Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Liana Clark-Waechter, director of sales and marketing for the Dana Hotel and Spa, shares her wisdom on forging positive vendor partnerships—and knowing when to break things off.
It was crunch time at Dana Hotel and Spa. In its rooftop event space, the hotel was hosting a panel session with Cat Sanders that would be packed with high-profile bloggers and designers within the hour. The room, notable for its floor-to-ceiling windows, was set with monitors so even those in the back would be able to see the panel. Then the sun came out—and caused a major problem.
“Going into checks, we started having issues with our equipment,” recalls Liana Clark-Waechter, director of sales and marketing with the Dana. “The sun was coming in just perfectly to cause a glare on our screens.”
Clark-Waechter made a frantic call to Kehoe Designs, a preferred vendor of the Dana, and they brought in a new large monitor that could handle the glare. A technician came in and set it up within an hour, and the client never knew the difference.
“To get someone to help on such short notice—that’s a very tough ask, and a tough thing for [a vendor] to turn around,” says Clark-Waechter, “but Kehoe made it happen. That’s [because of] the relationship.”
Having been in her current role for more than a decade, Clark-Waechter has become somewhat of an expert on building vendor relationships in Chicago. In addition to Kehoe, the event design firm Ivan Carlson is another tried-and-true vendor for the Dana, which has 1,800 square feet of traditional meeting space and just over 8,000 square feet including private dining and other creative spaces. We talked with Clark-Waechter to get her tips and tricks on managing relationships in the hotel industry—what she calls “the biggest smallest industry there is, especially in Chicago.”
On qualities to look for in a potential vendor
“First is loyalty. Do they work with the same people consistently? The second is responsiveness. The third is intuitiveness. [Do they] ask questions and take on your account as if it was their own?”
On doing your homework
“Research a potential vendor by Googling, checking LinkedIn and searching all social media platforms. Find as much as you can on them—and on the account rep. Just as people look at hotel reviews, I look at vendor reviews. You can also check LinkedIn groups, like Choose Chicago or MPI, to see if there is any conversation around that vendor.”
On making initial contact
“Pick up the phone first thing. It’s easier to send an email, but calling will tell you a lot. Do you get a person? A voicemail? How quickly are they responding to your call? If it’s the first time you’re working with them, there’s so much they need to know about your event and your company. You can’t get that through properly with email.”
On letting vendors’ expertise shape your decisions
“You need to know that there are things you don’t know. Vendors are going to ask you questions because they’ve been through situations before. They need to ask [questions] to know how to help.”
On red flags
“Not having a website or a Facebook page is a huge red flag. When you think about a design vendor or event vendor, their best form of advertising is to show what they’ve done. If you’re not seeing that and don’t have ease of access, that’s an issue. Trust your initial instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, move on.”
On breaking up
“Sometimes you have to end relationships when there’s a change in the relationship or a change in service. If that happens in a relationship you’ve had a long time, it’s better [to break up] in person. You don’t want to burn a bridge, though. Whatever is going on, consider letting them get through it. Things may turn around.