financial analysis is a complex field so speak to an accountant if you want more in-depth information

9.Make sure they have a plan in place in case of your key person becoming ill or otherwise unavailable

Most medium to large suppliers will have a team of people working on a project. It will often be the case that you will be dealing with one key contact.This can be a very good thing as they can build their own relationship with you and get a deep understanding of the project.

However it is important that you can be assured that should your contact be unavailable the project will still run smoothly. A simple question of “what happens if you are sick?” should be asked of your contact.

A professionally-managed company will have effective systems in place that ensure all information is stored in a way that makes it accessible to other members of the team to ensure service continuity.

SXS as a supplier

SXS are a transparent business with a high degree of integrity.We appreciate that it is up for our clients to make their own minds, and as such do the following:

  • Hold detailed case studies of over 100 events with images and an outline of our work.These are instantly available upon request.
  • Retain one of the most advanced and diverse in-house set of skills and equipment of any company in the events business.
  • Provide 3d designs and video walkthroughs for all projects free of charge.
  • Have very low debt levels and considerable asset holdings with no leasing or any off-balance-sheet financing
  • Own the freehold of the premises we are based in
  • We are very happy to have any prospective client come to our premises to meet the team and have an equipment demo.
  • For major projects, make accounts available upon request.
  • Have excellent propriety project management systems in place that store information and project documents in a way that is transparent and accessible.Staff are all trained to manage information in a standardised format.

SXS has been established since 1998 and we actively encourage clients to visit our premises, demo our equipment and meet the team.This way our clients know exactly what we are all about.

This article was written by company founder and MD Johnny Palmer. Please click here to read more articles about event production.

Most of these articles are also available onGoogle+ via Johnny Palmer's Google + Profile

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