Behind every stunningly decorated event are the people who put their blood, sweat and tears into making it flawless. That garbage you didn’t throw away at the end of the night? Someone’s picking that up and making sure it gets categorized correctly as a recyclable, compostable or trash. And the garbage you threw away in the Biffy? Someone’s pulling it out. Ever wonder if your driver gets sick of driving? MNM+E talked to four industry professionals who make your meeting easier or special event shine—the ones who make good despite the bad and the ugly.
Curtis Nachtsheim, operations manager, CHS Field
There’s a special place in St. Paul Saints fans’ hearts for Midway Stadium, but CHS Field is not only shiny and new—it’s environmentally friendly, bearing the moniker “Greenest Ballpark in America.” Curtis Nachtsheim was the food and beverage director at Midway for 10 years prior to his current position as operations manager at CHS Field. “I hate to say fans preferred their hot chocolate in a Styrofoam cup, but they did. So I kept using them until the end at Midway,” he admits, saying they recycled as best they could. “It has been a constant struggle here to get people to properly dispose of their waste. It is too easy for some people to dump everything in the trash and walk away.”
CHS Field strives to be a Zero Waste Facility—one of its sustainability initiatives— and strategically partnered with the state, county and Waste Wise to implement a new recycling program. Nachtsheim credits Mike Weitekamp of Waste Wise, who acted as recycling manager, with the program’s success in its first year. “He helped pick out and coordinate the purchase of our waste containers, helped line up our organics partner, then gave several classes and constant encouragement to the Saints and our food-service provider,” Nachtsheim says.
The three-compartment, color-coded container includes green for organics, blue for recycling and black for trash. Each bag matches its corresponding container, making sorting as simple as possible. “From the start, most of our fans cared and did a great job,” Nachtsheim says. “You have to remember this was a huge step up from Midway. … Most people are used to recycling. Getting them to accept organics was a little harder.”
To help with any confusion at the trash cans, signage with pictures depicting what kind of items were trash, organics and recycling was displayed. Waste Wise and Health Partners also brought in volunteers who were stationed at containers to help people categorize their trash. Commercials on the video board helped to get the message across in a fun way. “We filmed our ‘ushertainers’ and mascot deciding where they should toss their waste,” says Nachtsheim.
As operations manager, Nachtsheim’s job is to keep the ballpark up and running. “In my first year, I have had to deal with several power issues, a couple of flooding incidents, sewage overflows, clogged pipes and wet fields, to name a few,” he says. After each event, Nachtsheim and his staff empty waste containers on the concourse level (CHS Field also partners with Marsden to help clean during and after major events like games and concerts). The blue recycling bags are torn apart, dumped into a tilt cart, and brought down to the recycling compactor. “Getting to our compactors is not easy,” Nachtsheim says, explaining a steep hill from the concourse level to the loading dock must be climbed and brought through one door, creating bottlenecks that slow down the process.
Staff also cleans up the tailgating lot (which always makes for one or two good stories over the homestand, according to Nachtsheim), while others stay to clean up around the compactors. “We try to keep the compactor area and all of our equipment as clean as possible to reduce the chance of insects and rodents plus cut down on any smell.” The entire cleanup is a mess, Nachtsheim says. “By the end of the night, you are sweaty and smell,” he says. “You are very lucky to keep trash juice on you to a minimum.”
Ryan Kettenacker, event services manager, Festivities
The winner of Minnesota Meetings + Events' 2014 Best Event Décor and Best Rental Service Provider awards, Festivities is highly revered in the Twin Cities for its work making weddings and corporate events beautiful successes. “We rent out almost everything you could imagine needing for an event,” says Event Services Manager Ryan Kettenacker, including tents, tables, staging, dance floors, lounge furniture, chairs and bars to the decorative items like candelabras, ornate cases and custom props and backdrops. Clients are given careful instructions on how to care for items, and Kettenacker reports very few cases of neglect or misuse. In addition to rentals, Festivities also provides event services like technology, teambuilding and custom signage.
Kettenacker oversees the logistics of events—from coordinating delivery and setup to counting and cleaning linens upon return—and ensures that everything runs smoothly. It’s this part of the job he finds the most stressful, but also the most interesting. Even with an ample amount of planning (his team talks through plans a week before the event, working through anything that could cause a problem in advance), Kettenacker has learned to expect the unexpected. “It’s an unpredictable world, and you can’t plan for everything,” he concedes. “We’ve shown up to event sites where everything is covered in goose droppings—I have very few nice things to say about Canada geese—or fields where the ground has turned to ankle-deep mud.”
“Outdoor events are some of the wildest,” Kettenacker continues. “We had an event one summer on an island in Lake Minnetonka, and while it was absolutely beautiful, it was a feat to pull off.” The tables, tents, staging and even a real sailboat bar all had to be transported via pontoon boat. It took four days to set up, working only in morning and evening shifts due to a record-breaking heat wave. “Even then, the weather didn’t cooperate, and it rained for two solid days prior to installation, so the ground had quite a bit of standing water,” he explains.
The final product is the big payoff for Kettenacker, after all the sweat and stress of planning. “When everything is set up and the last sash is tied, you’d never know that it was ever anything less than perfect,” he says. “That final walk-through before we head out the door from a fully set event is one of my favorite moments. It’s done, it’s beautiful, and what happened in between is our secret.”
Derek Pauling, president and co-owner, Biffs
You could say Biffs—or Biffy—is a household name, but for Derek Pauling, president of Biffs, it’s especially true. Pauling coowns the business with his sister, Heather Pauling, COO and VP, as of summer 2015, when the two bought out their father, making it a second-generation ownership. As president of a company that deals with human waste, one of Pauling’s goals is to improve Biffs’ reputation as a portable restroom rental through its commitment to sanitation. “[Cleanup is] one area that we take a great deal of pride in,” says Pauling, who describes some of the company’s recent innovations. Traditional methods use a scrub brush and blue deodorizing liquid, but “that’s actually making the unit dirtier,” says Pauling. Biffs developed a new system, and now all the trucks come equipped with a high-pressure power washer and use an Ecolab disinfectant (which is particularly useful when “tip overs” occur). “We’re trying to make it as not dirty of a job as possible,” he says.
“Especially for events where the general public is using it, we try to keep everything new and fresh,” Pauling says of user experience. Stand-by service offers staff on-site to clean and refill toilet paper during the event. Enhancing user experience is not only in the management of units, but also in the planning. “If there’s alcohol [at an event], there’s a lot more uses [of Biffs],” explains Pauling. The project management team helps clients assess needs based on factors like the number of attendees, duration of event and ground conditions for placement mapping. Inevitably, something strange will happen. “People just do weird things,” Pauling says. Found objects in Biffies range from the mundane (e.g. jeans, diapers) to the dangerous (pipe bombs in the tank) to the rare (glass eye). Pauling and his team once dealt with a recurring problem of squirrels venturing into the vent stack and drowning in the pot. People throwing away garbage in the toilet is a real problem, according to Pauling—those large objects can’t be pumped out, so they are pulled out manually.
The intensity of the job is an aspect that Pauling thrives on. “It’s such an important service in the field,” Pauling says. “We’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year because things happen. If your water goes down, you’re gonna need us.”
Vern Bullinger, Premier Transportation
It’s not unusual for Vern Bullinger to be sitting in his car, waiting on his clients to finish up a meeting. To kill time, he reads and indulges in crossword puzzles, Sudoku and Cryptoquip. But first thing’s first: finding a restroom. “I do that to make sure that I’m not going to be having a problem when I’m driving,” he says.
While Bullinger puts his clients’ needs in front of his—he restocks water bottles and mints between passengers—safety is his No. 1 priority. If a client’s in a rush to catch a flight and asks Bullinger to “step on it,” his response—no matter what—is, “I’ll do the best that I can.” Laid-back in nature, Bullinger insists on maintaining composure as a driver: “I’m not going to speed, I’m not going to weave in and out of traffic. I’m just going to take it nice and cool and we’ll get there when we get there.”
Even navigating rush hour doesn’t ruffle Bullinger’s feathers; asked about his reaction when someone cuts him off, he says, “I just grin and bear it, slow down, let them in.” If the car’s GPS system goes down (which has only happened once or twice since working with Premier Transportation), he has his own cell phone equipped with GPS and also some alternate routes up his sleeve should roads be backed up. “I think it’s very important that we [drivers] get plenty of sleep the day before so we can think when we get into the problems,” he says. “We can think our way through it rather than panic.”
Bullinger drives all kinds of groups, including bachelor or bachelorette parties. “They get a little noisy,” he notes with a laugh. But it’s the same job no matter who he’s driving, and he takes every problem in stride. Once when driving a client in a limo, a state trooper pulled Bullinger over for driving a vehicle with windows that were darker than regulation. Bullinger pointed out that limousines are exempt from this rule, and waited patiently as the state trooper called into his office to verify this information. Bullinger didn’t sweat it, and went on his way as the state trooper apologized to him and his passenger.
On Wednesdays, Bullinger puts on 500 miles and averages about 100 miles other days. The retired Air National Guard employee, who’s been with Premier Transportation since 2012, doesn’t keep track of his miles driven—he just knows it’s a lot. “I just enjoy driving,” Bullinger says when asked if he ever gets sick of it. “I get behind the wheel of this [black Lincoln Town Car], it’s like we are a team. I’m going to be sad when I finally have to quit driving or when this car has to be retired.”