How to Keep That Special Event Contract

Two event coordinators give the lowdown on what they look for in a service provider

How to Keep That Special Event Contract
Event organizers want to know they'll be receiving quality customer service from the PRO they hire.

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In the portable sanitation business, special event contracts contribute a good chunk of your summer revenue. Winning those bids can be challenging and once you have an event contract you want to keep it.

The bottom line isn’t the only factor event directors are considering if they’re doing their job correctly. Savvy ones know exactly what kind of service they are looking for and stick with the companies that provide it. So who better to give service tips than the event coordinators themselves?

“Cost in business is always a factor,” says Gerry Van Harpen, coordinator for Hodag Country Festival. “As is the work being performed in a clean and timely manner, including all the proper paperwork.” Van Harpen’s event is a weeklong country music festival in northern Wisconsin typically drawing 20,000 people. The current portable restroom service company is entering the fourth year of its contract.

Lora Knowlton is an event consultant who helms the Colorado Irish Festival, along with other large events. The Colorado Irish Festival brings in about 16,000 people over 2 1/2 days in Littleton, Colorado. It’s a gated event in a park featuring Irish merchandise, food, beverages, music, dancing and other activities. Knowlton says the current provider has held the contract at least seven or eight years. “We’ve kept our relationship with them because they have always provided really great customer service. So we really have no reason to go anywhere else.”

Knowlton agrees that price is not the most important factor. “I know the company we use is not the cheapest, but I also know they’re not the most expensive. My approach for all my events is whoever’s got the most inexpensive bid is not always the best way to go. I’m comfortable with the price we’re paying and know we’ll get good customer service.”

Be “people” people

Friendliness and professionalism are a big part of what Van Harpen looks for in her service provider. She says another big draw is that the company works well with everyone involved in the event, including the county health department, the festival staff and the Department of Natural Resources.

Knowlton says what she most appreciates about her service company is the personable customer service. “They’re ‘people’ people. Some of the other portable restroom companies that I’ve worked with for other events, it’s just people out there delivering potties and it’s like they’ve been told, ‘Go out and drop them and don’t talk to anybody, and then leave.’ This crew comes in, and they have a job to do and they do it very well, but they’re social about it. So I’ve gotten to a point where I know them personally. And it’s, ‘Hey how’s it going? How’s your husband? How’s your mom? How are your kids?’ So we’ve kind of punched through that business firewall, I guess you could say.”

While you don’t need to become best friends with your event directors, they will appreciate a friendly attitude and cheerful workers.

Be available

Being available to event coordinators any time they need something will make for service they won’t want to be without. Van Harpen says what she most appreciates about her service provider is the fact that the owners work the event personally and are on the grounds the entire time. This is not a typical case since the event includes large campground areas.

Camping out at every event your company serves may be unrealistic in the busy season. You can’t be everywhere at once. But making the effort to put in an appearance as often as possible to make sure everything runs smoothly is a good idea.

Knowlton agrees that availability is key. Her preferred restroom company isn’t located too far away, “so when emergencies pop up, they’re on site taking care of the problem before we know it, which is great. … They’re always available for us.”

Provide accessories

Both events rent hand-wash stations along with restrooms. The Colorado Irish Festival also provides trash boxes and recycling bins, courtesy of the restroom company. Many events will have that service handled, but being able to offer other items to complement the restroom service is never a bad idea.

Anticipate problems

Anticipating the needs of your event coordinators is something they won’t take for granted. “A lot of the companies that I’ve worked with, if you don’t ask for extra toilet paper and paper towels, ultimately sometime during the event you’re going to run out,” says Knowlton. “And then you’re going to have to make a call and you’ll have people at the event angry at you. But this crew anticipates that you may run out. So they leave me a box of extras so that I have them if we need them. And then when the event’s done, I give them back the box with anything left that I didn’t need.”

Follow up

Since Van Harpen’s service company stays on the grounds, there is no need for a follow-up conversation. “Communication is always open,” she says. But if you’re not frequently in contact with the event director throughout the duration of the event, a follow-up call or email is a must.

Knowlton gets a call from her provider after every event. This is the operator’s chance to suggestion solutions to issues that arose during the event. For example, if the same amount of beverages will be served the following year, recommend increasing the number of restrooms or doing an additional cleaning after everyone leaves for the night. Or placing more restrooms in an area you noticed was particularly busy. “Those are things that I don’t typically know. I only hear about it from customers if something’s not right,” Knowlton says.

Avoid the deal-breakers
The length of these contracts is proof that an event coordinator will be loyal to a company that provides great service. But there are still deal-breakers to be aware of. Van Harpen says not keeping to the necessary schedule would make her think twice about renewing a contract, as would not keeping current with industry standards and regulations.

“Things happen sometimes, and if something happens and they don’t make it right, then I might have a tendency to go with someone else the next year,” says Knowlton. “But we’ve never had to go down that path [after hiring the current company].”


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