Adding in-house furniture lines can make a difference
Taking a seat has a whole new meaning for two rental stores that have decided buying furniture isn’t enough. Instead, they build it themselves.
For Marquee Rents, Austin, Texas, and Mahaffey Tent and Party Rentals, Memphis, Tenn., building furniture requires space, time, planning, skills and market realization, but both say the effort is worth it.
Clint Sidle, general manager, Mahaffey Tent and Party Rentals, says the idea came from frequent customer requests for lounge furniture. “The majority of the basic, easily available pieces are great, but they are limited and stick to the same basic pattern with straight lines, a contemporary look and feel, and modern applications,” he says.
“If you want to do something different, you either have to have the ability and skill set to build it yourself in-house or you partner with the best. Someone has to share the vision, the desire for the design and quality, and a passion for putting it together,” he says.
Will Holditch, CERP, general manager, Marquee Rents, agrees. “You have to have Fred the master carpenter. You have to have some help. You have to have 4,000 to 5,000 sq. ft. of space. Also, you need to know if your market wants that kind of look,” he says.
For Mahaffey Tent and Party Rentals, building furniture meant creating a lounge furniture line customers couldn’t find anywhere else. They began scouring local yard sales and estate sales to find the “bones” of the pieces and building items from there.
“The foundation and frame is key,” Sidle says. “This is not something that you would use at home, that you move once or twice in its lifetime and remains stationary otherwise. It will be moved over and over, and must be secure and strong enough to endure the traffic. Once you have a solid, reinforced structure, you choose components like heavy, good quality foam guaranteed to hold its shape. The fabric is important and we use heavy-duty faux leather or vinyl. You need it to be tough and forgiving. You don’t want something that punctures easily or will rip or tear. Remember, it is being moved over and over, and it is on the back end of a truck half of its life.”
Sidle said finding the right pieces is a challenge. “To find original pieces, you have to commit to unusual and original shopping. One odd couch here and there, the occasional chair, arm chair, ottoman, bench and so on, and you begin to put together this incredible couture collection of furniture that is not duplicated and can be arranged and collected to make a different setting with each event,” he says.
Today, the Mahaffey furniture rental line includes original, named pieces, including the Addie, Alexander, Henry and Elizabeth chairs, and a turn-of-the-century, wood-framed
couch named Sofia.
“Of course the name makes a difference,” Sidle says. “You want something that, in your eyes, reflects the character of the piece, and makes it fun and unique. Each piece has a soul, especially when it is one of a kind.”
For Marquee Rents, the furniture niche turned out to be farm tables, vineyard chairs and unique add-ons like a wine barrel bar.
“The niche that we saw not being met was the bride who wants a lounge group or country-type tables. We saw this niche for a bride who wants a couch or ottoman, but doesn’t want to pay thousands for a minimum order to a décor company. We were going that direction anyway, so it was a natural progression,” Holditch says.
The company’s wood furniture is made of white pine and all the elements are created in-house. Now, the Marquee line includes 6-ft. and 8-ft. bars, benches and a children’s table
“Because we’re in Texas, our customers want a certain kind of look. This line of vineyard chairs and tables we built fits our market. We’re making 8-ft. tables that are 42 in. across and we make them in white, fruitwood and golden finishes. We mill our own legs, which we make either 30 in. tall or 40 in. tall for standing tables. Taking one table and having two height options? That’s priceless. We even carry the wine barrel bar. You want to be able to carry the whole line. You get depth in purchasing,” he says.
Finding inspiration for building unique pieces comes from all directions, but in particular, customers with special requests.
“Narcy Martinez is our creative director and this end of the business is her baby,” Holditch says. “She can sit down with an event planner and she interprets their needs to fit what we can offer. Then she spreads it out to a bigger audience, so it becomes a mass marketable product. That’s how we came up with the vineyard line.”
“We also had inspiration from others,” Holditch adds. “One came from a Napa Valley rental store, Wine Country Events. The company differentiates itself with this type of line in its own market. This is where having relationships with other rental businesses makes a difference. That’s the true value of the American Rental Association. You get ideas from others and we very happily pass those ideas along to other people.”
The challenge with homemade furniture is delivery. “You have to be a little more gentle,” Holditch says. “The guys have to know how to wrap this stuff up and they know that one truck can fit three couches in it. The other challenge is space. You can have a three- or four-truck delivery really easily.”