Carlo Arendt is the founder and manager of New Spirit. The company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, claims to be Luxembourg’s very first event management agency. What were the major milestones in the company’s development? How did Carlo Arendt overcome the challenges encountered along the way? We talk to an entrepreneur who has been able to adapt his business for decades of success.
57-year-old Carlo Arendt is a seasoned company boss with more than one string to his bow. This former policeman started his career in the army and is also the owner of Le Moulin in Altwies, founder of the New Spirit Balloons association that organises hot air balloon flights, and has an equipment rental business, pagode.lu. We met with him as his company is celebrating its 30th anniversary to look back on the highlights of his life as a pioneering entrepreneur who is passionate about his business!
Mr Arendt, what gave you the idea to launch New Spirit, Luxembourg’s first event management agency?
“The idea started in 1990. I had signed up for the Raid Gauloises adventure race in Costa Rica with Maurits van Rijckevorsel, who subsequently became my business partner. We tried to find sponsors for the registration fees, but that was difficult. We then found out that people were willing to pay to accompany us on our training events. We organised weekend courses on rafting, parachuting, climbing, etc. And we invested the money we made in the adventure race.
There was strong demand for escapism and adventure in Luxembourg. We decided it would be fun to set up a company involved in organising events.
Then a company asked us to organise its team building exercise, and the idea for the agency was born. We noticed that there was strong demand for escapism and adventure in Luxembourg, and decided it would be fun to set up a company involved in organising events. At the time, back in 1991, there was no such thing as event management agencies. We had to register as a travel agent with the Chamber of Commerce. And we became Luxembourg’s very first agency of this type.”
Where did you get the initial funding to launch and develop your business?
“We didn’t have a budget to start with. We borrowed money from our parents to set up the company, but we didn’t ask for any grants or loans from a bank. We had the bare minimum: a PC, a printer, and our bicycle to get to meetings! We were very motivated. We got ourselves known by going door to door, calling on companies. But it was tough. My partner transformed part of his apartment into an office, and I went back to live at my parents’ home. We invested everything we earned back into the company. We took just enough to live on.”
What were the main milestones that enabled you to grow your company?
“The first major catalyst was in 1992. BIL asked us to organise its employee party. We organised a Caribbean-themed party and transformed the Kockelscheuer ice rink into a reception room. It was a tremendous success! After that we created the BIL Familienfest, a big family party that was open to the public. There were roundabouts, circus shows, bouncy castles, pedalos, etc. It was almost as big as the Schueberfouer! We organised the event for over 10 years, and by the second year we already had over 10,000 visitors in a single day! It was a real springboard for our business. This experience helped us create concepts for many of the country’s major companies.
In 1993, the agency took a new turn: we signed a partnership with Count d’Ansembourg who owns a castle in Luxembourg’s Valley of 7 Castles. We transformed the site, set up games along the lines of The Crystal Maze, tree-top adventure trails, a zip wire, etc. This was an important stage that helped increase our profile as organisers of events and sports activities.
In the same year we found out that Luxembourg would be the European Capital of Culture. We won the three-month contract to supply the equipment, tents and marquees for the temporary events. That was our biggest project to date. That’s when we were able to hire our first employee! We also handled the logistics for the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Meysembourg during this period.
We were the boys who could solve any problem. We didn’t have any equipment, but we had a full address book.
From then on, we were the boys who could solve any problem. We didn’t have any equipment but we had plenty of contacts and a full address book. We travelled and continued to discover new activities: extreme sports, paragliding, raids in Morocco, etc. Some years we had almost 30 year-end parties to organise in a month.
After four years, my partner left and I took over New Spirit. In 2002, I bought Le Moulin in Altwies and set up the 10 hectares as a venue for weddings, team building exercises, themed parties, and corporate and private events: quad and buggy trails, tree-top adventures, hot air balloon trips, etc.”
As a pioneer in your field, how did you handle the arrival of competitors and manage to hold your position in the market?
“Over the years, other event management agencies arrived on the market. Most of the time we all got along fine. There was real mutual respect and we supported each other. New Spirit was specialised in things like adventure, themed parties, team building and family celebrations, while other agencies tended to focus on conferences, marketing and publicity events. Our company was known for its originality, its innovative spirit and strong client relationships.
Strong competition stimulates the market! […] It forces us to stay on top of our game and to remain creative.
Our other strong point was that we had our own venue very early on: for the first 13 years at d’Ansembourg, and then at Le Moulin in Atwies. That’s a real advantage. As is owning your own equipment: tents, marquees, quads, Segways, tables, chairs, etc. We don’t depend on a supplier, so we can adapt our prices and services to client requirements.
And then, strong competition stimulates the market. After a few years with the same clients, you may find yourself making less effort. Competition forces us to stay on top of our game and to remain creative. Of course, there are some black sheep who try to undermine the market. But they generally end up going bust.”
How have you managed to overcome the challenges you encountered during your career?
“We have had some difficult times over the last 30 years, including the financial crisis, real estate crisis and the Millennium Bug. I always say that we are the barometer for the financial situation in Luxembourg. If a company is struggling, the first cut is always the party budget!
We are the barometer for the financial situation in Luxembourg. If a company is struggling, the first cut is always the party budget!
Corporate spending fell during these periods. We had to find solutions: reduced fees, price negotiations, a review of services and suppliers, etc. We had to question everything, make changes and grit our teeth until the tide turned. We chose to make less money but to carry on working.”
The effect of the COVID-19 crisis has been dramatic on businesses like yours. How is your company coping with this period?
“When the lockdown was announced in March 2020, the calendar for the year was in the best shape. Every weekend was already full. From one day to the next we had to cancel, postpone events or reimburse clients.
I started by reviewing all of the company’s outgoings. I requested a moratorium on bank loans, mothballed most of the vehicles used for events, took an inventory of all the equipment to see what could be sold, subscriptions that could be cancelled, etc.
We have been saved by the diversity of our businesses. […] We have several revenue streams: when one is suffering, another can take up the slack.
We have been saved by the diversity of our businesses: the event management agency New Spirit, rental of Le Moulin and the equipment of pagode.lu, Balloons, and I also have tenants in the administrative building. We have several revenue streams – when one is suffering, another can take up the slack.
I also contacted all of the testing laboratories to offer to supply tents. I provided containers with toilets and showers for asylum seekers, etc. I turned nothing down. Even if I didn’t have the equipment, I sourced it through my contacts. And everyone was happy to be able to work during this difficult period. So I was able to issue a few invoices every month to cover the company charges.
Unfortunately, I had to lay off three people from my team of six. I no longer had the money to pay the wages, and I didn’t want to put the company at risk. It’s tough, we’re a family, we all know each other well.
Ultimately, this crisis has made us aware of what really matters: our roots. I have realised that I now want to enjoy life with my family, and to travel. So I have decided to stop renting out Le Moulin and to scale back the event management agency at the end of this year.”
New Spirit is celebrating its 30th anniversary. What do you think is the secret to your longevity?
“The agency is still here after 30 years because we have remained innovative and listened to our clients. We have adapted to the market and always tried to find solutions to problems. That’s how we have survived the various crises.”
Lastly, what advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to start out in business?
“I think there is always a niche to exploit, good ideas to be found. Back when I started there weren’t a lot of events and we were able to create the demand and become the benchmark for Luxembourg. The word “event” was immediately synonymous with “New Spirit”!
I think it’s key to specialise, to be good in one area and keep that as your core strength. But it’s also important to diversify your businesses so you always have several revenue streams. In any case, if you have an idea today, the most important thing is to believe in it, stick to it and develop it.”