KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I’m excited today. We have our first ever guest on the podcast returning. And he was actually the first person I met networking professionally in town through the Rotary Club: Kent Ebersold from Ebersold, Inc. He’s a good friend of mine, and I appreciate him coming back for his second podcast. Thanks for being here.
KENT EBERSOLD: Thanks Kevin and Jim. Really appreciate coming back, and I had so much fun the first time, when you invited me back it was not a hesitation -- worked through my schedule and happy to be here.
JIM WASZAK: Good. Happy to have you.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: If you liked what Kent is saying in this podcast, we talked in his first one about using print marketing to market your business, and that was episode number two, so go back in our archives and check that out.
Today our topic is going to be integrating your business with your community, and Kent is a very good person to speak on this, because through the rotary club he’s brought his marketing skills to help put on Rotary Grove Fest, which is the Downers Grove town festival that the Rotary Club took over from the village a couple years ago. And Kent has been along from the very beginning. And Kent just told me that -- What magazine is this, or what newspaper is this?
KENT EBERSOLD: The Suburban Life this week.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Oh, The Suburban Life rated it the number one festival in the suburbs, right?
KENT EBERSOLD: Right, right
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: All right. So we’ve gone from it being shut down by the village to now it’s the number one festival, and Kent was integral in making that happen.
So, tell me kind of the story of what happened with Rotary taking it over and what it was like having to plan a festival for the first time for a bunch of people who didn’t know how to plan a festival.
KENT EBERSOLD: When the village stopped Heritage Festival, it was due to budget restrictions. It was in a tough time with the recession. And they had cutbacks, so they cut back the festival. It was at that point where myself and a number of other members in the Rotary Club -- We were all in. Let’s do it. We can do this; we can handle this festal, because we had been handling the entire beer garden for the village. And we had handled that, and that was one of our major fundraisers.
And I had been a big part of that because of my experience when I was at Northern Illinois University I was one of the Miller marketing reps for the entire campus. I was a campus Miller marketing rep for Miller Brewing Company. And so, I did festivals in college. I planned events in college. So it was a natural for me to be a part of this with a number of other members of the rotary club. So being that the festival -- the beer garden -- is one of the largest parts of the festival, I wanted to be all in.
And it was at that point when I said to the committee with my marketing a print background, and that’s what I do for a living, we can really coordinate this, we’ve got the beer garden situated; we’ve handled that for many, many years. Now we just need to -- I can help coordinate the print and the marketing of the event, and we look at the demographics, what our whole plan was going to be. And it was all, with us, it was changing it to be all about community.
And Heritage Festival was a wonderful event. Many, many years they had it. Twenty-five plus years they had it. But they marketed it all throughout the suburbs, and it lost its downhome town feel. It was getting so big that you didn’t really recognize a lot of the people that were at the festival. So one of the big things that we want to do as a Rotary Club of Downers Grove is we wanted to bring the festival back in size. We needed to downsize it, but we needed to market it that it’s all about community. And now that we’re in our eighth year of the festival, it’s growing each and every year, and we feel that it’s better each and every year.
But there’s a number of things that we had to look at. It’s all about community and what were we going to do as a rotary club and what was I going to do with owning Ebersold Incorporated -- and were a print and marketing distributor in town. How could I help make the festival better?
So, that’s where I came in and pulled in a number of other members in the club with their expertise: lawyers in the community, other professionals in the community who ran non-for-profits had done events. So we really utilized all of our strengths as a committee to pull off a great festival.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: What was that like the first -- The first year when you guys had made the decision, “I think we’re going to take this on,” and you had your committee. How many people about were on the committee at that point?
KENT EBERSOLD: We had on the first year I think we had eight on the main committee.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: So you got eight people who had never put on a festival before responsible for doing this. How did you even figure out how to work with the village, how to arrange the bands, how to do all those things?
KENT EBERSOLD: It was through -- And I kind of sat around the table to say, “Hey, listen. We’ve done the beer garden. I can handle that.” Another guy on the committee had worked on the music. Dave Humphries had worked on the music, and he runs the Two-way Coffeehouse. He stepped away from that a little bit this past year, but he knows music. And Patty Riley and her husband, they know music.
So those people, kind of, we pulled them together to get the music together and used their expertise. So it was where I kind of backed off and said I don’t know anything about music. I know I like good music, but I helped with the marketing aspect of who do we want to be there, what kind of bands do we want to have, because that kind of draws from the demographics.
And so, there were some moments that we sat around the table at my office, that’s where we had the committee meetings, and they were some moments where we’re like can we really do this.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: It seems like it would be a pretty intimidating process.
KENT EBERSOLD: Can we pull this off? And I kept going back with we just got to find the great carnival people that are reputable in nature, that are honest, that are good people and are fun to work with. And North American Midway is the people that we’ve had since the beginning. They’re one of the top people to run the carnival side of events. They have been more than gracious at helping us, and now even they’re pulling in from the demographics that we work up as a company that these are times when we can get kids there. And we have unlimited rides. We went with this past year unlimited rides to where it’s pushing all of us to make money, but it’s also saving the community money by people in the community being able to bring their kids and for a one price, $25, they can ride rides for four hours, which is really kind of fun. So each and every year we’re making it better.
So one of things that eased everybody’s -- It just eased everybody’s -- It dropped the tension around the room on how we were going to pull this off and make it better and better each and every year. We’ve stayed focused with it’s all about community, and our number one goal is to market within Downers Grove. I mean, this our town; this is the biggest festival in our town. The biggest event in our town. So we want to focus on Downers Grove. Now, we welcome people from every community, but our 80% of our marketing is done within Downers Grove.
JIM WASZAK: So Kent, let me ask you this question: So let’s say some business person that’s kind of community-oriented like you are, but they really don’t have any events or programs like this. And they’re thinking, “Gee, I’d really like to do that. But oh, my God. It’s so much to take on.” How would you advise them to get over that fear or what kind of steps would you suggest they take?
KENT EBERSOLD: Well, it’s interesting. Margie Canon, who’s our current president of the Rotary Club of Downers Grove, came forward came to us to ask us if we could use her help, because she’d like to help organize the volunteers. She’s a very organized person. She’s doing a great job as the current president of the club. But it was her and Ann Hatton, who works for the Chamber 630, they both came forward, and they wanted to help. And they were not members of the club.
So now we’re getting outside members of the community, who are then now joining rotary because they see what a vibrant organization it is of volunteers wanting to help with community service, that they have come forward to help.
And they’ve been an integral part of coordinating the 350 plus volunteers, and us, as a committee, just saying, “You guys, here you go. Do what you think is best.” And they’ve taken it and run with it. And so a cool thing is that whatever expertise you have, and it could be very detailed and very planning driven, we can find a place for you. We just had -- Another example is we just had two guys, who have been to our craft beer fest, which is Saturday afternoon. And they are not part of our club, but they have come forward that they want to be part of the planning committee for next year’s craft beer event.
So the thing is -- and they have expert -- their expertise is that they go to a lot of these craft beer events. So we had never -- anybody in our club had really never organized a craft beer event. So here we’re pulling in people who obviously have experience with the craft beer event, and we’re more than willing to have them help.
JIM WASZAK: So let me ask you this question: So let’s say some people are going to get an event off the ground like you’ve done. What would you say are two or three things that you’ve learned are big mistakes that don’t do this? What are the things we should stay away from?
KENT EBERSOLD: I think the biggest thing is walk before you run.
JIM WASZAK: Okay.
KENT EBERSOLD: And the thing is I was disappointed at first, the first year, that the village gave us a small footprint to work with to the point that -- Not to say that -- I thought with the number of rides, it was packed in there.
But what it taught is was we got the event off the ground. We used what the village allowed us to have to use, and we made it a success. We were able to make money the very first year. So it was then that we expanded to the craft fair in Fishel Park. It was then that we expanded the footprint.
So we walked before we ran. And I think sometimes people want an event the first year to be all-encompassing, and I think the best thing that we’ve done as a committee -- And I use that walk before you run phrase from what I do with our marketing and advertising clients in our business -- that you want to walk before you run, and you want to spend money very, very in a smart way. And that way you can kind of test market the waters.
And through our test marketing that was with when we found out that a craft beer event could work. We just brought that on for the last two years. And, again, that’s grown the last two years, and we expect it to be bigger next year.
JIM WASZAK: You know, and speaking with this concept of having a community involved, I’ve got actually a brilliant idea for next year’s Rotary --
KENT EBERSOLD: Grove fest.
JIM WASZAK: Grove Fest, okay?
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Uh-oh.
KENT EBERSOLD: What’s that? You want to be on the committee?
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Why do you think I say that?
JIM WASZAK: No, no. I think what would be cool would be to have like some dunk tanks, you know, where people throw the ball and the guy falls in? And I would like to be the first to volunteer Kevin’s services as one of the guys to be in the tank.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: We had a dunk tank and our president got injured in it.
JIM WASZAK: So maybe that’s something to avoid.
KENT EBERSOLD: Yeah, yeah. He hurt his tailbone.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: I don’t know if we still have the dunk tank or not. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the committee. But, uh…
KENT EBERSOLD: We’ve thought about bringing it back, and when we bring it back, the bottom of the dunk tank will be padded.
JIM WASZAK: Ah, that’s a good idea.
KENT EBERSOLD: We have thought about bringing that back.
JIM WASZAK: That’s a good idea. That’s a good idea.
KENT EBERSOLD: So I just encourage anybody from the community that has a willingness or it in their heart to volunteer to look for events within the non-for-profits or with Rotary Grove Fest -- that there is some place for everybody and a friend of mine first volunteered for CASA. She’s an attorney, and she volunteered for Casa; and now she’s on staff at CASA.
So the thing is that I think there’s so much expertise and knowledge that what I feel grateful for with Rotary is that I’m able to coordinate the marketing and the print efforts with all the banners, with all the yard signs, with all the newspapers ads, with all the -- for the sponsor, the sponsorship packets. So that they know that through their sponsorship dollars that we’re asking for, that we gave back -- that we’re giving back $30,000 straight back to the community of Downers Grove from this event.
So the thing is that when you use your expertise, there’s a comfort level within our committee that they know that, in my case, I’m going to handle it with being smart with our money as a group but also the knowledge that I’ve had over 30 years of doing this with corporations -- that it becomes a seamless operation for the group, and they can kind of -- I don’t want to say forget about it, but they can get in to their planning with the other areas of the event, and they know that this area of the marketing and print side of Grove Fest is taken care of; and they know that it’s in good hands.
JIM WASZAK: So, let me ask you this question, and I can relate to what you said -- I do volunteer work at community career center. It is a very fulfilling thing when you do that. And you seem to get some satisfaction out of this, which is wonderful; you’re doing a great thing. Do you feel it has helped you in your business in terms of some exposure, or people you wouldn’t have gotten to, or…?
KENT EBERSOLD: Yes, I think I’m able to reach out and tell people that I’m working with in conversation that the event is going on and the fun part about the event is that I’m seeing the things that we’re producing, that we’re designing, that we’re producing out in the community, in the newspapers and that I’m helping -- I know that our company has been very helpful to be a part of the profit that has been raised from this community event. And in turn I think we’ve stayed focus on it’s all about community and, being a lifelong resident of Downers Grove, this is a town that I love, and it’s going to be hard if I ever move from this town, but it’s part of me.
And so, when I see the revitalization of this festival, and it’s now almost as big as Heritage Festival used to be, but it’s all about our community; and people are seeing their neighbors. I take great pride in it, and, yeah, I see some benefit, but that’s not why I do it.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Let me add to that too. Because when I started my firm at like 28, I didn’t know anybody at town. And my dad was a member of the rotary club, and he said, well, you’ve got to get involved with the community, so I did. And, like I said, Kent was the first person I met.
But I was just some attorney that nobody knew, and Kent asked me to be on his board maybe my second year in the Rotary Club, and then I eventually was asked to be on the Grove Fest committee. And it’s a lot of work, but in the end it turns you from just somebody who’s trying to run a business in town to somebody’s who’s actually a part of the community. And you make friends that -- If I saw Kent at a networking event, you know, like a chamber event, and we exchanged business cards, you know, there’s probably not a huge power partner -- a print marketing guy and an attorney. It’s not like you’re an accountant.
But over the course of time, the people that you meet by community and involvement that stick around, they’re going to be in the community for the next 20 years. You get introduced to so many people, and it kind of gives you some bona fides as a business owner to have a booth at the Rotary Club, show your face, be out there volunteering. And I’ve probably gotten a lot of clients just insidiously by them knowing that I’m involved and I care about the community. And it’s a much deeper benefit than just spending your time going to random networking groups. It’s a lot more work.
KENT EBERSOLD: Right.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: But it’s definitely the first step if you want to open a business in a community is find an active organization, get involved at least for the first several years donate a lot of time to it, and always say yes when they ask you to volunteer. Then when you have a couple kids, maybe you back off.
But it’s definitely the first step in opening a business in town. If were to -- when I do open up businesses -- We opened up a couple satellite offices this year. The first thing I do is get one of my attorneys in the local Rotary Club and get them involved in the community. That’s step one. So, definitely some business benefits. So, when is the Grove Fest this year?
KENT EBERSOLD: It’s coming up. I knew you were going to ask me that. It’s coming up --
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: Is it on that flier there?
KENT EBERSOLD: Uh, no. That’s from last year. It’s June 22nd to 25th.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: And the web site is rotarygrovefest.com.
KENT EBERSOLD: And you know it was Ebersold Incorporated that I believe came up with “O’Flaherty Law, your community law firm.”
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: It was. Yeah that’s your tagline.
KENT EBERSOLD: That’s my tagline, and I’m going to take credit for it.
KEVIN O’FLAHERTY: And you’ve done a lot of good work for me for years. A lot of my marketing and printing needs Kent’s taken care of.
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Kevin owns O’Flaherty Law, a general practice law firm with locations in Downers Grove, Elmhurst, and Naperville, Illinois. O'Flaherty Law's attorneys have expertise in many areas of law including but not limited to divorce and family law; civil litigation; estate planning; business and corporate representation; commercial and residential real estate law; elder services, probate and guardianship; immigration; bankruptcy law; and dui, traffic and criminal defense.
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