From The No Good Deed Goes Unpunished File

We have been discussing raising our facility rental rates this week. We haven’t raised them in awhile and our expenses are increasing. Also, we wanted to bring our rates more into line with our competitors who charge a lot more and provide a lot less in relation to services.

But the staff doesn’t want me to raise the prices and I am flabbergasted to learn why.

First some background–

The staff works their butts off for our renters. Even though I occasionally have to work when someone is sick, you shouldn’t make the mistake of envisioning me when I tell you how hard they work. Their work ethic preceded my arrival by decades. I did nothing to inspire it.

At many of our non-union competitors, renters are paying for supervisors who are present but don’t do much more and are charged for every microphone, table, chair, etc that is used. My staff likes to be hands on so we either charge a blanket amount for resources or nothing at all because the staff doesn’t want to have to stop to tick off numbers of chairs and tables being set up.

Even though we say we don’t offer design services, the technical director doesn’t want anything on stage to look bad so he and his crew will stay after a rehearsal and work until 4 am to make the show look good.

So I am completely astounded when they ask me not to bring our prices closer to being in line with the norm because they are afraid people will demand more of them. Other than meeting increasing expenses, one of my motivations for raising the prices is to prevent these hard working people from being taken for granted. It amazes me that our competitors can get away with providing less at greater expense and my staff will suffer for providing greater value for the dollar.

Unfortunately, they aren’t entirely imagining that our renters have this outlook, there are quite a few examples historically and in the recent past where people have demanded what they decided they should be getting for what they are paying. My hope is that raising our prices will also provide those looking to get water from a stone a greater disincentive to rent from us. The staff’s fear is that they will expect a corresponding increase in the water yield.

We understand that for a lot of people, our facility serves as a bridge between doing it entirely yourself and needing a full union production crew. Many come to us wanting to increase the production values of their annual event and don’t quite realize what a labor intensive prospect it is. We provide a lot of guidance to people about how to help us help them. They arrive assuring us their show is extremely simple until we start asking questions about their plans. Even though they have a new awareness of what is involved, they still don’t see the staff plugging away at 4 am on their behalf.

We have a lot of very gracious groups that rent from us. Some of which, having dealt with the blank indifference of our competitors, are afraid to offend us lest their only option is to return to them. (I swear we never even suggest they won’t be allowed to return. These are the guys we want to continue renting.) There are even a few that have become so organized over the years, we give the informational literature they send their members to new renters as an example of how to effectively organize one’s group for a production.

Then there are those who tell us they have been producing an event for 25 years, question every expense we estimate in an attempt to save money and then ask us how much they should be charging for tickets. Makes us wonder if they have ever created a budget for their event over the previous 25 years.

Clearly, as we revise our rental application, we in the administrative offices need to think about how we can support the rental staff in keeping renters’ expectations reasonable. Confronting people and telling them they don’t realize what a deal they are getting isn’t likely to be very convincing or productive. Nothing increases the paranoia of people who are anxious they are being ripped off like telling them you are honest as the day is long and aren’t ripping them off. And accusing people of being cheapskates doesn’t help matters much either. As the first line of contact with renters, we in the administrative offices can do a better job of discussing people’s expectations of their rental experience with them early on in the process.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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