Group Dynamics At PRG

Just one stop from New York’s Penn Station, across the Hudson River, is a new address for Production Resource Group (PRG). The rental/manufacturing powerhouse has added a location in Secaucus, New Jersey, and the company is making sure its expansion includes a bit of diversification to keep it going, and growing, for years to come.

Case in point, the new location isn’t your garden-variety rental house or manufacturing plant. Sure, there are offices and a warehouse, as expected, but more happens behind those doors and truck bays than initially meets the eye. Of course, with the new facility came an overhaul of the existing structure, and so you’ll find inside a brand new, state-of-the art 80'x30' demo room, cosmetically designed by Brian Webb, with the structural facelift done by the in-house team. But this spot also sports a previsualization suite—via PRG’s proprietary products including a Commander™ Motion Control Console, V676™ Lighting Control Console, and Mbox EXtreme® v3 Media Server, all in one place—and various meeting spaces for rent. The Board Room, for example, is a fully equipped conference room with loads of amenities, technical and otherwise, including an adjacent kitchen and 24-hour access, if required. The demo room, in fact, was recently rented to French Vogue for a photo shoot—not too shabby for extra revenue.

Add to that a warehouse with 20 truck bays, sophisticated inventory procedures, and a fully networked quality control system, and PRG has one of the most advanced operations in our industry at the moment. A highlight in the warehouse is a one-of-a-kind, hydraulic tilting moving light table in the QC line that has power and data for every kind of fixture in inventory and checks for consistent color across fixtures, records errors, and more. A pneumatic picker even grabs the light and places it on the table, and by the time the unit gets to the end of the line, if it needs tweaking, the system already knows why, and off it goes to maintenance. An ongoing green initiative has also taken hold in the new location. In addition to recycling of electrical equipment, lamps, metal, plastic, and cardboard as part of a complete environmental management program, PRG Secaucus has entered into an agreement with its landlord, Hartz Mountain, to make use of a solar array for most of its electrical requirements. While still in the construction phase, surplus power generated outside normal operation hours will be fed back into the local power grid, reducing the facility’s carbon footprint.

Chairman and CEO Jere Harris and his team have built a veritable empire—43 offices in 13 countries on six continents. But how have they continued to expand in this particular economy at a time when many have been satisfied to just survive the last few years? “I think we’re a little better at managing our business and being more in tune with what the markets are,” says Harris. “We spend a lot of time looking at trend and market analysis, what is going to happen in any given season, whether it’s in the theatre, concert touring, or television, and we spend a lot of time focused on that and adjust accordingly.” Adding a location was in the works long before the recession hit, and its debut wasn’t going to be deterred by a slowing economy. Harris says the new facility is a necessity for PRG’s success. “We have spent as much money on our infrastructure and employees as we do on our equipment,” notes Harris. “A critical long-term determining factor for us is to be able to supply our customers with an ultimate, high-quality product at a very competitive price. As things get more and more sophisticated, and as customers give us less and less time to deliver large shows, if we don’t do that, we can’t deliver 99.9% reliability. We have a lot of competitors out there who do a good job, and that drives us to do an ever better job.”

The new location only solidifies this mission. Darren DeVerna, president of Northeast Operations, says the facility was developed with the show-prep area as central and critical. “We built around the flow of the shop, both inbound and outbound,” he says. “We want to get to the point of prepping on the inbound, so everything is prepped as it’s being restocked, as opposed to on the outbound. We want everything ready to go when clients need it. We will get there. It has never been done before, but it can save a tremendous amount of time for us.” And while the company has made quite a few acquisitions in the last several years, the most recent being Cologne, Germany-based event technology company Showtec, Harris notes that he’s not constantly on the lookout. “We’re never thinking ‘acquisition,’” he says. “We’re thinking ‘product’ and ‘technology’ and ‘convergence.’ The geographic expansion we’ve done is so we can do what we do in multiple geographies. It’s not about world domination. It’s just about being able to service our customers wherever they may travel. Acquisitions are driven by convergence of technologies. We make some products ourselves internally, and we do that because that’s our culture and passion, especially of our leadership, but we also see a need for it in the various markets that we serve. Are we going to acquire a company tomorrow? It’s possible, but it will be driven by the next step in what we do in lighting, video, sound, and scenery.”

Harris adds that PRG’s growth is more the product of strategic partnerships than some bid to pick off the little guys. “It’s expansion of product and market,” he says. “We look for a strong management team—good company, good gear, good leadership—but that’s not always the case. Sometimes we buy a bankrupt company. We don’t sit around trying to decide that we want to buy this guy or that. In each case, it’s a partnership: an entrepreneur from our company coming together with an entrepreneur from the other company saying we’d be better working together than apart. And we are often partnering with companies with whom we already share clients, so the client, in fact, is getting a better product that’s more easily logistically delivered.” The new facility and recent acquisitions have confirmed PRG’s place in the market as a potential one-stop shop for all things production in many markets. “As a company, we need to be converged, but we still have everything as separate departments internally,” says Harris. “But there needs to be a bridge between departments at the end product for the client, so behind the thought process from day one, we’re thinking about how to integrate the system for the customer.”

PRG currently employs more than 1,700 people worldwide and has virtually no turnover in staff, says DeVerna. “When we originally said we were going to consolidate audio, video, and lighting to accommodate the market, everyone said we were really doing it to cut costs and jobs, but we actually added 44 jobs, and we’ll be adding another eight to 11 jobs,” he adds.
No matter the convergences, moves, and changes, Harris notes, “The designer is always going to be mission-critical for us, but the budgets are much tighter and well policed, especially in concert touring, so we have to be fiscally responsible to producers and creatively responsible to designers. We can’t have one without the other.”

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