One day during the 2002-2003 college basketball season, Dan Rouen bought a pair of KU tickets, but realized later that he couldn’t go to the game. Rouen had no idea what to do with the tickets.
Put them on eBay, his wife suggested. Rouen followed the advice and made $100.
“I said, ‘Wow, that was the easiest $100 I ever made,’ ” Rouen said.
And a seed was planted.
A year later, Rouen started Tickets for Less as a way to make additional income to supplement his day job salary at Nabisco where he handled merchandisers in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.
Rouen’s entrepreneurial spirit and love of sports have propelled Tickets for Less from a one-man operation in 2004 with sales of about $167,000 to an online ticket brokering company that has more than 45 fulltime employees and projected 2017 revenue of about $50 million.
The Overland Park company is hardly complacent either. In October, Rouen bought Ace Sports, located inside Oak Park Mall. That allowed him to enter the sports memorabilia business, which led to a partnership with Royals Authentic to sell game-used gear.
And in February, Tickets for Less purchased Kansas City-based Brickhouse Tickets, which sold 20,000 tickets in 2016.
Rouen’s company is so entrenched in the Kansas City ticket market that when the Kansas City Royals made their postseason run to the World Series in 2014, Rouen was more popular than he ever realized.
Friends he didn’t know he had wanted tickets to the playoffs and World Series. Of course, there was a cost for these tickets. It is Tickets for Less, not Tickets for Free.
Tickets for Less will try to get tickets for any event in the country for its customers. If somebody is looking to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in New York City, Tickets for Less will work on it.
“We have relationships with ticket brokers across the country,” said Rouen, 41.
In the ticket brokering business, building relationships and trust with customers and can make or break a reputation. Rouen sees those characteristics as his competitive advantage.
The price listed on his website for a ticket is what the buyer actually pays. There are no service fees, hidden or otherwise. It is one of Rouen’s big selling points.
“We have the price display right at the beginning, trying to be 100 percent transparent,” he said.
Tickets for Less is one of the go-to places for tickets to sporting events, concerts and other entertainment in the Kansas City area, especially if the event is sold out.
“In dealing with Tickets for Less, one thing that differentiates them is their commitment to fulfilling customer service,” said Shani Tate, vice president of marketing and communication at the Sprint Center. “Whether things occur at their level or occur through someone else’s negligence or mistake, they make a commitment to make it right.”
Learning from personal experience
Rouen, a 1994 graduate of Shawnee Mission South High School, learned an important lesson about the secondary ticket business before he gave it a try.
It happened in the 2002-03 basketball season. He bought Final Four tickets from a classified ad he saw in a newspaper only to find when he and his wife arrived in New Orleans that the tickets were no good.
Honesty and customer service are core values for a secondary ticket business to survive and grow because the market is so competitive.
The National Association of Ticket Brokers was started in 1994 by a group of concerned ticket brokers who wanted to establish an industry-wide standard of conduct and to create ethical rules and procedures to protect the public and foster a positive perception of the industry. The organization now has about 225 ticket brokers, including Tickets for Less.
“When we started, there were about 20-something states that either outlawed ticket resale or placed a ridiculous cap on resale,” said Gary Adler, executive director and general counsel at the National Association of Ticket Brokers. “Brokers have gotten together, and our association realized we had to keep their side of the street clean.”
The organization came up with a code of ethics and consumer protection measures that have worked well.
“Some people give us credit for the legitimization of the secondary market,” Adler said. “We got to this point of a vibrant secondary market where 40 percent of tickets get sold below the price you would pay at the box office.”
It is also important for a ticket broker the size of Tickets for Less to develop a strong relationship with the major sports and entertainment companies. For Rouen, that has meant cultivating connections with the likes of the Chiefs, Royals, Kansas Speedway and Sprint Center.
Last year Tickets for Less entered a partnership with Kansas Speedway. Tickets for Less even offers a special family four-pack for events at the Speedway.
“What we like with working with Tickets for Less and entering in a partnership is we know they provide a high level of customer service,” said Ryan Hogue, senior director for consumer marketing at Kansas Speedway. “Customer service is important to them. That is not always the case with ticket brokers.”
While the Royals prefer their customers to first go to Royals.com or the Royals box office to purchase tickets, the organization has trust in the tickets sold by Tickets for Less.
“Dan Rouen is a gentleman I have known for the last several years,” said Steve Shiffman, Royals sales and service director. “He runs a great business...He works hard, and the customer service makes us proud to be associated with him.”
The number one goal, Rouen said, is to make sure the fan has a good experience.
“If they have a bad experience, they are not only mad at Tickets for Less, they are mad at the Royals and in reality, the Royals didn’t have anything to do with the transaction,” Rouen said.
The Kansas City Chiefs appreciate that diligence. The football team has an Arrowhead Events partnership with Tickets For Less that covers everything from concerts to football games.
“We believe that Tickets For Less is not only a tremendous partner for our Arrowhead Events business, but also a great ticketing resource for the Kansas City community,” said Mark Donovan, president of the Kansas City Chiefs and Arrowhead Events.
Developing the sales touch
Reselling a product the right way was ingrained in Rouen well before he entered the ticket brokerage business.
While at Nabisco, he would buy company cars from sales reps when they would come off a lease. He drove the cars to Topeka, got them titled and had them detailed. Within a week, he would place an ad in the newspaper, and make the sale.
“I ended up getting some repeat business the following year or two,” Rouen said. “I would have families call me back. ‘I bought a car for my son and now my daughter turned 16, I would love to get another car.’ ”
Repeat business is how Tickets for Less expanded from the early days when Rouen would buy tickets and complete the deal with customers in the evening at a Target in Olathe.
Today Tickets for Less occupies two floors at 7960 W. 135th St. inside Central Bank of the Midwest and has 12 people there to answer phones.
It is quite the contrast to his first office that had just Rouen and his sister — who still works for Tickets for Less — operating the business.
“My sister, when she started, we had been open for 30 days, our business line was a cellphone line,” Rouen said. “She said, ‘What are you going to do if you get more than one call at a time?’ I wasn’t thinking we would need more than one phone line at the time.”
Once Rouen equaled the salary he made at Nabisco, he left in 2006 and put all of his energy into Tickets for Less. With a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Friends University and an MBA from Baker University, he figured he could find another job if Tickets for Less failed.
When Tickets for Less survived the 2008 economic downturn, Rouen realized his business was strong.
“We buy our tickets from fans, (and) different companies in town,” Rouen said. “We try to work closely with venues and the teams. The benefit for the teams and the venues is it frees up their cash flow and guarantees them a certain amount of tickets sold before the season starts.”
For ticket brokers, the key to success is to buy tickets that will be in high demand and that will be sold for a higher amount, said Rouen.
Still, there is trial and error in buying and reselling tickets. Rouen dumped tickets in the past and still does today.
“I probably made money on 70 percent of the tickets we were buying,” Rouen said. But, “there are plenty of times when tickets on the secondary market will go below face value.”
The ticket resale market is based on supply and demand. Big events like the upcoming NCAA regional basketball games at the Sprint Center this week will have a high demand, especially with KU playing there.
But Rouen’s business model doesn’t rely on the big events.
“We work on a very low margin and we try to move quantity instead of a couple of tickets here and there,” he said.
But perhaps the best part of Rouen’s job? Attending some of the big sporting events in Kansas City, Rouen and most of his employees were able to attend World Series games in 2014 and 2015.
“I am just a huge sports fan,” Rouen said. “I always knew I wanted to do something in sports. Originally, I thought it was going to be around baseball cards. Luckily, I got into the ticket industry.”
Tickets for Less
Locations: 7960 W. 135th St., Suite No. 100, Overland Park, inside Central Bank of the Midwest
11615 W. 95th, Overland Park, lower level, inside Oak Park Mall