How a Strategic Alliance Could Help You Land the Big One

Jake Groen, Plant Manager 
Rama Plastics, Inc. 

The Pope’s visit to Toronto in 2002 and the SARSstock Concert in 2003 were events that drew over a million visitors. They were too large for any one portable restroom company to handle. To win the bid over much larger competitors from the US and to get the job done right, the two largest providers in the Toronto area, Chantler’s Portables and Nature’s Call, created a strategic alliance between themselves, their vendor—Rama Plastics, Inc., (PolyJohn’s Canadian Sister Company), and over 20 other portable restroom companies in the area. 

The alliance formed by Stewart Chantler (Chantler’s Portables) and Kevin Ford (Nature’s Call) proved so successful with the Pope’s visit, they were seen as the only group capable of handling the following year’s SARSstock event on short notice. 

The normal rivalry between these two companies was dropped for the good of both companies. This was possible because the two competitors knew and respected each other and they met together several times to hammer out a well-conceived strategic plan that would guide the alliance throughout these monumentous events. 

When the Pope’s visit was scheduled, they enlisted the help of over 20 other companies to ensure excellent service and enough units to handle the event – over 8,000 units were used! The same type of arrangement could also help your company win special events—no matter how big or small your operation is. If your company is the largest in your city, there could still be event proposals that are too large for your company to handle, in which case you could use an alliance with smaller rivals to win the business. On the other hand, two or three small companies could create a business plan together that could help them win a major event from a larger rival. 

The keys to developing a strategic alliance are first, to run an operation that your competitors respect, and second, to be an open and honest communicator when presenting an alliance proposal to rivals. 

The right way to find a partner: Look for strategic partners whose quality of service, equipment, and customer relations are similar to your own. Meet with a potential partner in a relaxed atmosphere such as in a restaurant or on the golf course. Try to get to know who they are and whether or not you would work well together before you commit resources to an alliance. 

Listen and learn from each other: Since you’ll be working together to win an account before you ever work together to service it, be sure to plan the account presentation so that the alliance is perceived as a strong team, not as a group of separate parts. Two heads are better than one when it comes to planning for any eventuality. 

Put a complete strategic business plan together that each partner agrees on and make sure all parties review it and sign it. Be flexible and have frequent meetings to review logistical challenges and to revise and improve upon the plan. 

What to watch out for: Never partner with someone who could damage your company’s reputation if they don’t perform up to the standards you set for your company. 
Be sure to have a binding agreement that equipment and service is delivered on time and as promised. Work out financial details before the event, including contingencies, i.e. the customer doesn’t pay on time or in full. To make things easier, always try to get payment up front. Also, plan for changes in the job such as last minute decisions by the client to cut or add service. 

Who does what, how, when, and where should be crystal clear in the written contract to avoid misunderstandings. Once the agreement is hammered out, it would be a good idea for both parties to hire their own lawyers to review the language of the agreement. 

It is important to remember that an alliance cannot be successful unless there are appropriate rewards for all those involved. 

Strategic partnerships can be a great way to build business and credibility with large event organizers, however, like a marriage, the partners need to have many things in common or the alliance could quickly become more trouble than it is worth.