The Challenges of Buying for Short-Term Events: Avoiding the ‘Temporary Tantrums’ – part 1

We are very pleased to bring you this post from Daniel Ball of Wax Digital. It will be the first in a series looking at the impact of large-scale/short-term buying on the big, one-off or annual events. 

Whether your thing is music or sport, it’s fair to say that there are almost back-to-back major events happening this summer to keep you entertained. Of course the focus is currently on Glasgow, but we’ve also had the World Cup, Glastonbury and Wimbledon to name a few with more still to come. In fact according to whatfestival.com it was “only 10 years ago that festival goers had one or two choices when the summer arrived,” but now the site says Britain hosts well over 700 festivals each year. This is becoming something of a market sector in its own right. You only have to look at the sheer scale of some of these events to see this; Glastonbury for example now spends nearly £30 million a year and its attendees spend over £50 million on site and in the surrounding area.

But what happens to good procurement practice within the organisation of temporary events or annually repeated ones with a very short-term procurement peak? Is it possible to bring best practice into play when you’re not continually managing category spend or looking to drive long-term best practice into an organisation. In many ways the short-term supply requirement of the sector could mean that purchasing and its supply chain is controlled in quite a rudimentary and basic manner.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a series of posts asking different questions about short-term events and their procurement challenges – what I’ve called ‘avoiding the temporary tantrums.’ So to start the debate, how does a temporary organisation ensure that it has good procurement practice in place? I think there are a number of challenges but opportunities too.

Challenge-wise, do temporary event organisers have the foresight to realise that strategic procurement can make a difference? Is it given sufficient priority? Considering the level of purchasing that needs to take place over a relatively short time and the clear focus on either achieving profit or making efficient use of taxpayers’ money, you would hope so. From merchandise and marketing to security and strawberries, the shopping list for temporary events is huge, but so could be the price tag, unless supplier relationships are well negotiated.

Equally, risk could become a major issue if suppliers aren’t well vetted - a lesson clearly and very publicly learned at London 2012 with G4S. How do you build a temporary team of buyers with the right experience, to come together at relatively short notice to deliver a cohesive procurement approach? Do you have the opportunity to pool buying power in the same way a permanent procurement organisation would? Do they largely ignore tail spend – blinded by the ‘big buys’ – from booking leading music artists to the building of grand sporting facilities? Or perhaps the intensity of the operation means that best practice is brought to the fore – because there’s less historical baggage or maverick spend to bring under control.

There are clear opportunities too. In fact considering the scale of the temporary events sector in the UK now, the most obvious one to me would be collaboration. From large repeat event organisers like Wimbledon, to the many smaller niche events popping up, there are many common purchasing needs where cumulative buying power could be a real winner.  The events sector could benefit from using a marketplace of experienced, pre-defined suppliers across regular categories in order to pool their power – facilities management, waste management, security and temporary staffing to name just a few common spend needs.

The ability for a supplier to scale up and deliver an intensive service or high volume of product over the space of a few days or weeks is itself a specialist skill. Those suppliers with the ability to do this could be supported collectively by the sector. We’re seeing collaborative purchasing becoming increasingly beneficial in sectors such as health – perhaps some of this should extend into temporary events too.

So, as the Commonwealth Games comes to a close this week, spare a thought for the procurement team that sourced and bought all of the things that put it together. Where are they now? It would be interesting to see what information is published about the Games’ budgets and spending, if and when it’s made publicly available and whether that information will be used to shape the organisation of future Commonwealth Games.

In future posts I’ll be looking at possible answers to some of the key procurement challenges for temporary events, such as forecasting, risk and its role in delivering an unforgettable experience.

First Voice

  1. Paul Wright:

    Where are they now. From what I saw at Manchester 2002, getting ready for the end of games sale and auctions, then moving onto the next event. The guys i knew best ended up at the Firefigters Games and Asian Games. Is the Ryder cup too soon?

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