Colorado Meetings + Events' Readers' Choice Best Of 2011

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Julie Scheff
Spring 2011

It’s a given that nearly everyone was greener and working on smaller budgets, so what made the following honorees successful? We challenged the companies to review their year and disclose secrets to stellar performances in one of the rockiest economies in decades.

>>Audio-Visual Presentation Provider
THE WINNER IS: J&S Audio Visual Inc.

It’s a record five-peat for J&S! This is no easy accomplishment in a struggling economy when clients demand more with fewer funds. "Building relationships though excellent customer service is key. It sounds cliché, but J&S Audio Visual takes pride in providing the best possible service to every show we produce. We’re fortunate to have a group of professionals in our office who deeply care about the outcome of each show and our clients benefit from the depth of knowledge and professionalism of our employees. Our clients can find similar equipment with any other audiovisual company in the nation; what truly sets us apart from our competition is service," remarks Jenn Winget, senior account executive.

RUNNERS UP: Image Audiovisuals, Richter Scale Productions Inc.

>>Attraction (Denver Metro Area)

It’s a back-to-back win for Denver Zoo. No wonder, they offer so many diverse options for groups of all sizes and differing budgets. Planners have the choice of renting one or two zones or taking advantage of the zoo’s newest offering: renting out the entire Zoo at a discounted rate! "With an economy still in recovery mode, it’s more important than ever to cultivate strong relationships with current clients by ensuring they receive the best level of service possible and their events exceed expectations. Denver Zoo prides itself on doing just that. At the same time, we’ve evolved to offer our clients more flexibility in relation to event sizes, locations and themes while catering to budgets of almost every size. Finally, we have many repeat customers who return because they know that every time they bring their business to Denver Zoo they help animals," notes Felise Buckheart, corporate events and consignment manager.

RUNNERS UP: Denver Art Museum, Red Rocks Amphitheatre

>>Event Décor/Floral
THE WINNER IS: Design Works

They kept the formula the same and the centerpieces and décor sparkling. "I would have to attribute our success to a combination of several elements including an extraordinary staff, whose commitment to the end product is matched only by mine and David’s, a design team whose thought process is never contained inside a box but flourishes outside, and a sales team whose passion is fulfilling exuberant client expectations. We are extremely fortunate to have a clientele who trusts us to be their artist and develop their ideas to masterpieces," remarks Michael Roffino, co-founder and owner.

RUNNERS UP: The Perfect Petal, Decor ‘N More

>>Green Meeting Facility
THE WINNER IS: Colorado Convention Center

In a year when everyone is going green, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but Colorado Convention Center has done something to make heads turn. "The Colorado Convention Center develops our sustainable initiatives based on the core values of mindfulness, integrity, transparency and accountability. Our goal is to erase the line between a ‘regular meeting’ and a ‘green meeting’ by making every meeting held at the convention center sustainable. In order to achieve these goals, we continually work on communication both internally and externally. We also explore new processes and policies, keeping the ones that work for our operation and modifying the ones that don’t," explains Lindsay Smith, sustainable programs manager.

RUNNERS UP: Denver Zoo, The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa

>>Meeting/Event Planning Company
THE WINNER IS: Convention Designs LLC

Heather Sullivan and her team at Convention Designs didn’t change one thing in 2010 and still maintained their back-to-back win. Instead of becoming hysterical about the economic situation, they saw it as an opportunity to prosper. "It seems that outside business stressors, such as an economic downturn, can panic many businesses into deviating from their core business model, which ultimately causes them to lose focus. At Convention Designs, we thrived during the past two years by staying true to our business model and focused on our core commitments that led to success in less stressful economic times," notes Heather Sullivan, president.

RUNNERS UP: The Arrangers, Green Convene Strategies LLC

>>Catering Company (Outside Denver Metro)
THE WINNER IS: A Spice of Life Catering

Another back-to-back winner, A Spice of Life is certainly spicing something up in this bland economy. "We came out of our 2010 annual retreat fired up. We realized creativity and staying ahead of our competition was of utmost importance, whether this meant chaffer-less buffets, stunning plate presentations, entirely new concepts, sourcing locally or just bringing it back down home. Secondly, we invested in our infrastructure with the plan to have no turnover during these tougher times. Spice actually added another sous chef, and, most importantly, a director of human resources, all in the effort to keep our family together with added incentives, measurements of excellence and games to keep it fun," states David Rubin, president/owner.

RUNNERS UP: Picnic Basket Family of Companies, Big Bang Catering

>>Destination Marketing Organization (town/area less than 25,000 in population)
THE WINNER IS: Vail Valley Partnership

A newbie to this category, Vail Valley Partnership secured the award this year by emphasizing the uniqueness and offerings of its mountain location. "The Vail Valley Partnership - The Chamber & Tourism Bureau has expanded our group sales outreach to include recruiting participatory sporting tournaments and special events to the Vail Valley. We also have been collaborating with local, regional and national stakeholders to build upon the success of our resort communities of Vail and Beaver Creek. We are involved in attracting not only traditional group and meeting programs to our destination, but also with strategic partnerships so that companies are not only attending a group meeting, they are our strategic partners moving forward," remarks Chris Romer, executive director. 

RUNNERS UP: Summit County Chamber of Commerce, Copper Mountain Resort Chamber

>>Entertainment Agency
THE WINNER IS: Starkey Productions/Pro Entertainment

"I have always taken an approach to bring an East Coast vibe to the entertainment and production world in Colorado. I think our clients look to us on an annual basis to create new and unique products that other production companies, not only in Colorado but around the country, are not providing. Diversifying in the event industry is not only a choice of Starkey Productions, but a necessity in today’s volatile market. Ten years ago we started out as a live music entity, providing a couple of small bands, emcees and deejays. The biggest component of our success is no matter how big or small the event may be, we are only as good as our last event. By taking this approach, we have great pride with our service, professionalism, communication and products," replies Chris Starkey, CEO.

RUNNERS UP: Talent West, A Music Plus

>>Photography/Video Service Provider
THE WINNER IS: All Digital Photo and Video

It’s a back-to-back win for All Digital Photo and Video. With historically low numbers of events booked across the industry, the events that did occur had to do so with extra creativity, both in terms of budgeting and staffing. "Like many firms, we worked a little harder this year for a little less profit, trying to become more efficient. We continue to network aggressively with other professionals and at the same time, expand our social networking. We have diversified with green screen photography and two photo booths. As always, we strive to undersell and over-deliver on our services," relays Cal Cheney, owner.

RUNNERS UP: Wonderworks Studio, Free Lunch Photography

>>Meeting/Event Venue, Hotel or Resort (holds less than 500, outside Denver Metro area)
THE WINNER IS: Cielo at Castle Pines

This first-time winner has only been in business a few years, but shot to the top with their six acres in Castle Pines Village combined with natural beauty and the right space to create the perfect harmony for events. "Cielo was created because we saw the need for an upscale venue in Douglas County that could accommodate more than 150 guests. We are very committed to service. It is paramount to us to surround ourselves with the best in the business, which I feel we have done. In this day and age where people can communicate within seconds, it is extremely important not to let one client or guest leave without an exceptional experience," notes Roz Schroeder, director.

RUNNERS UP: Garden of the Gods Club, The Stanley Hotel

>>Meeting/Event Venue, Hotel or Resort (holds less than 500, Denver Metro area)
THE WINNER IS: The Curtis Hotel

Another new winner this year, The Curtis Hotel has launched in front of the competition with whimsical and functional conference spaces, lobby, guestrooms and bar/restaurant. "The Curtis has always strived to offer a unique meeting experience with a big focus on having fun, which clients of all types seem to be embracing even more in these tough times. Our new affiliation with Hilton in early 2010 and the addition of a state-of-the-art LED light system in our ballroom last summer are definitely helping us to attract a wider demographic to The Curtis. And once we get them in the door, our staff is so dedicated to delivering an exceptional experience that we’re seeing strong increases in repeat bookings," states JoAnn Elston, director of sales and marketing.

RUNNERS UP: JW Marriott Denver at Cherry Creek, The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa

>>Destination Marketing Organization (Town/Area 25,000+ in pop.)

Denver has hosted many legendary events, conventions and grand affairs with grace, class and the highest level of hospitality. There is a certainly a key player in all of these accomplishments and it’s no surprise to hear that it’s five-time winner VISIT DENVER. "In the tough times our mission doesn’t change; we continue to bring meetings and visitors to Denver and Colorado while delivering outstanding service. We also worked with our 1,200 members to deliver a great experience for our customers. During these challenging times, we tried to be more flexible and worked with planners to increase attendance and help minimize attrition," states Richard Scharf, president & CEO.

RUNNERS UP: Experience Colorado Springs, Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau

>>Catering Company (Denver Metro)
THE WINNER IS: Epicurean Culinary Group

It’s another one of our five-peat winners! "We knew 2010 was not going to be the easiest of years, so we had to prepare for the economy. We invested in additional technology including CRM software to help us better track our clients’ needs," explains Greg Karl, president/chief operating officer. "We challenged our chefs to create menus with smaller portions, but with amazing flavor and presentation-trends we are seeing from the coasts and Europe with less cost to the client. Our business actually grew this year in number of events but the event had smaller budgets and guest counts. Good old-fashioned business is to spend the time to know what the client wants and work hard to give it to them consistently."

RUNNERS UP: Catering By Design, Gourmet Fine Catering

>>Rental Service Provider (tables, linens, tents, etc.)
THE WINNER IS: Event Rents Inc.

Being a five-peat winner is no easy feat. Event Rents continues to deliver exceptional service and distinct designs, and the focus never waned from their number one priority: relationships with clients. "It’s all about relationships. By continuing to foster and maintain relationships and friendships, we’ve been able to stay on top of the event community. Whether you are a small event planner or large corporation, we’ll treat you like family and provide the best product available in Colorado," states Scott Bradshaw, outside sales.

RUNNERS UP: Butler Rents, Party Time Rental

>>Meeting/Event Venue, Hotel or Resort (holds 500+, outside Denver Metro Area)
THE WINNER IS: The Broadmoor

"In 2010 we entered the year realizing our meetings and convention demand was significantly off. We employed a strategy to significantly augment our existing efforts in our number one feeder market, the Denver metro area. We added a new position, a Denver based specialist with group, corporate transient and PR responsibilities. The goal was to ensure The Broadmoor was top of mind to anyone considering a corporate event, meeting, wedding/social gathering, or just an individual vacation stay. We supported this initiative with a strong advertising presence at Denver International Airport. We also hosted special events and this effort helped The Broadmoor achieve record social/leisure demand in 2010. The other decision was not to reduce staffing in any area of the resort that had guest interaction," explains John Washko, vice president sales & marketing.

RUNNERS UP: Spruce Mountain Guest Ranch, Vail Cascade Resort

>>Teambuilding Facilitator/Organizer
THE WINNER IS: Convention Designs LLC

Relying on what they do best earned a double win this year for Convention Designs. Proving that focus, calm nature and outstanding customer service will most certainly win out, even during the shakiest of times. "I know this sounds crazy, but we honestly didn’t change a thing! We saw everyone freaking out when the economy started to turn and decided that we could prosper if we just stuck to what we know and continued to do it well. We remained ‘client-centric,’ turned down business opportunities that were outside our scope of services, maintained employee incentives and stayed positive," remarks Heather Sullivan, president.

RUNNERS UP: The Arrangers, Fun Productions Inc.

>>Meeting and Event Destination Town (outside Denver Metro)

It’s hard to believe the town of Vail was established a little over five decades ago but ranks among the highest, both literally and metaphorically, in the minds of meeting planners across the state. Sure, Vail has the second largest single ski hill in North America to give the town a phenomenal reputation, but the variety of lodging, meeting spaces, restaurants and seasonal activities also puts Vail front and center. The town also boasts one of the countries largest year-round free bus systems, making it visitor-friendly and easily accessible for getting groups to and from meetings and events. Regardless of season, the town provides world-renowned hospitality for guests of every demographic. 

RUNNERS UP: Colorado Springs, Breckenridge

>>Meeting/Event Venue, Hotel or Resort (holds 500+, in Denver Metro area)
THE WINNER IS: Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center

"We believe what separates Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center is the way we treat our employees and the way the employees treat the guests. In fact, in late 2010, Hyatt Regency Denver was awarded #1 Best Places to Work in the large company category by the Denver Business Journal. Additionally, our hotel, adjacent to the Colorado Convention Center, has 60,600 square feet of meeting and event space. These attributes contribute to its long list of accolades, but it is the carefully chosen staff, their commitment to the guest and their level of professionalism and efficiency that we believe really make the difference," remarks Maryann Yuthas, director of public relations and advertising. (Hyatt Regency Denver // Denver

RUNNERS UP: Colorado Convention Center, INVESCO Field at Mile High

>>Attraction (Outside Denver)
THE WINNER IS: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

This is the second year in a row where animals took the highest honors for both attraction wins. If the giraffe exhibit alone doesn’t get you to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, not much else will! All groups that book events at this zoo are able to make arrangements to view this spectacular sensation and literally pet the gentle giants. But it’s not all about the animals; food and space count as well. "Combining a five-star restaurant menu with a scenic and interactive setting makes having an event at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo truly extraordinary. Our award-winning chef is constantly coming up with creative menu options you wouldn’t expect to find at the zoo. This culinary flair paired with a unique, memorable environment is the key to our success," states Jean Gordon, director of marketing.

RUNNERS UP: Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

>>Restaurant with Private Dining Space
THE WINNER IS: Restaurant Kevin Taylor

Fresh new menus and a 2010 remodel landed this sizzling restaurant a spot on top. "Restaurant Kevin Taylor has been Denver’s longest running Four-Star, Four-Diamond restaurant. While this is an honor taken very seriously, we also strive to keep things fresh and ensure our guests have a phenomenal dining experience. The menu changes several times a year to make the most of seasonal ingredients and our chef’s creativity. The main dining room and private mezzanine were remodeled in 2010 to create a more contemporary and comfortable environment that better reflects the cuisine and service style," notes Kristin Hutton, director of sales and marketing.

RUNNERS UP: Maggiano’s Little Italy, Atwater on Gore Creek

>>Transportation Service Provider
THE WINNER IS: Gray Line Colorado

Being the eighth largest state in the nation in terms of land, someone has to shuttle all the visiting folks around, and no one did it better this year than Gray Line Colorado. They are one of the state’s oldest tour and transportation providers, boasting 65 years of service. Whether it is sightseeing trips, national park tours or shuttles between meeting venues and lodging, Gray Line prides itself on providing an array of options. They will conquer any city, mountain, canyon or valley and do so while driving all groups in luxury and class. Their large and roomy fleet with adjustable seats ensures the utmost of comfort for both short and long trips.

RUNNERS UP: Coach USA, Arrow Stage Lines


>>Colorado Meetings + Events' 2011 Hall of Fame

>>Colorado Meetings + Event's 2011 Editor's Picks

>>Past Colorado Meetings + Events Best Of Winners

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