Lessons Learned from the Sight and Sound Theater – Part 3 of 5: The Value of Long Range Planning

by Tom Grandy

In past posts we have taken a close look at the Mission Statement and hiring and training practices of the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, PA.  This 40 year old company generates gross sales in excess of $75,000,000 each year so we are trying to glean as much as we can from how they operate.  The hope is to apply at least a few of these ideas into our own businesses.

New shows don’t happen quickly.  It typically takes 2-3 years from conception to show time.  Over the years a very specific process has been perfected.  Each show begins with an idea created by a team.  Once the team has agreed on the topic of the show they begin the storyboard process of creating the overall program.  That process is followed by building scale models of each scene.  Once approved, the models are then sent to the massive shop area where they first design the support structure (wood, steel fabrication or whatever it takes to get the job done) for each scene piece.  When the structure is created they add the foam to shape the piece followed by painting and foliage.  Most scenes are physically created in-house.  However, subcontractors are occasionally used for unique situations.

As the scene props are created they are stored on stage, back stage, under the stage (massive floor doors open allowing scenes to be changed out quickly) and even in the ceiling. This is no small task.  The stage itself is huge. The entire stage is 22,000 square feet as compared to Radio Music Hall with 10,000 square feet.  The placement of every prop is physically marked on the floor and large scenes are actually moved into place via GPS.  Anything can fail so all movement of props and scenery can be physically moved should the “system” fail.

While the scenes are being manufactured (within the same physical building where the play is going on) costumes are meticulously being designed and created.  No detail is spared.  It typically takes 24 man hours to create one beard!  Each individual hair is hand placed to create the proper affect.  Since each actor will change costumes multiple times during the show, some as quickly as 15 seconds, everything must be in its place. The typical show has 300 to 1,000 costumes so each costume has a specific place to be hung, each beard has its own box, and every microphone has an assigned shelf with pre-determined settings.  Can you imagine what would happen if just one actor could not find their costume in the middle of a production?  Any one of several actors may be playing the role on any particular day so everyone MUST know exactly where all the props are located.  Personal responsibility is critical when it comes to taking care of costumes and props or the show will not go on as scheduled and therefore will not exceed the customers’ expectations.

Yes, it truly is an amazing process as it unfolds.  So what parallels are there between the long range planning utilized by the Sight and Sound Theater and your business?

First, creating the perfect customer experience requires a lot of detailed planning.  It’s not simply a matter of the phone ringing and sending a tech to fix the equipment.  Anyone can do that.  Like the theater, the customer experience a company desires to deliver must be planned in detail long before the show begins. Every aspect needs to be considered including backup plans should things not go as planned.  All the pieces must fit together properly from what the CSR says on the phone to how the money is collected.  You will remember the costumes, beards and microphones all had specific places they were stored because a different actor might play the part tomorrow.  Do you see any similarities when it comes to your techs handling inventory and/or placing items in tool storage?  What will happen if the tech can’t find the tool John used yesterday?  What if the truck doesn’t start or the needed parts are not on the truck?  If all pieces are not readily available the show will not go on as scheduled and the customer will not receive what they expected and paid for!  Not only will the customer be disappointed but the inefficiencies mentioned above will most likely cut into, if not totally erase, the profitability of the job.

We know why the Mission Statement is so critical to your company and we have discussed the hiring and training necessary to build the right team.  We just discussed the value, indeed the need, for long range planning.  In the next post, we are going to turn our attention to marketing and training for the unexpectedand how expansion takes place.