We’ve all been in the same frustrating situation. We go online to purchase tickets to a concert or sporting event. Once the sticker shock of the ticket prices subsides, we receive a second wave of disbelief as the service fees are applied. Itemized costs such as “Service Charge,” “Building Facility Charge,” “Processing Charge” and “Shipping Charge” make us feel as if we are being nickeled-and-dimed to the hilt. In fact, fees have become so exorbitant that artists including Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen have denounced the business practices of several online providers. But since 2001, TicketBiscuit— a Birmingham-based company that provides software for online ticketing—has been working to ensure that consumers are not gouged and that promoters and venues receive proper customer service.
“Anybody who’s ever purchased a ticket knows who Ticketmaster is,” says Todd Coder, TicketBiscuit’s Director of Music Business Development. “For years, there has been resistance by consumers and artists in terms of the incredibly high ticket service fees that come along with Ticketmaster tickets. We consider ourselves more of a personal business, even though we are a large business. We have a relationship with all of our clients. We keep the service fees in check. Our service fees are certainly much, much lower and competitive across the board with any ticketing provider.”
But while reduced service fees are important to consumers, TicketBiscuit founder and President Jeff Gale prides his organization on providing the customer service that is sorely lacking in his industry.
“Service is important to us and that’s just not the case with so many companies these days, especially companies whose core focus is technology, as ours is,” Gale says. “We consider ourselves a software company and a technology company, but at the same time we recognize the value of customer service and that it’s getting harder and harder to find these days. Clients recognize the world-class nature of our software, but what they really value in us is that we’re reachable. We’re proactive in our service—we don’t wait for a panic call from them. We’ll call them and check on them and see what we can do better. You just don’t hear about Internet companies doing that. Many Internet companies don’t even publish a phone number—you can’t call them if you want to. We’re very proud of the fact that that we give detailed, personalized customer service to every one of our clients.”
The recent addition of Coder to the TicketBiscuit team is a natural one, given the history that exists between them. Many people in town know Coder as the talent buyer for Workplay, a title he still holds. But in the past year, Coder and Gale decided to strengthen their business ties and use the synergy available to them.
“Workplay was indeed the first [TicketBiscuit] client, so there’s a longstanding relationship between the two,” Coder says. “It’s a very harmonious relationship, and has been, and the transition in terms of myself is a very good and positive thing for everyone involved. I had discussions with TicketBiscuit and have worked with them closely over the last four years at Workplay and have always believed in the december 23 - december 30, 2010 product. Just recently, we decided that we wanted to find a way to work together more, though we didn’t know exactly how. After a handful of meetings and conversations, we decided that I should join the team and use the relationships that I have in the industry in maintaining and developing our client base.”
As a longstanding TicketBiscuit customer, Coder can confidently convey
the company’s message to prospective and existing clients.
“I’ve worked with no less than five different ticketing companies over the years and the service and software were incomparable to TicketBiscuit,” Coder recalls. “That’s why it was an easy sell for me to come onboard and to be basically a walking testimonial for the product itself. I learn more and more everyday as to what goes into making the product as superior as it is. It involves a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of brainpower.”
I mention to Coder that he seems energized by his new position and the opportunity to further his relationships with other venues, as well as spending time in regional markets including Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, Oxford, Miss., and Athens, Ga.
“There’s no question,” Coder agrees. “It’s a totally different side to the industry that I’ve never been involved with. I’ve dealt with ticketing companies, but I’ve never been in the ticketing industry per se. To really see how it works and to see how in-depth the software and support can be—and to go to different venues that I’ve never had the chance to visit and forge relationships—it’s neat.
Gale adds that Coder’s experience and existing business network allows TicketBiscuit to open doors that couldn’t be opened otherwise.
“It’s a perfect fit,” Gale says of Coder’s addition to the fold. “Workplay was our very first client in 2001 and is still a client that we’re proud to have and enjoy serving. Through that relationship, we’ve gotten to know Todd over the last four years, and we’ve bandied around the idea of how we can work together, and over the last several months we got serious about it. As we explored the details, we found it was going to be the perfect fit. Relationships are important in any business, but I think they’re especially important in entertainment. Club owners are a different breed and they will not pick up the phone and return your call if they don’t know you or someone that knows you. Todd’s network of relationships has been invaluable along those lines. I could have the best software in the world, but if I don’t know somebody who can contact them personally, it’s not going to make a difference.”
With a business footprint that includes both domestic and international clients, I ask Coder and Gale how TicketBiscuit maintains personal relationships given the distance to many of its clients.
“There are 500 different clients and 1,500 venues, and those range from music to comedy to the train stations that do Polar Express murder mystery dinners,” Coder offers. “We try to meet face-to-face with all of our clients as frequently as we can. My personal focus is on the Southeast, but there is a nationwide focus as well. I meet with clients and brainstorm as to what the needs are and offer my own suggestions from a promoter and venue standpoint. We take it from there, and it grows organically. The value of being in front of a client certainly exceeds the cost.”Gale adds, “We have the ability to do sales demos and presentations over the web, but we find that our success rate goes up tremendously when we go see the people and we shake their hands. The fact that we’re there in the room makes a big difference for us.”
Earlier this month, TicketBiscuit took a significant step in solidifying its competitive position in the marketplace by receiving a capital investment from C&G Capital Partners, LLC, an Alabama-based private investment company.
“That’s our big news this week, and it’s a big step for us,” Gale says. “We’ve been around since 2001, and this is the first time that we’ve taken money. Most companies will accept a capital investment a lot sooner than we did. We certainly could have [accepted investment capital], but we were preferring to keep all of the ownership inhouse as much as we could and grow the thing organically and not have to rely on investment capital.”
Like adding Coder to the company’s mix, Gale says the timing and fit in partnering with C&G couldn’t have been better.
“Earlier this year, we took an assessment of our competitive landscape,” Gale recalls. “Ticketing is in such flux right now and there’s upheaval in the industry and we see a lot of competitors taking money. When they’ve got gas in the tank, we’ve got to come out and fight fire with fire and fill-up our gas tank and go head-to-head with them. That’s really what led to the decision to take on investment capital. We finally found some great partners that we wanted to work with. These guys are called C&G Capital Partners and they’re based in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. It’s a couple of guys investing their own money and they’ve been very successful. They’re like an angel investor, but they are very professional and very good at what they do, so in that sense they’re like an institutional investor. We get the best of both worlds—we get their breadth of experience and we get their mentorship and advice while getting the intimacy of an angel-type relationship. We couldn’t be happier with the guys that we chose to invest in us.”
Fortunately for Gale, the partnership will not limit his ability to run the company as he sees fit on a daily basis.
“They don’t want to be in the day-to-day operations at all,” Gale says of C&G. “They recognize us as great managers of this company, and they want to let us to do our thing. They want us to call on them when we need them, but they’ve been very clear that they don’t want to meddle.”
After nearly 10 years in existence, TicketBiscuit is succeeding with two simple concepts—reasonable fees and personalized client service.
“We want to make the overall experience easier for everyone involved,” Coder says. “There is no reason for it to be the difficult process that it has evolved to over the last decade or so. With that in mind, the idea is for people to buy more tickets and for it to be an attractive transaction for the parties involved as well.”
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.