Hitting the Jackpot
For some, the contracts are truly life-changing, providing an opportunity to add employees, not cut back. For others, they amount to solid additions to the portfolio. In every case, though, status as an MGM vendor has brought with it a significant payoff.
Dennis King says that, from the day MGM first set its sights on Springfield, he became focused on doing business with the casino giant.
But he didn’t let this pursuit consume him, nor did he allow himself to get too excited, because, from the start, and to borrow a phrase from the gaming industry, King, president of Chicopee-based King Ward Coach Lines, considered himself a long shot. A real long shot.
That’s because Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield is his main competitor, and, outwardly, he thought his rival was, to borrow a phrase from his own industry, more or less in the driver’s seat when it came to winning a coveted contract to provide a variety of services to MGM.
“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this. I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”
So when he received that initial e-mail a few weeks back indicating that the casino giant would like to do business him, he stayed in his seat, but he was more than a little taken aback.
“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought this was going to happen; I’m shocked we got this,” he told BusinessWest, referring to a contract that will make MGM his biggest account. “I was told to my face that they were going to go with Peter Pan.”
The contract calls for King Ward to provide shuttle service from parking lots at the Big E to the casino the first few days it’s open, and also daily services (line runs) from Worcester, Brattleboro, Vt. (down through Hampshire County), the Berkshires, Holyoke and Chicopee, Hartford, and other Connecticut communities — three buses a day doing six runs.
To say that this contract is huge — the word King used himself a number of times — would be, well, a huge understatement.
Indeed, King, projecting that the opening of MGM Springfield would put a real hurt on the company’s line runs and charter service to the Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and coupling that with not getting the MGM contract (which, again, was his prediction), was preparing to make cutbacks.
“I had intentions of downsizing my company, selling off vehicles and reducing staff, because Mohegan and Foxwoods are big destinations for us,” he told BusinessWest, adding that now, with this contract in hand, he has bought additional vehicles — vans to handle smaller groups travelling to the casino but also other destinations — and projects that he will have to hire a new dispatcher and several more drivers.
Thus, MGM’s contract is a game changer in every sense of that phrase, and King is certainly not alone in seeing his future altered in a profound manner.
Rebeca Merigian can certainly relate, although the future is already here.
“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now. We’ve broken records here.”
BusinessWest first caught up with her in April, when the ink was drying, figuratively but almost literally, on a contract for the fourth-generation dry-cleaning business she now owns to handle essentially every uniform to be worn by an MGM Springfield employee.
At that time, she projected that the contract would double the volume of business at a company that had seen little, if any, growth in years, and add a few bodies to the payroll. When we circled back recently, as work was coming in from the casino in ever-larger amounts, her predictions were coming to pass.
“The work is really starting to roll in; we’ve been preparing the wardrobe department for about three weeks now,” she said earlier this month, adding that racks at the company are filled with chef coats, shirts for the table games dealers, suits for limo drivers, and much more. “We’ve broken records here.”
Not every business owner that is now an MGM vendor is going to have the kind of life-altering experience that King and Merigian are enjoying, but for dozens of companies, MGM, which is expected to spend $50 million a year on goods and services from local suppliers, has become a very solid addition to the portfolio, one that will give their products exposure to thousands of people a day and to individuals from across the country and probably around the world.
A partial list of these vendors includes a host of businesses, small and large, from brewers to produce providers; fruit-basket makers to a kitchen-supply outfit; a hand-dryer maker to a mattress manufacturer.
Some of the businesses, like Williams Distributing in Chicopee, have long histories, while others, like White Lion Brewery and the D-13 Group are startups or next-stage ventures.
As the casino prepares to open in a matter of hours, not weeks or even days, BusinessWest takes another look at one of the more important aspects of MGM’s arrival — the boost to be received by a number of area businesses across a host of sectors.
Ray Berry has already enjoyed a good deal of success with his craft beer label White Lion. Indeed, the brand has moved well beyond Western Mass., and is now statewide, having made deep inroads into the lucrative Boston market, with the north and south shores being the next targets.
But the contract Berry signed to provide MGM with an exclusive label, to be called King of Hearts Lager, is perhaps the most significant development in the brand’s short history because of the exposure it will provide.
“To be in a position to have our brand and lager in front of thousands of people on a daily basis extends our brand and our visibility tremendously,” he told BusinessWest. “And we believe that with the right approach, and the right strategic conversations, we’ll be able to broaden our relationship accordingly.”
“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts. We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”
Berry said MGM and White Lion have been in discussions about doing business together for some time now. After the food and beverage lineup for the casino was finalized, that allowed the parties to take those talks to a higher level, with the focus on being creative, he noted.
The result was King of Hearts Lager.
“We wanted to present some brand standards that would be appealing to MGM Springfield and their team, and we presented them with several concepts,” Berry explained. “We went through several meetings, which also included some pilot taste tests, and we decided to move forward with the King of Hearts name.”
Thus, the bottle has two lions on it — the White Lion logo around the middle, and the MGM Lion on the neck. People will only be able to drink this label at MGM, but, as Berry noted earlier, visitors to the casino — and up to 10,000 are expected each day — will be introduced to the brand and, hopefully, compelled to look for it at home.
“When you think about the kinds of people who will be going to MGM — the global connoisseur, the festival goer, families, individuals coming in for events — all of them may encounter the White Lion brand,” he noted. “And when they get back to their respective geographic area, they may go to their local restaurant or package tour and be able to extend that experience.”
Bill Gagnon sounded a somewhat similar tone, only he was talking about a much different kind of experience — the one that takes place at the end of a visit to the men’s or ladies’ room.
Gagnon is president of Natick-based D-13 Group, suppliers of Integrated Sink Systems, which, as that name implies brings a host of components together in one system, including the XLERATORsync Hand Dryer, produced in East Longmeadow by Excel Dryer, the company started and still led by his father, Denis.
MGM has ordered 96 of the integrated systems for its restaurants, hotel, and meeting facilities, said Bill Gagnon, adding the company and its signature product are still just getting off the ground, and MGM’s contract provides a huge boost.
“It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”
But the MGM corporation is actually a repeat customer, he noted, adding that the first real client for the integrated system was MGM’s National Harbor Casino in Maryland; the units at MGM Springfield are what he described as the “production version.”
“And in between, we’ve done some new jobs,” he said, listing the JFK Library in Boston, Red Rose Pizza in Springfield, and other projects. “It’s a huge deal for D-13 Group, as a new company, to supply a brand and international entity such as MGM; to add them to our profile is a significant development for us.”
Along for the Ride
The same could certainly be said for King Ward, the company started by King’s father, Robert, and partner Russ Ward. The venture turns 30 this year, and, as its president noted earlier, this wasn’t shaping up to be a great anniversary year.
Indeed, the company had developed a very solid business taking individuals and a wide array of groups to the Connecticut casinos and especially Mohegan Sun — it’s a few miles closer than Foxwoods and, said King, that makes a big difference (Mohegan has been the company’s biggest destination) — and much of that business was generated from the Greater Springfield area.
With the arrival of MGM Springfield, King was projecting that many of those customers would be gambling closer to home, and a decent number wouldn’t need a bus to get there. Couple that with not getting the MGM contract, and things were looking quite glum.
But then, King got that e-mail from a consultant working for MGM who essentially started the dialogue that led to the contract. Things didn’t happen overnight, or even over a few nights, for that matter — there were some serious negotiations over specific routes — but the deal got done, as they say.
And it’s a huge deal for King Ward, which is located just a few hundred yards from the runways at Westover Air Reserve Base and has carved out a nice business dominated by charters to destinations ranging from the Bronx Zoo to Fenway Park.
The contract provides a steady stream of income, said King, and the timing of many line runs — the buses drop off passengers at 9:30 and pick them up at 2:30 p.m. — allows the company to deploy its buses elsewhere during that stretch, perhaps for charters to MGM Springfield.
“This is the biggest thing that will ever happen to our company,” he said.
Rebeca Merigian could likely say the same thing. Park Cleaners has had big customers in the past, including MassMutual, but nothing like this. Each of the 3,000 MGM employees will have three uniforms, and Park will handle all of that. But there is also dry cleaning coming in from employees, and new business opportunities developing, such as work for the meeting facilities at the casino complex.
The volume became so great so quickly — “we’re pushing about 500 pieces a day, and they haven’t opened yet” — the company bought some new equipment, specifically a so-called ‘steam tunnel,’ and has plans to add additional workers. Regular customers are happier because the company is now open Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, the van the company has long used to make its deliveries is no longer sufficient, said Merigian, adding that among all the other things she’s doing, she’s researching 24-foot box trucks.
All this represents quite a reversal of fortune.
“A year ago, we were talking about survival,” she said. “Now, it’s about managing this incredible surge in volume; it’s amazing.”
While a comparatively small company, King Ward had already made its mark in this region, becoming the transportation provider for a host of area institutions, ranging from Mount Holyoke College to the Springfield Thunderbirds.
There are buses at the company’s terminal wrapped in those clients’ logos and colors, said King, and soon they’ll be joined by a few bearing the MGM lion.
The company won’t be charging MGM for the cost of the wrap jobs, he noted, adding that this perhaps the least he can do for a client — and a contract — that has changed the trajectory of the company in, well, a huge way.
There are a few other area businesses enjoying a similar life-altering experience, and for dozens more, MGM is providing a tremendous lift.
In a few days, visitors to the casino complex can dream about hitting the jackpot; several area businesses already have.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]