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Pre-COVID, planners were accustomed to suppliers accommodating their requests on short notice. That all changed March 2020. Companies were forced to lay off staff and shutter operations. So where does that leave us now that things are starting to open back up? Suppliers are cautiously starting to re-open and re-staff, but are they up to full speed? The answer is no. What does that mean for planners? You need to allow for lag time; that window of time between the request and time of delivery.

With that in mind, we thought we’d give you a view from the suppliers’ side of things to give more perspective so we sat down with Jeremy Butler from Butler Seattle.

Q. Are you receiving requests for live events? If yes, what kind?

A. After nearly a year of canceling and rescheduling the same events, we started to receive requests for live events in March. There have been a few corporate events but primarily social such as weddings and special occasions like graduations. As a whole, they have been slated for mid- to end- of summer.

Q. What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing as we move back into live events? 

A. That’s two-fold. There is still a concern on the horizon —will the Government roll back the ability to host in-person events or not. People are also deferring committing because they aren’t sure of the guest count. That has impacted how contracts are negotiated and finalized as well as scheduling and staffing! The good news is that as confidence to gather continues to increase, so does the volume of requests for services.

Now to the biggie… Staffing! We have been in business for over 26 years; this was the first time we have had to let go of long-term employees, several with over a decade of work history. We have kept a small crew of dedicated drivers and sales team but laid off most of our workforce. We are now in touch with most of the laid-off workforce; several are excited to get back to work, others have left the event industry, perhaps for good. The combined knowledge of both our senior Valet leads and Transportation drivers that are no longer available or are not comfortable being in close proximity to guests is our immediate challenge. The other challenge is their willingness to work. We’ve been checking on how comfortable they are working in close proximity to others and encouraging them to get vaccinated. Some are not comfortable while others are concerned there will be a rollback to Phase 2, and work will once again not be available.

What this translates to planners is book early, do not wait. Our overall capacity to provide transportation, valet, or other event services will be limited, and we already have several sold-out dates based on available staffing. 

Q. How do you plan on keeping up with demand once the city opens as your event calendars start filling up? 

A. Great question! Unfortunately for the procrastinators, they may find themselves with no one to service their event or at a price that exceeds their original budget. We only plan on bringing back enough staff to meet the growing needs and not overextend our capabilities to accommodate all requests. 

Q. If the city was to open up today, what would be your plan of action? What are the immediate challenges you would be up against?

A. It takes time to rebuild and rehire staff. Moving forward, we will be more conservative on rehiring due to potential rollbacks and opening phases. The expense of keeping a company at 100% ready with a lack of business is not cost-effective and no longer an option. Consumer confidence in the social sector is getting there (July weddings are back) however, many corporate events are waiting to book until 2022. The entire event industry is experiencing the same challenges, staffing, and stability to retain the staff. 

Q. How can corporations that rely on the event industry to entertain their guests ensure the survivability of professional event companies?

A. An example of how corporate planners have assisted our company was to hire our company to participate in staff appreciation deliveries. This activity has allowed us to keep additional drivers employed and will help contribute to a faster rebound once corporate event returns to in-person events.