LEARNING CURVE | Magnetic Storm lights up horizon
Introvert doing his magic in the background with mobile disco build up events empire
He was always more of the introvert while his brother was happiest in front of a crowd, and it was that trait – working hard in the background – that helped Glenn van Eck build Magnetic Storm into a successful business.
Can you give a bit of background on how the business started?
My brother Shaun started the business 37 years ago as a mobile disco and I used to work for him. I was 16 at the time. When I was about 24, I bought the business from him and at the time we had four mobile units – as they were called during those days – and we would do up to four shows a night.
I built the business from there until where we are today. In those days we mainly did discos, we didn’t have much corporate events.
For instance, when Pick n Pay Hypermarket was out in Hunters Retreat, they would hire our discos which consisted out of slide projectors, a PA system and lights.
The industry then matured and we started doing more corporate functions. The biggest challenge in those days was when a slide got stuck in one of our slide projectors and you had to go up to the projector, get the slide out while the other slides were moving already and I had to figure out where that slide projector needed to be! From there, video projection came out and we had two.
How many people do you employ now compared to when you started?
When we started, it was just my brother and I and we were working part-time. When I bought it from him, it was myself and one employee. Now it varies, but at the moment there are 42 people.
Where did your interest in the business stem from?
From helping my brother. I’m very much a background person and Shaun is an extrovert, so he did the DJing. I would set up the equipment and make sure it was working. I did DJ for a while, but it was never my sweet spot. So the technical side was more of my line and that led to event organising.
The first major event we did after the cultural boycott was lifted, was when Paul Simon came to SA. Rodney Koen and Attie van Wyk brought in all these international artists.
They shipped in all their equipment for their shows and used me as a runner. That’s when the bug really bit me.
When the Splash Festival started – that was also the brainchild of my brother – we were a team of three.
Another big one for the company was when we won the tender to do the 2010 Fifa Fan Fest in St George’s Park which was a 31-day event. We had the third-highest number of attendees at the Fan Fest in the country, yet we had one of the lowest budgets.
How would you describe the business’s core service?
We have three main services with event organising our premium service. We also sell and install sound, lighting and audio-visual equipment at stadiums, boardrooms or shopping centres. Our other offering is infrastructure. We build and erect customised sets.
We also have the biggest truck-mounted crane in the Eastern Cape, which we use for very specialised events.
What would you say makes the business unique in your industry?
We always discuss with the client what the reason for the event is, establishing what would be the right format.
We also believe in working as part of their team, creating connected experiences. It’s very important to keep in mind that one must try to connect the client’s experience to that of their clients. For our team, our biggest accolade is at the end of an event where the client receives praise.
How do you measure success in the business?
From a client perspective, when clients return for your service. That means you’ve delivered on your promise.
Another thing for me is whether people want to work for you. If people aspire to work for you as a company, that means you’re creating a space they enjoy being in.
How do you motivate staff? We try to maintain that whole family feel as much as possible. For instance, once a month we will have a “Twisted Tuesday”, “Wacky Wednesday” and “Thirsty Thursday” where we just have a chilled session.
It’s also important that when they are working at an event, they have all the tools they need to deliver the job as best they can.
And it’s about making sure they are looked after. And simply saying “thank you”.
What are the greatest challenges and/or advantages of having this kind of company here in PE?
I serve as the national chair on the Southern African Conference Industry board – an association about events and conferencing. It’s all about how we engage with the government on the future of the industry and various things that affect the industry. To me, that’s about the longevity of the industry.
I’m also the chair of Council for Events Professionals Africa which is a body consisting of some of the associations to form a professional organisation for events companies. At the moment we are awaiting registration.
The association is about people and companies, whereas the professional body is about people and recognising them for their skills, providing certification and a career path within the industry.
And this is an advantage for my company – working in a small city, there is always that community feel.
There will always be financial setbacks, but the nice thing about being here is that, even though we as small businesses are in competition, we also help each other out.
What are some of the day-today highlights in running the company?
As I have mentioned, the Fifa Fan Fest was an overall highlight. On a daily basis it’s about achieving what you have set out to do and seeing that end result; because it all starts on paper as an idea; and to see that all come together with a happy client is fulfilling.
How important is social media for the business?
Social media is very important; that’s just a fact of life. But how to use it is important – especially from the point of view of talking about events or productions you do for clients or when it’s not for public consumption and you want to show this wow thing that you did, but you can’t.
So it’s about finding that balance of what you can share on your social media pages and engaging with your audience. The biggest challenge is how you engage and I don’t think
Do you find it difficult to set up events in a situation where a client wants something, but they don’t understand the logistics of making it happen?
That’s a challenge in the events industry in general. From an events and production point of view you have limited time to be able to put it together – the physical set-up. You can have all the time in the world for planning based on the availability of venues and the cost of having it for extra days.
And I think the bigger challenge there is what the client wants you to achieve in the amount of time that you have to do it in. Pretty much everything is achievable with enough time and money, but both are scarce.
Do you have any plans to expand the business?
Well, we have already expanded in the last few years. We have an office in Cape Town and we are looking at other options; but we haven’t settled on anything specific. So yes, we are planning on expanding further.
Tips for new business owners?
● Have a dream, make a plan and then work the plan.
● Find yourself a mentor as it’s very costly to make some learning mistakes yourself. It just makes so much more sense to learn from other people’s experiences.
Tip for budding entrepreneurs
● Have a dream, make a plan and then work the plan. we’ve got it right yet.