In part 1, we prepared to plan the road trip by thinking about things like the budget, the timeline and the people and resources needed to nail down our plan. In part 2 of the road trip series, I’ll talk about contacting your vendors, negotiating the contracts and settling up with our alumni.
The One Thing I Recommend Before You Start This Phase
Now that you’ve committed to your road trip, you can begin to reach out to vendors and venues to get the details planned. Much of this phase of your planning will involve working through details and pricing for each of the components of your road trip. I can’t stress this point enough – if negotiating and contracts are not your thing, find someone who is comfortable doing this. The vendors you work with are not out to “take” you, I promise; however, I’ve seen more than one well-meaning chapter leader sign up for a service not realizing the full details of their contract.
Will you need food and beverage on-site or will folks take care of themselves? You may need to research tailgating or catering options. Check with the location of your event first before looking for a restaurant or bar option. Many times caterers or tailgate companies have contracts with stadiums or arenas and can provide you with on-site services including everything from tents, tables and chairs to fully catered events with staff.
Read the fine print of your catering contracts carefully! Look for things like clean up charges, gratuity and rental charges added to your contract. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t pay these but you should be very aware of whether they’ve been included and if they can be negotiated down or off. Most alumni clubs are non-profits and there could be benefits to you such as discounts or a reduction in sales taxes so make sure to ask. Confirm with your university club coordinator if she will need to co-sign the contract with you (this may be likely if the University is going to front the money for your club). Expect to pay a deposit. Make sure you know when the balance is due and how it needs to be paid.
Are you taking a bus or some other mode of transportation? Research transportation companies in your area. Make sure your transportation is reputable and reliable. Ask around particularly if you have contacts with other local club leaders in your area. Know what you want to spend per person on transportation. For example, $1200 is a great rate for a 50 seat bus on a 2-3 hr bus trip but I’ve seen some companies try to charge exorbitant amounts for buses. Remind the company that you represent a school/non-profit organization. This may help you avoid a deposit or may get you a discount.
Pro-tip: ask the transportation company if you can see and walk through the bus that they will use for your trip before you sign the contract.
Expect to pay a nominal deposit up front. Find out the terms for cancelling and if the deposit is non-refundable (assume it is). You should price your seats NOT assuming you’ll fill every one. Assume you’ll fill 45 of the 50, for example. Ideally, with the additional margin you might make on other sales, you’ll comfortably cover the bus.
Last, I do not recommend renting a personal vehicle or van for travel but then again I’m risk averse. Having the club take on the liability of transporting a group of people just scares me but you may feel differently.
Blocks of Tickets
Sometimes tickets are the easiest part. These young ticket sales people LOVE to make a sale. I’ve had great luck purchasing blocks of tickets at opposing schools. Make sure you find the group sales rep in the ticket office. Committing to a block of tickets comes with lower pricing. The larger the block, the lower the ticket price so you’ll need to have an idea of how big a group you expect. You may be able to base this on prior trips. For example, our club in Florida takes a regular trip to Tallahassee to watch a basketball or football game when our school is in town. We can always expect at least 200 people. Knowing this in advance will get the ticket office’s attention and, if it’s a regular occurrence, they may call you at the beginning of the season to sell you tickets!
Expect to pay a deposit – usually about 25% up front – due when you commit to the block. I don’t ever recommend that you buy the block outright. I have done that once but only because I knew that we would sell every ticket – all 200 of them (gulp) – in the block. And we did. I also don’t ever recommend that you buy tickets in months in advance for bowl games or championship games. There’s too much risk there. Your University may be able to help you locate tickets for those events when the teams are confirmed.
Pro-tip: In the event you have some extra, unsold tickets in your block, reach out to your alumni chapters in your vicinity, have your alumni association help with marketing them or call the alumni club of the other school (if there’s one in your town) to see if they’d like to buy. If all else fails, you can’t beat Stub Hub.
Before finalizing your contract, make sure you know how tickets will be distributed. Can they be purchased through the ticket office? If so, you won’t need to collect money for the tickets or distribute them. Will the ticket office send you the tickets? If so, factor in to your plans how you will assign and distribute tickets.
I haven’t planned any overnight road trips but have helped to research this option for another club. First, make sure you have a target number for a hotel room – how many at what price? Based on this, find a hotel near your event in that price range that has some availability. And this is why starting your plan early is essential. Hotels can book up or increase their rates as the date for the event approaches. Contact the hotel directly. Don’t go through their corporate reservation line. Know about how many rooms you’re going to need and what kind of group rate you’ll be able to get. The hotel will likely only hold the block of rooms of certain amount of time so you’ll want to have your alumni sign up early. I do not recommend that the club use its funds to pay for rooms up front. You can decide if a deposit is a good investment based on interest from your alumni in staying in the hotel. Have alumni book early so the hotel can release the rooms and not charge the club for holding them.
Put The Details Together into Packages
Now that you’ve got contracts in place you should know the per person amount for each activity. Here’s where you want to put together a set of packages. Why packages plural? I really believe that you can attract more alumni to your event by offering different experiences. Some may not be interested in pieces of the day but would like to join the club for a part of the experience (like a season ticket holder who has ticket and transportation covered but wants to join the group for tailgating). Remember, to make sure that the full experience is a the best price and then price the other packages accordingly.
Registration & Payments
As soon as your packages are ready, get them posted to your registration page so you can sign up your alumni and collect their money. Ideally your university provides you with an online payment collection tool that eliminates or reduces the transaction fees you may have to pay the payment vendor. If this isn’t the case, don’t forget to build in an amount to cover the club’s fees. Road trip costs can cost $1000s and having to pay 2.75% or more can amount to real money lost.
Finally, make sure you setup the site to stop accepting registrations when you’ve run out of seats or tickets (make sure you include this limit in your promotion materials).
In the last post in this series, we’ll go over pre-trip and day-of-the-event activities you’ll need to prepare for to have a successful road trip.