In the fast-paced Pro-Av industry of a fast-paced world, few companies can say they’ve been around since 1953, but Hughies Event Production Services, a valued Christie partner, can. The Cleveland, Ohio-based company, with additional offices in Columbus and Pittsburgh, Hughie’s has always placed the highest value on quality of service to the client. Whether it’s concert audio, outdoor roof systems, theatrical lighting, staging, the purchase of Christie projectors for a variety of uses, or customized set décor, Hughie’s gets the job done right. It’s impressive roster of staging projects includes TEDx, Carnegie Mellon University’s Inauguration, Cleveland Cavaliers & Rocket Mortgage Field House, White House Communications, political debates, concerts and corporate events and meetings, to name a few.
According to both its website and Brian Lackritz, the general manager and production consultant at Hughies, the company’s strength is its people – a philosophy instituted by current President and owner David Wheeler many years ago. To learn more about Hughies, Christie sat down with Mr. Lackritz and got to know both him and the company better.
Christie: Hughies Event Production Services has been around for more than 65 years, what accounts for its longevity and success?
Brian Lackritz: Well client loyalty for the most part but it is a different world these days. You're only as good as your last gig as I like to say and the client world is big out there. Our older loyal clients and newer ones: they like our staff and they appreciate that our technicians and production consultants are knowledgeable and can talk shop because most of them are, like myself, been in this industry for 25+ years, and are ex-tour guys. I feel they like what we offer as a service and our staff’s education and knowledge.
Christie: You mentioned ex-tour folks and you are one of them. What did you do, were you a road manager for rock bands?
BL: I used to do some lighting and some rigging for some national acts when they came into town. Back in the early 1990s, a couple of our team toured as rigging and lighting guys, and different facets of production. We’ve all been around and it’s fascinating.
Christie: Approximately how many employees does Hughies have and you alluded to a few Hughies veterans, how long have some of them been there?
BL: We have over 70 full-time employees, David Wheeler has been part of that for 42 years and more than 25 percent of our staff have been here 15 years or more. We are a client driven company and if there is a need out there or something that pops up - whether it is a tour or one of our corporate clients that is looking for options for creative solutions, we will invest in it, as that is our specialty, creativity within our staff. We do get together a several times a week and bounce ideas off each other. We have an internal creative and graphics team but by bouncing ideas off each other, it keeps us all on our toes.
Christie: What about you personally, what makes working at Hughies a positive experience?
BL: I enjoy the business and I enjoy the creative aspects of what our industry allows. I was previously a business owner and a technician in our industry then becoming business development director prior to being General Manager. I enjoy creating something out of nothing. I enjoy working with our technical and creative team. We excel in working with a committee that may be struggling with themes or conceptualizing their event. We can sit and throw ideas around and sometimes scribble a design on a napkin. Everyone isn’t capable of doing this, so I do take pride in the creative aspect of what we can offer - I enjoy that part. I also enjoy dealing with people and communicating face-to-face but in today’s society, it doesn’t happen as much. I like getting out there and networking with companies and other businesses with their marketing departments when possible. I do enjoy all facets of the business.
Christie: Hughies has done some great installations and events; can you talk about the Hughies approach?
BL: We offer installation services in-house and with a partner when possible. Depending on the scenario, certain aspects of an installation may not be our forte and we want to ensure we don't bite off more than we can chew. We look at all our events as installations. We offer both dry rentals and productions – here, but we do separate them internally for servicing reasons. I take pride when our technical teams communicate with the client and offer them renderings and drawings. Then our production team pulls it off with the design and the applicable technical staff as needed. Why do our clients choose us? I think they love the “Getting their part.” Our production consultants make it easier for our clients “getting there”. We are not a “book it and cook it” type of company. The feedback that we receive from surveys we send out is that our clients appreciate what we offer from the initial call through the entire process - even when they get the invoice. It's seamless for them.
Christie: Your website also talks about the family environment at Hughies.
BL: The owner David Wheeler was an employee for 17 years before purchasing the company from Hugh and Marilyn. David Wheeler's son is now on our staff and is helping us with implementation of everything from training to new software, policies and procedures. We offer cookouts and get together every month or two socially. Our industry is tough because it is 24/7. We try to give our staff enough time off and give them everything that I would call a “small big company” could offer including; benefits, health insurance, company bonuses, IRA’s and other perks. We try to make it accommodating for the guys.
Christie: Hughies purchased some additional Christie projectors recently. Which ones and how will they be used?
BL: We love the Christie projectors. Years ago, we were with another dealer and then we needed to step up our game. Some of our older units where showing signs of age and when Christie was introducing the GS Series laser projector, we jumped on the 7K and 10K HD models. We’ve received great feedback. We just purchased the Christie HS Series 17,000 lumen models, which are one of the brightest 110-volt projectors out there. We have plenty of 220 (volt) projectors as well but to offer someone 17K, plus HD, then you throw in the laser to save on the lamps and the efficiency of the unit, well, it was a no-brainer. They’re very bright and crystal clear, and travel in road cases complete with three different lenses. They (Christie projectors) are great units with built-in FDI and edge blending. Add the stack ability, and they complement our inventory perfectly.
Christie: You and the entire team obviously work very hard to achieve the results you have, but on the lighter side, what are some of the funny moments you’ve encountered on the job?
BL: We do a lot of political and corporate events and at a political event that shall remain nameless, one of the candidates fell off the stage – it wasn’t a stage defect or a handrail issue, he literally missed a step and fell off the stage. That got some national attention. We've had some power issues that you couldn't script any better for some political events when things just stopped working at a certain moment. You can’t script these things, it just happens. Years ago, I was working at a different company and we provided production services for the band Loverboy. It was pouring and the power went out. The audience stood in a ‘pit’ so to speak. The band had to kneel low enough to clear the climbing roof we installed, that was locked down at a height of five feet due to the weather. The group ducked down below the roofline and performed an acoustic set in front of 1,000 people. The show must go on.
Christie: Do you have anything to add about Hughies that we haven’t talked about and would like to share?
BL: I have to say David Wheeler is very loyal to his employees and will do anything for his staff. He treats us well and that same loyalty carries through to our clients. We love that we receive a lot of reciprocation regarding local sporting teams that do business with us – we have season tickets for several of the minor and major professional sports team in our regions. We do many charitable and not-for-profit events throughout the year – we store equipment here for the local Cleveland Police PAL, and work with local and regional shelters, car donations and collection centers. We’ve also offered services to the Kidney, Heart, and Cancer Foundations and Associations: The contacts do change hands every couple of years but by word of mouth and our internal event calendar schedule, they keep returning to us. There is plenty of competition out there these days, and while we say we can do it all, we can’t. We are happy with the workload we have, but, of course, we would always like to do more…
Favorite type of food: Mexican. I’m also a good steak guy - medium-to-medium-rare right in the middle. If I can go to a restaurant and cook it myself, I’m better off.
Favorite Beverage: Water.
Favorite Sport: Golf.
Favorite movie genre: I don’t really have a favorite genre.
Dream Car: Shelby replica-427 AC Cobra or the Saleen Mustang I have in the garage (my wife told me I had better say that)
Favorite book/books: I read many trade publications and I can’t remember the last time I read a book.
Favorite Place you’ve visited or want to visit: Mount Vesuvius and City of Pompeii – that was a great trip.
Place you’d like to visit: Alaska, Africa.
Favorite type of music: I’m a 80s big hair ballad guy.
Type of shows you enjoy: The modern musicals. Because we service the industry I’m more of a (live) theater guy but I find myself ripping them apart at times – like the lighting and video/audio - but I still love to go and listen to them.
Skills you want to master: Drone flying.
Hobbies: Flying remote control airplanes, playing golf, softball, and poker. I’m a handy person as far as fixing, repairing and remodeling things.
Favorite part of your career: Managing people in the business, creating and designing things out of the box and seeing what's out there. I tell the team to produce every event and just because we don't have it doesn't mean we can't do it - but don't lie about it. Make sure the customer knows we can take care of their needs.
If you never started working in this industry, what would you be doing: Starting 30 years ago, I’d probably be playing professional golf.
Most daring thing you’ve ever done: I wasstrapped down to the floor with my head sticking out of troop jump door, doing 300 knots at 300 feet high over the treetops; my old Air Force days.
Which person, living or not, you’d like to have lunch with: My father passed away about 20 years ago. Like everyone, I’d like to have that last lunch with him.
What was your first job: I worked in an ice cream parlor where I served people and did some light cooking because we served breakfast. I was 14.
Motto or philosophy you live by: I tell the team to have a mirror by your front door – look in the mirror before you leave and look in it again when you come back home. Make sure that you’re ready to give, and do give, 100 percent every day you live. I don’t care if you’re working at Hughie’s, digging ditches, a garbage man, McDonald’s or if you’re an attorney, everyone has to have that mirror because they need to look at themselves. I’m HR here and a psychologist, no, just kidding, but I feel like I can talk to everybody about everything. I tell our team they need to first look at themselves in that mirror and make sure this is what you want to do. We have some young people here and I help them with troubles and share life lessons because being a 22-year-old these days is much different. I’m a big advocate of giving 100 percent every day.
Three things on your bucket list: Continue to travel; continue to live life to its fullest. Wake up every day knowing you contributed in some way or another. Continue to put others first. It makes for a selfless life!