Date: July 7, 2004

HOUSTON – Suite holders think they should receive the highest level of customer service, according to a panel of them assembled for the 14th Annual Association of Luxury Suite Directors Conference that took place here June 21-24.

“We've made such a large investment, so we want to feel like a special customer,” said Houston resident Tim Harris, whose family leases a suite at Reliant Stadium. “It starts with parking and works all the way through the event.”

Brenda Carter, with Houston-based Buffalo Marine Service Inc., said her boss is a big fan of football and wanted to support the team when the Texans began playing in 2003. She said the suite is primarily used for their customers, but they do not keep track of any sort of return on the investment.

“My boss had planned to get season tickets, but someone gave him information on the suites,” Carter said. “Once he got a tour of the stadium, there were no questions asked. He wanted to get a suite.”

Eric Williamson, senior manager of marketing support for Gulf States Toyota Inc., said that his company holds suites at all three Houston sports venues – Reliant Stadium, Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center – as well as the SBC Center in San Antonio. The decision to renew a suite agreement each year is purely economic. Perks offered by most facilities, such as framed, autographed jerseys, do not factor into their decision to renew, he said. “We go through our budget meetings each year to decide if to renew,” he said. “Perks don't help in our world. In fact, in some ways we view it as an entitlement for our investment.”

While all four panelists had mostly positive reports of their experiences as a suite holder, the two issues that raised the biggest complaints were expensive food and slow billing. “There was a time when we didn't receive bills until three to six months after an event,” said Ann Crawford, Club of Houston Corp., which holds suites at all three Houston sports venues. “We run on a budget and it messes things up when we are not billed in a timely manner.”

Williamson agreed. “Timely and accurate billing is an irritant in the corporate world,” he said. “We end up putting a lot of time into reconciling bills.”

Harris, whose suite is for personal use, however, had a different take on untimely billing. “The billing tends to come too quick for me.”

All the panelists said they chose to lease a suite at the various venues because it allowed more flexibility to either entertain clients or be with their families than traditional seats. And as for attracting new clients to lease suites, all four suggested giving prospects a taste of what it is like to attend an event in a suite. “Give them a few tickets and treat them like a king,” Williamson said.

“You should get them into your building whether it's for a special preview event or for a game,” Harris said. “You can put together all the fancy brochures you want, but they won't do a thing until you get the people into your building.”

Interviewed for this story: Ann Crawford, (713) 632-1566; Brenda Carter, (713) 923-5571; Eric Williamson, (713) 580-3651