Special Events

THE LAST WORD: KELLY MURPHY AND BOB DEFRIEST OF PANACHE PARTY RENTAL

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl break up, launch an event rental business together, fall in love again, and eventually marry — and incorporate. It may not be your standard startup story, but it's been a happy tale for Bob DeFriest and Kelly Murphy of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Panache Party Rentals.

Ten years after they launched their operation, Murphy and DeFriest, who both have a background in restaurant supply, own an inventory of close to 10 million items in 65,000 square feet of warehouse space.

From the beginning, “We stuck with commercial customers,” DeFriest says, citing one key to the company's success. Attention to customer service further helped Panache gain ground in its early days, Murphy adds. “It was very important for us to be there when our clients were working,” she says. “Our clients have parties on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Most rental stores were closed at noon Saturday, and ‘see you’ on Sunday. We're 24/7.”

While Panache has maintained its focus on service, a few things have changed since the company's launch out of the couple's home in 1992. With growth in volume — the company now generates close to $8 million in annual revenue — financial questions have taken a different tone: “We used to share decisions on whether we were going to spend $100,” DeFriest says. “Now we're up to the $10,000 mark.” Further, instead of trying to figure out who's going to wash dishes and who's going to drive the truck, the couple now employs 140 full-time staff members during its high season, freeing up time to concentrate on building a business.

For Murphy, that means looking for new ways to work tried-and-true items into tabletop and food presentation — a process she calls “cross-utilization.” As examples, she cites subbing in a dessert glass for a water goblet, filling egg cups with soup trios or mini-sundaes, and serving a plated entree in a shallow bowl.

Both Panache owners say they also appreciate having time to work on inventory expansion. “We like to hunt,” Murphy says. “And we like exclusivity,” DeFriest adds. Their constant growth — “We add something new to our inventory every day,” Murphy says — has resulted in stock that includes more than 500 specialty linens, more than 40 patterns of china, a large selection of chiavaris in many colors and enough chafers to fill a recent order for a 14,000-guest buffet.

Being able to delegate duties has had one added benefit for the couple: “We can go to The Special Event in the middle of our season!” Murphy says. “And we get to experience it together just like we did our first year in business.”




Panache Party Rentals 650 S.W. 16th Terrace, Pompano Beach, FL 33069; 954/781-5335; www.linenswithpanache.com

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Murphy: “We started [the business] in our home. We worked 24 hours a day. We stored stuff in our bathtub, we stored stuff in our guest room.”

DeFriest: “Our first employee, who is still with us, worked with us for a year for room and board. Her futon was under the linens in the guest bedroom.”

Murphy: “But she's still here…and she still loves us.”

PERSONAL TOUCH

Murphy: “There was always a set way that you set the table — wine glass this way, fork on the outside, etc. I see that changing. I see people's personal styles coming in much more, and that's OK. It doesn't have to be ‘This is the way it's always been done.’ It's what looks good and what's comfortable.”

FAIR PLAY

Murphy: “We have great friends that we compete with. Yes, we have to compete, and yes, sometimes we're going to do what we can to get a job. But there's a lot of mutual respect among vendors, and that's nice.”

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