Activate Your Inner Event Professional

The Innovation Mindset: Meeting & Event Product Transformation

09/14/22 By Andrew Moffett, Chief Brand Officer

From supporting better sustainability practices, to driving efficiencies in event delivery, and establishing new planner preferences, linenless event furniture is and has been an industry game-changer for the past two decades. As the innovator in this space, Southern Aluminum has blazed a trail in enabling better-designed events and it’s been a blast! There have been key milestones in how we have pivoted to turn the corner and shift with customer needs and industry trends.

In 1978, Southern Aluminum established its roots with the creation of a picnic table. This may sound trivial but the design foundation of this one product would later catapult the company in to being so much more. Through product innovation and strategic partnerships, we found our way into the hospitality industry, transforming meeting space through lightweight, durable, and storable table designs that did not require linen. Today we proudly have a powerhouse of partnerships with Marriott International, Hyatt, Hilton, Aimbridge Hospitality, Loews Hotels, Highgate, Omni Hotels & Resorts, and many others who have reinvented their event delivery design through implementing many of our product lines.

Based in Arkansas, aptly called the Natural State, our product is solely produced here and constructed from high-grade aluminum. Not only is aluminum durable and lightweight, two great attributes to event furniture, but it is also a highly sustainable material. Our sustainability mission reads: “Be good stewards of the environment and take exceptional care to implement the green practices needed in manufacturing products from start to finish”. We have been recognized as a sustainability leader in the industry and Made in the USA is not cliché for us, this motto rings true by locally sourcing our materials within a 6-hour radius.

Locally Crafted

Our innovation has incubated in many ways; one way is through our ability to create strategic partnerships. I know this firsthand, and I love telling my story. I spent 25 years with Marriott International working as an Event Professional prior to joining Southern Aluminum in 2020. My first 10 years was on property before transitioning to Marriott’s Corporate Headquarters for the next 15. During my time as a customer of Southern Aluminum’s I was always impressed at how they led with an innovative mindset. An early goal of mine after joining the corporate team was to reinvent buffets and action stations, with a mission to bring a modern aesthetic to them; eliminating linen was top of the list. We worked together with Southern Aluminum to design a new line of linenless buffet tables that had the operational attributes needed to be successful in the meeting and event space; this was the GL Table, and it was the perfect fit for our needs at Marriott. Due to the success of this first innovation the partnership between Marriott and Southern Aluminum remained highly successful bringing more linenless product lines to fruition over the years.

Before

After

Our story of innovation success has not been built solely on strategic partnerships but rather our willingness to learn from a “hands-on” approach. We have known for years that solving the pain points of hotel operations through great product design can be complex, so our team has taken unconventional approaches to understanding use case scenarios. One of these happened years ago when we partnered with the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa at a time when the TV show Undercover Boss was popular. With the hotel completely onboard, we sent two of our team members to join the events team disguised as Event Service housemen trainees. The goal was to learn firsthand how our products were being handled, talked about, and what functions they loved and what functions they hated.

As a result, many updates were made to various products regarding casters, legs, and the durability to table edges. Today, we passionately continue the process of refining products to better serve the needs of our customers. In 2010, the XCube Table was launched, and saw immediate success in its ability to be multifunctional and setup with ease. Not completely satisfied with how the top attached to the base, in 2021 the product was put through the design process to identify efficiencies and was reengineered with a magnetic locking system called Engage. This is a classic example of how we see innovation not just within an entire product but also in the parts and materials used to construct it.

Over the years we have had a front row seat in leading the shift of linen to linenless, and it is a fun journey that has come with many rich collaborations, product ideation, and our commitment to making our customers successful. At Southern Aluminum, we are in the business of innovating with purpose knowing that new product development should solve the pain points of the venue operations. What began as a picnic table company has grown into a reputable leader providing quality products to a vast variety of markets. With innovation at the forefront, we are excited to always share what is coming next!

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