A Q&A With NRHA’s Katie McHone-Jones
One of the biggest events on the North American Retail Hardware Association’s (NRHA) calendar is the NRHA All-Industry Conference, held in conjunction with the National Hardware Show®. This year, the conference happens May 8-10 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas (visit nrhaconference.com for more information).
But long before the first guests arrive, NRHA’s event manager Katie McHone-Jones is busy putting together all of the details. Her many responsibilities include hosting guest speakers, organizing private receptions and luncheons and coordinating the Young Retailer of the Year awards banquet. Hardware Retailing asked her how she makes it all happen and what advice she might have for retailers planning their own events.
Hardware Retailing (HR): Planning for an event as large as the Conference involves a lot moving parts. How soon do you start?
Katie McHone-Jones (KM-J): Planning for this year’s conference began a few months after our conference ended in May. I begin the planning process by signing contracts for hotel room blocks, reserving venues that we want to use and making notes about what I’d like to adjust for next year’s events. Toward the end of the year, we begin to put together an event budget and a marketing plan. Two months out is my crunch time. During these months, I am very focused on working with the caterers and hotel to create an experience for our guests. I also work closely with our special guests to help them book flights and organize their hotel stays. Throughout the entire process, I am very focused on making sure we stay on budget. Once we pull all of this together, it is truly an amazing event that we hope everyone will remember.
HR: Once the conference is finally here, what are some of your responsibilities?
KM-J: Every day is very busy! Within the conference, there are a lot of smaller events with their own sets of demands. For example, the Young Retailer of the Year awards banquet is held the day before the Conference begins. I’ll arrive at the banquet area several hours prior to the event to make sure the room is set up the way we want it, including all of the signage we’ve created. I also do a sound check with the audio-visual crew to make sure everything is ready for the award presentation. I also check in with each of the speakers to make sure they are prepared, that they know where they’re going to sit and when they’ll be presenting.
HR: What do you think is the most challenging part of event planning?
KM-J: Having to problem solve, on the spot. No matter how much I plan and organize, there is always something that comes up at the last minute I didn’t anticipate. When that happens, it’s important to not stress out. Instead, I have to use my problem-solving skills and years of event experience to figure out a solution, then learn from that experience so I’m even better prepared the next time. When that stressful situation happens, put on your poker face and keep your cool.
HR: Do you have any advice for retailers as they plan a special event?
KM-J: Make sure you have a reason for everything you’re doing. Make sure your event is relevant to your customers. Don’t do something just because you think it would be cool, look at it from your guests’ point of view. Make sure you think through as many different scenarios as you can and have a backup plan. For example, what do you do it if rains for your outdoor event? Throughout the process, you must be organized, pay attention to details and be self-motivated.
HR: What do you think are keys to putting on an event?
KM-J: Have good problem-solving skills and confidence. When you’re dealing with vendors, such as caterers, you often have to be firm to make sure things happen the way they’re supposed to happen. When the event day comes, double check that they’re delivering everything promised in the contract. At the same time, when you’re dealing with special guests you might invite, such as a local celebrity or radio DJs, make them feel like royalty. Also keep in mind that your guests likely didn’t have to come to your event, so make them glad they chose to come. Above all, focus on customer service and hospitality.