Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Reminiscences of Max & Me Catering. Part VII

Relaxing with Katie & Ashley in LBI after the RNC.
After the crazy month of the lead up and execution of all our RNC business, we all had some nice downtime to relax and reflect. For me, my real work and what I wanted to accomplish with Max & Me Catering was just about to begin, which was to transform a high end, mostly Bucks County based catering company into a major player in the Philadelphia (and beyond) event world. In reviewing our history and current work calendar, I also wanted to focus mostly on growing our business through corporate events as opposed to weddings which had been the bread and butter (or maybe in our case the lobster & filet) of Max and Jon's business. There's nothing wrong with weddings as a major part of a strong caterer's event mix, but I felt we needed much more corporate to balance out the calendar and allow us to have more full time dedicated employees.

How to move our center of gravity from above (Bucks County) to Philly?
So, other than focusing on corporate events, what was our strategy going to be for growth? In discussions with my brother Jon, dating back to before I joined M&M full time, we knew one strategy by which would grow the business was based on venue relationships. In other words we wanted to increase the number of venues we were able to work in, become more recommended in those multi-caterer venues, and pursue exclusive catering contracts when it made sense and we felt we had a realistic shot. Our role model for this strategy was Liz Neumark, founder and owner of Great Performances Catering in NYC. We read a quote where she said something like, the growth of her business was based on the growth of their positive and ongoing relationships with key venues.
Corporate party at the E-Centre, our first year as exclusive backstage caterer
Our first venue exclusive was the then named E-Centre, which became the Tweeter Center (how I still think of it) and is now the Susquehanna Bank Center. Interesting back story, when Pace Entertainment first built it (as the Blockbuster Sony Music Entertainment Center) in 1994. It came on the scene as the first major competition for Electric Factory Concerts (the company started by my dad and his brothers, which rose to area dominance with their partner Larry Magid at the helm) since they settled an anti-trust lawsuit with an upcoming entrepreneur by the name of Stephen Starr. For that first year Pace and EFC battled for acts, overpaying for many and the artists won big time. They realized that they should partner so EFC became the booking partner for shows at the BSMEC.
E-Centre/Tweeter/Susquehanna Bank Center & the Camden Waterfront
We started our catering run in Camden that spring of 2000, and it became the hub of our growth in Philly, not only logistically, but as a marketing force that we used to entertain clients, show the world our capabilities and sell catering to our neighbor properties and organizations. I can never thank Judi London enough, she was then with the Camden Waterfront Marketing Board, for opening so many doors for us. Catering jobs like the Tall Ships picnic, Walt Whitman Cultural Center fundraisers, Victory Building groundbreaking, and eventually our catering dominance on the Battleship New Jersey were all due to introductions made to me by Judi.
Max & Me Catering takes the cover of the only Philly Mag issue this century
to have catering as the cover story.
The success we had with the RNC was going to open doors for us, and we planned on how to best use the great stories from those events to grow our business. The article in the Philadelphia Inquirer was a huge bonanza, as a full page article in the Sunday food section of our areas major daily is going to reach hundreds of thousands of readers. In high end catering we really don't advertise to the masses, as there is huge waste in reaching an audience of whom only maybe 1% are your potential clients. However, if you get major press coverage, like that article, it can be used many ways beyond the one time appearance in the paper. It became the centerpiece of our growing media kit, and we used it to gain credibility with potential clients and other media that we hoped would also write about Max & Me Catering. The ultimate bounce we got from the article was when Philadelphia Magazine was doing a cover story on catering the following spring, an editor seeing that article is what we were told got us on the cover.
Max & Jon picture from the article in Philly Mag, on their front porch
when they were still housemates.
Another important component of our future success began that fall of 2000, and that was our relationships with various industry organizations such as ISES (International Special Events Society) and MPI (Meeting Professionals International), but none were more important than the PCVB (Philadelphia Convention & Visitor's Bureau) and Mid-Atlantic Events Magazine and the publisher Jim Cohn. For anyone starting off in the corporate events business in Philly, I would recommend two things, join the PCVB and advertise with so you can employ the unmatched resources of Mr. Cohn, often known around town as Mr. Hospitality. I had actually met Jim in 1995 at a previous restaurant marketing job, and he was at the top of my list when it came time for me to move Max & Me forward.

My introduction to the PCVB was through the late and very great Marie Baker Brown. We all miss you Marie, wish you were going to be here for the Papal visit and the DNC next year, you would have made it all better and more fun.
Marie Baker Brown, world class party planner and person.

She had a very large role in the RNC and when we met she decided that we (Max & Me) could be a good example for the many local events companies that complained they got shut out of the bounty that many reaped from the convention. My motivation was to show off our venues in Camden & Philly (and of course our cuisine) to the bureau, so we joined the PCVB and I became a very active member. The way a CVB works is similar to many joint marketing organizations where like companies and often competitors band together and pool resources to create more business for the group than each of their separate efforts could foster alone. I have been a huge proponent of this type of organization and marketing ever since my days working with the ski industry in Lake Tahoe, Utah and Colorado. Temple University's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management has an endowed scholarship in Marie's name, click here for more information: Marie's Scholarship.

That seems to be a good stopping point for now, as we are about to approach the point in the story where we will be revisiting our quest for the NCC food service contract. Two weeks from today I depart to Colorado for Katie's graduation where even more tears will flow than just did from writing and thinking about Marie. Thanks for reading.