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LESSONS LEARNED: Look for ways to overcome obstacles

October 29, 2007

Flory May isn't one to back down from challenges. She'd rather work around them.

Overcoming obstacles was her job as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and not much changed when she left the military and started her own event-planning business. Turns out, her two careers aren't all that different.

"They're both about creating order out of chaos, bringing people together behind a common mission," said May, 40. "In some ways, event planning can be more difficult."

Indeed, organizing a big-time affair can involve as many moving parts as a military invasion. Duties range from event management and administration-planning activities, scheduling volunteers and registering guests, for example-to communications and financial reporting.

She knows how challenging it can be. For eight years, Mays' Sim- the in to welcome teams and fans to the U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis.

That job and countless others had her looking for a better way to manage a process she said is 2-percent glamour and 98-percent hard work. And what she found has changed her life-and her business.

"The thought process was simple: Alleviate pain," May said of her search for a way around the organizational obstacles. "I thought there had to be a way to be more efficient and add more business as a result."

The answer was innovation. With the help of staff members who had experience creating computercode specifications, May and her crew came up with The Registration System, an online application that makes their jobs easier.

From 2000 to 2003, TRS simplified life at Simply Hospitality as staff used the technology to tackle administrative and management functions like registering attendees and scheduling volunteers.

May started getting calls from local event planners who'd heard about the program, so she sold it to her competitors as a secondary product. Then her local clients started recommending it nationally.

In 2005, May and her growing legion of customers used TRS to organize 12 events. This year, she expects that number to reach 320.

Along the way, she has turned other obstacles into opportunities. When clients made demands of the system, May found ways to meet them. Last year, for example, TRS added financial and communications functions to its array of services.

"We never say, 'Oh no, we don't do that,'" May explained. "We say, 'What do we need to do to accomplish that?' We evolve the system to take care of our needs."

Simply Hospitality has evolved, too. Growing, selling and supporting TRS is now its primary business, with event planning a distant second place. The firm works on only three events each year, down from a peak of about 25.

"We sat down and asked ourselves, 'Where do we bring the most expertise for our clients?'" May said. The answer was TRS.

Finding the answer doesn't mean there aren't still hurdles ahead, though. Despite doubling revenue in the past year, May said Simply Hospitality is still nine to 12 months away from profitability.

"Growth is exhausting," she said. And expensive.

Keeping up on changing needs-and technology-doesn't come cheap, but it's a necessity if May wants to keep her company at the front of the pack navigating the event-planning obstacle course.

"It means constant innovation," she said. "Yes, I want to make money; everyone would like their company to be profitable. But it's an amazing thrill to know we're bringing solutions to other people and making their lives better. We're taking away their pain."
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