4 tactics for evaluating event vendors / event suppliers

EvaluatingEventVendorsSuppliersI was recently speaking with a successful event and wedding planner based in Denver, and he reminded me of just how critical event vendors are in the success of every event and wedding.

He told me that, on average, for a 150-guest wedding, there are around 45 vendor-related personnel who make some sort of contribution on the day of the event. And this count is even higher for larger weddings and corporate events.

As the event planner, you may have one or a few people on site for each event, so you are dependent on the staff members of your vendors to carry out your orders and ensure that every event comes out like you and your client envisioned it.

Because vendors are so integral to the success of your events, it's important that you can trust them and select the event vendors who will follow through as well as make things right when things don't go as planned. Here are 4 things you can do to help ensure the event vendors you hire will be there for you:

1. Consult other event planners regarding vendors
The best way to know if an event or wedding vendor will follow through on their commitments is to ask other planners about the vendor.

I have worked in the creative services industry for 20+ years, and I understand that some business owners are reluctant to share their experiences with vendors because they perceive that their competitors gain an unfair advantage from such a practice. However, I have found the opposite, especially when I give a vendor a favorable review to a "competitor." Often the vendor finds out that I gave the referral and returns the favor down the road by sending some business my way or giving me a break on their services for a future client.

Asking such questions requires you to be networked with other wedding and event planners in your area, which is always a healthy thing. I have found that such relationships with my peers have been invaluable in many ways, and none more important than getting an honest opinion about a vendor or supplier. And simply keeping your ears and eyes open to industry rumors and scuttlebutt can also clue you in as to which vendors are exceeding expectations and which are falling short.

Note: Client recommendations provided by vendors themselves are nice, but they usually are of little help in assessing overall performance because no vendor will provide you with a poor or mediocre recommendation from a less-than-happy client.

2. Ask them how they would respond to hypothetical problems
In most job interviews, interviewees are asked to formulate a response to a hypothetical situation or challenge. Not only does this show how well you think on your feet, but it also shows how well you have a grasp on your area of expertise and if you have faced a similar situation in your past (both of which speak to your experience).

You should do the same when you are interviewing a wedding or event vendor / supplier. Provide them with a hypothetical scenario related to their service and then ask how they would address the scenario. For example, say you are talking to a transportation vendor. Give them a scenario on what they would do if their vehicle breaks down or has a flat tire during the event. Or if there is inclement weather. Or if there is excessive traffic on the day of the event. Or if there is a surge of people who need a ride at a particular time and place.

Come up with 3-5 of the most likely complications that a particular event vendor might face - and one that they very infrequently, if ever, face - and see how they answer. If they are a true professional, they should have a ready response to each one ... if they don't, they might not be prepared to help you in a crisis.

3. Inspect their operations and capabilities
If you or your clients are putting down sizable deposits and making big advance payments (or even moderate ones), then it's critical that you know as much as you can about the capabilities and stability of the vendor or supplier.

For starters, you need to know if they can deliver, which means you need to see their facilities and equipment and talk to their staff members to see for yourself if they are up to the task. If you are talking to someone like a photographer or videographer, you also need to see their portfolio and past work to get a sense of their output, style and experience. You could also ask a vendor if you could take a "tour" of their next event and watch them in action as a quiet, unobtrusive observer.

If you are giving these vendors advance deposits, it is critical that they are financially stable so that you or your client don't lose your money if they become insolvent. In addition, often vendors who can't pay their bills can have problems procuring certain products from reluctant suppliers, which may affect you and your clients. So if the event vendor / supplier has a way to prove their financial stability to you, then all the better.

4. Address specific concerns in the contract
If you or your client are particularly concerned about a certain service or deliverable, or if there's even the slightest question about a vendor's ability to perform, then you should make sure that there are performance criteria and requisite compensation/penalties for when the vendor succeeds/fails to perform.

Again, I'm not an attorney, so this shouldn't be construed as legal advice. However, you should make sure that you and your client's investment is protected from the non-performance or any negligance on behalf of the event vendor / supplier, and the contract is the proper place to spell out these stipulations. If what you are asking for is reasonable and the vendor is confident they can meet the terms, then there shouldn't be an issue. However, if the vendor balks at reasonable terms, then it may behoove you to inquire why or even start a search for another vendor.

Do you have any other best practices in selecting event vendors? Feel free to add them in the comments below.
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One thought on “4 tactics for evaluating event vendors / event suppliers”

  1. Important issues between vendors and planners that I have come across and hold high in importance for a long and healthy relationship would be these:
    1) confidentiality. The client in no way can work around the planner and go directly to the vendor
    2) quality of product - more often than not price is secondary to a high quality product that the planner is confident to reccomend to their client
    3) Timely delivery - confidence in the vendor delivering on time without issues or excuses is a must
    3) ease of ordering - the planner has so much to coordinate that wherever possible the vendor should ease some of the burden

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