Stories of 2020 – An Eventful Year

Etech Events started 2020 with optimism. It was clear to CEO Tom Brandt the pivot to digital signage had gained full traction.  They had new clients, a long-term contract with OCCC, and were projecting a revenue increase of 45%. After a challenging transition, it was time for growth again.

Puff’n Stuff Catering & Events began 2020 with CEO Warren Dietel focused on the team and the core business after a key leadership transition. Warren’s 2020 Snapshot Letter, a vision for his year presented to his TeamStrength CEO peer group, focused on culture, delegation and creating more systems and processes to continue ‘passionately perfecting life’s celebrations.’

But it was 2020, a year that would be particularly devastating for companies with ‘Events’ in their name. Both CEOs would demonstrate amazing leadership and resilience in charting a course. By year’s end, one of the companies would have a shaky bridge to the future. The other would be closed.

For Warren and Puff, impact started on the day of his TeamStrength meeting, March 5, when the pandemic was storm clouds on the horizon.  In updates members asked about cancellations, and Warren said they’d had none.  Knocking on the wooden conference table was not enough to change the inevitable. By the end of the day, four events had cancelled.  And the floodgates were opened.

By Tom’s meeting five days later, Etech had a million dollars in booked business vaporized. Tom had been here before – his young company was on a growth trajectory when 9/11 happened.  Eighteen months later they barely made it through to the other side. This time, Tom knew they didn’t have the ability to weather an 18-month impact on events.

Both CEOs presented issues in April. Warren’s was ‘Navigating the Shit Show,’ and his top takeaway was don’t overreact. In Warren’s world, things could change quickly if the virus could be contained. And there were other avenues to pursue that could still generate some revenue – like home meal options. In April, Puff’n Stuff did about 5% of the revenue they did in April 2019.

Tom’s was ‘The Perfect Storm.’  Corporate meetings can’t bounce back fast like other events– too much planning time is needed. Tom mapped out a way to close the office, sell assets, keep core team members, and survive without any revenue for six months.  If events returned in the fall, Etech could make it.

Both furloughed team members, slashed costs, applied for assistance, and looked for a way out.  Small opportunities continued for Puff throughout. Large-scale events didn’t return.

Tom and Warren are entrepreneurs at heart. Tom founded Etech, weathered a restart after 9/11 and accomplished a successful pivot away from the commodity side of equipment rental to becoming a leader in digital signage. Warren purchased Puff’n Stuff from his parents a year after 9/11 and reinvented it, building state-of-the-art facilities in Orlando and Tampa and increasing revenue 800% since then. Both built impressive companies. And even 9/11 couldn’t prepare them for COVID-19.

Puff’n Stuff Catering & Events is poised to struggle through, but it will be tough.  New partnerships are slow to start. A redesigned home meal program will launch in January. And the vaccines could mean a big resurgence in events the second half of 2021. Etech Events sold final assets, including the OCCC contract, and is no more.

And still, Tom and Warren are optimistic about the future.  Tom’s ready for his next entrepreneurial venture, perhaps leveraging all Etech developed as leaders in digital signage.  Warren is confident Puff will add business to supplement catering for the long-term, creating better utilization of his facilities over the next five years.

2020 impacted every TeamStrength member company, but none more than these two. Tom and Warren move to the next chapter with hard-earned wisdom and our continued respect.