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Wed 30 Mar 2011 12:00 AM

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Build it up

Al Laith is reaching new heights, thanks to the creativity and innovation of its Event Services division, and the convenience of the new Site Services offering. Sound & Stage visits the Group’s Al Quoz headquarters to find out why

Build it up
A custom-designed stage for the Doha Tribeca Film Festival featured a series of massive eliptical arches

It’s been a busy season for the Al Laith Group – not only has
it recently launched its Site Services division, but the still relatively new Event
Services team has completed some of the most creatively and technically challenging
projects seen not only in this region, but in the world.

Launched just over a year ago by ex-HQ stalwart Jo Marshall,
Event Services, which partners with UK-based Serious Stages, has already positioned
itself at the top on its field.

“The Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) job was the biggest in
the world, in terms of temporary structures,” says Marshall. “Nobody has built an arch that big,
out of steel truss the size of ours. Everything about it was a challenge, but then
it was also one of those jobs where you stand back and go, that was a really nice
gig to do.”

According to Marshall,
projects of this level give us a firm international footing. “When you get onto
that scale, you’re actually competing with overseas companies, you’re not competing
with regional companies,” he explains. “There are probably only three, maybe four
companies in the world that can take on a project that complex and know that they
can deliver.”

He says the key philosophy he and the team work by is not only
extending beyond the expectation of standard staging, but also ensuring they can
deliver on their promises.

“It’s about never knowingly pitching something that you can’t
build. We actively promote that if we say we can build it, we really can. And it’s
about managing clients expectations around that.”

He cites last month’s military expo IDEX’s opening ceremony,
produced by Red Filo, as proof of this ethos, and the innovative use of construction
equipment in an events space as evidence. “The client wanted to move two 30 tonne
LED screens, plus the generators, plus control, everything. They didn’t want any
cabling on the floor. It’s got to be a very smooth start, a very smooth finish,
they’ve each got to be 10 metres high and 30 metres wide,” he explains, adding that
the solution to such a “big ask” lay in the equipment used within Al Laith’s other
divisions – scaffolding, plant hire, mast climbers and powered access.

“We’ve looked at utilising mast climbing construction equipment
to do a corporate events job – completely outside of its normal scope. The guys
who manufacture it in Holland, a company called Alimak Hek, came over and had a
look at what we had done  because we weren’t
using the equipment to climb up the outside of a building, we we’re using it for
a horizontal  LED screen tracking system.”

The Group’s other divisions are what allows Event Services to
be so creative with its solutions, according to Marshall - which also often has
the added benefit of reducing sub contractor on costs to the client.

“The reality is, there is event industry specific equipment out
there that will do the job but it’s horrendously expensive - any kind of motion
control in the events industry is,” he says. “And the thing with construction equipment
is that its designed to sit on a construction site for two years getting covered
in concrete and all sorts, so it’s very, very solid and reliable.”

The knowledge base that comes with such a large company – total
headcount nears 1,000 staff - is also integral to the success of the Event Services
division, according to Marshall.
“If we’re unsure of some scaffolding, we’ve got probably 300 years of scaffolding
experience in the office next door that we can consult.”

The support of five other divisions also means financial stability,
with the commercial bottom line of the largest offerings, scaffolding and plant
and tool hire, balancing out the inevitable wave cycle of the events seasons. “From
a company point of view, we’re not reliant on the events industry for our overall
turnover. It’s something that’s very unique in the events industry. There are very
few events companies that have got the support of non-events based revenue streams,”
explains Marshall.

And support is evidently a key factor in the Al Laith workplace.
The flat management structure of the Group, particularly within Event Services,
is immediately obvious, with Marshall
quick to position himself as a team member, rather than his official title of director,
during our interview.

“My view, certainly within the event division, is not to put
a ‘boss’ in this office but to find the right people and then let them find their
own boss, in the sense that they’ll gravitate towards a natural leader. The result
is a happier workplace and more productivity.”

The year ahead is set to be as busy as 2010, predicts Marshall,
who says Event Services’ partnership with the newly launched Site Services division
will only make life easier on site.

“We did the rugby in Abu
Dhabi recently, and that was the first time we had a chance
to work on a job with the team. And it means that there’s only one crane hire, there
is only one generator hire, one diesel hire – it just cuts the overheads, making
it cheaper for the client and a lot easier for us,” he explains. “We were putting
in the heavy deck on day one and on day two, the cabins arrived and the crane was
sitting onsite in the right position, waiting for them.”

Also planned is an increased focus on the design capabilities
of the Group, with hope that creativity will stretch even further beyond standard

“We want production teams to see our yard, that’s a given, but
we really want the production designers to see it too.  I want them to come out here with a sketch pad
and get inspired,” says Marshall,
clearly still passionate about event design, where his roots are. “It’s a balance
between getting them to understand the kit well enough to know what it’s capable
of; but not understanding it so well that it limits what they think it’s capable

He adds that getting up close and personal with the trusses and
other elements that make up the sprawling Al Laith yard in Dubai’s Al Quoz area
will expand a designers creative process – but so will being open to new ideas.

“When you ask a designer to design a stage, it’s not going to
be a square, that’s for sure,” he says with a smile. “It may be something totally
ridiculous, but maybe only ridiculous because we haven’t thought of it yet. And
that happens quite a bit with young designers, because they don’t have all the pre-conceived
ideas that more experienced ones have. It can then be a case of, ‘why don’t we do
it like that? That’s a really good idea, there’s no reason not to.’ And it’s that design process that makes us think.”

What the company’s future does not hold, it seems, is concern
about new players in the market - both Marshall
and Al Laith MD Tony Nobbs agree that their company is in a position to remain as
the favoured supplier in the region.

“It has taken 15 years to build Al Laith into what it is today,
it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s not just a matter of showing up with some scaffolding.
That might work to a point but eventually you’ve got to follow through and deliver
quality,” says Nobbs.

“Other people coming into the market gives clients a choice,
which isn’t a bad thing, by the same token it would be a sad day if any of our competitors
 stopped doing events – because we cross hire
when needed and it gives customers good quality options, something to compare us
to. Healthy competition fights complacency which has to be a good thing for everyone,
clients and suppliers alike.” adds Marshall.
“Price is not the only factor; people know we’re about quality, delivery and above
all high production value.”

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