“From the beginning it has been all about the best. It wasn’t about anything more. It wasn’t about anything less.”
That’s how Brian Olson, founder of New York-based Firehouse Productions, set the tone for the company. It’s also how Mark Dittmar, Vice President of Sales, set the stage for our conversation. As Flex was founded by a guy who believes that “good enough – isn’t,” we were hooked. He was talking in our language.
Driven by perfection and innovation, Firehouse set out not only to build a business, but a culture. Mark explained “the shopping cart moment” to us. “You know when there’s a wheel that’s wobbly on a shopping cart?” he asked. We nodded. “Well, if you work for Firehouse, when we notice a wobbly wheel on a case – we fix it in the moment. If latches don’t latch–we drill it out, and put in a new latch. Not later. Always in the moment. Without hesitation.”
We were curious if the clients noticed these details. “Oh yes. On the off chance it’s not right they give us nonstop crap for it. Because the gear always works.” He went on to explain that it doesn’t matter who the client is–from B’Nai Mitzvah celebrations to the Music Video Awards and trade shows to the NBA, the gear always works. He also said they wipe down every piece of equipment after every gig. “It’s just the way we do things. You’re only as good as your last show.”
Commitment to Excellence. Check.
Amazing innovation. Check.
Extraordinary culture. Check.
All of this resulted in amazing growth. Firehouse started in 1994 (in an actual Firehouse) in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Mark walked us through the history of Firehouse and its early roots with top 90’s acts like the Cure, Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, and Peter Gabriel. He told us how Firehouse’s founder, Brian Olson wasn’t happy with the fact that monitors were typically made out of whatever was left over from the PA system – so he built his own. JBL bought the license. He also told us that Brian was the one of the first audio engineers to ever use in-ear monitors. Of course this is a live concert staple now, but Brian and Firehouse were among the first movers. (It’s a little mind numbing to try wrapping our heads around this. It’s legendary.)
And now? Offices in Vegas and NYC. Tens of thousands of square feet of warehouse space. Forty full time employees and 150 freelancers that are like family. “Because not everyone can do it the way we need to do it.” And yet, with clients like the VMAs, I Heart Festival in Vegas, Global Citizens, the NBA, NHL, and more, Firehouse is still, “a boutique company built on personal relationships” Mark added, “Growth for the sake of growth is dangerous. So, we’ve turned down more work in the last three months than we’ve taken. It’s easy to lose your identity.”
With everything back in full force, how does Flex help Firehouse keep up? “Flex is involved with every aspect of our business. Finance, operations, sales, project management, everyone has their hands in it. It’s the lynchpin that holds the company together. Flex is our Bible. We couldn’t move at the speeds we do without it.”
Speaking of that speed Firehouse operates with the mindset “Put a lot of effort into keeping it simple.” Take the VMA’s. 5 semis of audio equipment, 180 boxes in the air, 4 fiber optics networks, a crew of 54 people and limited amount of time for setup. Mark walked us through how every event is like LEGO building blocks. “It looks incredibly complicated, but every show is built from the same blocks. So, we’ve worked very hard to put a ton of effort into simple solutions that we can perfect.” Leveraging suggestions, event folders and more, Flex has been fine tuned to do just that. And our CEO, Chris Stein, loves it. Mark shared that this is key to allowing Firehouse to “punch above its weight”.
Mark left us with a final thought that we all sometimes forget. “This is a business built on experience and it's easy to get overly dependent on technology. Sometimes, you just have to pick up the phone.”
It’s a good reminder, and one of the reasons we love sharing these profiles. It’s a touchpoint. A reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all in the relationship business. From our relationships with our customers to their relationships with their customers, and all the way to the ultimate relationship with an audience. We’re all creating something special together. And the success of Firehouse and all of our customers is our Flex.
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Firehouse Productions has been a Flex customer since 2016 when it became clear Excel spreadsheets could no longer serve as an physical asset tracking system (and even that was a big step forward from magnets on a whiteboard). We look forward to seeing Firehouse continue making magic with Flex5.