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Signature Destination Management LLC: The Life of the Party
New Orleans is a city with a long history that’s synonymous with big parties, good food and toe-tapping music, and Signature Destination Management LLC (SDM) is an ideal match for the colorful locale. Celebrations, conventions, meetings, team-building seminars, outdoor adventures, festivals and community-nurturing programs all fall under SDM’s repertoire, and the entirely women-owned hospitality company has been putting signature excitement into venues and events since its inception in 1990.
The company is devoted to customer satisfaction and structures events around what the client wants and needs. “Our motto is that we put our client’s signature on the event,” relates Jill Brown DiMarco, Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), Destination Management Certified Professional (DMCP), and director of accounts/partner at SDM. “We don’t have any preconceived allegiances and we don’t pitch the same things over and over. We recreate that wheel every time and design the meeting around what they’re trying to achieve.”
The company’s hands-on attitude and its attention to detail draw on the vast experience of its full-time and carefully vetted ancillary employees. Shelley Pigèon, CMP, SDM’s managing partner and creative director, understood the importance of building a creative and enthusiastic team when she assembled the core of what would become one of the top companies to work for in New Orleans.
“Shelley and I were former competitors,” remembers DiMarco. “When Shelley bought the company in 1998, she called me and asked me to be her business partner. It worked out.” Pigèon and DiMarco’s dynamic partnership, aided by their savvy staff, has allowed SDM to achieve several landmarks, such as putting together extensive events for the 2002 Super Bowl. SDM can handle events for five or 5,000 people, taking place 50 to 5,000 miles from the company’s headquarters. The company managers’ expertise has additionally assisted SDM in overcoming numerous obstacles.
Hospitable to a Fault
The entire community of New Orleans was devastated and paralyzed in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The economy was in peril as numerous businesses shut down, and tourism slumped. DiMarco states this was a massive challenge for everyone, including anyone associated with the hospitality industry. The challenges of rebuilding the hospitality industry, along with the rest of the city, were greatly supported by various organizations holding meetings and sponsoring programs in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. “Post-Katrina was very bare bones,” remembers Pigèon. “People were content to eat with plastic forks as long as there was food.
“Additionally, these same companies were right there with the residents helping to rebuild and get people back home,” adds Pigèon. This was a great inspiration to SDM and it fostered a desire within the company to set up “voluntourism” opportunities, a tradition that continues today. For example, in 2011 SDM was asked to produce a one-day fundraiser for a very popular local restaurateur who was almost killed by a drunk driver to help defray medical and rehabilitation costs. The event was so successful that the team won an international award for “Best Fundraiser” awarded by Special Event Magazine.
Since 2008 the hospitality industry as a whole has had to face the same recession-related economic challenges across most of the rest of the country, and companies such as SDM were not spared. During the recession there was a public backlash against festivities and many of SDM’s clients – five-star restaurants and luxury hotels – were hit hard, some of which had to downgrade services and products in order to stay afloat and in control of their reputations. “There was definitely a time when people didn’t want to be seen throwing parties or having fun or spending any sort of money on anything that looked remotely extravagant,” recalls DiMarco.
As New Orleans and Louisiana began their road to recovery, however, so did SDM. Recently the hotels and restaurants are seeing growth again, and SDM managed to survive the worst of it by reaching out to the community as many organizations were doing at the time. The company began offering incentives on the part of its clients. DiMarco relays one example of a portion of a hotel room bill going to the local food bank. This became SDM’s gateway to a new business policy. “We don’t necessarily make any money off it, but we do a lot of community service for our clients with charities, churches and playgrounds,” affirms DiMarco. SDM facilitates its clients or vendors coming to a facility and performing customer service there.
The company handles everything else necessary. “It takes a lot of money and effort on the organization’s part to have 100 people come in and volunteer,” articulates DiMarco. “So we step in between and take on that role.”
SDM’s clients supply much of what the event would need, while SDM acquires additional key items, including houseplants, art supplies and even wheelbarrows, and ensures everything is staged at the site. The company does this for a wide variety of community organizations, including charities, youth clubs, churches, elderly homes, schools, pools and playgrounds. DiMarco adds, “It’s a big portion of our business, and we’re very proud of it.” SDM takes it upon itself to give back to its community, whether in the backyard of New Orleans, or halfway around the world.
International Business that Gives Back
One distinctive aspect of SDM is its mobility. With key staff of seven, the company hires on anywhere from 50 to 300 for temporary and event staff depending on the scope of a single event or extended program. And the company’s ability to take its product knowledge and comprehensively manage all elements of an event has resulted in an increasing market share. According to DiMarco, SDM has met many of its clients in New Orleans and has followed them to other cities where their meetings might take them, whether it’s across the country or the ocean.
“Many of SDM’s original clients from the ’90s still request its services, and the company’s staff is pleased to see familiar faces in the city’s hoteliers, chefs and administrators. “I can tell a hotel bellman that I’ve got bus load of 100 people coming, and he’ll know just what to do because he knows us,” DiMarco smiles. “It’s a great feeling.”
The sense of community that SDM fosters is also tempered by a pragmatic business sense. The company takes it upon itself to educate people in the ways of managing and enjoying venues. The Internet allows clients the ability to shop around for locations and services, but it can’t provide the insight of SDM’s hands-on experience. For example, potential customers will call and ask the company’s opinion for a certain venue, use Google to find a cheaper facility for the venue, and potentially end up with a mess on their hands if they second-guess SDM’s capabilities and knowledge. “They may want a place that seats 200 people but when they find out that 150 of those seats are behind a pillar the night before the event,” muses DiMarco. “We tell people there is value to our services and that is why.”
Annually SDM handles hundreds of programs, and currently the team is working on a variety of projects, notably Wednesday at the Square. The event is a 12-week concert series with a food and drink sales to benefit the Youth Leadership Council. SDM is hiring all local talent and ensuring all the food and drink providers at the event are local businesses. Since 2005 the company has also worked with the sponsor of the Zurich Classic New Orleans PGA Golf Tour and the Fore Kids Foundation.
As the company has grown from a local hospitality organization to an internationally renowned name in event coordination, SDM has remained woman-owned and community-focused. The company’s core commitment to excellence in service and its ability to draw from a broad reach of ideas and concepts have grounded and allowed the company to rise above economic encumbrances to meet success again and again. Without a doubt, Signature Destination Management LLC will continue to leave its mark on the colorful landscape of its hometown as a company that knows what it means to bring life to a party.