For Elite Events and Rentals, downtime during the pandemic creates an opportunity for business planning.
by Cathy Broberg
In normal times, Brandon Ahlgren, founder and owner of Elite Events and Rentals LLC, would be keeping a hectic pace. “You take every job you can—go, go, go; get it, get it, get it; move more, hire more,” he says. Indeed, in a pre-pandemic world, Ahlgren and his staff of 50 were bustling trying to get it all done at the full-service party and event rentals company, located in Tampa, Fla.
Built from the ground up
Ahlgren started Elite Events in 2007 with 25 tables, 100 chairs and four tents, and the desire to act on his entrepreneur mindset. Thirteen years later, the company has an extensive inventory that includes not only tents, tables and chairs, but also glassware, dishes, stages and flooring, cooking and kitchen equipment, and more—enough to occupy a 20,000-square-foot warehouse. Luxury restroom trailers are another offering, unique to the area.
The company provides rentals for backyard parties and wedding venues, but the majority of its business comes from annual festivals and other large-scale events. Sometimes that means stepping into the limelight. “We were happy to be a part of the NHL All-Star game that came to Tampa a couple years ago,” says Ahlgren. Elite Events put up tenting and other structures for the January 2018 game. “It kind of brought us to the next level when we were able to be a part of that event,” he says. “We were able to show the city officials what we can do; we were able to show the NHL what we can do, which brought us to other stuff too—getting in with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and getting in with the Super Bowl coming—so that was big for us.”
Ahlgren’s favorite annual event is the Charity Polo Classic match, a fund-raiser for local charities that is held each February. “It’s a really cool thing to be a part of,” he says. Elite Events works hard to set up the event, and then Ahlgren and his wife join in the fun as attendees. “You get to get dressed up; you get to stomp the divots and drink champagne.”
Time for reflection
Like many rental companies, Elite Events struggles with finding skilled labor. Another challenge is related to the Florida climate. “Up north, everyone gets a winter to kind of regroup and reflect on the past year, retouch up their product, sand all their tables down, repaint them, same thing with chairs. In Florida you don’t get that opportunity,” Ahlgren explains. “You just never have a slow month.”
Of course, 2020 did bring that downtime. On March 12, the company was on course to break records for the quarter and potentially the year when COVID-19 brought it all to a screeching halt. After a brief stint of layoffs, Ahlgren was able to call back employees. Not all chose to come back, but those who did are a tight-knit, caring group who are in it for more than the J-O-B, he says. “I have an extremely amazing team that has stuck it out for the last six months.”
Though business is picking up, Ahlgren is reflecting on whether he wants to return to his former “busting and grinding” pace. “Something we’re doing as a company is sort of soul searching where we need to find ourselves—what’s our comfortable zone?” Rather than focusing solely on growth and taking every job that comes along, Ahlgren expects to look more at the numbers in the future and find ways to be more profitable and stable. “The downside of that is that maybe you’re going to help your competitors or bring new people into the market, but I always believe there’s enough business for everybody.”
Cathy Broberg is a writer and editor who lives near Minneapolis, Minn.
Year founded: 2007
Employs: 12 (currently); 50 (before COVID-19)
Primary business: Full-service party and event rental