Corporate clients look to event rental companies to design extraordinary events that are big on originality, safety and branding.
A Harley-Davidson dealership in Orlando, Fla., might not seem like a logical place to host a corporate tented event, but the unexpected venue has become a favorite for businesses looking to create a memorable evening for their guests. Orlando-based Avenue Event Group recently produced a road trip–themed indoor/outdoor event at the location for a multibillion-dollar software company hosting 700 attendees.
Under a 30-by-80-foot tent, market lighting illuminated a rugged design featuring weathered wood, hatch metal accents, and wine and whiskey barrels used as table bases for food worthy of the venue’s rustic-rider atmosphere. Steps away, the party continued inside the dealership with live music and other activities on the showroom floor.
“Bigger companies are realizing that corporate events allow a more face-to-face interaction with the client. It’s more quality time to sell to or appreciate them,” says Ashley Miller, managing partner of Avenue Event Group, which receives seven to 10 qualified leads a week on corporate events. “Instead of doing some small parties, they’re putting their money toward one large event with a ‘wow’ factor that impresses their target audience. The return on investment is tremendous and immediate.”
Corporate vs. social
Corporate clients differ from their social event counterparts on several fronts. “Corporate dollars seem to go a lot further compared to a social event,” Miller says. “Companies have a lot more to spend to really impress their guests, whereas a party at someone’s home will be more simple.”
Though they may have more robust budgets, corporations still seek the biggest bang for their buck. “Our corporate clients look more for value, finding new interesting locations that will attract new clients/attendees, making the event location a bigger part of the branding experience and spending more time on design and attractive, interesting value-based events,” says Sara Spitzer, marketing manager for Arena Americas, Oak Creek, Wis.
Spitzer also notes that from a design standpoint, most social events primarily focus on hard goods, tablescapes and chair and linen color schemes all coordinating with floral and eye-level decor. “Corporate events tend to have similar goals but also generally incorporate the need to add more technology capabilities coupled with increased focus on a complete interior environment,” Spitzer says.
Beyond aesthetics, a critical factor for corporate clients is the issue of liability. “Their purchasing divisions are heavily influenced by what you communicate to them on the safety element of their tent choice,” says Ramsey Duqum, CEO and owner of AAble Rents, Cleveland, Ohio. “Our mindset has been to align our inventory purchases to service customers with engineered products.”
The engineered products include the Event Series, a clearspan structure that is interchangeable to widths of 10, 12, 15, 20 and 25 meters. “A lot of clients won’t use any other tent because we are a lakefront region, and the winds off Lake Erie are substantial,” Duqum says.
Working with corporate clients tends to be more objective, according to Rob Roberts, CEO of Big 4 Party Rentals Inc., Novato, Calif. “Because corporations plan events professionally, they understand the terminology and things like change orders and timelines,” Roberts says. “It’s not emotional like planning a wedding, birthday party or anniversary.”
Although social events remain the bread-and-butter of the event rental industry, Roberts notes that the corporate event segment often is more lucrative.
“A bride comes in with an entourage, and for a $5,000 order, you work with that customer for 40 or 50 hours,” Roberts says. “The corporate client will send you a request for a certain number of goblets, plates or table linens. “You’ll go back and forth on pricing, but within six or seven hours, you’ve got a $30,000 job. There’s a benefit to the B2B [business to business] mentality.”
To amaze their guests with a tented event, businesses are leaning on event rental companies more heavily than ever. “There’s an assumption, almost a requirement, from clients that you help design their event and come up with solutions,” Roberts says. “You might not do lighting or rent portable toilets, but customers are expecting you to source those items for them. They truly want a one-stop shop.”
For the past six years, Big 4 Party has been the exclusive rental provider for the annual fundraising gala of The Foundation for Reed Schools in the town of Tiburon, just north of San Francisco. While the event may not technically fall into the corporate events category, it has the clout, budget and expectations of one.
For the May 2017 fundraiser, held in a city park, organizers decided on an ’80s theme. They came to Roberts and his team with vision boards from Pinterest; it was up to Big Party 4 to execute the ideas. The event rental company provided a Losberger 30-by-50-meter tent, and within that a separate 40-by-40-foot tent designed as a “Purple Rain” lounge complete with purple couches, 10 arcade game machines, ultraviolet backdrops and Day-Glo strips, curtains that emulate falling rain, and posters and candies from the ‘80s.
AAble Rents also has found that corporate clients give event rental companies more freedom in design.
“In the corporate market, they don’t know what they want,” Duqum says. “They just have these big vision ideas, and we need to add creativity to those.”
For example, a client called Duqum to say they were planning an employee appreciation event for 750 to 900 people that would include a presentation and viewing of a Cleveland Browns football game. That night, Duqum sent the client his idea. “I wanted the experience to be like watching a game in a stadium with a tailgating element since that’s a big activity here in Cleveland,” Duqum says.
Recommending a 25-by-45-meter Event Series structure with an open gable end, Duqum created a CAD file that detailed his ideas for the event, including chevron-style seating, L-shaped 64-foot bars with barstools in the corners, and a custom-built four-screen scoreboard in the center of it all, modeled after the scoreboard at the Dallas Cowboys stadium that hangs 90 feet above the field. Outside the tent, Duqum established a porch and large tailgating area equipped with bikes and bike racks, as well as a cornhole tailgate toss game.
For Duqum, CAD software has become an indispensable tool, especially as internal corporate event planners seek approval from upper level management. “If you can show how an event will actually look, you can get buy-in all the way to the top quickly,” says Duqum. “No one complains when you build what they approved.”
Partnering for success
As corporate clients require full-service capabilities, event rental companies are strengthening their partnerships with vendors to meet the demand. For example, Big Party 4 has been doing its own power distribution for the past several years, but the company is starting to bid out these services to specialists in the field.
“Weather notwithstanding, if all the lights go out, that’s the thing people will remember from the event,” Roberts says.
AAble Rents has formed a mutually beneficial relationship with an external company to provide power and AV equipment and services. “If a client wants us to get two or three bids, we deny that,” Duqum says. “We tell them we only recommend this one group because we trust them and know that they’ll follow through.”
In taking a full-service approach to corporate event planning, Roberts says that the biggest challenge is determining how to put a price on that knowledge. “We know what can be hung in a tent, we know the requirements for access and egress, we know what the fire department will and will not allow,” Roberts says. “If we were an event planner or caterer, we’d have set fees for these types of things.”
As event rental companies face these crossroads, they’re committed to providing corporate tented events that keep guests talking long after the party—and keep clients coming back for repeat business.
Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Joshua Tree, Calif.