“AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER coaster” is how Tony Tauer describes the seven months it took to complete his buyout — along with several partner investors — of the event rental division of Greenwich, Conn.-based equipment rental giant United Rentals. Still, says the vice president of newly christened Signature Special Event Services, it was well worth the ride.
Officially launched March 1, Frederick, Md.-based Signature's strength comes from the aggregate acquisitions United made during its six-year bid to grow its event rental business. Today, Tauer's company maintains the considerable inventory that came with those acquisitions, along with a full-time staff of 110 employees working from the company's six locations in the United States.
What Signature has shed are the inevitable associations that come with being part of “the largest equipment rental company in the country,” Tauer says. Back in the United days, he explains, “Someone would call and say, ‘What's your Web site?’ And we'd say, ‘Unitedrental.com.’ You click on that, and the first thing you see is a guy in a hard hat. That's pretty tough when you're trying to rent a tent to a wedding.”
In his new role, Tauer is devoted to promoting Signature's name and brand to the event community. So far, he says, “The change to Signature Special Event Services has been received as really positive by our customers.” He attributes that acceptance not just to the company's more event-friendly identity — evidenced by a sleek, easy-to-use new Web site, as well as the more than $1 million already invested in new inventory this year — but to its more manageable size: “Now we're a $22 million company, not a $3 billion company. That makes a difference to people. It gives them a sense of intimacy.”
Among recent celebrations the company has served this year is automaker Ford's centennial in Dearborn, Mich., for which Signature provided more than 70 air conditioners and more than 50 generators. For motorcycle icon Harley-Davidson, also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Tauer's team installed flooring, lighting and more than 140,000 square feet of tenting for a highly publicized series of parties from Maryland to California.
While Tauer says that he and his partners have their hands full establishing Signature as a major player in the event rental arena, he doesn't rule out expanding the company soon. “You've got to keep feeding the fire,” Tauer says, “and in order to do that, you've got to have a pretty broad scope.”
Signature Special Event Services 285 Bucheimer Road, Frederick, MD 21701; 800/522-8368; www.signaturespecialeventservices.com
“It's important to have the marketing and infrastructure in place to operate efficiently … because historically, this is not a high-margin business. In order to be successful with it, you've got to be tight with it, you've got to be smart with it.”
“Now we're seeing corporate [business] starting to come back. It didn't just come knocking on the door one day and, ‘pow,’ it was back. It seems like it ramps up a little, and then it drops a little, ramps and drops. We've just kind of been going through that over the year.”
“I do enjoy my job, and I love this business, and that's why I'm in it. But when I go home at the end of the day and my son comes running down the driveway and just grabs me and holds on, that's it. Nothing can be better than that. That's certainly the pinnacle of my accomplishment. On the business side, the accomplishment I'm most proud of is getting the buyout done.”