A family business evolves into tent and party rental, keeping customer needs top-of-mind.
by Maura Keller
Family businesses have long been a staple of the American economy. And A Classic Party Rental in Indianapolis, Ind., founded in 1989 by members of the Hawkins and Bayt family, is the quintessential family affair. Like many family businesses, A Classic Party Rental evolved over time—with its original focus being a small fruit stand founded at the Indianapolis City Market by Jack Hawkins Jr.’s mother and aunts, and eventually morphing into the restaurant business and finally a party and event rental company.
Today, Hawkins, general manager and managing partner at “A Classic,” says the family has always been intertwined with the food and service industry, so it was no surprise when they ventured into event rental.
“The story of A Classic begins with a humble start on Virginia Avenue, in a small space, less than 10,000 square feet, with five employees, all of whom, we are proud to say, are still a part of the A Classic family today,” Hawkins says.
The company soon expanded into a 30,000-square-foot building in Indianapolis’s Nora Plaza shopping center. At the time, the owners never dreamed of being able to fill that warehouse and thought it was probably much too big.
“Once again, A Classic swelled and exceeded our own expectations,” Hawkins says. “After 20 years, we outgrew our longtime home in Nora. We are thrilled to say, after 30 years of service, we expanded our footprint to a 106,000-square-foot building with over 100 employees and are proud of our new home.”
A Classic provides rental products and services to all types of events—large or small—accommodating everything from a small, in-home holiday gathering to a 5,000-person festival. Weddings are a large focus, and those clients are top of mind when making inventory decisions.
“Would a bride rent this product?” Hawkins asks when considering new
inventory. “What does a bride want today, tomorrow and in three years?”
Public events such as festivals are also a great revenue source for A Classic because of the volume of equipment they require. “We also are involved in the same large festivals across Indianapolis from year to year, so we are able to learn and continue to improve efficiencies,” Hawkins says.
Tents have changed drastically since Hawkins began in the industry, as have installation codes. After the Indiana State Fair stage collapse in 2011, the state of Indiana set out to ensure that the public is safe under all temporary structures, stages and risers. Starting around 2012, notifications, permitting, inspections, fire code packages and the associated fees were required by state law. Each city adopted its own requirements, however, and consistency across jurisdictions is nonexistent, he says. This imposes additional fees on the customer and requires more time and labor to install a tent.
“We then had to educate the customer on permits and inspections and explain the fees that each city imposed,” Hawkins says. “It was important to us to assure the customer that our company was not happy about the additional cost to rent a tent and that it was not our fees. Some cities will take up to two weeks to finish a permit, so time is now an additional barrier to producing an event for a customer who may be working last minute.”
The latest challenge is a fee increase in a large Indianapolis suburb. According to Hawkins, the city is now requiring every commercial tent to be inspected, adding an additional $133 to the existing $180 fee.
“We are outraged by the additional cost that our customers will incur,” Hawkins says. “The fee is more than [the rental for] a 20-by-20-foot frame tent, which is popular for small businesses. We have written a letter to the city and will continue to fight for our customers. We will continue the tradition of hard work and commitment to excellence every day with our customers in mind.”
A Classic Party Rental
Year founded: 1989
Primary business: Party and tent rental
Maura Keller is a Minneapolis, Minn.-based freelance writer who frequently writes about the tent and specialty fabrics industries.