NOBODY MAJORS IN “party rental.” Party rental pros either are born into the business, or — often to their own surprise — wind up there after trying other careers that just never offered enough excitement. Here is what eight industry leaders did in another life:
WORK, WORK, WORK
“I grew up on a small farm in eastern Washington state. We had a very large family — usually about eight children living at home at a time — and a very small income. I had to milk a cow every morning and every night — including holidays, my birthday and every day of summer ‘vacation’ — until the day I moved to California. I learned endurance and perseverance. I remember being about 10 years old, and my mother waking me at 3 a.m. to tell me the cow had gotten out and I had to go get her. Here you learn that it does not matter why or how the situation got to be what it is — it needs to be dealt with, so you deal with it. You also learn that no matter how bad it is, it won't last forever. You want it to be over with? Then get started. I learned not to do shoddy work. The cow would not have gotten out if the fence had been built and maintained properly. I learned cooperation. People always look to rental companies for solutions and help out of binds. That farmer-helping-farmer stuff is true.”
Tom Gifford, vice president, Abbey Event Services, Burbank, Calif.
“I started in grade school peddling papers at 4 a.m. in northern Wisconsin. Lesson learned: You have to work to survive. If it's cold, if it's raining, snowing, if you don't feel like it … no matter what happens, you've got to work! I've also been a stockbroker and in pharmaceutical sales and real estate. I learned how to make mistakes and move on, and how to help people buy what they need and want — that is, to listen to what the customer is saying and what they're not saying.”
Bob Traxel, president, Best of the Best Event Productions, Fountain Valley, Calif.
“My experience in the Coast Guard at the busiest search-and-rescue station in the country — Miami — taught me organization and thinking on my feet. It was all the people who decide to go to Bimini for a day trip in a 16-foot boat with no radio and a 12-pack of beer, then run out of gas and drift in the Straits of Florida for 10 hours until someone reports them missing. We would dispatch boats and planes to search a couple hundred square miles of ocean for them. Plus lots of groundings, collisions, engine problems, etc., and a whole bunch of drug interdiction. Banking gave me the financial perspective — making money.”
Bick Jones, general manager, Ducky-Bob's Tent & Party Rental, Carrollton, Texas
“I'm trained as a tax attorney and financial analyst. The detail-oriented nature of that has made me take the details of supporting events much more seriously. It's also made me think critically about what we really are — a value-added distributor of products, and a time-sensitive fulfillment business. Once you accept what you are, you can focus much more tightly on how to make the business run more efficiently.”
Robert Kilgore, executive vice president/chief financial officer, Classic Party Rental/Alpine Party Rentals, Englewood, Colo.
“I was in college to become a great educator of literature. I graduated in the late '80s amid a difficult economy and could not find employment anywhere. I took a job — I'll admit it was for beer money — with a party rental company, and haven't left the industry. I became fascinated with the economies and cycles of party rental and now use my experience and language skills to sell my company's inventory and services to the general public and the event industry. I still read some of the great classics from time to time.”
Larry Ott, sales manager, Newton Party Center, Newton, Pa.
“FedEx [where he worked as senior manager] is an excellent training ground for managers: They help you develop your people skills, teach you how to measure service, quality and productivity, set high expectations for customer service, emphasize reliability, and demonstrate the importance of great communication and leadership. When you get down to the basics, there is not much difference between FedEx and Classic Party Rentals. Both companies have a fleet of trucks with drivers and helpers, both have customer service representatives, both deliver and pick up things, both are impacted by the weather and fuel prices, and both have customers with very high expectations.”
Albert Funfstuck, general manager, Classic Party Rentals, Los Angeles
“I am a registered professional engineer with a master's degree in electrical engineering; I worked for an electrical utility company for 10 years, which provided excellent training in nontechnical management skills. The necessity of delegating and assembling a team of top-quality people is a lesson learned working for a company with 10,000 employees. To maintain top people, your compensation must reward the effort of your team.”
Damon Holditch, CSEP, president, Austin RentAll Party, Austin, Texas
“I was a floral designer working for some of the most diversified flower shops in [Los Angeles], including Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Believe it or not, this is where I learned to hand-wire wedding bouquets and handle some incredible weddings on site! At the Flower Basket in Studio City, Calif. — in the mid-'70s, the shop to work for — I worked with Jerry Maston and Robert Arganbright. Having the good fortune to work with two such individuals has given me the ‘sight’ to look at areas not only as a rental person, but from a design background as well. Instead of waiting for someone to give me the rental order, I can pass along rental suggestions for the overall event in regard to theme, layout, flow, etc. I can advise — if asked — as an ‘order maker,’ not an ‘order taker.’ I also gleaned from Bob and Jerry the foresight that if you are working with someone who wants to do it their own way — and they're calling the shots — shut up and let them plan it their way!”
Jeff Volkman, special events director, Regal Rents, El Segundo, Calif.