For those of you with an interest in gardening you will probably be aware it’s Chelsea Flower Show week. Using probably the greatest flower show in the world as my subject I want to take a look at the business of event logistics: something all event managers deal with to varying degrees at every event they organise. Although some may not know they are even doing it!
The Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show is an events manager’s logistical nightmare. It’s absolutely incredible that in a three week timeframe a largely empty space is turned into one of the most extraordinary spectacles. So from an events perspective I want to take a look at the work of the event logistics team – the guys that over sea the creation of the Show, Fresh and Artisan Gardens and the 100+ exhibits in the Great Pavilion: that make up the Chelsea Flower Show.
A logistical jigsaw
As there is so much to be done by so many people in such a short space of time, Chelsea is indeed a logistical jigsaw puzzle of epic proportions. The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport define logistics as ‘the time related positioning of resources to meet user requirements’. Event logistics (unlike the on-going activity of managing a business) is concerned with one specific project; an event. In general terms we are talking about the supply, movement, installation and removal of products and services. In the mix are the customers (exhibitors, designers, RHS and sponsors), the suppliers and their designated contractors and of course the logistics team at Chelsea Flower Show: trying to manage everyone. What they are trying to do is manage the flow of materials and people into, on to and around the site.
From empty space to spectacular gardens
Let’s assume the customers (exhibitors, designers…etc.) know what they want and have agreed terms with a supplier. The given at Chelsea Flower Show…is that everybody is working towards the same objective: to be ready to open on time. Easy to say much harder to do in practice, when there are so many variables. The problem is the very small timeframe you have to work in and the huge numbers of contractors on site, trying to do their thing in the context of allowing everyone else… to also do their thing. The reality maybe a little harder to achieve as each team of contractors’ focus is on making sure they stick to their own schedule.
On site you have contractors excavating, laying foundations, building ever more ambitious constructions and dramatic water features. There is hard surfacing to put in place and heavy lifting machinery required to move mature plants, huge rocks and extravagant sculptures into place. What could possibly go wrong?
When the lifting gear, excavators, builders, carpenters, scaffolders have gone: the hard landscaping is complete: it’s time for thousands of plants to be delivered to site and then planted. Meaning: more kit, more machinery, more stress, and more logistical plans.
So how do the Chelsea team do it?
The basic tools of the events logistics manager are scheduling and site planning. The site plan in this case is very different to ones you might use for promotional purposes. In terms of scheduling there will be negotiations with suppliers around delivery times, access points, equipment used, site safety plans and removal times. Each party will be trying to get the best solution for the event; their gardens and budget. While there cannot be a dry run (this is a one take wonder), a table top dry run exercise with all the key players will take place to try and establish any unknown elements, look for potential problems and identify best fit solutions.
It’s time to direct the action!
Producing an event like Chelsea or any other event for that matter is like directing a play: it is built, scene by scene. There’s a necessary and logical order and getting this right is important. Essentially, they will be breaking the event down day into its component parts and working out what needs to happen first, second, third and so on. They will be working backwards from the first official opening event and calculating how long it will take to get everything built, set (able to have machinery and people move over it) cleared, cleaned, and ready to receive visitors. The logistics or operational plan will have milestones: times when crucial tasks must be completed and if all goes well, then ‘the build’ should flow without the need of active control. The reality of course for those of us with experience of setting up an event site is somewhat different. You and your team must continuously watch the action unfold, keep a critical eye on the schedules and remind everyone to do what you asked them to do. It’s an active process and where revisions may have to be made.
Key to this stage: brilliant joining instructions, everybody working hard during set up and sticking rigidly to the schedules and site plan
Event logistics or operational plans
In practice your logistics plan is a sequenced list of tasks to be completed on or before event day and will include the following:
- A full chronological running order of everything that needs to happen, detailing time, location, person responsible
- Schedules – including timelines and any contractor time constraints
- Contacts list: useful names and telephone numbers for all key players
- All special instructions about the venue, site, layout, access arrangements, contact numbers, parking, and so on
- A full site plan with any accompanying notes
- Contingency and any back-up plans
- Emergency plans
The plans will be sent to all the key players.
Keys to success here…is to assume nothing, triple-check everything and to go through the plan with everyone as many as times as you or…until they tell you to go away!
Thank you…I salute you!
So to the Chelsea Flower Show event managers…I once again salute you. You do a remarkable job in what must be an ever more challenging environment as garden designers year on year seek to produce ever more elaborate exhibits: with the consequential logistical headaches that will go with them. Oh I forget to mention the huge matter of delivering the whole build within the confines of current health and safety legislation…A very tough call indeed!!
And of course, when the public (160,000+), the Royals and the TV crews have all gone home…you get to do the whole process in reverse.
If you want to know more about event logistics and the ‘how to’ of designing, planning and delivering great events please check out my in-house event management training courses.
If you have any logistical tips or operational observations you care to share – please feel to do so
Author Chris Powell, Director The Event Expert
I run an event management training and consultancy company delivering in-house and on-line bespoke event training courses and consultancy services to accidental, occasional and professional event managers. My objective: to give them the confidence and ‘how to’ skills to design, plan and deliver their own successful and rewarding events.