With Scott Shepard from SDG Events (Wing-A-Rama)
In this episode we chat to Scott Shepard from SDG Events, who talks about coordinating the multi-city food festival Wing-A-Rama. Scott discusses the importance of ensuring the event offers value to his three key stakeholder groups; restaurant vendors, sponsors and event attendees. He also shares his experience growing from a single city to multi-city event, and the challenges of expanding into new markets.
Listen now or read the show notes below
Scott Shepard is Co-founder and Partner of SDG Events, which is the company behind Wing-a-rama. 2019 is Scotts 3rd year running this annual event which has expanded to now be in Austin, Dallas and Houston. Scott comes from a legal background working as an entertainment attorney.
Wing-a-rama is a specialized food festival with 20 different restaurant vendors competing for the title of best wings in the city. An event ticket gets attendees all you can eat wings and wing inspired food. Attendees vote on the best wing and best inspired dish, with one restaurant taking home the bragging rights. They also have a wing eating competition with a giant wrestling style belt for the winner (to hold their stomach in).
Attracting Restaurant Participation - What’s in it for them?
Ultimately its about customer acquisition. The event provides exposure for participating restaurants through pre-event promotion and event day engagement. The event is a chance to reach a large number of potential customers in the community at one time, who have come specifically to taste their food.
The winning vendor has great bragging rights, voted by the community as having the best chicken wings in Austin.
Challenges of Launching into New Markets
The event started out as Austin Wingfest, and has expanded to other markets and rebranded as Wing-a-rama.
It became clear that even within the same state, the buyer behaviour is different. You have to know your market, the customer base and their different buying habits. For example, due to the unpredictability of Houston’s weather, people leave it to the very last minute to buy tickets. This is nerve wracking as an event organizer, but if you know your market you can plan for it accordingly. Knowing you’re going to experience a sudden demand for tickets at the last minute is important. Wing-a-rama in Houston for example sold out fast, but only in the last 36 hours.
Other important aspects of running events in different cities is that each city has its own local rules, laws and regulations. It’s important to be across these things in the local market and not to assume they will be the same.
When and Where?
One of the biggest event challenges in Austin is calendar availability and location options. There are so many events and food festivals going on, you have to take that into consideration. Because Wing-a-rama is now a more established event, they have the credibility to gain access to premier event locations.
Know Your Customer
According to Scott, one of the most important things you can learn is to always put yourself in the mind of your customer. Wing-a-rama has two key customer types, the vendor restaurants and the event attendees. Keeping them both in mind is important.
A common frustration for food festivals is long lines and waiting for food. It’s frustrating for attendees and also vendors that have to deal with frustrated attendees. Scott tried to look for ways to reduce lines. This included an early bird ticket at a premium cost, what allows some patrons to get in an hour early to access food. This helps to break up some of the congestion. They are also trying things like having beer carts serving drinks to people while they are in line waiting for food. At least they are kept refreshed while in line and don't have to line up again for drinks.
Evolving the Event
Each year Wing-a-rama looks for ways to take the event to the next level. This year they will be hosting a podcast from the festival, talking about everything that is going on. They continue to look for more ways to interact with people at the event, aside from eating food. The voting competition and the eating contests are a couple of those initiatives.
When it comes to sponsorships, lead time is vital. A lot of sponsors have their budget allocated 12 months out, so you have to plan early. Wing-a-rama are talking to potential sponsors at this years event ready for next years event.
Brands are looking for opportunities for attendees to engage with them at the event. Identifying ways to facilitate brand activations is hugely valuable. Being able to sell a creative engagement idea to a sponsor is much more valuable than saying, we will slap your logo on a banner.