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Investing in Inventory

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FullScale Event Productions Captures Business In the Bay Area From the Ground Up

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FullScale Event Productions started working primarily in the concert sector, acquiring business by word of mouth.

FullScale Event Productions has become one of the more successful rental companies in the San Francisco Bay Area in recent years, but it wasn’t always that way. Rewinding back many years would find co-founder Chris Flum working as a production manager for Bill Graham Presents, one of the largest concert promoters in the nation at the time. Flum would often admire stages and other gear during his travels around the country, pondering why no one actually rented it out. Several years later, Flum would pursue his vision of renting to the industry and find great success.

Shortly after working The Who tour for Bill Graham, Flum was headhunted for a job at a local rental company in San Francisco. Flum recalls, “I worked for them a bit and I was amazed by how much junk gear they had. September 11 happened soon after, at which point the company fired 120 employees, including me. At the same time I was headhunted by an old Bill Graham client, who hired me to be a tour manager. I immediately noticed they didn’t want to buy their own gear, so I thought, ‘Well, with the money you’re going to pay me, I’m going to buy my own gear and rent it back to you.’ And that’s how the company began to form.”

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FullScale eventually moved into working events like high-end weddings.

With a new business plan starting to take shape, Flum approached his good friend Scott Kress, now creative director and president of FullScale, about starting up a company that rented gear. “Scott decided to back me and rent the gear out while I was on tour,” notes Flum. “At that point I started to buy gear, beginning with around $100k of Stagerite stage. That’s really how we got started. Because the money we had was the income I was getting from tour work, we didn’t have a huge nest egg to start with. We just had to keep renting the gear we had. Every time we did an event, instead of putting the money into our pockets, we’d boot strap and reinvest all the money back into the company, buying even more gear. I honestly just took one of my only real paychecks home from FullScale last December, my first since 2002, but I’ve got a lot of gear to show for it.”

As the company’s inventory grew, so did the storage space for it all, which lead to FullScale acquiring it’s own warehouse space. “We started out with staging and lighting stored in my garage,” recalls Flum. “From that it grew into a small storage unit, then to two storage units, then to a quarter of a hangar at Alameda’s former naval yard. Now we’re in 14,000-square-foot building that’s packed with gear.”

Resale and Reinvest
To keep with the latest gear, Flum has taken chances at investing in other companies’ products, as well as reselling a majority of his inventory. “We take our stock and sell anything that’s 2-3 years old. We’ve retained about 75 percent of the value when we resell and we’ve rented the heck out of the stuff already. So we basically take that resale money and reinvest it in new technology. And we’ve been trying to keep acquiring highend gear. When we finally hit LED lighting, for example, the first thing I did was to find a manufacturer in Singapore that made good products. I then said to them that we wanted to invest in their product and distribute it for them, which gave us a chance to make money and have plenty of quality LED products.”

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Corporate events such as this fashion show have been a growth area for FullScale, where they provide video and audio support, as well as staging materials.

The Unique Crew
While Flum’s company has remained environmentally conscious, his employees have taken it upon themselves to take better care of the inventory. “Quite often we’re looking for new gear out on the market, but we’ve found the newest stuff isn’t tested yet, and we want to know how much of a beating things can take,” explains Flum. “If you don’t own it, you don’t care about it as much. Our employees make so much more money than I make, and the reason for that is that they feel as if they own part of the equipment, so they take care of it. You want your employees taking care of the gear so it will last and have a value to be able to sell it and make a profit. Since they have their hands on it more than any one else, its condition is in their hands.”

One way that FullScale has put more value in its services is by training employees in different types of gear. “We took two of our crew last year and flew out to Canada and trained them at Mobile Stage Rentals on how to set up Stageline products,” says Flum. “We are now the only NORCAL crew than can bring in Stageline rentals and set them up. We’re trying to diversify ourselves to be able to do whatever’s needed by having a unique crew. We’re trying to offer our clientele something that no one else has.”

While FullScale continues to expand its services and ideologies, its business has begun to expand beyond concert work. “Since last year, we were primarily in concerts, but now we’ve started moving into high-end weddings and conventions,” notes Flum. “We took over an expo company and started doing a lot of that work in the Bay Area. And we’ve got 11 street fairs coming up this summer, up from last year’s single street fair we did. We don’t discern whom we service; we’ll take the $600 job and the $600K job.”

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