185: Don Dow: My former teammate from the University of Washington describes how he had to make a pivot during Covid and adjust his Event Planning company to position for success in the future…

January 8, 2021

Don Dow

What does Don want people to understand about his accomplishments? “We both played in the NFL, we both got drafted. And the thing that people need to understand is those things don’t just happen magically. Hard things are hard, right? They’re hard. Starting a business is hard. Sustaining a business is hard. But when you get through to the other side, there’s so much reward in terms of the daily discipline, the hard steps you took to get to that place where now you can really reap and go, that was worth it.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Don Dow, former Huskies teammate with Mark Pattison and event production company owner. “My earliest lessons in the event business was being a player and going to the Rose Bowl or going to an Aloha Bowl or going to the Sun Bowl, as we did. Because here’s the buses, here’s the hotels, here’s all the organization, you’re going to these parties as a player, organized and otherwise. So for me, my earliest experience in this business I’ve been in was as a player and being hosted as opposed to being on the other side of it.”

What You Will Learn:

How did Don transition from playing pro football to events? “Where it really started for me was when I came out of football, a guy in Seattle by the name of Bob Walsh was my agent. And I went to work for Bob shortly after I was released from the Seahawks, right at the end of training camp the year I was drafted. And he said we’ll bring you in, we’ll give you training, you can do sales and everything else… I went to the 9ers the following year, blew a disc in my back right before the Superbowl in practice, came back, went to work for Bob, and never left.”

What is it that sets Don’s event company apart? “I think where we’re different, especially in the internet age—once the internet happened, all of a sudden there was transparency. You could go find a ticket on StubHub, you could kind of put it together on your own. But in my world, in the Dow Events world, no matter what event we’re at, and we really set the tone for this at the Masters, is you land, and my team has you from the time you land until we put  you  back on the plane. So it’s transportation, it’s accommodations, it’s tickets, it’s hospitality, it’s dinner reservations. It’s a complete, full-service, turnkey program. And that really set the stage for us in where the company’s gone in over 25 years.”

What was the start of COVID like for Don and Dow Events? “I literally went to Augusta about the 4th or 5th of March, I was getting ready for my 25th consecutive Masters, we had a lot of stuff in the works, you know, clients coming in as always, etc., etc. And the world stopped. And so literally, anybody in my business has a safe deposit box or a safe somewhere full of badges, 2019 badges, that are now worthless. And you’ve put deposits out for houses and transportation and catering and  everything else, you’ve got client money that’s come in to you. And thank goodness as I mentioned earlier I’m definitely a relationship client guy, because I can sit and talk with our  clients and roll them, hopefully to 2021. I’m not sure that the Masters is gonna happen with spectators in April. I don’t see it happening. So now all of a sudden we’re rolling clients to 2022, and in the meantime, we’ve got to survive.”

What does Don predict events will be like after the pandemic? “To the extent that people participate in 2021, I think it will largely be high net worth individuals that come to things like the Masters or CMA Fest or Wimbledon or some of those other things that are on our calendar. I don’t see it as being corporate. I think they’re gonna be much more cautious. I also think that the second half of 2021 is gonna be like Mardi Gras every day for those high net worth—people just want to get out and go experience stuff… I think 2022 is going to be absolutely nuts.”

“I think the work from anywhere is going to stay. I’ve always said in my business, I could be on a boat and as long as I’ve got an uplink, I can run Dow Events worldwide. The flipside of that, I was on the phone with a longtime, 20+ year client the other night, he called and we kind of did a year-end chat. And he said to me, ‘What’s going on with Masters? Are we going?’ I said, ‘I really don’t think so.’ I said they’ll make an announcement in late January, but I said I’m thinking they’re gonna do it like they did in November, maybe expand guests for members and maybe some of their sponsors, but that’s gonna be it. He said, ‘Well gosh, I’ve got to get face to face with our customers. This whole thing with Zoom and everything is great, but there’s nothing like spending time looking people in the eye.’”

Washington Huskies

What did Don Dow learn from his coach when he played for the Washington Huskies? “I think one of the greatest things I learned from Coach James was he trusted his people. He delegated to everybody, all the coaches and everything else, right? And in the end, he was the key decision maker there… I think the biggest thing for me coming out of it was I admired the way that he dealt with relationships. And that’s the only way my company has survived over the last 25+ years is relationships.”

Lessons from the Coach

How have lessons from Coach James translated into Dow Events? “I think that probably the biggest thing that I can say that’s helped our success, and I think this goes back to Coach James and everything else, is you do what you say you’re gonna do. You always deliver. That has cost me over the years… I’ve always told my team, if somebody spends $1 with us, they’re gonna get $1.10. It’s always a bit more. Take that last step just a little bit farther.”

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