Spotlight – The Conference Shop with Carla Offord

Name: Carla Offord

Job Title: CEO

Company: The Conference Shop

Admin Avenues: Welcome to Admin Avenues! Many of our members know of your business The Conference Shop, but recently I noticed that people weren’t aware of ALL the services you offer, so can you give us a highlight of what The Conference Shop offers admin professionals.

Carla Offord: The Conference Shop is a free venue finding service. We specialise in venues.  Our end goal is to find the venue that best fits our client’s brief. Apart from assisting our clients with finding venues for conferences with accommodation, we also assist with day meetings, roadshows, gala dinners, launches, lunches, Christmas Partis and basically anything that requires a venue.  Accommodation room blocks is another service we offer as often times we are dealing with clients that have people nationally and internationally. Therefore at times we need to organise rooms for visiting delegations.

We also source venues Australia wide, as well as internationally. We surveyed our clients a few years ago now (approx. 1200) and their feedback suggested that we save them approx. 17.5hours in time, per event! You know how valuable an EA’s time is too!

AA: Seriously! Where were you when I was an EA? OK, so can you tell us about the journey of The Conference Shop and what inspired its inception?

CO: We are very serious lol. The Conference Shop began in the form of a regional service back in 2010 under the name of Southern Highlands Corporate Events. I was working in a hotel in Bowral, and no one knew much about our wonderful region as a corporate event destination. Hence, I started Southern Highlands Corporate Events as a way to start to marketing our region as a corporate destination. Then other regional areas began contacting me wanting representation and we grew to represent and showcase 23 regions in NSW. However due to demand for venue sourcing all over NSW and Australia, we underwent a rebrand and name change in 2014 to The Conference Shop, and we have gone from strength to strength to also include international destinations, expanding our team along the way.

AA: How does The Conference Shop streamline the process of booking venues and organising events for admin professionals?

CO: The Conference Shop does the venue research, pulls proposals together into one page for each venue and presents it to our clients. We negotiate on behalf of our clients and once venues are shortlisted, we organise site inspections. When our clients make their selection, we request the contract to be sent to them directly and we step away.  However, we are only an email or phone call away if they need our assistance.

We save admin professionals so much time, as we understand that planning events is just one of the many roles they have to fulfil in any given day. If we can take some of the stress away by searching for venues for their events, we are happy to do so.

Our expertise comes from having been on both the client side and the venue side, so we can fulfil a sourcing service that meets their event needs as a whole. We see the bigger picture, not just the venue.  Together our team has combined experience of over 50 years.

AA: What sets The Conference Shop apart from other venue sourcing and event planning services?

CO: The Conference Shop is very much a family business and we pride ourselves on being personable with all of our clients. The buck stops with us!!! Our strength lies in our relationships with our clients and we are strong believers in always being transparent with both our clients and the venues.

We source based on our personal experiences and knowledge, not an automated selection through database filtering.

AA: Can you share a success story where The Conference Shop significantly impacted an organisation’s event?

CO: We once had a client that was given a last-minute brief in April for a conference of 250pax that was due to take place the next month, in May. As you can imagine, it was a very stressful situation for her to be in.  We were able to take the reigns and guide her through the expectations of the location and logistics of the event. We found her a venue within 48 hours and were able to work hand-in-hand with the EA to resolve what would have been an almost impossible task for them. This is the part we love the most – working beside our clients to help them look good and truly ‘helping’ them where we can.

AA: What are some common challenges admin professionals face when organising events and how does The Conference Shop address these challenges?

CO: We acknowledge that not all admins are event planners, and some have limited experience on how a venue operates and what is required for a full event brief. As experts is organising events, we offer a service that’s with guidance and advice, bridging the knowledge gap and helping admins achieve their venue goals.

AA: What are the current trends in the conference and events industry that admin professionals should be aware of?

CO: Booking in advance – the industry is bouncing back from COVID and venues are back to securing events 12+ months in advance. Meaning it’s much harder to secure your first preference at short notice due to availability. If you have limited flexibility on your event brief, i.e. fixed dates, limited budget, then sourcing your venue in advance is a must to gain the best options.

AA: How does The Conference Shop stay ahead of industry changes and incorporate new trends into its offerings?

CO: The Conference Shop has strong relationships within the industry. We are always being updated on new products, planned renovations and, we also make sure we attend conferences and industry famils so that we can truly understand a destination or hotel offering. We also organise our own famils to showcase some of the latest properties to share our industry insights.

AA: What can clients expect in terms of support and communication when they work with The Conference Shop?

CO: From the minute we receive a brief, we make contact with our clients and keep them informed with what is happening or where the brief is at, every step of the way. We want them to feel like we are an extension of their team and that their event is our priority. We also try and pre-empt our clients needs.

AA: How do you envision the future of event planning and venue sourcing evolving, and what role will The Conference Shop play in it?

CO: Venue sourcing is becoming a more common service within the industry, however no matter how large we grow, we remain true to our business structure and that is offering a personalised 1:1 service using event expertise and experience, rather than automated venue sourcing programs.  Our wealth of knowledge and experience is second to none and that can’t be learnt overnight.  I also think that as admins become busier, they will need a service like ours to help free up their time.

AA: What advice would you give to admin professionals who are new to event planning and venue sourcing?

CO: If you are new to the industry and you are being tasked with putting your first conference or event together, my advice would be ask questions and do some fact finding about the event held the previous year. Where was it held? What did the event look like? What was the feedback from the previous event and where did the delegates want improvement i.e. catering. If this is the first event for the company, find out about the delegates and who will be attending. Know your audience.

AA: Are there any resources or tips that The Conference Shop offers to help admins plan successful events?

CO: We currently assist anyone that contacts us with a brief – by talking through options, room set ups and encouraging a backup date, as first choice dates are not always available. Planning ahead is so important.

AA: What has been your most rewarding experience leading The Conference Shop?

CO: Seeing it grow – from a business point of view it’s hugely rewarding. To see our client numbers increase year-on-year and our team expanding. Our client loyalty and word of mouth referrals are the best indication of the standard of service we provide, it reinforces why we do this. Alongside having a team that’s growing and providing such value to each client experience.

AA: What drives your passion for the conference and events industry, and how do you see that reflected in your company’s ethos?

CO: My clients and genuine interest in helping them finding the best venue for their event.  We take each brief personally and always do our best.  If we succeed, they succeed! I have had clients in tears on the phone as they are so overwhelmed by work and the task at hand, so it’s personal. I feel privileged that we are trusted to help and assist them where we can.

AA: What are 3 items you can’t work without?

CO: My laptop, my phone, and my clients

AA: What is the most exciting opportunity you have had working in the event industry?

CO: Rather than one opportunity, it’s the different opportunities we have seen over time – from regional, to national, to international and now working on a variety of projects for global admins.

AA: Do you have any tips that you would like to share?

CO: Know your audience when planning events. Plan early, and if you are new to the gig, find out as much information as you can about previous events, and have a budget in mind.

AA: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

CO: I would say it’s the insight that the role of an admin can be isolating, especially c-suite EAs. We provide a venue sourcing service, but our personlised approach forms long-lasting relationships beyond our service. We have become an extension of an EAs team. We see the admin community growing through Admin Avenues, and through our own famils and networking events. It’s knowing there’s a community out there to be united, not just serviced.

AA: How can our Admin Avenues community contact/follow you?

CO: They can subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly updates or famil invitations at

follow us on facebook

or Instagram @theconferenceshop.