Dingle Fingle – When Is a Clown Not a Clown? When He’s Running a Global Entertainment Business (Part 2)

Yesterday we published part 1 of our interview with Stephen Grindle, one of the UK’s top clowns, impresario and expert at procurement of performing artists and props! Here is part 2.

We asked Steve what he sees as the secret of being successful and having happy clients?

“It all relates to the value proposition. There’s always someone who can do this sort of work for less, whether we are talking magicians, clowns, dancers...  but they may not be very good! And you can’t go in too low on price, or the client perceives lower value.  What helps is that I know the people and what they are worth. And many want to work with me, not someone else. We have built relationships over the years and you have to nurture them; clients generally keep coming back to the same supplier once they’ve had one good experience, and so do the people I engage to do the work.  Even though the client doesn’t know my suppliers, it’s about trust, they know I will source the right people because of my reputation and niche knowledge.”

Some real parallels there with any supplier who works with important sub-contractors; as well as some insight into successful supplier relationship management. And on that note ...

“Treating my artists well is key. And the more dates I can get for them, the cheaper it will work out to be. And I always pay them straightaway – as soon as I am paid. I don’t set any store by hanging on for 30/60 days as some agents and buyers do. I usually ask for a 40% payment before the event and 60% after. Having a contract is important, but in my case, my word is my bond – it is a question of reputation again.”

Take note Tesco, B&Q and every other big company that does not pay their suppliers promptly! We asked Steve if he ever uses competitive processes to source his performers.

“Generally not, but I do know a little about eSourcing systems. They’re not really designed for businesses of our size, but I would be really interested in trying them if someone had a scaled down version perhaps of their full system,” he says.

Dingle Fingle

We moved onto a very interesting aspect of his work that is affecting many other areas of business and of procurement – the effect of technology on supply markets.

“Nowadays anyone can check out acts on the internet. So it has made it easier in theory for the client to go direct to the performers – disintermediation really. So I really have to really add value to the process. And in this business, that is through the people I know. My knowledge means I can produce packages, add the creativity, put the right performers together. I take feedback from the client, and pass that on to the artist, and so the value grows.”

There are parallels there with many other types of agent and prime contractors that have been affected by dis-intermediation - look at the stories we featured recently on some of the Crown Commercial Services contracts, where the value added by their prime contractor is being questioned.

In terms of his procurement experience and expertise, it’s not just about the artists – Steve has to source some of the most unlikely of goods or props. Like any good purchasing person, he keeps a database of “preferred suppliers of weird things.” But if he can’t find it, he’ll make it. His favourite purchase is Clown Shoe polish, which he gets from top English shoe-makers Loakes. He maintains it is the best in the world – “you get what you pay for”!

But time can also be of the essence. Imagine the difficulty of sourcing a one-day-old chick, for a top chef’s 40th anniversary of his club. This was his ‘most urgent’ purchase – he needed it to run around a silver salver upon lifting the lid of a supposed “chicken dish”!  Just-in-Time delivery at its best, as it had to be one day old, not two, or three for the demanding customer. (Disclaimer -- No chicks were harmed in the making of this show ...)

And like many procurement people, surplus stock is a real issue. Just as Peter Smith of Spend Matters had to work out what to do with old packaging for long-discontinued chocolate bars in an early procurement role, Steve ended up with 100 surplus battery-powered dismembered moving hands! If any readers are interested, drop us a line ...

Thanks to Stephen Grindle for a fascinating insight into the world of performers and performing. And if anyone has a requirement for troupes of clowns, dancers, magicians, acrobats ... you know where to come – Showworld Ltd. He has his own clown cars too ...

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