FOR 22 OF the last 24 years, Tom Gifford played a role in the southern California rental institution that is Abbey Event Services. Indeed, Gifford — who arrived in Los Angeles from his native Washington state as a self-described “farm kid” — insists, “If I didn't bring it with me in my suitcase, the substance of my life — all of my joy and nourishment — has come from Abbey.” So it is not without some heaviness of heart that the man who has called Montebello, Calif.-based Abbey home, but for a two-year stint with El Segundo, Calif.-based Regal Rents, has seen fit to strike out on his own.
Well, not entirely on his own. Burbank, Calif.-based Event Support Group, launched this month, finds Gifford partnered with longtime rental expert Lisa Tinkham, formerly of Culver City, Calif.-based Classic Party Rentals, in an enterprise designed to fill gaps in the event labor market, and much more. Among the company's services is a division that supplies highly specialized event staff from decorators to day-of wedding coordinators to fully insured tent installers.
Also on the Event Support Group labor roster: support staff trained to retain and prepare equipment during the hours between an event's close and the rental company's pickup. Gifford says he has seen too many cases where “the event shuts down, the rental company shows up, and they can't find their stuff.” Between the potential disputes that ensue and the inevitable loss-and-damage billing, he adds, “It's just a lot of wasted effort.” With his support staff, he says, caterers get pros trained in equipment retention without having to pay overtime to service staff.
In his position at the helm of the new company, Gifford also plans to provide a range of consulting services, including product sourcing and the creation of customized staff training programs for rental operations.
It is the consultant's role of getting a sense of a company's business philosophy and imparting it effectively to employees that Gifford says he relishes most, and the one for which he is most indebted to his experience with Abbey. During his tenure with the company, which remains an Event Support Group client, he says he made it his goal to focus employees on “giving support to the event planner who's trying to realize the dreams of the person who hired them,” while fostering communication throughout his organization. While the process was “uncomfortable and time-consuming sometimes,” he admits, “in the end, I've been surrounded by competent, confident people.”
Now, he says, he is not changing directions, but rather continuing on the path he started at Abbey. “The people at Abbey supported me and helped me to grow, until I got to the point where I could really give back to others,” he says. “Now I'll be able to do that for a lot of other people.”
Event Support Group 215 W. Palm, Suite 202, Burbank, CA 91502; 818/846-1324; www.eventsupportla.com
“If my team is working on a corporate event, it's our job to give whatever support we can so that everyone leaves there, for example, wanting to drink Coke. And if there's a representative of Pepsi there, even he leaves wanting to drink Coke. So then we have to put on an even bigger event for Pepsi, and we bring industry growth for all of us. If we achieve that in an ethical manner that benefits every person and entity involved, then we've succeeded.”
“Some years ago, I stopped interviewing people. When I'm talking to somebody about joining our organization, I view it as my responsibility to determine what they're about. And I try to let them know what our organization is about. It's our job together to decide whether they should join us.”
“I believe that you should approach every single piece of business seeking the win-win situation. If you're buying a piece of rental equipment, you need to find one that will cost you less, that will last longer, that is easier for your employee to handle, that looks better than whatever it's replacing, and that costs your clients less and brings greater value to their events.”