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Special Events


L .A.'s Classic Party Rentals proved again that the big get bigger when it acquired the tent rental operations of Torrance, Calif.-based Aztec Tents & Events in November. Here, longtime Aztec president Chuck Miller looks at the future of consolidation and what it means to the event business.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What persuaded you to accept Classic's offer?

CHUCK MILLER: {Classic CEO} John Campanelli told me that one of his tasks was to find a “center of excellence” for tenting, which is the reputation Aztec has. But the most important thing he said to me was, “We want to leave your company intact. We want all of your people.”

Q: Do you foresee more consolidation coming in event rental?

A: It could. But for consolidation to work, it's got to be with people who understand this business. There are certain criteria that all businesses work with, but the special event business is unique in that it is relationship-driven. If somebody just knows how to drive numbers, that is one thing. But if they don't understand the relationship piece, they drive the numbers so hard that they then start cutting people, they reduce relationships, and before you know it, they're nonexistent.

Q: What major trends do you see emerging in the special event business?

A: Sophistication in running events is something that our customers really expect, and so when you put events on, you and the other vendors must work together. If it's the flooring people or HVAC or decor or caterers, those relationships need to be so intertwined.

I think this will be even stronger as we move forward, because our customers have a really high level of expectation, and appropriately so. They are paying a lot of money.

At the corporate level, they might have had five or six people who put these events on. But that's squeezed down to maybe one or two. They so need us as the professionals to come in, and they need to be comfortable with the whole package. They want to do one-stop shopping.

And I think we just need to continue to be better prepared. We've seen the whole thing with permits and higher expectations of building and safety {officials}. All that is changing the way that people buy tents and structures today. It's causing them to invest more money.

People who get how to run a business professionally and profitably — rather than somebody who says, I've got to take every job — are the people who are going to thrive.

Q: How is 2006 shaping up?

A: It's going to be a great year. We look at what's on the books, and it's pretty phenomenal. Also, a lot of events that we do are a lot bigger. A perfect example is the Rose Bowl — it's double in size what it was in 2005, and '05 was grand. It's also the excitement of knowing that we have the great support of additional equipment, tabletop things that we can put in front of our customers. Their eyes light up.

Q: How do you do business differently today than you did 25 years ago?

A: Twenty-five years ago, you just didn't even think that you were going to specialize and create a niche. You just took any job that came along. Then as the industry and the view of business started to evolve, you realized you have to create something that differentiated you from the competition. Fifteen years ago, I went to some black-tie event where somebody had just sold his business for $1 million. I was just gasping. He looked me in the eye and asked, so what differentiates your business from your competition? He stumped me; I honestly couldn't answer that. What it said to me was, I need to figure out how to do that.

Then things started happening for us. We did the Long Beach Grand Prix, which was the biggest thing on the face of the earth for us. Then we were recognized {as being able to} do those events. The more we got into it, we just learned to specialize. We also learned that the people you hire have got to buy into that. The employees that we had 25 years ago — all 10 to 12 of them at best — they just didn't get it. But today, it is so much easier to hire good people because they want to be part of a successful system. For me, the whole thing has perpetuated itself as we grow and create a niche and a reputation. And that's where Classic is trying to position itself, and I think they've done that.

The Classic Party Rentals Web site is www.classicpartyrentals; visit Aztec Tents at

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