Donna Mattei Johnson, CEM, CMP, CTS & Mary Higham, CEM
You have contracted with your tradeshow vendors (general contractors, registration, audio visual, floral, etc.) for years – your level of service is excellent, they are dependable and you have a great relationship with them – why would you want to go through the daunting task of bidding our your vendors?
As a third party provider, some of clients demand that we bid out services every year. This can be very challenging and time consuming. Bidding out services every year does not provide bulk buying power or allow our teams to establish critical relationships, but it does keep our current vendors on their toes year over year. Then we have some clients that have not bid out services for years and have no idea if they are getting the best deal from their vendors.
Typically we prefer three year service contracts with a mutual cancellation clause. This allows us to negotiate the best prices for services, build upon relationships and course correct if needed during the term of the contract.
Once a decision has been made to bid out service it is important to inform your incumbent vendors, stakeholders and staff of the reasons you are going out to bid. Then you must develop an RFP (Request For Proposal) and a timeline for the bidding process. The RFP should allow you to compare all services in an “apples-to-apples” order. The best way to receive the apples-to-apples RFP is to request that all vendors submit their proposals in the same format and in the order that is requested.
After the RFP is developed (normally at least 1 year prior to your contracts ending), inviting your vendors to visit the event is allows everyone to get a firsthand look and ask any additional questions prior to the submission. Communication throughout the RFP process is key to your success. You can request that all questions to the RFP be submitted by a certain date and share all answers with all bidders or you can decide to answer questions individually.
Upon receipt of all RFP’s it is critical to develop a comparison chart to ensure that pricing for each requirement was submitted. While rates can be important, they are not an accurate measurement of everything that is included. Price alone should not be the lone determining factor when selecting vendors. It is extremely important that you are comfortable with the vendor, that the relationship is a partnership. Hopefully a long-term, win-win partnership. Good luck and happy bidding!
Regularly bidding services for your show certainly has its advantages and there are definitely arguments to be made for why services should be bid every 3-5 years. However, if you are already pleased with your current vendors, it may be in your best interest to skip a bid cycle now and then.
If you are bidding every three years, you are constantly spending large portions of both your and your supplier’s time crafting, submitting, pitching, and reviewing proposals. You end up with only a year or two of fluid service, as the vendor will need a year to get up to speed and then the last year of the contract requires crafting a response to the new proposal so that they do not lose the business. The old phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can aptly be applied here.
Exhibitors do not like change when they can avoid it. Reliability is a huge factor, and changing vendors frequently is difficult for them. Processes change, pricing differs, and they have a difficult time keeping track of who the “Official Vendors” are. Not only with exhibitors, but attendees are also confused when you are switching vendors frequently. Show tools and processes differ both in look and protocol. When you are happy with you current vendor, it seems unnecessary to create undue stress for not only your them, but your own team who doesn’t know who they will be working with year to year. By maintaining your relationship uninterruptedly, it builds loyalty on both sides and consistency for your exhibitors, attendees, and internal staff.
Sometimes, if you establish that you are very pleased with the service, you may wish to consider signing a longer term contract. This can enable you to develop a competitive pricing model that both parties can be happy with and to work towards long term goals, saving you both the time and stress of an RFP process every 3 years.
Just because you choose not to bid a successful service is no reason to bury your head in the sand about the latest tools and technologies. Educate yourself on the newest innovations and if you see something that piques your interest, ask your current vendor if it is a feature that they can offer you. My association offers a new product competition that we were constantly bidding vendors for. Because we sync it with our mobile app, my organization asked if we should bid the app as well. We approached our existing app vendor, whom we were/are very happy with, and asked what product competition systems they would be able to integrate with. The result was the app vendor custom built us our competition site and it perfectly syncs with our app. This program is not only perfectly fitted to our needs, it ended up being less expense than finding both a new competition submission site vendor and new app vendor. It is understandable that you want your vendor using the latest technologies, but sometimes all it takes is a conversation with them to have them offer that service.
Whether you decide to bid routinely, or just when needed, it’s very important to stay on top of industry trends, keep your knowledge of different vendors current, and develop strong communication with your existing vendor on your needs, future plans, and intentions. Best of luck!