Lengthy corporate gigs with McDonald's and Eddie Bauer taught Kenneth Kristoffersen, CSEP, CEM, the finer points of strategic planning and visual merchandising. They also taught him that he was ready for a change. Ten years ago he realized, “I didn't want to work for 70 to 80 hours a week anymore,” he recounts.
When a mentor pointed out that his skill set and experience were a perfect match with the burgeoning Canadian event industry, “I thought, I'll start my own company, work hard for three months, then go backpacking on the beaches of Bali for three months,” he says. So start his own event planning company he did. As for the backpacking, needless to say, “That's never happened. I've never even been to Bali.”
Scant vacation time is a price Kristoffersen has been willing to pay as he has built a reputation in events, first with his debut operation and now with Calgary, Alberta-based Experiential Events, a company that did $12 million in sales its first year, 2005. While western Canada's booming oil and gas business has accounted for much of Experiential's success, Kristoffersen notes that other factors have been essential in expanding not just the capabilities and professionalism of his company but those of the entire local event industry. “A major turning point was my first The Special Event show,” the event producer notes. “I am a huge advocate for it.” He explains that the “secret to success and doing an amazing job is surrounding yourself with amazing people.”
These days, Kristoffersen is drawing upon such a wealth of knowledge to boost his company's clout as he breaks into two new markets: Vancouver, British Columbia, and the province's island capital, Victoria. But it's the unwavering commitment of his own employees that he cites as his firm's greatest asset — one that proved critical when a crisis struck in spring of last year.
On a rare vacation, this time to Israel, Kristoffersen contracted a parasite that defied diagnosis. In and out of hospitals for seven months, he fought to regain his health and strength. Meanwhile, the Experiential team, determined to sustain the business, didn't just maintain the status quo, but pushed ahead with plans to open the firm's two newest locations. “They said, ‘We'll protect the fort while you're away, and when you come back, we'll see where we can take this.’ And they stayed true to our original vision,” he notes. “They asked me to step back until I got better and let them do what they do.” But trusting his team paid off in spades. “We've been open since the beginning of September. And I'm excited about what the future holds.”
Experiential Events 609, 304 Eighth Ave. S.W., Calgary, AB, T2P 1C2, Canada; 403/264-9801; www.xvevents.com
“Western Canada has grown so much, we're starting to face labor challenges. If people can go work in the oil and gas industry and make quick great money, they tend to do that. One of our solutions has been to maintain four-day-week staffing levels. Maybe it's someone who's retired or has decided to stay at home part-time with the children but misses the opportunity to be in the work force. People are jumping at the opportunity to come back three or four days and be creative.”
“I think one of my greatest strengths is my ability to connect one on one. I do the groundwork so I can connect with whoever my client is. There is not one wedding I've done where my clients haven't become my friends. And I'm extremely proud that corporate clients come back and say, ‘You understand what it means to work in our culture and structure as much as our employees do.’”