Sioux Falls, S.D. — Good thing Chris Hintz’s high-school principal knew he loved music. Otherwise, Hintz might have another career.
“I was a senior in high school and our principal asked if we could fill in for a DJ that cancelled last minute for our dance,” says Hintz. “We borrowed some home stereo equipment from my parents and some friends, and DJed my first party.”
Hintz says it wasn’t glamorous—or even good, for that matter. But watching the other students’ collective excitement when he played a sure-fire track was intoxicating.
Fast-forward to 2002 — the year he decided to start building a DJ business, while working a full-time job.
“Building a business 30 hours a week and managing a full-time career, which I was pretty damn good at, was challenging,” says Hintz, who opened Pinnacle Productions during that time. “The balancing act of family time, my responsibilities to my employer, and building a future for myself and my family were not easy.”
Hintz says the leap was scary, but after nearly four years he left his job to pursue DJing full-time. “It’s been 11 years,” he says, “and I haven’t missed working for anyone since.”
To start the business, he withdrew $2,000 from his 401K. “That was literally gone in five or six clicks of the mouse,” he says. “We also weren’t sure how we were going to be able to create connections with venues, bar management and ownership, and had no idea of how to sell to brides.”
So, how did Hintz overcome those challenges? “Perseverance, love and faith,” he says. “We felt like there was a genuine disconnect in the way many people approached the bridal and nightlife entertainment industry. We talked with many managers, many brides, and did our best to connect… to be real.”
Hintz also developed a relationship with his community bank, which helped finance the growth necessary to scale. It really helped in 2014, when Hintz acquired another DJ company, The Musical Edge.
“[Musical Edge owner] Jeff Meuzelaar and I had known each other for a couple years, had developed a friendship, and worked together in a couple different events and ventures,” says Hintz. “The thought process was to develop a deep talent pool to be better than one- or two-deep. In the multi-op world, it seems like there is one superstar and a bunch of subordinates.”
Hintz says the acquisition was a perfect fit: He credits Meuzelaar with being “insanely” talented in marketing, social media, and web. “He’s also an incredible promoter,” says Hintz, “and has developed relationships on a national level doing very high-end events for some very high-end clientele.”
Meanwhile, Hintz’s strengths are in the financial sector of the business, networking, and connecting with the bridal and corporate markets. Still, the acquisition created its own pressure, which Hintz calls “The three S’s”: Scaling, Staffing and Stress.
“When you’re building something, it’s so much bigger than one or two people,” he says. “You need to develop talent. You need to find ways to encourage growth, while respecting the differences we all have. You have a huge responsibility when you onboard employees. You have to consider every decision you make and how it affects others. Are you making the right investments? Are you scaling too quickly? Can you support the workload you’re carrying?”
The result has created a key differentiator for Hintz and team. “We have depth – 22 people that work with Pinnacle Productions,” he says. “We’re very flexible and cross-train our team to do everything. We develop talent internally, invest in workshops and training, and encourage them to be the best versions of themselves. We don’t like clones. We respect our people, we work hard to give them time off when needed, and we’re fortunate that they are passionate about our vision.”
Pinnacle DJs are trained to mix music in a number of environments—weddings, nightclubs, promoted parties, etc. The company averages 30 events a week in the Sioux Falls market, which Hintz refers to as one of the best in the nation. “Without a doubt,” he says. “We have some very talented people in our industry. Most of us have our egos in check, and work together to raise the bar across the board.”
Hintz believes that “raising the bar” is a consequence of the more you see, the more you perform, and the more you’re around different types of events, the better you can hone your skills. “I think specialization is great,” he says, “but I think it’s better to be great in more than one skill set.”
On the gear side, Pinnacle carries 15 full mobile systems that all use Serato DJ for playback. The PAs include systems from QSC Audio, JBL Professional and Electro-Voice. For lighting, Pinnacle mixes and matches effects from a variety of suppliers. “We use units from Chauvet, ADJ, Eternal Lighting, Blizzard—just depends on the right tool for the job,” he says. “For most of our weddings, we use totems and moving heads, along with uplighting. For our smaller bar events, we use the Chauvet GigBAR. For really large events, we’ll use anything from 10R moving heads, crowd blinders, and high-power lasers.”
Ask Hintz where he sees the future of his business, he answers by dialing back to the previous two years. “We have set some pretty lofty goals for our partnership’s first five years,” he says, “and honestly we’ve almost surpassed them in two years.”
By 2020, Hintz hopes to have a couple full-time office and sales managers, a team of 30-35 people, and double Pinnacle’s current sales.
Lofty goals, sure. “But we’ve got the foundation, the passion, and most importantly, the people,” he says. “You are nothing without the right people!”