- Player: Glenn van Eck
- Company: Magnetic Storm
- What they do: Magnetic Storm is a multi-faceted audio-visual and events company. Having started in equipment hiring, the company now specialises in hire, sale and installation of sound, lighting and audio-visual equipment, as well as event management services.
- Established: 1981
- Visit: magnetic.co.za
Magnetic Storm started as a mobile disco in Port Elizabeth — a simple operation that spiced up weddings and birthdays.
“My brother started it,” says company CEO Glenn van Eck. “I worked for him as a 16-year-old, and he left the business in my care when he got called up for service. I ran it for eight months, which was my first taste of managing a business.”
The business grew to four units that could host four discos at the same time, and in 1995, Van Eck purchased it from his brother. Since then he has turned his mobile disco operation into a big player in the events space. Here’s what he learnt along the way.
1. Tap into every market possible
“I realised fairly quickly that we needed to branch out. In order to grow the business, we needed to start looking at other business opportunities. Specifically, we decided to go after corporate gigs, but we also started looking at events like fashion shows, mall promos and competitions,” says Van Eck.
Lesson: It’s worth asking yourself: What markets are out there that I’m not tapping into? Based in Port Elizabeth, Magnetic Storm’s total market was always going to be limited. So growth required expansion into other areas. Corporate gigs made sense, and they offered the added benefit that they wouldn’t often overlap with party gigs.
2. Expand you product/service offering
“As the company has grown, we’ve taken on other elements of event management to the point where we are often in charge of every aspect of an event. This kind of diversification is important if you want to grow, especially in a smaller market.”
Lesson: Diversification can be tricky. You want to increase revenue streams but not lose focus. The goal is to diversify within an area that you’re comfortable with. Magnetic Storm has diversified within industries it knows well.
3. Have the courage to think big
“It’s easy to believe that growth will be impossible. It’s not. You just need the courage to think big enough.”
Lesson: Growth happens when you make it happen. Magnetic Storm, which started as a mobile disco, has now been responsible for the hosting of a 2010 Soccer World Cup Fan Fest, and numerous international music concerts — even opening a Cape Town office to establish a larger footprint. This was accomplished with a growth mind-set, looking at ways the company can grow and diversify.
4. Become a trusted advisor
“Growth is about repeat business. You want your client to need your help — to rely on it. Constantly look at the challenges your clients face, as opposed to your challenges. To be successful, you need to help. You are there to provide a solution, to make a client’s life as simple as possible.”
Lesson: You want to grow with your clients. You don’t want to be forced into a ‘procurement’ relationship, where every decision is based purely on price. To do this, you want to become a trusted advisor to clients — to offer the sort of advice and service that they can’t work without. According to Van Eck, this happens when you do everything to ensure a client’s success.
5. Leverage your strengths
“What sets us apart is what we call experiential intelligence. We have done this for 35 years. Being around a long time is a great advantage. We can accurately assess needs and find out what will work best for a specific client. You can take anyone off the street and call him or her a technician. And, if nothing goes wrong, that’s fine. But what if something does go wrong? A client is paying for a great experience. The event needs to be seamless for them, no matter what’s happening behind the scenes.”
Lesson: You lose certain advantages as your company grows. You might, for example not be as agile or cheap as some of your smaller competitors, but you do have other advantages. You have experience and a proven track record, and these can be worth a lot, provided you leverage them correctly.
6. If you’re not growing, you’re going backwards
“You need to keep abreast of recent trends and innovation, and you need to follow customers. Even if you’re just growing in knowledge, you have to keep growing.”
Lesson: Growing isn’t a goal that can be accomplished and ticked off a to-do list — it is an ongoing process. Also, growth isn’t just about the bottom line. It’s about knowledge and experience. If you don’t move forward, you’ll quickly find yourself becoming obsolete.
7. You need to take a leap of faith
“When growing, there will be scary moments. You need to take those considered risks because you’ve got to create the capacity before you can do the work.”
Lesson: Growth is often risky because it requires spending ahead of revenue. Only once you’ve spent a considerable amount of money can you start turning a profit. This means that every decision must be carefully considered, but will remain inherently risky. It’s about controlling risk and keeping it as small as possible.
8. Make yourself unnecessary
“You need to accept that you are not the company. If you want to grow, let go of some control. Step back and let others take on more responsibility.”
Lesson: It’s impossible to grow a company if you try to micromanage everything. Growth can only happen if you hire people you can trust and empower them to run with things.
Growth starts with a change in mind-set – a determination to take a company to the next level.