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

In our constant search for the most interesting “procurement “jobs in the world, just a few day ago, Spend Matters met with (and interviewed) the most unusual practitioner we’ve ever laid our eyes upon. Now, Procurement breeds some strange species, but none we’ve come across as unique and quirkily interesting as this one. Not only is Stephen Grindle one of the UK’s top clowns himself, he is a clown buyer. And a fire-eater buyer. And a magician buyer ...

It just goes to show that our industry really does touch every profession! Clad in a business suit for our meeting in a four-star hotel lounge, complemented by a fantastic pair of 18-inch long bright red clown shoes (pictured), complete with a stone inside (the size of a small boulder of course!) stood Dingle Fingle -- a professional clown.

But what’s that got to do with procurement? Grindle, owner of Show World (international supplier of live entertainment, including all things Circus, Street, Arena and Variety), all-round performer, choreographer, manager and ‘sourcerer’ of all related performers, goods and services, has 30 years’ experience of supplying and buying almost anything you could possibly think of “in a world of pure imagination.”

Starting life as a butcher’s son, helping Dad run his business in Evesham, and always with a penchant for earning his own money on the side (whether in the fish-and-chip shop or as a paper boy) and then going on to get official qualifications as a ‘Meat Technologist,’ it wasn’t long before Steve realised that he had developed a sound business knowledge foundation. As a boy he was frequently submerged in building things, sourcing parts and making things work, no matter how obscure the output. It was when he acquired two unicycles and learnt to ride one, that he realised that he enjoyed performing more than meat - and that he could make money out of it. “From pork chop to big top!” as they say in the business!

He got his big break winning a competition for new clowns for the famous Blackpool Tower Circus, and after several years with Gandey’s travelling Show, Steve “ran away from the circus,” as he puts it. More diversified and rather intriguing experience followed, with performances and roles including Covent Garden street performance, and work with various theme parks both home and abroad.

Steve built up useful negotiating skills by then – “dealing with a wide range of different people with very different business approaches and styles was a real education,” he said. He also gained a thorough understanding of the market he was working in: two vital capabilities for anyone who is going to succeed in procurement, as we know.  So as well as continuing his performing career, Steve started sourcing performers for clients. He became a buyer - “Category Manager (Clowns)” if you like!

But not just clowns. His work has included everything from finding and choreographing dozens of people for a major water park opening in Abu Dhabi, to sourcing one or two acts for a corporate dinner or conference. He realised that his knowledge had value to clients, so he became an impresario and created companies to carry out this work: DF Inc Ltd, FrightSight and then Show World.

We might look on him in procurement terms as a managing agent managing a very special sort of “contingent labour” or maybe “professional services!”  But there is also a creative role at the heart of it – so he sources and knows dancers, fire eaters, actors, musicians, riggers for circus aerial equipment, caterers. The list is endless. But alongside all of the procurement-related work, he is often also creator, writer, live action director, commercial manager and project manager. The projects he takes on can be huge and extremely complex, and he has come to understand every nuance of the business, from choosing the best acrobats to wiring up the sound equipment.

Thinking about the procurement process, and how projects start, we asked him how he establishes and caters for his clients’ requirements.

“Specifications can appear tight,” he says, “but I have to question the client fully at the start. It’s really about the end audience, giving them what they want, making them happy. That’s really what the client wants. What I’ve learnt is that nothing is solid, everything moves: budgets, requirements, timeframes, people, and I have to accommodate this like all good project managers. The trick is to tie down the client as much as possible but be flexible at the same time, and keep control.”

That sounds like many other complex project-based procurement exercises, from major IT projects to consulting services. But given that need for flexibility, how does he approach budgets? Again that is an issue for many procurement projects. Do clients come to him with a figure in mind or does he advise what they need to spend?

Clients sometimes come with fixed budgets, and I tell them what I can do for that amount. But it’s about giving them options, a good product and the right value for money. Obviously it’s important to get some idea of what they want to spend upfront, then I can tell them what their budget needs to be. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time pitching at the wrong level. Once I understand how long the assignment is going to be, as well as the scale, then I have a clearer picture of the right price.”

(More tomorrow in part 2 and you can find out more about Show World here).

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