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What I Learned at WE Fest

by Jeff Gau on August 15, 2013

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As I sat down to prepare for this blog, I had just returned from WE Fest, one of the largest country music festivals in the country. It takes place in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, not far from my family cabin and one of our Marco offices. Anyone who has called the upper Midwest home knows this three-day event well and its ability to bring top talent to the small town for 30 years.

This year’s theme was “Livin' the Dream in 2013,” a phrase quite fitting for our company as well. I recently talked about the power of hosting events and WE Fest definitely takes it to a whole new level. As I enjoyed good times with friends, employees and customers, it reminds me what an impressive annual event this is.

I’m not going to share all of my highlights from WE Fest, but here are a few lessons I learned from my experience:

1. You can drive revenue without increasing capacity.
It all comes down to value. The first event in 1983 attracted 9,000 people. For many years, the event has consistently reached its 40,000-person capacity at the Soo Pass Ranch. Yet its revenue continues to increase because of the organizers’ ability to create, market, and sell value-added services. A rainbow of lanyards and bracelets adorn guests and the more you have the better. Each level comes with its privileges, from general admission to unlimited VIP hospitality. They drive concession revenue with their ticket-based system for buying food and beverages.

2. You can add value beyond your core.
WE Fest is known almost as much for its camping experience as its concerts. The company has created a lively general camping area with its own entertainment as well as a VIP camping area that accommodates quite the display of luxury motor homes and elaborate camp sites. There are many people who just buy camping only tickets and never set foot in front of the main stage to hear the likes of Keith Urban, Eric Church or Carrie Underwood. 

3. You can expand your market by providing value to a broad range of customers.
WE Fest serves guests from college students to retired school principals (and 50-something executives like me). There is something to be said about a three-day event that can thoroughly entertain both my kids who are in their 20s and the fifty-plus crowd. WE Fest chooses artists that appeal to their wide range of customers representing each generation. They also have a value range with price points from entry level to high-end amenities to fit everyone’s budget. While my kids appreciate the camping and general admission experience, I have been loyal because of the VIP treatment WE Fest has created for people like me.

4. When you unleash the power of promotion, it pays.
WE Fest makes all of its annual revenue in three days. Imagine that. That’s a lot of pressure. But the company consistently hits the mark by leveraging relationships with its sponsors (like Marco) and the media. Everybody wants in. Media outlets from across the upper Midwest drive attendance and the local communities and businesses show their gratitude for the estimated $60-million economic impact by rolling out the red carpet for guests each year.

5. Good logistics keep people coming back.
I was enamored by the sheer number of people who drive (and walk) in and out of the WE Fest grounds and the amount of money that exchanged hands. From above, the site resembles the complexity of an ant hill with many moving parts and purposeful paths all coming together for operational excellence. WE Fest gets logistics – on a significant scale. They effectively manage high-end performers, dozens of vendors and sponsors and tens of thousands of guests in a way that feels almost seemingly effortless.

This event may not be for everybody, but it’s been a fun adventure of mine for the past 10 years since Marco acquired a Detroit Lakes copier company that had been a long-time sponsor. We’ve continued the tradition and recently gave away VIP tickets to our customers so they could experience it, too. In the midst of the socially-rich atmosphere, you can also appreciate the business side of this fun event. So next time you’re attending your favorite venue, you might want to pay attention to the details that make it a great experience.

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Topics: Learning, Event

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