Throughout our careers, we have worked with hundreds of different vendors. And through the years, some of those vendors have become not only our tried and true partners but part of our family and our crew. One of those vendors is CEO of Fresh Wata, Tricia Costello, who was recently named one of BizBash’s Top 500 Event Professionals.
Tricia grew up in Leawood, Kansas with a five sisters and one very lucky brother. After graduating from the University of Kansas and landing an event gig out in Vegas, she packed up her things and made the move to Sin City. Fast forward almost 20 years, she’s now running a wildly successful event production company with her sister, Kay, that produces over 500 events a year. And even though she’s a Kansas Jayhawk (Go Gators & Tigers!), we’ve always had a blast with Tricia producing events together at SXSW, the Latin GRAMMY Awards, and CES, just to name a few.
Recently, we had a conversation with Tricia to learn more about her and her Fresh Wata world.
Sam: Ok, let’s jump in. First up: tell us about the moment you knew you wanted to be in events?
Tricia: It was when I was in Palm Springs for a Sprint event; it was the first time I saw my ideas come to life. From there, I was just helping out wherever I could - not really producing entire events but just taking small pieces of them. I remember helping out at the Academy Awards - I was starstruck and just thought it was the coolest thing. It was the first time I received a credential, which was pretty cool.
Pauli: Oh, definitely. Credentials are like mini trophies for us - we don’t always get a lot of thanks or recognition, so being able to take home your credential feels good. It’s like earning your stripes. Do you still have any of your old credentials?
Tricia: Yes, one from the first sporting event we did in Arizona. I kept it because it was the first time everything at the event was produced by my team. The artwork, print - it was all ours, so it felt special to me.
Pauli: Now, Sam and I know bits and pieces of the answer to this question, but would love to hear from you the story behind Fresh Wata, the name and your mascot, the astronaut?
Tricia: Fresh Wata came from my love for the beach and the water. I was coming back from vacation and honestly, was at a sushi restaurant trying to come up with a name, and the freshwater eel gave me the idea.
Sam: Oh, love that! And what about the astronaut logo?
Tricia: That was Anthony, one of our designers. The astronaut represents our “out of this world” ideas. I let him be creative and help keep the brand modern and fresh.
Sam: And wasn’t there once an octopus logo?
Tricia: That’s our rental company’s brand - that was Anthony’s idea too. And it’s funny because an octopus doesn’t live in freshwater. (Laughs)
Sam: What’s it like running a business with your sister, Kay?
Tricia: Kay was always obsessed with me. She was always kissing me and taking me around. We were always super close and would always sleep in the same bed. When I was in college, she would fly me to LA to help with her events. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just jumped in. We trust each other completely and can say anything to one another, just blurt things out - it doesn’t matter. We’ve always maintained a good work relationship. We have our own rules and our own accounts.
Sam: You mentioned you have a good work relationship. Is it different than your sibling relationship? Are you able to turn work on and off when you’re together?
Tricia: Yes, we for sure turn it off at Thanksgiving dinner or other family events. We try to keep work and personal separate. But we have our codes - like we’ll be looking at each other from across the table if something comes up. We try not to mix work with family and to enjoy our family time.
Pauli: And Kay is in LA, right?
Tricia: Kansas actually! She spends a lot of time in LA though, and I think she’ll move to LA soon. She still has kids graduating college and high school.
Sam: How many children does she have?
Tricia: She has four kids. She has a small one still at home, in high school.
Sam: Oh wow, 4 kids: she is superwoman.
Tricia: Yea, definitely.
Pauli: Ok, next up: how do you come up with new ideas: is it by meditating, grabbing a buddy and going for a run?
Tricia: All of those things. By being around other people, going to festivals, rollerblading, chilling out to music, skydiving. You have to be in a good mood and a happy state of mind. Not having hard deadlines to work towards helps too - being able to go to a concert, have a few drinks and then come back with some great ideas.
Sam: Skydiving?! How often do you do that to get inspired?
Tricia: (Laughs) Well, I actually have only gone once… this past weekend. It was incredible. I went with a cirque du soleil friend who asked me to go the night before.
Pauli: How fun! And would you do it again?
Tricia: I don’t think I need to do it again. (Laughs)
Pauli: Let me rephrase, would you do it again with Crew?
Sam: What’s your current favorite event trend - whether it’s something you and your team are obsessing over or a widely known industry trend?
Tricia: I have two.
We’ve been trying to be more planet positive by reducing our carbon footprint - not only reducing it, but reducing it by double and making it like the event never happened. We’re actually doing this at our News Years event - and we’re letting guests know that by attending and buying a ticket they are helping reduce the carbon footprint.
Pauli: Yes, I agree that being planet positive should be part of everyone’s goals! Do you think this will become a trend in the event industry?
Tricia: I think so. Big corporations want to make an impact, and it also has PR value. It adds a story for them that they are giving back to the environment.
The second trend is AR (augmented reality) - I’ve been pushing AR for 10 years and and we’re just starting to see it a little more. It is always cut from budgets first, though. It’s still expensive, but I think we’ll start to see the costs lower and see it more and more at events. I just love AR.
Pauli: AR is really cool, we always look for opportunities to incorporate it into our events.
And on the flip side, what is an event trend that you’re glad is gone?
Tricia: Logos everywhere! We used to slap logos on everything - you two have always been good about placing your logo in smart ways - but people would slap there logos on anything and everything from napkins, walls, aprons, tables, EVERYTHING. It’s now much more about experiencing the brand and message. It’s about hitting the 5 senses and adding emotion and experience into an event. We are creating full-circle designs for event environments which gives us so much more space to be creative with a logo.
Sam: Tell us about the coolest activation you and your team have done in 2018?
Tricia: We did a levitating vending machine that was really cool. Attendees could telepathically make the arm levitate using a remote camera. It was a cool trick - people were all over it.
And then, most recently, we did a 90x70 trade show booth for Sprint. It was the first booth when you walked onto the floor at the LA convention center for the World Congress Show.
Sprint put a lot of trust in us. It was the biggest booth they had ever done, and it was tricked out with products from Nokia and Ericsson, electric bikes, and a living wall. It was for the launch of 5G and it went over really well. It was a really big buildout, a 2-week process. The reviews from everyone were great - the clients, executives, and everyone in between were thrilled. It really stood out, and I was super proud of the booth and the team.
Pauli: How have you seen events change over the 20+ years you’ve been in the industry?
Tricia: Everything is about the experience and technology now. It used to only be about tablecloths and centerpieces. Now there are just so many different activities out there. People want custom dining tables, we’re using products to build things...like wheaties boxes to make a chandelier. It’s now all about who’s going to top the next event and how to cut through the clutter.
Pauli: You mentioned custom dining tables. Would you agree that there are no “off the shelf” events anymore and that everyone wants something custom?
Tricia: Yeah. But it’s a good thing. There were way too many beach parties. And do you know how many white parties we did!? Like the Puff Daddy white party? (Laughs)
Sam: (Laughs) Totally. Remember that terrible white pleather lounge furniture?
Tricia: But you know, everything does come back around; now it’s like… “can you make this polyester tablecloth work?” We just did a slinky wall.
Sam: Love a good slinky wall!
Moving on… have you ever had an event or situation go horribly wrong? And if so, how did you handle it?
Tricia: Yes… We did a beautiful event at the Fairmont in Arizona, in Scottsdale. It was a beautiful day and we were outside putting the finishing touches on an event that was a 2-full day set up. There was a really elaborate 20 foot tree. And then, out of the blue… it started hailing golf ball sized chunks of ice. This wasn’t a small storm - there was major damage to cars, the property, our setup. We had to move inside, and were working fast to decide what pieces we could move. It was all hands on deck. Next thing I knew, there were about 30 golf carts with hotel employees coming out to help us bring all the key elements up to the restaurant. We got it all done in two hours. We didn’t take the 20 foot tree, but we took what we could, like the lanterns and the boxwood. It was all about safety; there were GIANT golf balls. It was erie and fun at the same time. It was cool seeing how everyone worked together in a mad rush.
Pauli: That’s insane. And everything worked out?!
Tricia: Yes, for the most part. We couldn’t help some items, but we worked together - that team was incredible and our clients understood. … There was also a fire at my first event.
Sam: Oh boy, what happened?
Tricia: Yea, it was ameature. I was maybe 18… or 20? I didn’t know not to call the fire department. My sister was like “why did you call them?” You obviously don’t want a fire truck parked outside your event when your guests arrive. And the fire was out before they even got there, but I didn’t know.
Sam: (Laughs) Ok, so you lived and learned.
Tricia: Yeah, definitely.
Pauli: What are 3 words your team would use to describe you?
Tricia: I had to ask the team about this one. They said: energetic, creative and ambitions.
Sam: And what words would you use to describe yourself?
Tricia: Oh man, Sam! That’s tough… I’ll just go with the same three; I like them.
Sam: For sure, I think those words embody you perfectly.
Sam: If you were on a deserted island, what three items would you take with you?
Tricia: A loved one, a companion - because I have to have someone to talk to! Can’t not talk to anyone. Probably a kayak so I could get around. And maybe something I could get water with? Does that sound right?
Pauli: Sounds right to me! A loved one is a great first answer…
Tricia: Yea, I don’t really know how to use any survival tools… and I haven’t watched enough Naked & Alive to know what to do, so I’d just wing it.
Sam: (Laughs) Oh, me neither.
Pauli: How do you celebrate your event wins?
Tricia: Probably in similar ways you do! By getting drinks or dinner with the team, reminiscing the next day in the office, laughing a lot! And then relaxing with family… and definitely a lot of high-fives! What about you?
Sam: Depends on how physically straining the job is, but we like to go to the spa. And yes, cocktails are a must.
Sam: Ok, last question. Can you leave us with your favorite piece of advice you’ve received?
Tricia: Yes, I can. It’s actually something I think about a lot, that I learned early on. I met someone for lunch at the Soho House once, and he told me to focus on strategic partnerships when building a business. I go back to that a lot. Similar to what we are doing with you guys right now.
Pauli: That’s great advice. We love our partnership with Fresh Wata.
Sam: Well thank you Tricia for your time today. This was super informative but also a lot of fun.
Tricia: Absolutely - thank you! I’m so excited for Crew and for the future. I can’t wait to make great events together!
Pauli: Yes, let’s do it!
A trip down memory lane. Check out our previous event executions with Fresh Wata below.