Strategic Stagers - AvNetwork.com

Strategic Stagers

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Etech provided support for the Kelsey Group's event in Philadelphia, PA in June 2006.Etech was founded in Orlando, FL in 1996 by Tom Brandt, who came from the tech support side of the industry. The company's first client was America Online, appropriate considering Etech's push toward broader products and services including computer-based technology. Etech began this initiative by introducing internet connectivity to the convention market before it really existed.

Brandt puts Etech's success on the breadth of its products and services. "It's just a customer driven business. We find out what people want and deploy our people in ways that make more sense. We don't really consider ourselves rental or staging, we're kind of in the middle. There's a lot of work that requires specialty, thought, and innovative products beyond what goes on in the staging environment. That's where we focus, coming up with different products and services. Originally it was internet and a lot of computer-based things, and then that became mainstream. Now we're focused on digital signage and content, as far as gathering the content at events, repurposing it, and getting it out in front of people. Also, we've developed a lot of sponsorship ideas for clients as well."

Etech primarily services the corporate market, which allows it to find new ways to service a large show. Brandt noted, "Our primary market is large corporate events, usually ones we target. We dominate the market of large breakout rooms with complex logistics, because our inventory reflects that. Then we add lot of product and services that sit on top of that, meaning we'll deploy a wireless network across an entire facility with sponsorship pages as far as authentication. We can handle any kind of computer needs like cyber cafes, training labs, and software development. We're also into content gathering and recording to the point of doing more than just audio. We'll capture the slides from presentations and put them into a database for people to use at the event. We can also do podcasts and similar stuff. We're very broad as far as the product offering we're doing. Sometimes it's difficult to convey our services because we do a lot of things across a wide area that would usually take multiple vendors."

While Etech continues to expand its capabilities, Brandt says that he prefers it to remain a manageable size. "We've tripled in size over the last four years, but we've done so profitably. We're not out to be the biggest, we consider ourselves a boutique. If we had the choice to be a 10 million dollar company at a certain profitability or a 20 million dollar company at half that profitability, we'll take the 10. It's a lot less work for the same amount of money, and that would be some great advice for a lot of people in our industry. We like to get people to buy because we're better, that's a very difficult thing to maintain, that discipline."

That discipline carries over to the company's inventory. Brandt explained that Etech is very meticulous about its gear. "We spend about 15 percent of our income on R&D. We try to stay disciplined in our marketplace, not getting the latest greatest thing. We always make sure it's something people are willing to pay for. We do a lot financial projections on return on capital and logistical things, but we do buy for the size of our company quite a bit. At the percentage of what we're doing we've got to have a few people out there keeping an eye on technology."

To keep the inventory under wraps, Etech developed its own inventory tracker many years ago. Brandt expanded, "We were fortunate, with the technical background of the company, to be able to develop our own asset tracking inventory. The entire company runs through it. It's a web-based program so if you're at a show or in a remote office, you know what's in our inventory at any given time. We can look at our whole inventory within hours. Something I was exposed to very early in this industry was managing what we have very well so when it gets time to buy we really know if we need it. With this industry being somewhat seasonal at times, you've got to make due with what you got in the most efficient matter. In hindsight, it was very worth the time and money we spent to develop that."

While Etech provides many services for its clients, it also pushes them to make money off the shows themselves. Brandt noted, "We're heavy on the project management side of things in the relationship with clients, so it's not really a sale driven thing anymore. We do the show, but we come up with ideas to make it better, integrating new technology along the way, and help them to come up with ideas that are sponsorship driven so they're buying from us and then selling it and making money on a lot of instances. We've got a lot of customers where half the bill they make money on."

Etech is looking to the West Coast in the future for expansion plans. Brandt said, "We have a project management office out of Seattle, but most of the inventory is in Orlando. We're looking at expanding to the West coast in the near future, with the nature of the event market. We're slowly expanding, but we want to be more focused on being the best and not the biggest. The thing about our industry is you're only as good as the job you just did, we don't live off a lot of long term contracts. Clients now need a lot of strategy, and that's where we're able to differentiate from other people on a long term prospective."

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