The dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic was a nightmare come true for the hospitality industry. As the rug was pulled out from under global society, venues and event businesses of every kind suffered and were forced to close their doors. No matter how established the organization, maintaining consistent revenue was suddenly a nearly insurmountable challenge across the board. Forget about growth – staying open was hard enough.
Andrea Vallencourt was brand new to the events industry in 2019…and got hit with the COVID-19 pandemic in her second year of business. If staying organized wasn’t already a priority, it transformed into an absolute necessity for the survival of her venue, Clay Theatre.
As a renovated 1930s single screen cinema in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Clay Theatre makes for a historic boutique event space. “I just saw this abandoned movie theater that was in town and thought ‘wow, that would make a really cool wedding venue’,” said Andrea. Though they do host numerous weddings, Clay Theatre offers venue bookings for many other types of intimate events. The unique space gave Andrea a leg up in curating a client base.
Andrea’s team was able to retain and reschedule their 2020 bookings for the following year, a significant win that proved to be a double-edged sword. For her small business to survive, limiting weekly availability to accommodate rescheduled bookings was not an option. “Our 2021 was busier than ever. We had to learn quickly how to do 3 or 4 events or weddings a week when we were used to doing just 1 or 2,” said Andrea.
To add even more pressure, the event management software Andrea depended on was in the process of a buyout and transition as the full force of the pandemic hit the hospitality industry. Doubling the weekly events on their 2021 booking calendar may have boosted annual revenue, but Andrea knew that maintaining momentum would require a software suited for venues intending to scale their business.
“With multiple contracts and multiple dates on the booking calendar, it just wouldn’t be possible to keep the team looped in as we grew without software to keep us organized,” said Andrea.
In their search for a new venue management solution, Andrea’s team tried several different booking systems. As they tested the available platforms, Andrea realized there aren’t a lot of options geared toward venues looking to grow rapidly. “Whether they lack the communications tools, or the ability to have all the team members looped in, a lot of the event management platforms out there aren’t geared specifically for venues,” said Andrea.
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How Clay Theatre streamlined processes to keep their business growing
When Andrea and her team discovered Planning Pod, it wasn’t long before they realized it was the best way forward for managing Clay Theatre. However, like some venue owners, Andrea was initially skeptical of the range of functionality encompassed by one platform.
“One day we came across Planning Pod and we thought ‘okay, this is too good to be true.’ It has every function that we need,” said Andrea.
The term “all-in-one software” gets thrown around a lot, and it can mean different things to different people. To Andrea, it meant much more than just a bunch of tools and features. “Planning Pod has really become the lifeline of our business. It’s a one stop shop for all of your customers. One software to do everything that we do.”
In this article we’ll outline the primary challenges Clay Theatre has faced as a young business navigating a global pandemic and how Planning Pod helped them jump start their growth by:
- Consolidating and organizing business details dispersed across many platforms
- Simplifying delegation and communications among a small team
- Enabling them to gain a competitive advantage in the events industry
Challenge: Business details dispersed across too many platforms
Without up-to-date event and business details at the ready, any venue team is fighting an uphill battle to grow as a business. The time required to search through multiple documents, emails, and other channels of communication for details is far too consuming for any member of a team to manage regularly. Those manual processes can take hours of time that would be better spent building strong client relationships, executing the details of bookings, and strategizing for growth.
Andrea and her staff know the importance of centralized communications and a one-stop CRM system.
“My leads used to come from my website and go to my inbox, and then I had to import them into my booking software. That right there took forever,” said Andrea. “And I was using a whole different software to manage my sales pipeline.”
In addition, a big selling point of events at Clay Theater is their customizable, flexible space, and hence collaborating with clients and vendors on floor plans and seating arrangements is vital to their customer experience. “Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal having to use another software for floor plans. But when we’re selling our space, that’s one of the most important things,” Andrea explained. “We used to use a totally different software for floor plans. Not having that tool connected to a client’s booking details meant that the client and other members of the team couldn’t easily see the floorplan before it was finalized.”
The time and energy cost of repetitive manual CRM processes is simply not affordable for growing businesses. As a small venue that prioritizes client relationships and removing barriers to completing bookings, Clay Theatre needed a software solution that centralized all event inquiries, details and communications above all else.
Solution: All-in-one software for venue booking management, lead tracking, layouts, and more
For Andrea, having one central hub for business communications has been crucial to sustaining growth and freeing up her staff’s time to spend on things that make her business relevant and competitive. Having previously relied on separate platforms for event booking, lead tracking, and space layouts, Andrea’s team was wowed when they discovered that all of the above could be managed through Planning Pod.
“I’ve eliminated at least two softwares just by implementing Planning Pod,” Andrea said. “The system saves each of my staff about 5 hours of busywork per week, and saves me personally at least a couple hours every single day.”
The ability to send, receive, and link email communications to events and leads is the key to Clay Theatre’s foolproof attention to detail.
“It’s so nice to be able to just send an email right from Planning Pod,” said Andrea. “And then when clients respond, it keeps the whole chain of communication all in one place…that makes it really easy.”
The Communications tool has the ability to integrate with email addresses already used by staff to send and receive messages. By connecting email addresses to this tool, the system can pull in messages received from any email address associated with a contact in Planning Pod.
This is especially useful in lead management, because anyone who fills out a lead capture form will automatically be created as a contact in the system – and if they reach out to any team member via email at any point after that, their message will be pulled directly into Planning Pod. That message can then be linked directly to a lead or event, providing a central hub for all business communications and eliminating the need to comb through multiple inboxes to track details.
Built-in tools for lead management are a lifesaver when it comes to keeping details in one place. Instead of having to use a separate platform to capture leads before importing them into her booking system, Andrea is able to funnel her leads directly into Planning Pod automatically without having to lift a finger.
“With Planning Pod’s lead form on my website, the contact form goes straight into the system so all of my couples are automatically in there with their name and contact info,” she gushed.
Lead capture forms in Planning Pod are unlimited and highly customizable. Different forms can be tailored to gather information unique to different types of events, client types or spaces. Each online booking form can be easily embedded into a business website, and upon submission prospective clients are automatically created as a new lead in the system. The settings for each lead capture form can also be customized so that new lead information falls into a certain sales pipeline step, and individual team members can be notified at the time of capture. Throughout the qualification process, leads can be tracked through custom sales pipeline steps before booking is complete.
The kicker? You can add an appointment setting module to the form so prospects can select a time slot for a tour at your venue, turning your website into its own appointment-scheduling platform.
As a boutique venue with a customizable event space, Clay Theatre collaborates heavily with their clients on layouts and seating arrangements. Having a built-in floor plan tool is a game changer when it comes to working closely with clients, event planners and vendors.
“I can even loop in event planners that might be outside of our organization and give them certain access to tools like floorplans,” said Andrea.
Floor plan templates can be customized for any event space with wall segments, structural elements, furniture, stages, A/V equipment, and more. Floor plans stored under individual events and leads in Planning Pod also connect directly to the attendee list tool. This makes creating seating charts a breeze with drag-and-drop functionality. If you already have a scaled schematic of your space, that diagram can be uploaded as a background image, saving you the trouble of creating wall segments and structural elements.
Clients can be granted edit or view-only access to the Floorplans tool in their client portal, allowing them to collaborate on the event setup without the need to schedule an in-person appointment. You can also adjust your account settings to lock the Floor plan tool for editing a certain number of days before the event, so as to avoid unintentional or unexpected changes as your team prepares during the home stretch.
Challenge: Delegating & tracking tasks in a small team
When Andrea and her team were searching for a new event management solution, an item high on their wish list was the ability to grant system access to multiple team members.
As a small team, each of the Clay Theatre staff takes ownership of a different set of tasks. While one person might handle the legal documentation and financials of an event, another finalizes the attendee list and itinerary. “It was important to us that we could assign specific tasks to each user,” said Andrea.
Without effective processes in place to effectively delegate, track, and complete tasks, busywork hours inevitably increase and the time available to serve clients evaporates.
Solution: Task lists, templates, & the ability to assign tasks to different users
With every team member playing a vital role in the execution of each event, keeping everyone in the loop when changes are made is one of the biggest advantages of unlimited team access and task management workflows.
“If I have a meeting with a client I can just take notes, attach files, and email her specific things that she asked for. And then the whole team is alerted of those changes. It saves me a lot of time from having to fill everybody in,” Andrea explained. “Creating tasks and reminders to keep up with things like vendor insurance being out of date is also really helpful.”
Planning Pod’s task management and team collaboration tools include:
- Customizable permissions settings for 4 unique user groups
- User-friendly task list templates
- Homescreen and event dashboard task summaries
- Ability to back out task due dates based on event date
The structure of these task management capabilities suits venue teams of any size and can be used to streamline processes and scale your business, regardless of where you are now.
“It’s funny that we all use Planning Pod in a different way. I use the leads and proposals aspect of it. And then someone else from my team will do the invoicing and she’ll create her own tasks to follow up with online payment. And then another person from my team will take over the booked event…she uses the notes, floorplan, and all the nitty gritty details of the actual event.”
The flexibility of the software allows different team members to use it for their own purposes, and customizable permissions allow them to see what pertains to their unique responsibilities without limiting their awareness of the big picture for each event.
The Itinerary tool allows for any number of timeline items to be created and assigned to staff, clients, or vendors. You can even assign text/email reminders or add certain rooms and event spaces to itinerary items. The tool itself provides a number of views, including the ability to view all items on the timeline chronologically or view items assigned to each Vendor, Contact, Category or Venue. You can also download PDF files of itineraries based on your on-screen display.
Andrea also loves the ability to create itinerary templates to be reused for future events. “We have templates for different timelines, depending on the flow of events, and you can easily move items around or modify them,” she said.
Challenge: Staying competitive in the events industry
In a world with so many types of venues, it takes real strategy and hustle to be truly competitive.
Aside from their unique venue space, what Clay Theatre sells is a seamless, customizable experience for their clients. Their team members pride themselves on building strong relationships, which opens the door for Andrea and her staff to provide trusted guidance to clients as each event booking begins to take shape.
“We get to know our clients, and our whole team works with them the whole time. They want to listen to the advice I have on building their vendor team and things like that,” said Andrea.
While white glove service gives Clay Theatre an edge against competition, the real question is: how is it possible to deliver without sacrificing efficiency?
Andrea doesn’t have the luxury of waiting weeks before following up with prospective clients. Millennial clients in particular want quick information at their fingertips, and that rapid delivery just isn’t possible without automations to streamline processes. The faster she can provide information, the more easily clients can book Clay Theatre and begin their event planning journey.
Solution: Process automations that provide white glove service without the energy drain
As it turns out, the automations provided by Planning Pod allow Andrea to blow her larger competitors out of the water with super quick follow ups. Couples interested in Clay Theatre often say they are the only wedding venue that responded to them in weeks of searching.
“I get a lead and I can respond within the day for sure…but I can usually respond within an hour. I respond with an email template, ask them a question, and we get to having a conversation,” says Andrea. “To be able to respond to them so fast in the communications tool and send them my link to sign up for a tour gets new clients here within the week.”
User-friendly email templates with data placeholders make it easy to follow up with inquiries quickly without sacrificing personal touches – and going forward, those templates can apply to every step in the qualification and event booking process for new clients. You can easily autofill specific lead and client details in each message and save time otherwise taken to click back and forth between tabs as you double check information.
While you never want clients to feel rushed or unsupported through the event planning process, you also don’t have endless time to spend holding their hand while they consider add-ons and options for every detail.
Andrea and her team provide high levels of unique customization for their clients, including a vintage cinema marquee and poster boxes at the entrance to Clay Theatre. When clients are at the point of considering these finishing touches, Andrea’s team maximizes productivity by sending a custom questionnaire that allows them time to consider their preferences and submit choices without taking up hours of the team’s time.
“Once they book all their vendors and they have an idea of their timeline, we send out this questionnaire that has saved us an hour in every final walkthrough meeting,” said Andrea.
Venue management software is a necessity for streamlining processes and scaling your business for growth
In a post-pandemic world, venue management software isn’t just an option for scaling your business…it’s a lifeline.
Though we are one of many software options available (others include Ungerboeck, Eventpro, Skedda, Tripleseat, Event Temple, Function Tracker, and iVvy Venue Management) Planning Pod truly aims to provide the most comprehensive management solution possible to venues of any kind…whether you are a new venue in the process of scaling or a larger established organization in need of more efficient processes.
Whether your challenges lie in centralizing business details, streamlining communications, delegating and tracking tasks, or all of the above, Planning Pod’s event venue software has solutions in place that allow you to save time and energy and scale your business simultaneously. Try it today to fast-track the life cycle of your business and start saving time.
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