It’s a twist on an old movie plot cliché: Boy gets job. Boy loses job. Boy gets job back, then goes out on his own, then builds successful, innovative company supporting the live event industry. Like its founder, Seth Sheck, the story of Access Event Solutions is colorful. And as they celebrate their 20th anniversary, the promise is clear: They will continue to be so.

Today Access Event Solutions is known for their design and manufacturing of backstage passes, conference badges, sports media credentials, and more. Working from a state-of-the-art 8,000-sq. ft. facility in the office park where it all started, Sheck today runs it with his wife Alma, who is co-owner and manages HR and administration. His client base is far and wide: Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the New England Patriots, the CES Conference, Live Nation, FedEx, Disney—to name a few. It can all be attributed to having the vision to integrate technology into passes that were otherwise just ink on paper. “Just about everything I do is summed up in passion and innovation,” he says.

Can’t Be a Real Gig

Born and raised in Reno, after high school Sheck found himself waiting tables while also taking some classes at the University of Nevada, Reno. He was trying to figure it all out when he opted to manage a local band, Midnight Sky. Out in the local live music scene, he met Tony Perry. “He told me he made backstage passes and gave me his business card,” Sheck recalls. “I thought, this can’t be a real gig!” He went over to his place and saw Perry was making passes for David Bowie, Michael Jackson, and more. “I thought if I somehow got in with him, it would make me a better band manager.” Sheck stopped by the shop several times a week begging for a job. “Finally, Tony said, ‘if I hire you will you stop bugging me?’” he says, laughing.

Perry worked for a local print shop called Thunderbird Printing and under that company umbrella, T-Bird Entertainment was created to print backstage passes. It was an opportune time as it was only the second to be doing so in the country (OTTO, located in the Cincinnati area, was the first and by far the largest at that point). Sheck was the first and only employee under Perry during the late ‘80s. “It was an exciting time,” he says. And then it got more exciting: Perry got fired and started PERRi Entertainment, the second backstage pass maker in Reno and the third in the country. Sheck then took over T-Bird for a while and then in 1991, he went to work for Perry.

But this employment stint would be short-lived, and for less-than noble reasons. “I was responsible for getting out a large order for the Dallas Cowboys, but I was hanging out with friends on a houseboat partying my ass off,” he says. When informed that he should, in fact, get that ass back to work, Sheck replied: “Nah, I’m havin’ too much fun.”

So, he was fired. He next started a fledgling nightclub and did that for a year when he found himself in a relationship with a baby on the way. “I went back to T-Bird, and they made me a janitor. In my free time, I was driving business back up but then they tried to fire me again.” Now Thunderbird Printing was struggling and when Sheck’s offer to buy T-Bird was rejected, he made the audacious leap. “The company was badly managed financially, and I was already buying my own material for the passes anyway; so, I thought, I should just do this on my own, because, I figured I could bounce my own paychecks!”

It’s About Relationships

He started Access Pass and Design on Jan. 2, 2002, in an industrial park in Sparks, NV, near Reno. There would be no check-bouncing. “I had a lot of relationships, so when we opened up here, the phone started ringing immediately,” he says. “It was not a battle to get into business.” As the years went by, Access expanded. In addition to the ubiquitous passes, wristbands, lanyards, and tickets, there are also luggage tags, labels, vouchers, door signs, and even drumheads.

He considers his team’s happiness a key to Access’ success. “I really encourage creativity around here.” Alma had worked in the medical field, and then for Women’s Health Connection, a nonprofit, before partnering with Seth in 2012. In 2014 they would rebrand as Access Event Solutions.

Sheck has always been on the forefront of the business—even with T-Bird, “we were one of the first pass companies to really embrace digital.” Back when everyone else was putting paper inserts into plastic pouches, Access took the die cut approach starting in 1991. “You get more real estate for your art, and there are no clear edges. And we were able to go beyond the rectangle shape—triangles, circles, octagons, etc.” This had a practical application beyond just the “cool” factor. “It made it easier for security to spot from across the room whether you belonged there or not.” It also adds marketing potential for the client—like when for a Super Bowl, Miller Lite had theirs made in the shape of one of their cans.

Another innovation was cold lamination, which he says is “super low tech but very convenient.” This technique allows the client to personalize event credentials on site by simply writing on or applying a picture to the exposed substrate, then remove the lamination liner, apply pressure, and it’s done. There’s also their black light capability which increases security by making a pass hard to counterfeit. “The security and safety of our clients is a major priority here.”

Sheck is proud of his art department. “Sometimes we get the artwork completely finished, sometimes we just get the logo, and other times it is a scribble on a bar napkin,” he says. “Whatever it is, we spend many hours each day dedicated to the graphic design part of the process. We especially spend time with our sports clients—particularly college sport passes as we have to do every team, every game they play at every location, and that’s all design heavy.”

Sheck’s support of the industry goes wide and deep—from the beginning, Access has supported the Parnelli Awards, supplying tickets and all access passes for the show. He says he feels he should be part of any event or conference where there might be tour managers or event planners, but the Parnelli’s are more than that. “We’ve been honored and proud to support PLSN/Parnelli Awards since its beginning and before when it was Production Live [a live event trade show tied into the Parnelli Awards in the early 2000s]. It’s one of the few events where we can reunite with our industry friends and family live and in person rather than email and text.”

Reflecting on Access’s 20th year, he says, “to a large degree, very little has changed.” One of the big exceptions is the “variable data”. Their high-quality event badges/personalized passes allow for a different name, company, title, bar codes, and numbering. This enables the attendee to easily identify each other plus shows the organization went the extra mile to personalize a badge.

Here’s one more change: There is a lot more competition than when he started 20 years ago. There are still the three just in Reno, and he estimates upward toward 15 in the U.S. alone with many more overseas. But it’s all friendly: “One of our competitors from England is coming to visit us next month. I visited them like 18 years ago with my young son while traveling Europe.”

“For me, it’s simple: It boils down to giving a sh*t,” Sheck says bluntly. “I took it all very seriously, and mainly because I’m honored to work in this business. It’s cool to say you’re working with Guns N’ Roses, Twentyone Pilots, NASA, T-Mobile Arena, Madison Square Garden, NASCAR, CBS Sports, BMW, Porsche, I could go on and on… to me that’s an honor. So, I respect that honor by going above and beyond to deliver the best customer service experience imaginable. In one sense it’s ‘just’ someone calling about getting some passes made; but for us, at the end of the day it’s about creating a transaction where the process is as good as it can possibly be.”

Going forward, “I think we just want to continue improving—continuously improve the customer experience, the product, and all aspects of what we do. We will innovate when we can, and just keep at it. We have such a terrific team—people who have been with us for 17, 18 years. We’re looking forward to the next 20 years.”