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June 16, 2015

Going after the green: Avalara's clever U.S. Open play at Chambers Bay

Puget Sound Business Journal

Jacob Demmitt

Avalara knew it was going to be a stretch two years ago when the company signed up for a tent at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay near Tacoma. But as day No. 2 of the tournament rolls on, the investment appears to be paying off.

A variety of Puget Sound-area companies are taking advantage of the tournament, which has drawn the world's best golfers to the area for a weeklong event. For businesses that have customers who like the sport, it represents the perfect excuse to get in some quality schmoozing time.

An Avalara spokesman said he's seen other local companies with tents including Microsoft, Seattle Genetics, Kidder Mathews, Washington State Wines and Puget Sound BMW Dealers. The tents are spread out around the grounds and at the entrance, and companies pay more for certain locations and sizes.

USGA tent packages range from $130,000 up to $235,000, depending on the size. That includes the actual tent, tickets, outdoor seating space, television coverage and air conditioning. It doesn't include transportation, hotels or any other amenities companies want to offer their guests.

Avalara, based in Bainbridge Island, took its plans beyond just a tent.

The fast-growing tax automation software company bought a "platinum level" tent, meaning it could bring 400 guests and set up a central meeting place near the golf course where it could offer meals.

The company also rented out space at Cedarbrook Lodge and hired Avalara-branded shuttle buses to run guests back and forth to the course.

"It's one of those things we always dreamed about doing but it was just out of our reach for a while," CEO Scott McFarlane said. "With it being in our backyard and all the growth we've been doing, it just seemed like a perfect way to say, 'thank you' to our customers."
People have been waiting for this event for years, ever since Chambers Bay was chosen as the site of the 2015 tournament back in 2008.
The United States Golf Association estimated the event would bring about 235,000 spectators to the area, with an economic impact of $150 million.

Companies all over the region have been getting in line to get a slice of that pie, from Bellevue-based Concur sponsoring a golfer to Pavco Flight Center gearing up to help with all the private jets coming to town.

Doing something like this for customers comes with a hefty price tag, but McFarlane said the return on investment isn't hard to find. It doesn't come in the form of one big payoff, but rather little wins for the business.

He's getting the chance to eat breakfast with customers, shake a few hands and sprinkle in some news about what Avalara has been up to - including the four acquisitions it has completed so far this year.

"For sure, [the return on investment] is customer loyalty," McFarlane said. "It's an intimate way of spending time with customers. It's very laid back; it's very casual; it's just really nice."

For the full story, go to Puget Sound Business Journal.

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