Atlas Event Group’s tale of moxie and survival
By Brock Huffstutler
Entrepreneurship, perseverance and maybe a little bluffing: Some call it moxie, but for Atlas Event Group, it’s the recipe that made the business what it is today — an on-the-rise player that caters to a growing list of event rental clientele in the Boston metro area and beyond.
First, the entrepreneurship. Sean Atlas, president of Shrewsbury, Mass.-based Atlas Event Group, founded the company in 2020 as an extension of two entertainment businesses he co-owned.
“I emptied out my retirement account to start a DJ company in 2015,” Atlas says of his event rental business’s roots. “I had been a DJ on the side prior to that. I was working construction during the week and deejaying on the weekends, and a bunch of people kept approaching me asking, ‘Why don’t you go start your own [deejaying] company?’ One day I got fed up with my day job and decided to take a chance. I said I’ll try it for a month and if it works, I’ll keep going. A month went by, then another month. The first three years I was in business, I operated month-to-month, always expecting the floor to fall out from underneath me. Later, I started a sister company offering photo booths and lighting with two business partners. I was running those two companies side by side. I was lucky and made it through until COVID hit.”
The onset of COVID-19 in 2020 — the year Atlas Event Group formally launched — was when perseverance became essential. The same pandemic-related circumstances that inspired Atlas to offer basic event rental items also threatened to derail the fledgling enterprise.
“We had clients who wanted to go forward with their weddings [during COVID] but none of the venues allowed them to have the guest list they wanted, or the venues weren’t operating at all. So, they came to us and said, ‘All the rental companies are sold out. Do you have any connections?’ I went to my business partners and asked how they felt about buying some tents, tables and chairs and trying to make a run at this thing. We asked our clients if they would hire us if we purchased the stuff. They said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”
But the impact of lockdowns quickly took their toll and by the latter half of 2020, Atlas says “we were just getting ready to close the doors. We took our last $25,000, bought some tents, tables and chairs and we did five events that year, which helped us stay afloat until the winter of 2021, but we almost closed the doors again.”
To keep the business alive, a little bluffing needed to be dealt when opportunity arose.
“I got a call from a health care company that was looking to do COVID testing stations. They asked if we had 10-by-10s and I said, ‘Yeah, of course we do,’ when I did not have them,” Atlas reflects with a laugh. “We booked that to get us through the winter. Then they called to ask if we could handle their contract for the whole state. They needed nine 10-by-10s. I said, ‘Of course we can do that.’ Fifteen minutes later, they signed and paid the invoice in full, and the next morning myself and my partners were on a flight to Miami to visit Economy Tent. We rented a box truck, got the tents they had on the shelf, then drove all the way back through a nor’easter and started setting them up.”
Atlas credits the relationship struck with that single client, along with helpful guidance from rental industry peers, for his company’s survival.
“That health care client is the entire reason we are still in business,” he says. “I was getting ready to file paperwork to close the doors in July 2020 and again in January 2021, and things just happened to come through at the right time. Connections in the rental industry also kept us open because I didn’t know anything about tents. I didn’t know the difference between a tent on Amazon or an Anchor tent. I called one of the larger companies in New England and asked them where they got their tents because I was starting a rental company. They told me, and I ended up calling Anchor, who walked me through. They came and showed us how to set up the tent, and off we went.”
Fast forward to 2023. Atlas Event Group endured the worst of the pandemic to develop into a thriving entity that provides services ranging from DJ services, uplighting, dance floor lighting, monograms, photo booths, video DJs and rentals, including tents, tables, chairs, flooring and linens. The business caters to weddings, corporate events, birthday parties, nightclubs, school events and more.
The company’s brand-new operating facility is evidence of its growth trajectory. “We just moved into a new building,” Atlas says. “We were operating out of two locations: a 600-sq.-ft. foot office/showroom and a 4,000-sq.-ft. storage space. We found a great location just two miles up the road, and we’re now in 7,600 sq. ft. The entire company is all in one location and soon we’re taking over another 4,500 sq. ft. in the unit next to us; we’ll be up to 12,000 sq. ft. It’s nice to have everybody in one spot and it definitely helps with communication.”
Atlas Event Group recently secured a long sought-after contract with City Cruises in Boston and continues to expand the boundaries of its service area. But as it eyes wider horizons, Atlas says the company remains dedicated to making each customer’s event — no matter the size — feel unique and special.
“We focus on customer service and quality,” he says. “It’s easy to get dragged into the busy season where a tent goes up and it comes down, and it’s the same thing with tables and chairs. You’re just going from one job to the next and to the next. But we keep in mind that while this may be one of several hundred events we do this year, for that customer it’s the one event they’re doing. So, we treat each event that way — as if it is the one event we’re doing that year.”
Industry camaraderie inspires Atlas toward leadership role
Sean Atlas founded Atlas Event Group, Shrewsbury, Mass., in 2020 just as the pandemic was ratcheting up.
The first year for the company was touch and go; it nearly closed its doors twice. Perseverance and ingenuity kept the company afloat, and today Atlas Event Group presses forward with a broad array of event rental services.
As he reflects on the peaks and valleys of his still-blossoming career in the rental industry, Atlas expresses an appreciation for the camaraderie within the rental industry that is unlike any he has experienced elsewhere.
“The best is the community,” he says. “Everybody is working together. You have competition, but it’s more of a friendly competition. You don’t have to be afraid to reach out to somebody and say, ‘I’m running into this issue — have you ever seen this before? How did you handle it?’ I see everybody working together to accomplish the same goal. It’s a great community to be a part of. I love the networking and I love the community that we have in the rental industry.”
The spirit of cooperation that characterizes the rental industry inspired Atlas to accept an open position on the ARA of Massachusetts board of directors in 2022. He currently serves as vice president of the board. Atlas also was motivated to join the American Rental Association’s (ARA) Young Professional Network (YPN).
Those interested in serving as a volunteer leader within ARA and seeing how it can benefit one’s career and the industry can learn more here. For more information on the networking opportunities within ARA’s YPN, click here.