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Party Perfect’s recipe for success

By Brock Huffstutler

August 8, 2023

Left to right: Lucy Trapp, Nelson Parker and Ned Parker, CERP. Photo courtesy of Awesomesauce Photography.

Left to right: Lucy Trapp, Nelson Parker and Ned Parker, CERP. Photo courtesy of Awesomesauce Photography.

In the summer of 2023, Party Perfect, Richmond, Va., made Rental Management’s list of event rental Market Movers — a listing of the industry’s fastest-growing independent businesses measured by revenue growth.

In the 2023 listing, Party Perfect reported a whopping 133 percent jump in rental revenue between 2020 and 2022. Two factors make this success even more impressive: No. 1, this was the second year in a row the company made the Market Movers list (in the 2022 grouping, Party Perfect was listed with 12 percent revenue growth from 2019 to 2021), and No. 2, much of this growth occurred during the turbulent pandemic scene.

Party Perfect Owner Nelson Parker says a big part of the company’s success over the past few years has to do with its ability to be essentially a one-stop event shop for customers in a market where few others of its kind exist.

“We’ve got some competitors that focus mainly on tenting and some that focus on the party side — just tables, chairs, linen and china and not a lot of tenting. What we’ve done over the years, which was probably crucial to our doing well through COVID, was focus on being full service,” Parker says.

Photo courtesy of Ned Parker, CERP

Photo courtesy of Ned Parker, CERP

Not only does Party Perfect offer the gamut of event rental items, but its services also extend to event consultation, site inspections, 3D CAD drawing illustrations, navigation through permitting requirements and more.

“The bulk of our business would be weddings, graduations and special events, and we do a few festivals,” Parker says of the company’s primary clientele, adding that around “20 percent to 30 percent might be customer will-call — basically, customers coming and picking up their own tables and chairs.”

In addition to Party Perfect’s diverse range of product and service offerings, Parker says there are a few other elements that factor into his company landing on the list of industry-leading Market Movers:

Customer service. “I think we provide exceptional customer service, and as a full-service company, we offer what everybody needs in terms of tenting, staging and anything you can imagine for the most part,” Parker says.

Developing relationships. “This is an extremely relational type of business, so building relationships with vendors, venues, event planners, etc., can make a huge difference in your growth,” Parker says.

Using event overabundance to your advantage. Parker says that as COVID restrictions ended, “everybody wanted an event, and you just couldn’t do it. You had to turn away a bunch of business. Well, then you got to be a lot more selective in the type of jobs that you wanted to do. That enabled us to continue to grow the business — by being more selective in the type of jobs we wanted to do.”

Smart advance planning. “I’ve been amazed at how many larger events fell in our lap for people not planning the way they should or because somebody dropped the ball,” Parker says. “I have seen more of that happen recently than in years past, for some reason. You have to plan further out now, especially on the wedding side with venues. You know, [rental companies] are kind of low on the totem pole in terms of what a bride looks for. She looks first at where she is going to have it, who’s going to cater and who’s going to be the photographer. We come somewhere down the list. It depends on the venue. Some venues have their own inventory, so they don’t need a rental company, but others don’t have anything, and they need everything from a rental company.”

Party Perfect’s new facility also has been important in its recent success, in terms of operational efficiencies. In 2021, the company moved into an approximately 28,000-sq.-ft. space that offers 8,000 sq. ft. of showroom, a climate-controlled area for linen and dish processing, and a warehouse with tall, 26-ft. ceilings to maximize storage space.

“It’s also a good setup for our will-call,” Parker says. “I think COVID allowed us the opportunity to rethink how we do things. We tweaked a few things to make it easier for people to come and pick up their stuff. They just show up — they’ve already paid for it — we load it in their car, and they move on out of the way. Our proximity to the interstate is convenient for customers to pick up their own equipment if they so choose and not have to pay a delivery fee.”

Photo courtesy of Silverbridge & Co.

Photo courtesy of Silverbridge & Co.

Continued growth, however, already is starting to make this new setup inadequate. “We are itching to get more space; we have to use outside storage in our yard because we’re kind of outgrowing what we have,” Parker says. “We’re very efficient compared to what we had, but we are bursting at the seams and needing to get creative on how to get some more space.”

Even as it experiences triple-digit revenue growth and is quickly outgrowing its new facility, one thing that hasn’t changed for Party Perfect in its 27-year history is that it is a family affair.

“One of my sons [Ned Parker, CERP] and one of my daughters [Lucy Trapp] are co-owners and we have other families that are involved — we’ve got a mother with two kids who work for us and another cousin relationship, so it’s very family-oriented. It’s not the corporate world,” Parker says.

Party Perfect — a rich history of industry and community service

The history of the Parker family’s involvement in Party Perfect, Richmond, Va., dates to 1996, but that’s not where the story begins.

Photo courtesy of Silverbridge & Co.

Photo courtesy of Silverbridge & Co.

“In 1986, my cousin and I started a tool rental business called Rental Works, and then in 1996 we were made aware of an event rental company that was up for sale,” says Nelson Parker, owner of Party Perfect.

The for-sale event rental company Parker and his cousin had their eye on — Aarrow Special Events — was owned by Allan Creeger, who served as American Rental Association (ARA) president in 1972.

“We bought his special events company in 1996 along with another partner, Jeff Johnstone [who served as ARA Region Two director from 2013-2016]. My cousin [Raymond Parker, who later served on the ARA of Virginia board of directors and on ARA’s General Tool and Equipment Shared Interest Group] and I still had the tool rental business, and in 2001 Jeff bought us out of the party rental business,” Parker says.

Soon after this, Parker left the rental industry completely to pursue a different kind of calling. “I’m an ordained pastor, and in 2004 I sold the tool rental business and spent 10 or 11 years in ministry,” he says.

By the mid-2010s, three compelling persuasions brought Parker back into the rental business world:

  • First: An interest in business ownership from the next generation. “I’ve got four kids; they were too young to understand business when I was in the tool rental business, but they kind of liked it. It wasn’t until I got into ministry and they got older when they decided they would like to be in business for themselves,” Parker says.
  • Second: The opportunity. Parker learned that Johnstone, his former partner, was looking to sell Party Perfect.
  • Third: A new avenue for ministry service. “In ministry, I was very involved with people who live on the margins,” Parker says. “Whether you’re coming out of recovery or a re-entry program, finding employment is always an issue. I knew that the party rental business doesn’t require a whole lot of skill. It’s very labor intensive, like moving 100 chairs from the truck to a site. I thought it would be a great opportunity to give folks employment and opportunities. I live two miles from work so I have relationships with a lot of people within the community who can potentially get a job.”

So, in 2016, Parker initiated the process of purchasing Party Perfect from Johnstone. The sale was completed in 2019 and it has been full speed ahead ever since.

Today, Parker’s son, Ned Parker, CERP, and daughter, Lucy Trapp, are co-owners of Party Perfect. “They actually run the business,” Parker says. They also help oversee its staff of approximately 30 team members.

And continuing in the organization’s legacy of industry service, Ned joined the ARA of Virginia board of directors in 2023. Soon after joining that group, Ned said he was inspired to step up to serve because “I try to stay involved in the industry as much as possible and getting involved with the board would be a new experience for me. Addressing the challenges everyone is facing in finding labor and providing solutions is a goal of mine as a board member.”