Celebrations! Event Rentals and Tents: Building a bigger business
Celebrations! Event Rentals and Tents: Building a bigger business

Celebrations! grows with tents and structures

Tony Wright’s first introduction into the rental business was working for his father-in-law’s Bobcat business, which at the time was one of the oldest Bobcat dealerships in the United States.

He says his mother-in-law, Lois, usually would hang out in the party and special event section of the exhibit floor when they all attended The Rental Show and she kept suggesting that they start a party and event store.

“She would tell us, ‘Everyone I talk to in party is happy. They say business is always growing and they are not complaining about customers not paying bills,’” Tony says.

So in 1991, Tony and his wife, Susan, decided to take the plunge, purchasing banquet tables, dishes in a couple of styles, chairs, barbecues, some round tables, silverware and glasses. They found a 3,000-sq.-ft. building and launched Celebrations! Event Rentals and Tents in Roseville, Calif.

“We were in business in my eyes,” Tony says. “Since then, it seems that every week we would buy more stuff. Our first rental was for two coffee pots for the fire department and I had to go out and buy those because we didn’t have any.”

Fast-forward to today and Celebrations! has become one of the leading tent rental suppliers in Northern California and one of the few offering custom tent structures, which has led to jobs in such faraway places as Montana, Michigan, Wyoming, Spain and even New Zealand.

The company added tents about 10 years ago and moved into structures in 2007. That side of the business, Tony says, now accounts for 55 to 60 percent of the company’s revenue. Tony’s son, Michael, the company’s vice president and general manager, led the company into the tent business.

The company is currently in a 40,000-sq.-ft. building, which they moved into in 2002, but Tony says it’s time to move again. They’ve already picked out a substantially larger facility and plan to move once they sell their current building.

“When we built it, we never thought we would outgrow it, but we’re completely out of room,” Tony says. “We’re looking at a much larger place now and have this building for sale. Once it sells, we will lease it back until we get the new facility ready to sustain our rental business,” he says.

What also separates Celebrations! from their competition is the talent they have available to make a lot of the products they rent. For example, they make their own vinyl, tent tops and sidewalls. They also make their own linens and their carpenter has built all of their farm tables and more. To protect the farm tables, they combined their expertise in linen and tent vinyl to create water-resistant covers lined with felt.

“It gives us the flexibility to fix our own products and build what we need,” Tony says. “We fabricated our own racking system for carpet and we’ve done things that help us service our customers better as well as store our items better. With the covers, for example, if it rains or if the sprinklers go on, our tables are protected,” Tony says.

“We try to keep a high quality of vinyl. Nothing is less than ‘Grade B.’ We also repair vinyl for other people. We have a high standard of quality. Nothing goes out if it is dusty or has spots. Our employees are aligned with this philosophy, too. They take great pride in what they do,” Tony says.

Tony says the company’s diversification is what helped Celebrations! not only survive, but thrive during the recession.

“We grew every single year and never slowed down,” he says. “We recognized the backyard homeowner dish parties were getting smaller and that people having weddings were tightening up, but the tent structure business seemed to be growing. We concentrated our efforts towards that and sought those jobs,” Tony says.

The showroom includes several table settings, with one or two tables changed each week as employees are inspired, as well as what they call the “design center” where four or five tables serve as a blank canvas for customers to mix and match linens, china, flatware and chairs to create their own look.

They have a laundry facility on site which includes two mangles and two washer extractors, including a new upgraded mangle in another part of the expansive building, which also has a mezzanine for storing items like candelabras, arches, stanchions, hot boxes and more.

The warehouse also is filled with chairs, as is the company’s storage facility. Celebrations! has more than 10,000 chairs in inventory.

“We do a lot of events for 400, 500 or 600 people each, so we have a need for chairs,” says Lacey Wright, CERP, Michael’s wife, who serves as the company’s party operations manager. “We do not have a huge variety of colors and styles, maybe 10, including 1,000 gold Chiavaris, but we have a lot of each one. Over the past couple of years, we have focused on getting higher quantities of items versus small amounts of lots of things.”

Metal parts for structures are currently outside and the storage area off site houses flooring and HVAC. They have box trailers, open trailers and pickup trucks to allow for delivery to jobs in fields and barns. While Celebrations! is 100 percent party and event rental, the company also has a variety of support equipment in its inventory, including forklifts, skid-steers and scissor lifts.

“There’s rarely a day we aren’t utilizing support equipment for our tent installations,” Tony says.

Each crew foreman on the company’s tent division also has a tool box that goes out with tents and structures, filled with everything they might need for installation, including sledge hammers, tape measures, power tools and more.

The tool boxes are recent additions, designed to make sure that the installers do not need to pick up something else to complete a job, especially if they happen to be putting up a tent or structure in an area that’s two hours from the nearest hardware store.

All the systems and processes have been honed over the last 22 years as Tony and the employees continue to learn better ways to organize and expand. For example, all the vinyl on hand now is in color-coded bags to indicate size.

“One time we had a job in Great Falls, Mont., and the last piece of vinyl was five meters too short,” Tony says. “We had two guys drive overnight in a Prius to be there the next morning and then they drove straight back home. We don’t want to make those type of costly mistakes again.”

Tony says the company added structures because they are more weather-resistant and versatile. “A structure can maintain its shape in 90-mph winds. It’s also a clearspan structure, so you don’t have a center pole. You can offer glass walls and floors. Other than the top being vinyl, you can have a complete office system with floors that have ducts and electrical outlets. You can have sheet rock walls and restrooms. You can do all that for a structure, but not for a pole tent. Structure tents easily engineer, which allows us to get tent jobs that other companies may not,” he says.

Structures, he says, also allow for more flexibility in that they can handle corporate award shows, car shows and weddings where the client wants an open floor plan. He says one customer, a car dealership, had a structure tent as its showroom for a year while the company’s building was being remodeled.

“The cost is more, but you don’t have to deal with a pole in the middle to work around and people want a big, open space. In one day, we can put up a 20,000-sq.-ft. warehouse, while a building would take months for the right permits. We also have done temporary offices on construction sites with glass walls, air conditioning and lighting. We also can build ADA-compliant ramps around it,” Tony says.

They have sewing machines to create their own linen as well as specialty swagging, leg drapes, wall drapes and more. They also have a ready supply of wine barrels that can be turned into tables and bars.

For tables, chairs and dishes, they usually limit their service area to within 200 miles and Tony says 80 percent of those kinds of jobs are within a 50-mile radius.

With tents and tent structures, however, the company is willing to travel further distances. “The tent thing is different because there is such a small percentage of companies that have the larger sizes, so you go further because not as many can do it,” Tony says.

Tony also serves as the president of ARA of California, a position he now enjoys, but only pursued because he was asked.

“Sherri Creighton [former American Rental Association (ARA) Region Nine director] called me one day. She says, ‘Do you plan on getting involved and run for office on the board of the ARA of California?’ She talked me into running for the board and I got on it. I enjoyed getting to know people from all around the country better than just meeting them briefly at The Rental Show. It has opened a lot of doors for opportunities to become friends with people,” he says.

A family business

Celebrations! Event Rentals and Tents, Roseville, Calif., is truly a family business. Tony and Susan Wright are the principals while their sons, Mike and Lou, grew up washing chairs and helping with deliveries. Mike is now the company’s vice president and general manager while his wife, Lacey, CERP, is party operations manager and her father is the warehouse manager.

Lacey graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in cellular molecular biology. “After school, I was a bit burned out of being in a lab. I came back to Celebrations! to make some money. I have always been a hard worker and then you get sucked into it. Michael and I were engaged and then married. Before you know it, it is 13 years later I’m still here,” she says.

Lindsey Ferguson, CERP, the wife of Mike’s best friend, has been with the company so long that she is considered part of the family and is the assistant general manager.

Lou has since gone on to become a detective while his wife, Amy, who also had worked full-time for the company, now handles some projects part-time while raising two daughters, Avery and Adelynn.

“After high school, Mike said he never would work in party rental again. Then he went to college and then decided to not be a college student. He came back and has taken the business beyond any level I could think of,” Tony says.

“Our entire staff is devoted and committed to improving our business and has made it what it is today,” Tony says.

Tony’s father was a teacher and his grandparents were farmers. He says he spent a lot of time on the farm and ended up going to school at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a dairy and agriculture major.

“I worked at several places and then went to work for my father-in-law. Then I figured we would try our hand at the party and event rental business. A lot of people would say, ‘That’s hard work.’ I would think, ‘How hard can it be?’ I had no concept of the hours involved with late-night pickup, early morning deliveries and cleaning everything to get it back out,” he says.

“With the kids growing up, it was great to be with family on the jobs. We would always eat dinner together and we all get along pretty well because family is important to us. We also think of our employees as our family. They have dinner at our house and we see them every day. We want people to work hard and work well with each other,” he says.

Lacey says the company has worked toward building a “family” culture and they have employee barbecues every other month, so that every one of the more than 100 employees feels like they are part of the family.