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How one of South Dakota’s largest event production companies made it through COVID-19

How one of South Dakota’s largest event production companies made it through COVID-19

After going through the process of planning the entertainment portion of his own wedding, Chris Hintz had the desire to help others with that same thing. He began taking DJ gigs in 2002, marking the start of his business, Pinnacle Productions. Now, it’s one of the largest event production companies in the state, offering production and entertainment services for the bridal industry, corporate events, non-profit events, and now, the streaming industry.

Nearly 20 years later, Hintz and his team are experts at anticipating the needs of their clients and thinking quickly when problems arise.

This was exactly what he had to do on March 19, 2020.

It was nine days after the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and events of all kinds came to a screeching halt. With venues closed, concerts canceled, and weddings postponed, the future of his business was hanging in the balance.

“I remember explicitly driving down 10th Street on the east side of Sioux Falls, and I had just gotten a call from a bride who said they were canceling their wedding, and two seconds before that I had just gotten a phone call from one of our corporate event partners who was canceling two events that weekend,” he recalled.

Hintz’s world was spiraling. He wasn’t sure if Pinnacle would survive. That’s when he called his banker, Scott Speer, at The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

“I was a wreck; legitimately, I was,” he said. “I called Scott right away and I’m like, ‘We’re not going to be okay. I don’t know what to do. I’m really lost. I feel like we have built so much traction and so much respect in the industry. I don’t know where we’re going to be now. I don’t know what we’re going to do. I have no idea.’”

Leading up to this moment, Pinnacle Productions had been experiencing steady annual growth of 15-20 percent for the past ten years. 2020 was on track to be their best year yet. But with a near total national lockdown looming, it was possible that it could have been their last.

But it wouldn’t be, thanks to a new government relief program for hard-hit small businesses and First National’s 135-year history of helping people through hard times.

“In the truck, I heard Scott say on the Bluetooth speaker, ‘Chris, we’re not just your partner in good times, we’re your partner in bad. We see what’s going on and it’s not in your control. We’re here for you; we’re your partner,’” he said. “I know banking isn’t the most emotional thing, but to me – someone who was losing (potentially) their business and saw 50 percent of their total year of revenue evaporate – it was the most poetic thing I’d ever heard.”

Receiving a lifeline through PPP

For Hintz, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was the lifeline his business needed, and the First National team was ready to make it happen. The PPP offered government guaranteed, forgivable loans to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

“I think FNB did an excellent job of guiding our customers through the process and being there every step of the way to alleviate any fears,” FNB Business Banker Scott Speer said of the Bank’s work with the PPP. “I think the relationship piece is the biggest key. Our customers see us as a partner or trusted advisor that they can talk to about their future and bounce ideas off of.”

With those relationships at the center of every loan, checking account, or transaction at FNB, the Bank knew that the PPP would be critical to businesses like Pinnacle.

“I can’t talk about it much without getting emotional, because this is my baby and we built it from nothing,” he explained. “I took a loan out of my 401(k) when I was 27/28 years old for $2,000, and I spent it with a couple mouse clicks online to buy our first set of speakers and professional gear. So, we bootstrapped this from $2,000 with no help from anyone to a seven-figure company with 40 employees that does events all over the world. If it wasn’t for this PPP funding, Pinnacle wouldn’t be here.”

The power of innovation

During the initial weeks of the pandemic, some businesses opted to close their doors, and used their PPP funds to continue to pay their employees until things opened back up. While this was the general intent and purpose of the program, the Pinnacle Productions crew did exactly the opposite: they didn’t stop working. Instead, they transformed their business model from producing in-person events to producing virtual events.

“We invested a ton of time and a lot of PPP funding to train into a more sustainable revenue stream for the short term,” Hintz explained. “We already had a division that does video and films. We shifted that towards the virtual event space, too. How can we set up really good cameras, really good lighting… We had a lot of those disciplines, but we were shifting all of our focus to where people were meeting. People were not meeting in person anymore, they were meeting online.”

This type of innovation has led them to become a regional leader in producing virtual events, and it’s not gone unnoticed by his financial partners at FNB.

“Chris is always thinking next steps and is very proactive in his planning,” Speer said. “Once the pandemic hit, he was already going through projections and looking at ways to cut costs and explore other avenues. His innovativeness and ability to adapt quickly is something that has always impressed me.”

While Hintz knows that change is inevitable for entrepreneurs, he says that who he’s partnered with along the way has made all the difference, especially The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a client of [First National’s] and have them be partners in what we do,” Hintz said. “They are extremely fair, they communicate very well, there’s a personal, hands-on touch, the online banking portion is super easy to navigate, they’re real people who treat you like a real person, not a robot there to generate wealth for someone else. It’s a really good relationship. When people are asking about business bankers or business banking in general, Scott and First National Bank… I will forever be a cheerleader.”

If you would like to learn more about business banking at FNB, click here or contact us today!

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