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Tent company finds success in the Florida market

Industry News | October 1, 2007 | By:

Premier Party Rentals Inc. works its creative magic on the Florida market.

Premier Party Rentals Inc. in Florida got its start from two ambitious owners running around with an old, beat-up van and a pickup, says general manager Dennis Birdsall. A couple of small frame tents and a few tables and chairs were all the company had at first. Exponential growth over the last 10 years means that the company now has a 40,000-square-foot main facility as well as other locations. “We do small rentals from $150 and up to the largest events that happen out there,” Birdsall says.

Most of the time, the company serves four counties—Martin, St. Lucy, Indian River and Palm Beach—where it has trucks circulating each day, Birdsall says. “We’ll do orders for $150 or more in those marketplaces.” As for the rest of Florida and beyond, he notes, “Those orders have to be a little bit higher to justify the travel.” But the company has done work everywhere from Barbados to New York.

The company has found success by offering pool covers, which Birdsall says represent an excellent marketplace niche for the company. “The pool cover business is something that we’ve done for many years,” he says. “A lot of companies say they do pool covers, but they don’t have the ability to do the clear Plexiglas.” The clear covers make guests feel like they’re dancing on the water, he says, and a patented truss system means the covers are safe for partying.

Another area that the company is developing is the hotel market. Premier sends its direct sales staff to hotels or commercial event spaces that might be turning potential customers away due to a lack of space. “That’s an area of the market that is, I think, growing with a lot of potential,” Birdsall notes. “These smaller hotels that have great locations—whether it’s close to an airport, or a nice area where employees can enjoy the natural surroundings on their down time, or a beautiful place to have a wedding—they have the best locations but don’t have the indoor facilities to accommodate more than 200 people.” For hotels that know they have the room capacity to attract a large convention or wedding, but might not have enough event space, Premier offers a solution that’s profitable for both sides. “A great option for them is to move the event outside into a tent,” Birdsall says. “They can charge an event site fee for it and recuperate their money on the rentals by passing it on to the customer.” Not all hotels have jumped at the chance, he admits—just like any other potential client, those who have had a bad experience with tenting in the past tend to be more hesitant. And, of course, restrictive budgets can be a problem as well. But, he says, Premier keeps working at it, backing up its sales pitches with excellent service and really clean tents.

Premier employs a full-time staff to clean its tents, and the company is lucky to have several installers who have been with the company almost since its inception. “Our employees care about the equipment and care about doing the job right,” Birdsall says. The company’s enviably low turnover is partly due to having the right people, but also because Premier has created a great working atmosphere. “We hold our employees over for the whole season,” Birdsall explains. For those experienced employees that do have to be let go during the slow times, Premier is sure to hire them right back before the busy season if their job performance has been good. Employees from Guatemala will go home for the summer and be with their families, while others will find another job during the slow months.

For those who keep coming to work year after year, Premier’s “family atmosphere” may be the reason. “No one is above somebody else,” Birdsall explains. “Even though the guy might be a crew leader, he’s still carrying the plywood or unloading trucks.” Employees often look out for each other by jumping in on particular tasks to help their coworkers get done earlier. “That’s helped keep the employees here, because they feel it’s a very comfortable place to work.” And during the slow season, Premier focuses on staff development, offering language education for Spanish-speaking employees and GED help for those wanting to move up. The classroom time is also used to emphasize inventory procedures and jobsite safety.

When on the job, customer service is the gold standard for all members of the Premier team. “We have a company policy where we will do anything it takes to make the event right,” Birdsall says. “We’re not going to ignore a phone call. If we screw up, we’re going to make it right.” If it’s the customer’s mistake, he adds, the company will still do what it can to accommodate requests. When it comes to accepting a new project, Birsdall says, “The owners have always been willing to take the next step in the industry on equipment or on pushing the realm of possibilities.” The owners are “constantly saying yes,” he admits. “Sometimes that puts us into a weird position, but we always find a way to pull it off.” But Birdsall stresses that “saying yes” doesn’t mean agreeing to take on jobs that are unsafe. Premier recently had to turn down a job: “We didn’t feel it would be structurally safe to do it.” The customer didn’t want to spend the extra money to ensure the installation would be safe, so Premier had to decline the business.

The company’s success, Birdsall says, is due to those key factors of good employees and serious customer service. “It’s not always about making money on a project,” he notes. When the company has to put in extra labor for a good client, it’s worth it. “We know that the customer will come back, and we’ll be able to do events for them in the future,” he says. And Premier’s top-notch staff also have a stake in doing the best they can. “Especially the guys that have been with us for five years or more—they’ve seen the company grow,” he notes. “They want to be a part of that—they’ve always been a part of that, and they take pride in it.”

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