Sept. 1, 2004 - Adrienne Gavron, president of the Scarritt Group Inc., has built a meeting and conference-planning business that spans the globe.
It is a business built on personal relationships to the extreme, not only those established with clients, but employees as well, considering that Gavron and 10 female employees out of a staff of 11 lived in Gavron's home for two years while trying to get the business off the ground.
It's certainly paid off. Since starting her own business in the spring of 2000, the company has gone from arranging fewer than a dozen meetings and conventions a year to more than 200. During the same period revenues have increased from about $200,000 annually to more than $3 million and the company is on track for a $5 million year this year, Gavron said. An average group booking will include about 175 people who will spend more than $600,000 during their two to three-day stays, including all management and labor fees.
Gavron, who just moved her company into new quarters at 7620 N. Hartman Lane in July, said she's always had a yearning to be in the hotel business and she's followed a career track to make it happen.
After graduating from Northern Arizona University in 1991 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Gavron completed a hotel management training program, then went to work arranging hotel banquets before being named general manager of the Tucson Hilton El Conquistador's Last Territory restaurant in 1992.
By 1994 Gavron had risen to food and beverage director at the El Conquistador Country Club, then general manager of the Windows on the Green restaurant at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale. In 1997, on returning to Tucson as a sales manager back at the El Conquistador Resort, Gavron shattered the sales record for corporate group bookings and was quickly promoted to associate director of sales.
For Gavron it was time to move on. By the time her new business reached the break even point through research, cold calls and a great deal of pavement pounding, she had invested more than $200,000 of her own money, including $40,000 in personal savings and going without a salary for three years.
With the help of her family and friends, Gavron has come a long way since busing tables while growing up in Sedona.
More than 80 percent of Gavron's clients now are repeat customers, but it took the Metro Users Group, a group of the nation's top newspaper production managers, to break the ice when the group hired the Scarritt Group to help arrange its annual meeting in Florida in 2000. The group has since booked the Scarritt Group to handle arrangements for its annual meeting in San Antonio in 2005 and is working on its 2006 meeting.
The Scarritt Group's largest client to date has been the Gospel Music Workshop of America, a 3,000-member conclave booked for a Dallas meeting in 2006. Other large groups include the Psychonomic Society and the International Society for Exposure Analysis, which studies the effects of environmental contaminants on humans and the ecosystem at large.
This latter group is sandwiching its 2005 annual conference Oct. 30 through Nov. 3 at the Westin La Paloma Resort between Italy, where this year's conference is being held, and France in 2006. From 500 to 700 members of the society are expected for the Tucson meeting.
"We were really impressed with their presentation and what they had done for other groups," said Linda Tumelli, director of financial affairs at the University of Arizona.
Tumelli, with the help of the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, assisted two members of the College of Public Health faculty who are members of the society and will serve as conference co-chairs in signing on a conference planner.
"They were just great; things they couldn't do for us, they found someone who could," Tumellie said.
Before the year is out, Scarritt employees will have traveled to Russia, France, Boston, New York, Chicago, Montreal and San Antonio in connection with meeting arragements. In just over two months not long ago, the Scarritt Group arranged 27 meetings for one company alone.
One of the toughest things Gavron said she had to figure out was what to charge clients so she could at least make enough profit to hire a staff.
"It took me awhile to figure that out," said Gavron. "If you want to know what your competition is doing in the restaurant business, you eat in that restaurant and you take home a menu. But in this business it's very difficult to find out what the competition was doing."
Services provided by the Scarritt Group range from helping a client choose from a list of possibilities what city and what hotel the client's meeting is to be held to negotiating a contract with a hotel, arranging for ground and air transportation and setting up tours and entertainment.
Gavron is the only person who handles sales. Data is prepared comparing one hotel to another as far as price per room, the availability of meeting space and the level of services.
The company's several departments not only handle all negotiations leading up to the group's arrival, but employees also serve on site as a liaison between the group and any of the vendors serving the group, such as those providing audio and visual services, limousines and entertainment.
Scarritt's strength, Gavron said, is that it is a smaller company and therefore more reachable, more capable of providing a "more intimate, Four Seasons level of service."
In addition, "I know the ins and outs of the hotel business and our entire team comes from the hospitaity industry. As a result, we can better serve the client not only by getting the best price, but by partnering with the hotel and protecting the client contracturally."