Beyond the Tent: Event business grows substantially in 2018, merges with rental company

Kate Walski and floral manager Rory O’Donnell. Photo by Wren Photography

Kate Walski remembers the moment she decided to become an event professional. “I was working at the Park Place Hotel’s front desk and watched a bride and groom walk in,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to be a wedding coordinator.’”

That experience during a summer job set the stage for Walski’s subsequent studies, internships and 16-year career. Today, she is the co-owner of 307 Events and Tents in Traverse City, leading a ten-member team as president and lead event designer with projects and clients spanning the state.

Her professional journey grew with positions for several Detroit area entities, including events and promotions manager at The Henry Ford and co-founding the Detroit chapter of the International Live Events Association.

After she and her family relocated back to Traverse City, Walski opened a boutique décor business, Sweet Themes, in 2013 as she balanced work with raising three very young children. Influenced by Pinterest’s growing popularity, Sweet Themes (later renamed 307 Events) provided themed décor for small parties, events, weddings and corporate meetings while also building up its rental inventory and scope of services. It quickly grew from a part-time home-based operation to a full-time, multidisciplinary service with a 4,000 square-foot showroom on Veterans Drive and clients in Traverse City, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Mackinac Island and much of northern Michigan. Five-year growth averaged 60 percent annually, with a 100 percent increase in 2018.

Growth just took another leap forward in November 2018 when Walski partnered with Jim Harvey to merge 307 Events with his company, Tented Events, which specialized in renting tents, tables and chairs. The new company features two divisions: 307 Events and Tents, which offers full-service event design and rentals with consultation, set-up and tear-down help on-site; as well as TC Party Rentals, which is focused on basic rentals with drop-off, pick-up and streamlined services. Both divisions served a combined 1,200 events in 2018.

Walski noted her company focuses on event design services, specifically décor and rental items, rather than event planning. The majority of their clients are brides and grooms, but they also work closely with wedding planners, corporate event planners, individuals planning social functions and venues. Most are from out of town, especially the Chicago and Detroit areas. Walski says she hopes to increase the number of local clients as the company’s two divisions grow.

While Walski and Harvey are co-owners, day-to-day operations are directed by Walski as president and Chris Trailer as vice-president of operations. Other team leaders include floral manager Rory O’Donnell, décor and design team manager Allison Hayes, and sales coordinator Allixandria Kranick. The full and part time staff is expected to grow from its current seven to about 20-30 by summer.

The company will split work between its current Veterans Drive showroom and operational offices on Barlow Street while plans are finalized for a single, larger facility.

307 Events and Tents is part of the burgeoning professional events industry. Walski said the industry has only been around 30-40 years, noting its changes and evolution over time.

“It has turned into so much more than planning a party … it’s extremely important for the day to run smoothly and efficiently,” she said, noting the intricacies behind events, role in corporate marketing, cost effectiveness and guest safety.

“We’ve all heard of traumatic events that have occurred due to fires, overcapacity, unsafe structures and lack of security,” she said. “Professionals who are experts in this field are not only in demand, but necessary in putting on a major event.”

Walski pointed to social media as having “raised the bar” on event planning, especially for weddings.
“Couples find themselves needing a lot more help navigating all of the contracts and details that today’s wedding requires versus weddings 20 years ago,” she said.

Wedding planning professional Meaghan Kenny, owner of fox + fern events in Traverse City, agrees.
“There are so many moving parts….and so many different components today,” she said, noting demand for a high level of personalization and unique detailing continues to increase which adds complexity as well as expertise needs. Since many clients are planning destination weddings but don’t live here, the northern Michigan professionals’ relationships with local venues, vendors and related resources is essential to creating the wedding and experience the bridal couple wants to share with family and friends.

“Everyone wants to add their own personal flair…The bones are similar, but each wedding is unique with every detail personalized,” Kenny said, noting the advantages of having an entire team coordinating the planning and working onsite at the event.

Kenny and her team work with Walski in different ways, depending on the service fox + fern events is contracted for. For full service clients, Kenny’s team creates the event design and then works with 307 Events and Tents to access its inventory of décor items or work with their team to construct unique items. Those clients that specifically use Kenny’s coordination services may also work directly with Walski for event design and on-site set-up.

Looking at trends, Walski noted the national shift to experiential event design. “The ability to immerse your guests in a truly amazing event experience is what sets your event apart from the others,” she said. “We are in the age of selfies … people want to do things so they can take pictures of themselves and share with the world.”

Regional differences are reflected as well. “The events industry is very different in northern Michigan compared to Detroit,” Walski said noting local events are often smaller and tend toward more organic and natural details. Conversely, urban events have many more guests, tend to be more “glam” and feature more multicultural details. Local weddings will typically have 150-175 guests, while those in the city may have guest lists exceeding 800. Outdoor weddings are also in higher demand locally.

Walski says she continues to love the challenges and satisfaction the industry offers.

“I do love how you are constantly challenged and how every day is different,” she said. “I also love working with people and taking their vision and making it a reality. I’m proud of the work we do to help create special moments in people’s lives.”

Her advice to those considering the field is to gain proper training, education and certification as well as business knowledge and practical experiences through internships and volunteering.

“Experience is one of the most important tools you will have,” she said, noting the importance in working with other event professionals to gain an accurate view of the field and lifestyle as well as the practical hands-on skills learned while working together.

She also stressed the importance for professional development and lifelong learning throughout one’s career. Walski recently earned designation as a Certified Special Events Professional, a certification achieved by only 1 in 500 in the field. She also started Northern Michigan Event Professionals for local networking and education, and attends two international events conferences annually to stay fresh on event trends, new vendors and to stay involved in the industry.

“This industry has so much potential,” she said. “You need to be prepared for the challenges … but also know how amazing it can be.”