Written by Tracie Grimes
In 2003, Pete Kennedy was settled into his job as a claims service assistant at Bakersfield’s State Farm office, looking forward to beginning his climb on the corporate ladder.
“I remember being so excited when I started working at State Farm,” Pete recalls. “I had been working in the restaurant business where I didn’t know what my schedule was from week to week and started this great job that had the same hours every day, didn’t have to work weekends or nights...I thought, ‘This is IT!’ ” Then Metallica rocked his world.
“I had an extra pair of tickets to a Metallica concert that I decided to put up for sale,” recalled Kennedy, leaning back in his chair and smoothing his trademark long goatee which is bound at intervals with rubber bands. “I had messages from a couple of guys who were interested in buying them, so I returned their calls during my lunch hour. They started this unbelievable bidding war that just blew me away! First $300, then $350, then $370...I couldn’t believe the numbers they were throwing at me!
“I ended up selling the tickets to the guy who gave me the highest final bid and called the other guy back to tell him where he could buy the tickets because I didn’t want him to go away empty-handed. Then I realized that I had sold an extra pair of tickets I wasn’t going to use anyway for enough money to pay for my own trip to the concert. I could pay for my tickets, my gas, hotel, and even a beer or two.”
The lightbulb went off over Kennedy's head and a new business was born. He founded Pete’s Seats, and quickly realized that he had tapped into something not only lucrative, but worthwhile. He would run a business that was based on putting himself in the shoes of his clients to create a service that would give people an experience of a lifetime.
The goal is to be the go-to service for anyone who’s ever dreamed about seeing their favorite performer up close and personal, Kennedy explains. “Once you’ve sat in the first 10 or 15 rows and watched a person you’ve idolized for practically your whole life, it changes your whole perspective of going to a concert. It’s an experience like no other. I mean, when you’re sitting there so close to someone like Justin Timberlake that you can see the beads of sweat on his forehead, or reach out for a handshake...there’s just nothing like it.”
And the value of his service goes beyond what his clients experience at a concert.
“When I was selling those first Metallica tickets, I asked the guys why they just didn’t go and buy the tickets the same way I did. One guy told me that he was working so many hours as an auto mechanic, came home so exhausted, he just didn’t have the time or energy it would take to find tickets like these (they were great seats). I saw that I could provide a valuable service, and it was a pretty good feeling. Now I’m in a position to provide that service to people every day.”
The opportunity to provide a valuable service to people and the possibility of earning some serious dollars may seem like a no-brainer on the surface, but leaving the security of working for a corporation to open a fledgling company wasn’t a decision Kennedy made lightly. He knew there was a lot of risk; leaving a stable job, giving up a steady paycheck.
“Like I said, when I first started at State Farm I thought this corporate job was the be-all, end-all of jobs. But after a couple of weeks lay-offs began and although I didn’t lose my job at the time I knew the honeymoon was over. There really was no stability in a corporate job. And when I looked at the fact that I was pulling $400 every two weeks compared to the fact that I sold two tickets in less than an hour for almost $400, I decided to roll the dice.”
Once the die had been cast came the matter of money. “That’s where the real risk came in!” Kennedy laughed.
He did what any 20-something fledging entrepreneur with no savings to speak of would do to finance his dream: He took out his credit cards.
“I charged $30,000 that first year and made $31,000, but I learned how to play the game. And I’m still here,” he smiled.
The “game” isn’t an easy one to learn, Kennedy said, leaning forward as he shared some of the things he’s learned over the years. “There’s always somebody out there that thinks they can do my job by buying tickets and putting them up on Craig’s List. What they don’t realize is that there are times you have to just flush away $20,000 worth of tickets because you couldn’t sell them.”
Another thing people don’t know, he explained, is that the venues sell all the junk seats to “Joe Blow Fan” and hold on to the good seats. Then, lotteries are held at the venue, the day the tickets go on sale, to give the illusion that the tickets going on sale are the best. But fans are often sold tickets to the back half of the sections that the venue chooses to make available.
“But even though we’re in the lottery we may not have access to buying the best seats because the venue may have blocked them off for organizations like Citibank or the performer’s fan club. Nobody really knows what pre-sale the best seats will be thrown into. You can see how hard that would be for 'Joe Blow Fan' to navigate.”
And not only does Kennedy have to keep up with the rules of the game, he often has to deal with the risk of running into legal problems.
“I broker tickets, I don’t ‘scalp’ tickets. There’s a big difference and there are a lot of people, including big corporate entities, that try to say I’m breaking the law. But I know the law [brokering is completely legal] and I work right out in the open within the law. I've never tried to hide behind my goatee,” Kennedy said, smiling.
Pete's Seats serves such a valuable niche to the people of the Central Valley that after eight years, they continue to thrive. “I have zero brick and mortar competitors! My only competitors are internet websites who 'pay-per-click' to divert searches to their sites. Local buyers end up paying a commission to some out-of-state broker, only to be sent downtown to our office to pick up their tickets. That’s our biggest challenge: educating the general public that a local ticket broker really should be your first call. We have access to every ticket, on every website, every day, and we compile what’s available at the box office and the secondary market to provide the client with all of the options at the time.”
The business has grown from a home-based office to two locations; one in Bakersfield (across from Rabobank Arena) and one in Fresno (across from the Save Mart Center). He’s at a point where he can expand on his current staff of three, but he’s a little leery of taking the plunge.
“It’s really hard for me to find people I can trust enough to teach them the business. About the only people I can really trust are family and my mother works for me now. My wife [Jennifer] did, but now she’s home with our four kids.”
Things may be a bit crazy from time to time with just three employees, especially since he's selling tickets to events all over the world, but under this current business model, Pete’s Seats continues to flourish. “I tell everyone that our job is sixth grade math on steroids: you do the adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing as fast as you can and buy the tickets at x price to come up with the y selling price.”
The fruits of Pete’s Seats quick calculations are evident not only in the bottom line (Pete’s Seats boasts six or seven digit revenues most years), but in the stories Kennedy has to tell about his most memorable business experiences.
“When I get a chance to go to a concert and see my customers in seats I’ve hand-picked for them with a look of pure joy on their faces, it makes me tear up,” he said softly. “One particularly memorable concert was when a customer called me up and said, ‘It’s my 20th anniversary and my wife loves James Taylor so I’d like the best, best, best tickets.’ I went to the concert and saw the guy’s wife sitting there, right in front of James Taylor, just crying her eyes out. It was such an honor to be a part of that.”
And working in the industry means Kennedy can provide some pretty cool experiences for his own family.
“My 15-year-old daughter, Zayna, is a huge Michael Bublé fan, so I got to experience that concert with her. Two days later, I took her to her first rock 'n roll show to see Mötley Crüe & Poison!”
Making memories, making a good living. Sure, he may have to work a lot of long hours (“I’ve had to leave in the middle of my own kid’s birthday party as he was opening a gift”) while putting together some crazy deals, but this guy wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s all about the customer. To be successful, I need a whole bunch of happy people who think I’m cool!”
Event image: ©istockphoto.com/dwphotos
Article appeared in our 28-4 Issue - October 2011