In a world of fiercely independent operators, Stellar Event & Presentation Resources has changed the landscape of party rental. Since its inception in 1998, the firm has built a nationwide presence. Stellar now comprises party rental operations in California, Texas and Georgia, complemented by Alford Media, a staging company with bases in Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta, and lighting/sound provider LD Systems, with offices in Houston and San Antonio. In this month's Guest Room, Stellar CEO and president Tom Tucker gives his views on where his company is today and where it's headed next.
Special Events Magazine: How is the special event business shaping up this year? Are the economic doldrums taking their toll?
Tom Tucker: Because we are pretty much a national company, I would describe what is going on with the economy — on a macro level — as very regional.
For [Stellar's] Stuart Rental in Silicon Valley, everyone there has seen a sharp downturn in the economy. That's also true in cities like Dallas, with the telecom industry. But on other hand, Houston is really doing well; it's an energy town. L.A. is doing well. We're watching it closely to see how it might impact our business and how we might adjust to that.
Q: What tactics are you using in Silicon Valley, where you have to face event cancellations?
A: One, you have to have faith that the business is a sound business, and that party rentals, tent rental, lighting, sound — all the event services rentals — will be there and will come back. People tend to paralyze themselves for a temporary period; they sort of stop for a while, and then the market starts bouncing back. So be ready for that.
Also [we work] to gain market share. We're out in the market, being fairly aggressive with marketing, but not with pricing. It's typical for a small competitor to panic and start dropping the bottom out of pricing. I would caution competitors from doing that. It tends to drop the entire market down for a good period of time. Customers get used to a certain pricing level. It is hard to be a profitable industry if we don't maintain a certain pricing strategy.
Q: What is your business plan in your strong markets?
A: We're focused on feeding that growth. Taking care of the customers, with good product.
Q: What level of product is today's rental client demanding?
A: We try to have a larger amount of quality product that renters can choose from. That's the core. We work with large producers, planners and caterers to stay ahead of that.
The California market is a little different from the Dallas and Houston markets. If silver chiavari chairs have worked well in California for a period of time, then [the trend] turns to black, we can take silvers to Houston, where they haven't seen them before. It's that kind of creativity that we can do internally that not everybody else can do.
I hope we are redefining a little bit what the event services industry is. Because the industry is so fragmented, a lot of mom-and-pop shops, we're trying to keep building a level of professionalism in our business, so we maintain viability.
I keep preaching to the trade organizations, we have to maintain a level of professionalism as equipment renters or event services people, so we are viewed as quality, professional companies. That will maintain our viability and our value to the customers.
Q: What is your forecast for the future?
A: It will probably be a little short in 2001, but we're going to see some growth in party rental. It's kind of a balancing act. There may be good news on the horizon at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. We're seeing some positive things in the market.
While this business has been around for a while, it's still a fairly immature market as compared with others out there. As we build this industry up, educating our clients [about] what can be done in the event world … [there] will be some changes, there will be some big players out there jumping into this. We have to be prepared for those changes.
Stellar Event & Presentation Resources can be reached by phone at 281/447-9193 or on the Web at www.stellarevent.com. For more on the party rental industry, turn to our cover story on page 38.