Canopies Events with Distinction focuses on customer relationships to bring events to life.
Making annual events fresh, intriguing and appealing is a constant challenge for tent and event rental companies. And new events need to meet or exceed customer expectations. For co-owners David Hudak and Ken Hudak of Canopies Events with Distinction, Milwaukee, Wis., that challenge attracted them to the tent and event industry.
“I started working for A to Z Rental some years ago, and my family started to migrate over to that company,” David Hudak says. “After about 10 years, we started our own business because we wanted to go in a different direction.”
In 1995, the Hudaks launched Canopies Events with Distinction, steadily and methodically growing the business over the past two and a half decades. “We have a really good mix of events now,” David Hudak says. “I would say we do about one-third corporate, one-third for event planners and weddings, and another third is for private individuals.”
Canopies (as it’s simply called) has a service area that covers the Upper Midwest, but the vast majority of business occurs within a 50-mile radius of the Milwaukee metro area. “This summer, we have the capability to put 10 crews on the road at any time,” David Hudak says.
A consistent theme among tent rental and event companies is the challenge of the labor market. “Labor is getting tougher and tougher,” David Hudak says. “We let [our employees] know that we’re in this together. Everybody can go to the ARA [American Rental Association] Show and buy the same stuff, but the difference is the people.”
David Hudak also recognizes how the internet and social media have changed the business. “Now with the speed of social media, people see everything instantaneously,” he says. “Often the challenge is taking what they see and fitting it into a budget that works for them.”
A Red Cross fund-raiser in a field behind a Milwaukee firehouse illustrates the company’s capabilities—and the transformative possibilities of a tent. “It was a working city fire station. We had to provide a venue for about 300 people, and the conditions were cold, rainy and nasty,” he says. “It ended up being a beautiful event. We can take what the event coordinator had in his or her mind and bring it to fruition in an empty field behind a firehouse. That epitomizes who we are and what we do.
“There are so many different levels of jobs, and that’s just one,” he continues. “For the family having a quinceañera or a similar event, that’s pretty special too. Whatever the size of the event, every customer is personal to us.”
“It’s not just putting up tents,” Ken Hudak adds. “It’s making a memory for a family.”
One of the company’s goals is to make every event inviting and engaging. “We change things to make the same venue look a little different,” Ken Hudak says. “We use different combinations of tables—rectangular, farm tables, round tables. We’re using a lot of raised seating with one or two tiers. That will change the whole room.”
“If it was simply coming in and putting up tents, it would get awfully old, quick,” David Hudak reflects. “But the relationships we’ve been able to build in this town have been very fulfilling. If you don’t have that, it gets pretty tough to put in the hours and do the work.”
By Paul Johnson. Johnson is a writer based in Minnesota.