They became friends in 1994 when they worked selling tickets at the old Dolphin Stadium. Ivan Marin and Danny Katz eventually moved their way up the ranks in the ticket office, hiring and training part-time staff members for events. When event promoters started calling to hire them and their staff to run the ticket operations at off-site events, the two friends saw a business niche.
In June 2000, they started Complete Ticket Solutions with three employees working out of Katz’s Plantation home. Their idea was to handle the box office for events such as sports, concerts and festivals. Three weeks later, because of connections from working at the stadium, they got the contract to staff and set up the box office for the NFL Experience, a fan event at the Super Bowl in Tampa.
“It was like ‘Yeah, we can do this,’” Marin said, remembering the phone call. “Then I hung the phone and we said ‘How can we do this?’”
But the business partners made it happen, and moved on to contracts with the University of Miami and the Homestead Speedway. They expanded operations to include online ticket selling, custom printing of tickets and wristbands, and setting up personalized call centers for event ticketing.
“We don’t say ‘you have to do all of this or nothing,’” Marin said. “We offer A to Z services, but you can pick and choose.”
Now, nearly 13 years later, Complete Ticket Solutions in Fort Lauderdale has 11 full-time employees and handles ticket operations for about 65 to 80 events a year. They do online ticketing for 60 additional events annually. The company has worked five Super Bowls, the Olympics in Greece, and local events such as Sun Fest in West Palm Beach and the Coconut Grove Art Festival.
But the robust growth means they have not grown strategically, Katz said. “One of our problems is expressing to existing clients what other services we offer. We don’t know how to properly market ourselves to our own clients.”
Katz said because he and Marin are primarily operations people, they have relied on word-of-mouth to bring in business. Sales is not their strong point. They brought in their first full-time sales person three years ago, their second a year ago.
They asked The Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover to help with their marketing efforts. The Herald brought in Broward SCORE, a nonprofit with volunteer counselors from the business community that mentor small business owners. The SCORE turnaround team included Miguel Hernandez, president of Genesis Financial Associates, which offers offsite financial administration. With experience in retail sales and financial planning, Hernandez’s strength is strategic planning, growth and funding. Phil Sanfilippo, a consultant, has 30 years of experience with companies like PepsiCo in marketing, managing sales teams, developing training programs and running turnaround programs. Nancy Leve, owner of Virtual Fundamentals, has 30 years of marketing and advertising experience. She specializes in digital marketing, SEO and Web.
One of Complete Ticket Solutions’ challenges is that it doesn’t have a clear grasp on its target market. The company prides itself on personal customer service, but doesn’t have a systemized way of organizing customer contacts. It wants to reach out to clients to let them know about new services, but isn’t sure how.
“People who own a business wear a lot of hats. They get caught up in the day to day and don’t have time to step back and look at the big picture and do strategic planning,” Sanfilippo said.
The SCORE team’s advice:
Identify a target market
The U.S. event industry is worth $6.4 billion annually, with about $400 million in Florida. The SCORE team advised Marin and Katz to figure out what piece of the pie they want.
“How big of a player do you want to be?” Sanfilippo said. “Where do you want to play — just Florida? Internationally?”
Katz said they have made steps to think strategically, but know they could do more. The out-of-town events they staff are big enough money makers to be worthwhile. On the other hand, prestigious events such as the NFL Experience are great resume-boosters, but don’t make a lot of money. They are starting to evaluate more strategically, he said.
“We’ve found we can’t just say yes to everyone,” Marin said.
Re-evaluate the marketing budget
The SCORE team suggested that they look at trade shows from a return-on-investment standpoint, and add public relations and marketing to the mix.
“When you buy a piece of equipment, it’s easy to figure out the return on investment,” Sanfilippo said. “But with marketing, it’s challenging. You have to figure out what will give you the biggest bang for the buck.”
Katz said they’ve seen the return when they go to a big show, and know it’s valuable. They have decided to participate in trade events for air shows and golf tournaments. “We have sales guys for a reason,” Marin added. “We have to be out there.”
The SCORE team suggested that pre- and post-event surveys could help Complete Ticket Solutions learn about customer needs, identify cross-selling opportunities and promote other services.
After an event, a post survey should be a gratitude campaign, Hernandez said. “It’s a chance to say thank you for your business, and to look for opportunities for the future,” he said.
Marin said they already do a pre-event meeting on site, for the operations side. They’ll look to add more structure to make it valuable for the sales team.
Set up a database
A central database of information on clients and prospective clients will help streamline efforts to follow up, cross-sell and promote their products and services, the SCORE team advised.
A database that every employee can monitor, add to and edit will give you information at your fingertips to help in relationship building, Leve said. Even tracking personal information about a client, such as their dog’s name or where their kid goes to college, can help to solidify relationships and make follow-ups more personal.
And if you properly categorize your leads, it will help you target the information you send them, Hernandez said.
Katz said the backend software system they use, AudienceView, has a content management system available that they can tap into. They will decide what information to track, set up a system this spring and populate it by the summer.
Set up email blasts
Leve suggested a monthly email update to keep current and potential customers in the loop about new services.
And when you do an email blast, always test different versions to see what works, Leve said.
“The good thing about digital marketing is it’s an experiment. If you have a large database, then break it into three,” she said. Send emails out at three different times, or in three different colors. Try a variety of subject lines, to see which ones get opened, she said.
Katz said they would like to start an email newsletter.
If you’re going to offer more than ticketing, your marketing materials need to clearly say that, the SCORE team advised.
First, identify the key features and benefits of your product, Hernandez said. That will be the source file to create your materials.
“Think ‘How do we communicate with the outside world about what we do?’” Sanfilippo said. “Your brochure just talks about ticketing, if you want to do more than that, you have to communicate that better.”
Hernandez suggested adding a QR code to printed materials that link back to their website. “Offer people something educational, such as ‘10 key things to help run your event,’ or a free ticket printing job,” he said.
Marin said the makeover process and SCORE team’s advice turned on the light for them. “It has helped us focus on things we have in the company already that can help us,” he said. “Our whole goal is to get the word out about how much more we do now than 13 years ago.”