If you're going to make a splash to launch your company, you may as well have a really big party.
That's exactly what Jason Camp and Grant Phelan did recently when they organized Sand Bash, a four-day event on Fort Myers Beach that drew 40,000 people.
The event was a bold move for Camp and Phelan, who started a new catering company based in Bonita Springs called Big C Events on Jan. 1. They say their company is filling a niche for large corporate events that isn't being met by locally based companies.
Camp, 37, and Phelan, 34, aren't novices to the food and event business.
Camp was most recently vice president with Octagon, a sports marketing agency, where he was executive director of the Ace Group Classic golf tournament. Since 1994, Camp has managed minor-league baseball operations and has held corporate sponsorship sales positions at Pro Player Stadium and the Florida Panthers hockey team in Miami.
Phelan is director of operations of Pinchers Crab Shack, a family owned chain of seven successful seafood restaurants from Sarasota to Naples. Pinchers has a 38-foot mobile kitchen and staff that Phelan can draw from for the catering business.
Large hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton and big food corporations such as Aramark currently dominate the big-event catering business south of Sarasota, Phelan says. The two men set up a separate catering company from Pinchers because they didn't want to be known exclusively for seafood. For example, they recently catered a Cuban-themed reception for PNC Bank at the Von Liebig Art Center in Naples, complete with a Rocky Patel cigar roller. “No one knew it was Pinchers,” says Phelan.
Camp and Phelan say these kinds of corporate events are starting to proliferate after companies cut spending on client entertainment during the downturn. “The purse strings are starting to open back up,” says Camp.
Big C will also be creating events, such as the Sand Bash on Fort Myers Beach, making money from admissions, concessions and sponsorships. For example, hotels and restaurants may be interested in being sponsors of a similar event Camp and Phelan are working on in November, a typically slow month for the area.
While the two entrepreneurs decline to say how much capital they've spent to start the company, they say overhead is low because they rent much of the equipment and partner with nonprofits to recruit volunteers to staff the events. These nonprofit groups get a percentage of sales, depending on the event. For example, the Sand Bash drew 240 volunteers over four days.
Cooks and other professionals who staff Big C events come from the Pinchers staff. “When we need people, we pull them from the restaurants,” Phelan says.
For now, Big C plans four major events a year for as many as 30,000 to 50,000 people, plus six or seven smaller events for 5,000 to 8,000 people. Camp and Phelan are reluctant to cite sales targets, in part because of the uncertainty about the corporate-events business. “It's hard to put a revenue number on it because we just don't know,” says Phelan.