2022 Executive of the Year: Jason Chance pitches an alternative

Feature Eoy Jason Chance Panel
Photo by Shawn Harper

Register to attend the Executive of the Year awards and reception on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Jason Chance is pretty sure where his business, Chance Productions, would be if he had not made a crucial pivot and invested in a tent from Sperry Tents, which allowed him to hold outdoor events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’d be out of business,” he states. “Maybe not but probably because right before COVID hit, we were growing but not at the rate we had been.”

This pop-up solution earned Chance a 2022 Executive of the Year Award. He is one of six people selected for this honor by a judging panel of previous EOY winners.

On the offensive
At the time of his quick change, Chance Productions specialized in lighting and design audio-visual for weddings and corporate events, primarily at indoor venues. When COVID hit in March 2020, nearly every event booked for the remainder of that year was quickly canceled or postponed to 2021. Like other businesses in the events industry, a previously confirmed revenue stream went dry, and Chance took a chance. He went on offense.

He had no choice. Chance Productions had taken on additional overhead — new warehouse space — and with additional people in the office, there was no way it could have covered those costs, let alone make a profit. With indoor gathering restrictions firmly in place, Chance looked to his newest inventory addition, a 32 x 52-foot Sperry Tent, to offer clients a way to host small gatherings outdoors. Fortunately, while corporate events had disappeared, fools were still falling in love and getting married, and that’s where he made his pandemic pitch.

As part of his quick pivot, Chance’s marketing focus moved from indoor lighting and AV to intimate outdoor gatherings, and additional investments in inventory were made to add options for tables, chairs, bars, and additional small Sperry Tents. On a tip from a local event planning company, Cherry Blossom Events LLC, Chance had previously met with the owner of Sperry Tents and secured the entire Midwest territory as the exclusive provider.

So, as a bit of a survival tactic, there was some industry collaboration going on, and Chance was leaving nothing to chance because the survival of the industry, not just his business, was at stake. It’s his job to serve planners, and it’s their job to serve the client, so there is a symbiotic relationship. “Obviously, you try to take the data and what you’re seeing, and we called a bunch of people in the industry — people that we usually get business from — and asked what are you seeing? What are the trends? What do you need from us? What’s going to make your job easier? What’s going to make your client’s job easier? How can we help you through this as well? And by helping others with what they needed, that’s really what brought us through.”

In his industry, Chance knows of plenty of businesses that went out of business, and they are still going out of business. Following an active summer and fall period, Chance Productions is experiencing another indoor lull because corporate and company parties aren’t happening the way they used to this time of year. Typically, Chance Productions would have indoor work — chair rentals and table rentals and indoor lighting — at places like the Edgewater Hotel and the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, and the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.

“We’re at another significant decline in terms of revenue and for the next four to five months,” he notes. “We’re picking up a job here and there, but it’s not like it was. So, this would typically be a little bit slower than tenting, but it would still be consistent work and that’s not what our industry is seeing.”

In other words, Chance Productions is not out of the woods yet, but Chance has got one thing in his back pocket — he knows he possesses the ability to adapt and survive until indoor winter work picks up again.

“To even be in this conversation, to be evaluated by a group of businesspeople and to be considered, that’s an amazing honor, but to actually be selected is incredible. So, it’s kind of surreal.” — Jason Chance, Chance Productions

It’s a survival skill set he has employed before because another of the hits that affected the COVID pivot came when his bank got cold feet and canceled a loan, citing a declining appetite for risk. As Chance explains, it was not a blessing in disguise, especially because preselling its tents was part of a strategy designed to secure the loan. “That was something we worked on, a strategy with our business coach, that allowed us to get enough orders in so that a loan would be possible,” he notes. “So, instead of paying for all the tents outright, we could then utilize that capital and the have more cash on hand, more operating dollars.”

When the loan was canceled, it was bootstrap time. Chance Productions had to come up with over $300,000 out of pocket during a time it had no revenue coming in. “What that meant is we had to go on offense,” Chance notes. “We had to know exactly what we needed to do to stay in business and, frankly, that’s not enough. You must figure out how to grow, and we did. We tripled revenue from the year before with the pivot.”

Adaptability is part of a skill set, but Chance’s approach to mistakes could be considered a best practice. He thinks it’s a mistake to think that making a mistake is necessarily bad, when it’s part of building experience, especially if the same mistake isn’t repeated twice.

“A quote that sticks out to me is that the definition of an expert is someone who has made a lot of mistakes in a very specific area, and I think that’s true,” Chance says. “People call that experience, but all that means is they have done something for a long time, and they have learned from a lot of mistakes.”

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