Event center software: How Camrose Regional Exhibition saved 480 hours a month and two salaries using our tools
If you run an event venue, you know that your business can’t afford to waste time and resources with inefficient manual processes and lengthy workarounds. Still, most event management teams find themselves logging details in multiple applications, transferring handwritten calendar dates into Excel sheets and frantically trying to find information that was filed away by another staff member.
Dianne Kohler, CEO of Camrose Regional Exhibition (CRE) in Camrose, Alberta (CA), understands this feeling all too well. While she knew that her lengthy processes and stand-alone applications were costing her venue time and money, she wasn’t convinced that a true all-in-one event center software existed — at least not an affordable one.
As a community-focused non-profit event center, Dianne was hyper-aware that CRE needed to operate under a super-lean business model in order to achieve its mission and return as much profit as possible to the community.
“Every rental that comes in, every dollar that we make, whether it's running events or renting out our venue or decor, it all goes back into the community,” said Dianne. “So it's important that we stay super lean because the more financially stable we are, the more we can do for the community.”
Unfortunately, her super-lean strategy was being hampered by time-consuming workflows and various software solutions and venue management tools that didn’t integrate with each other. This inevitably led to hiring additional event professionals to manage her disparate systems, costing the venue more money and eating away at profit margins. Ultimately, her then-current event management solutions took away from the mission and created frustration for staff and clients.
“Before Planning Pod, we had an old joke here that we called ‘3 times CRE’, which meant that for everything we did, we had to enter it three or more times into at least three different programs,” reflected Dianne. “It was such a huge waste of productivity and money, and in the end, my profit margin was almost gone.”
If you can relate to the struggles CRE faced, you aren’t alone. Many venue and event managers find themselves buried in processes that prevent them from focusing on managing and growing their business. Planning Pod’s event management software for venues helped Dianne solve her problems, and we can help you, too. Sign up for a free trial.
How CRE overcame event venue management challenges and established a streamlined workflow that works
Soon, Dianne found the solution to her problems with Planning Pod’s user-friendly, all-in-one event center software. Combining all of her individual venue management systems into a comprehensive venue management software enabled Dianne to streamline her work process, cut back on staffing costs, serve her customers better, open new revenue streams and save her event space 480 work hours each month.
“Coming from a background doing major event and trade show management, I am accustomed to running three main systems and several other smaller ones — my floorplanning module, my event management module, and my CRM and business system for managing customers,” said Dianne.
“Planning Pod absolutely allowed me to run all this in one system. It's the first time in my career that I can run everything in one place, and it’s amazing!”
Like many event professionals when they first hear about Planning Pod’s extensive functionality, Dianne originally thought that Planning Pod’s event center management software had to be too good to be true.
“Before I heard the price, I thought, ‘Gosh, this is going to be expensive,’” Dianne reminisced. “Then, when I heard the price, I about fell off my chair because it's so reasonable for everything you get.”
In this article, we will walk you through the four big challenges Dianne and her team faced in running their event center and the solutions they applied to overcome them:
- Struggling to manage data and processes across nine separate applications
- Maintaining business continuity amidst changes in the business and staffing
- Streamlining internal collaboration and keeping staff aligned to avoid missed details and mistakes
- Convincing clients to choose them and then delivering on those expectations and visions
Challenge: Juggling data and event details across nine separate software applications
When Dianne took over at CRE, the event center was on track to shut down within a year unless dramatic changes were made. This left Dianne with the weighty responsibility of completely reorganizing and revamping the venue’s current system and workflows.
“We had to go through a reorganization when I arrived because the facility was not in good shape,” confirmed Dianne.
One of Dianne’s most significant challenges in turning around the event space was streamlining its underperforming systems and eliminating process gaps that increased the possibility of information getting lost, buried or not updated properly (and increasing the risk of double bookings to boot).
“Back then, we probably had 8 to 9 systems, and they didn't communicate with each other, and only certain staff knew how to use certain systems,” said Dianne. “We had an event management system. We had a separate venue CRM system. We used Trello as a project management system. We had an accounting system. And we didn't have a floor plan software, so we were contracting that out and paying someone to do it.”
She also knew that this double-entry (or triple, quadruple, or even more) was costing CRE more than just time. When data needs to be entered multiple times into different applications, it creates a dangerous “double-dip” effect that causes two major problems:
- Additional resources and staff are needed to manage these entries and monitor for inaccuracies.
- It increases the risk that, when staff gets busy or distracted, data isn’t entered in all the appropriate places, causing potential issues and omissions that will present themselves later, when fixing them may be more difficult or impossible.
“Literally, you would enter the data 5 to 6 times in all these systems for just one customer,” explained Dianne. “It was a huge waste of staff time. I also had to have extra staff simply devoted to entering data and tracking it all.”
Dianne was overwhelmed with the unnecessary complexity and manual needs of her inefficient software solutions and knew that finding a streamlined system was a core tenant of saving the business.
Solution: Combining all the necessary event venue tools into an all-in-one, interconnected event management software
During her initial search for a new software solution, Dianne Googled, ‘the top three systems that venue managers are using.’
Among competitors like EventPro, Tripleseat and Event Temple, Dianne found Planning Pod’s all-encompassing event center management software to be an early favorite.
“Planning Pod was one of the first three that came up, and I said, ‘oh, it has a floor plan tool! Oh, it has a CRM! Oh, my operations data is in there! Oh, I can tie my accounting system to it! Oh, it has to-do lists, checklists and templates, too!’ Everything I need can live in one system.”
She decided to test drive a few of the platforms while also signing up for a free trial of Planning Pod’s conference center software.
“After going through multiple demos with various platforms, I dove into Planning Pod,” said Dianne. “I found it was the most robust system of any that I researched. It could hold all the data in one place and allow users access regardless of their job function.”
Now, Dianne and her team aren’t sure what they would do without it.
“For all smaller or mid-sized venues, Planning Pod is the only product that you should be running,” added Diane. “It is that impactful for the organization.”
Planning Pod’s room bookings management tool and client CRM tools simplify how venues can manage and track their leads and events. Some of the specific event booking and CRM tools Dianne loves include...
The venue booking calendar is a central team calendar where the entire event planning team can view booked events as well as holds, leads, payment dates and appointments or walkthroughs. The calendar can be accessed and updated in real-time from any device - computers, tablets, or mobile apps - preventing schedule conflicts or double bookings. The smart event booking tool also warns you if dates or times conflict for room bookings so you never have to worry about simple mistakes creating big problems.
The connected task manager tool also comes packed with customizable templates that you can easily import into new events, making it quick and easy for event managers to upload standard tasks needed for common venue packages. It even automatically backs out your tasks from the date of the event!
The lead and sales CRM manager enables the CRE staff to effectively manage incoming leads and track them through the sales pipeline, increasing bookings and making sure that leads don’t go cold. It even automates new online booking and social media leads through a customizable webform you can embed directly into your venue’s event website. The CRM tool also manages the contact information and details for all of your prospects, clients, staff, vendors and contractors so you can easily find the number of your favorite caterer or a prospect you want to follow up with.
If you are a unique venue like Camrose that also manages lots of event details for clients, Planning Pod provides tools that track every bit of data and automate processes, including...
Schedule builder - This functionality lets you create detailed timelines for your events that track everything in the event process. You can input dates and times, contact assignments, vendor and venue assignments and file attachments for each item. You can even enable email and text reminders so that you, your team, clients and vendors are always in sync during the event day-of.
Vendor and venue management - Track all vendors and venue rooms/spaces assigned to events, including vendor contact information, assignments, tasks, and invoicing and billings (via a handy budgeting tool) as well as profiles for all rooms and spaces in your venue (including capacities and associated floorplans and setups).
Files and notes manager - Accumulate all electronic files, attachments and notes in one place for each event and keep them organized with virtual folders.
Form and questionnaire builder - Create online forms to easily collect input and feedback from prospects and clients regarding their events so that you know exactly what they are looking for during the lead or event planning stages.
All these tools (and other ones we will cover here shortly) have enabled Dianne to streamline her staff and save her venue thousands of dollars.
“Now I don't need a go-between person between administration and operations because those team members now have access to all the same data, so there's a salary I save there,” raved Dianne. “And I don't need someone typing in stuff all the time to multiple applications, so there's another salary save there.”
Challenge: Maintaining business continuity amidst changes in the business and employees
When Dianne started her reorganization of CRE, part of it involved staffing changes, including eliminating positions to cut costs. What she didn’t expect was the information that would leave with them.
“When those people left the organization because of the reorg, all that information left with them,” said Dianne. “It killed us for a while. I had to answer calls from previous clients where I had to admit ‘I have no idea what you do.’”
After that, Dianne told herself that “never again will we be in this position where, if someone is sick or if they leave, that the information leaves with them. The data and knowledge must stay with the organization.”
Continuity killers like this, where information isn’t easily passed between event planners or managers or when business-critical knowledge leaves when an employee moves on, are commonplace for event venues that don’t have a centralized, comprehensive system for recording, storing and updating essential business information and client details.
Solution: A centralized system for maintaining business data with user-friendly, easy-to-learn business management tools
Dianne values her employees and recognizes that they are the organization’s biggest asset and are absolutely vital to the growth and success of the business. So after the reorg, she knew that in order to retain and optimize her staff, she needed to provide them with the right tools, systems and training so they could effectively do their jobs.
“My biggest source of stress comes down to, ‘Am I doing the right things for the organization for its future sustainability and am I utilizing my employees to their fullest?’ I want to make sure they have the tools, the knowledge and the support they need to do their very best job,” said Dianne. “That keeps me up at night because if we haven't provided those things, the last thing I want to hear is, ‘I'm quitting because I don't have the tools, knowledge or support to do my job right.’"
Planning Pod’s business management tools ensure that key staff always have access to vital details to run the business and collaborate and that those details are organized in a way that allows anyone to act on them quickly if needed. Some of those features include:
Proposal and contract building - Customizable proposal templates and line item templates let you set things up so you can create templates and template language for packages you frequently use. With templates, it only takes minutes to pull details into a new proposal, make changes and send it to the client for their approval.
Electronic signature capabilities - When sending a contract or proposal to a client, you can include a link for clients to easily sign the documents electronically, helping you close the deal faster and eliminate lengthy follow-ups and check-ins. You can also create a unique venue client portal for each client and simply notify them through the account that the proposal or contract is in their portal and ready for their review and signature.
Invoicing and payments - Make invoicing simple by transforming a proposal into a detailed invoice with a single click. Then, send the invoice directly from the system to the client’s inbox where they can make easy online payments with one of Planning Pod’s merchant processors (PaySimple, Stripe and Square). You can also set up automated online payments and schedule payment reminders if you bill by installments or payment plans.
Banquet event orders and food-and-beverage management - Planning Pod lets you add food-and-beverage items from your menu (with names, descriptions, pricing, recipes, etc.) and then build out customized food-and-beverage package templates that you can easily pull into events. The BEOs tool is pre-populated with the information you have already stored in the event — like food-and-beverage details; proposal, contract and invoice details; and timeline and contact information. This tool makes it easy to create menus on the fly, send printable BEOs to staff or vendors and collect client signatures on BEOs. And you can even have multiple BEO documents for different use-case scenarios (like a client BEO, front-of-house BEO, kitchen BEO, delivery sheet, etc.).
Now when it comes to their business and customer data, Dianne can sleep easier at night, knowing that her processes safeguard the organization against employee churn.
“Now all the data is in one place, everyone has access to it, and if someone is off sick or on vacation, it doesn't matter because others can see their progress and pick up where they left off,” said Dianne.
“With Planning Pod, we now know our clients’ events history probably better than they do, and because of that, we can tell them what happened in the past and give them guidance. And that makes us a trusted partner with them,” she continued.
Having everything in one well-organized venue management system has also simplified training and shortened the time it takes to onboard new employees. She explained that this perk alone saves her “hours and days and weeks of time” to get current and new staff up-to-date.
“Planning Pod is super easy to learn and use,” said Dianne. “You don't need hours of training to figure out how to use everything.”
Challenge: Keeping staff members aligned and making it easier to collaborate so important details aren’t missed
When it comes to managing an event venue properly, communication is key. If your sales team doesn’t consult with your event planners, if your financial team can’t access the billing information and invoices from your administrative employees, you’re likely to run into bottlenecks, missed information and clients who are frustrated with unanswered questions or misinformation.
“As CEO, my number one challenge is keeping communication flowing between staff,” said Dianne. “We have an administration department, an operations department, and then the clients, who are at the top of the food chain. Making sure any one of my staff can find the relevant information for their job is paramount to keeping our clients happy.”
In the past, making sure staff were all on the same page wasn’t exactly straightforward. Information was spread between various software, spreadsheets, booking calendars and sometimes in individual inboxes. The collaboration impasse was complicated further when multiple team members were communicating with the same client: sometimes important updates, changes or completed tasks would be locked away in one employee’s email message or not stored in the same manner or location as another employee would expect.
“In the past, say you have Client A, and they make a request, and it goes to our admin staff. They receive the message, but somehow that message gets lost in translation to operations, and they set up the event based on old information. Then the client says, ‘This isn’t what I wanted at all,’ and they’re left wondering if you even talk to each other,” Dianne used as an example.
Solution: Centralized communication portal with notification automations so everyone knows where to find and update client information
When employees are focused on their individual tasks, they can sometimes miss the big picture. Pulling each piece of the business together into a unified event center software creates cross-organizational alignment and increases collaboration amongst departments, making it easier for everyone to do their job with less errors and fewer upset customers.
Planning Pod brings every aspect of your business together, from sales and venue bookings to event planning and paying the bills so that everyone can access the information that they need, as soon as they need. Some of the features of Planning Pod’s convention center software that CRE benefits from are:
Central inbox for all event-related email communications - Never let critical notes and client requests disappear in an unread email. Manage every email you and your team members send and receive with your leads and clients via our event management email inbox. It connects to existing email addresses for you and your entire team, pulling email conversations correlated with clients or leads into a centralized inbox. It also relates each email to a client so you can easily review past conversions before taking a phone call or making updates.
Unlimited users with permission settings - Invite team members to set up their own unique log-ins and manage their permissions so employees can only access the information that you allow them to.
On-the-go mobile access - In the event industry, things happen on the fly, and clients rarely call when you’re at your desk. Because of this, we made it so Planning Pod can be easily used on any computer, tablet or smartphone device — with a mobile friendly interface you and your team can access information anywhere, anytime (and you don’t even need to download a mobile app).
“Our operations staff have their own tablet out in the venue now, and they can pull up the event information and see all the relevant customer data,” said Dianne. “Every one of my staff has access to the system.”
Dashboards - Get a real-time view of your business with an easy-to-read visual dashboard so you’re always in the know about what’s going on in your business. The colorful summary dashboard makes it easy to check for upcoming, overdue, waiting and recently completed items across all of your events in one quick glance.
Automated email and text reminders - Set automated reminders for items like task due dates, vendor payment due dates (in the budget tool) and invoice payment dates. You can also set up autoresponders for new incoming leads and payments so that clients feel assured and certain that you’ve received their message.
“The more we can shorten the distance between our staff members and our clients when it comes to communications, the better, and Planning Pod helps us shorten this dramatically,” said Dianne.
Challenge: Selling clients on the venue, then delivering on their expectations and vision
CRE is a large facility, with a modern indoor convention center / conference center and
402 acres of space dedicated to hosting outdoor festivals. The property even comes equipped with a campground. Because of the large size and the equally large-sized events that book out her venue, Dianne is always looking for innovative ways to fill those spaces and provide additional services to her clients.
“We want to be the first-choice facility and event planning resource for anyone coming in here,” said Dianne. “We want to be your event planning consultant. What we are finding is clients saying, ‘I don't know how to pull off this event’, so we are the resource that helps them create and design their events.”
Earning the trust of new prospects, though, is just as challenging for her as it is for any venue in today’s competitive market. In addition, previous to Planning Pod, Dianne and her team were not equipped with the tools that allowed them to put clients’ visions into practical, easy-to-visualize designs.
“I would get uber frustrated when a client would come in and I had no tool to generate a floor plan quickly and show them what their event could or would look like,” said Dianne.
Ultimately, Dianne and her team were looking for a venue management tool that made it easy to do business with them and enabled them to deliver more to their clients.
“The last thing we want to see here is a one-and-done customer,” explained Dianne. “We want them coming back for all their events.”
Solution: Client-facing tools that simply interactions and expand service offerings
When CRE added Planning Pod’s convention center software to their toolbelt, they did more than streamline their processes ... they also invested in an enhanced client experience, with additional tools that wows clients, builds trust and keeps clients coming back.
Some of Dianne’s favorite client-facing tools in Planning Pod’s venue management software platform are:
Event floor plan builder - Create exact to-scale floor plan layout designs customized to your client’s event and vision. This tool helps event center managers in two different ways:
- You can create quick mockups for prospects based on their initial thoughts to demonstrate exactly what you can do to help them realize their vision.
- You can build detailed, complete layouts to provide to clients for final approval, then pass the design to the setup staff so they understand exactly what needs to go where to replicate the client’s vision.
“Our clients aren’t usually experienced event planners who understand design and logistics, so the floor plan tool has saved us many times,” said Dianne. “We can quickly put the templates in and give it to the client and they instantly get an idea of the space.”
Reusable templates - The platform lets Dianne build standardized templates for task lists, checklists, schedules, budgets and other common documents that clients can use to help them manage event details on their own.
“Planning Pod’s templates really opened up a new revenue stream for us,” said Dianne. “It was a value-add that we have never had before, which is huge, especially for a nonprofit.”
“For example, I was working with a client who wants to design a new festival,” she continued. “And he asked, ‘Do you have a process for helping us with that?’ I took him through the system and just guided him through the headings of the software — communications, to-dos, checklists — and I walked him through all of the pre-built templates for managing his event.”
“You should have seen the smile on his face. When I show clients the system and what we are capable of, they have confidence that we know how to help them.”
Client portal - Invite clients into their own private client portal inside of Planning Pod where they can find and share important information, keep track of their account, receive updates and notifications, e-sign contracts or proposals, view pricing and view and pay invoices, manage tasks, respond to surveys, download and print important documents and much more.
Event registration and ticketing - Help your clients sell their event with Planning Pod’s ticketing tools. They can set up tickets and pricing and collect registration and payments (via PaySimple, Stripe and Square) as well as track RSVPs, set-up online forms and questionnaires and create event websites with embedded registration forms to market and promote their events.
“In 2021, we are turning on the registration tool for our clients and giving them access so they can run their entire event, including ticketing, through our Planning Pod account,” said Dianne.
Can event center software help your venue save time, money and frustrations?
Planning Pod venue management software is all-in-one tool that is built specifically for professionals in the event industry. While we aren’t the only ones on the market — Event Temple, Skedda, Function Tracker, EventPro and Priava are some of our competitors — we do pride ourselves on creating a complete comprehensive system that covers all your venue management needs to increase profit margins, close more deals and operate on a lean business model.
With Planning Pod, CRE was able to save thousands of dollars in overhead costs, open new revenue streams and save 480 hours per month due to the new, streamlined processes. And they aren’t alone. Many Planning Pod customers - including wedding venues, conference centers, performing arts complexes, theaters and convention centers - rely on our platform daily because of its intuitive design, easy-to-use interface and well-thought-out list of features and tools. It literally covers anything you could need for managing a venue.
On average, most Planning Pod clients:
- Save more than 62 hours of work per month by reducing redundancies and unnecessary process waste.
- Have their business and teams completely set-up and ready to operate in Planning Pod in less than three days — especially when they take advantage of the free training.
- Achieve quick adoption by staff and new hires, who are able to easily navigate the intuitive design of the system.
If you’re ready to trade your collection of one-off tools and time-consuming manual processes for smart automations and software solutions that actually make your job easier, we are ready to help. Sign up for a free trial of our event venue software.