Unlike its marquee structures, North Wales’ Tents & Events is here to stay. H&E North spoke to its Manging Director, Ben Newell.
Hi Ben! Thanks for speaking to us. What has your day been like so far?
We’re incredibly busy, which is not normal for a marquee company at this time of the year! It’s partly because we have diversified into a new temporary structure, wooden chalets, so we are all over the country providing chalets for Christmas markets. We’ve had them in our product fleet for nearly 10 years but the demand has grown and we have taken on another 80 constructions to give us a much longer season.
I am mainly office based now in the planning and logistics side, getting the right crews and vehicles in the right places and making sure we achieve our requirements. Today we’re working at Blenheim Palace and have markets in Liverpool and Harrogate and we’ve still got to go to Lincoln, Kirby Lonsdale, Wrexham, Burghley House, Colwyn Bay – all over the place really!
Can you give us a little background on the company?
Tents & Events was started in 1995 by my father, Peter Newell. I joined in 2003 and we’ve continually invested in marquee structures and ancillary products such as our own luxury loos, generators, furniture, dancefloors and lighting. Keeping it in-house has enabled us to keep control of the quality, and that’s been a significant part of our growth strategy. The business has grown year-on-year and we currently employee 22 full-time staff in the office and on the road. We have 12 vehicles, three articulated trucks and a fleet of 4×4 pick-ups. We’re based in our head office in Pen-y-ffordd just outside Chester and have sales offices in Shropshire.
Our main business is still marquee hire. Furniture hire is another significant part of our business, we have over 4,000 chairs in stock in varying styles so we can cope with events that might need 600 chairs in one colour, for instance. The ‘one-stop-shop’ is a philosophy we have developed and we’ve got a fleet of vehicles that back that up.
How did you get involved with the family business?
I was in marketing for a construction machine company and I was looking for a new challenge. The offer arose to join the company, which was a big move at the time as it had a relatively small turnover, but we’ve built a fairly successful business since then.
Dad’s 71 and he’s now involved in a more low-key capacity as he still enjoys the work. Because I joined 15 years ago and have been involved with for quite a long time, I don’t really think about taking on the family legacy anymore. We’ve always been great pals and we’ve hardly had a cross word in all that time.
Has the business stayed in tune with the market?
Over the years we’ve grown because we’ve provided a good service and diversified into different sectors. Knowing when to move with the times has been absolutely key for us. When we started weddings were our main source of business and now it’s only 15% as we’ve gone into corporate parties, festivals and food and drink events.
The corporate world in particular is so diverse. We could be dealing with a party, a product launch or a big tradeshow, so we have to have the ability to cover all those areas. And the stranger the brief, the more we work with event planners to deliver it.
From a marquee perspective, we’ve seen the market evolve with people always wanting something different. We’ve seen a move towards teepees and stretch tents but we purposely haven’t gone down that route. Our equipment, such as clearspans, can work all year round and are far stronger in unpredictable weather. The market is certainly getting absorbed by teepees, and in my opinion it’s a niche at the moment but I do wonder how long the trend will last…
So why are marquees so popular?
I think it’s the flexibility, which will always be a requirement in the private or the corporate world. People want an event specifically for their needs in a chosen location, and with a temporary structure you can build almost anything. It can be how you want the party or event to be, as opposed to working with what’s available at hotels or events venues.
Any stand-out moments from working in the events industry?
It’s always nice to look back on events you’ve been associated with for a long time. We’ve developed the Bolesworth International Horse Show from a small horse event to one of the best in the country and we supplied over 70 structures for the event last year. I pride myself in the fact that a lot of our business is repeat business. To lose a customer would be unacceptable to me.
What makes North Wales a great base for operations?
The North Wales market is very important to us and we are based there so we can work in Chester, Wirral, Manchester, the North West and run down as far as Newport. I have lived in this area all my life and I know it well. We’ve worked with Garreglwyd, Tros Yr Afon, Plas Newydd, Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse and Chester Lakes for example – anywhere that has opportunities for events.
How does the future look?
Tents & Events is very much still in its growth stage and we’re investing heavily in new stock each year and looking after our current fleet of marquees, including investing in a marquee washing machine and dryer to wash all our own stock and also offer that as a new service. Some of our smaller competitors have been using us for that. We’re also planning to open an event space for up to 300 people on one of our sites.
Any time to relax, Ben?
Well I have to say that the quietest time of the year for us in the events industry is January, February and March, which works out quite nicely for a bit of skiing…that’s where the idea for the chalets came from!