Rent-All Reinvention

Top Photo
Mike Parkin, owner of Exeter Rent-All, left, and Ashley Parkin, manager of the new Sailcloth Tents, a division of Exeter Rent-All Inc., located on 38 Portsmouth Ave. in Portsmouth. The upscale rental tents feature illuminated fabrics and varnished wooden poles.Rich Beauchesne photo

Michael McCord

By Michael Mccord
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May 03, 2009 6:00 AM

EXETER — Mike Parkin of Exeter Rent-All has a philosophy in place when it comes to economic recessions.

“A lot of companies reel back. We look to reinvent ourselves,” said Parkin of the three to four times economic slowdowns in the past two decades that have prompted reevaluation and regeneration.

Creating a new business model by tapping into a niche market for boutique weddings was exhibit A of the latest reinvention for the 23-year-old special-events company that Parkin founded.

The company is well known in its market, which stretches from Portland, Maine, to Newton, Mass., for doing more than supplying tents, chairs and tables and being a complete planner for a wide range of events such as weddings, graduations and corporate gatherings.

Through conversations with potential customers in early 2008, Parkin and his daughter Ashley, who is one of the company’s sales managers, decided to exceed customer expectations. Rather than simply purchasing a higher-end product for this new niche market, the Parkins make the jump to custom-designing their own product line. That led to reinvention exhibit B — the new Sail Cloth Tent product line, a cutting-edge design.

Ashley Parkin has worked with her father since she was 14 and returned to the company two years ago after graduating from Brandeis University. She said this tent line features all-natural side poles and center poles, elegant, true-white cloth, airy church-window sides and unique lighting effects that she designed.

The Parkins partnered with California-based Aztec Tents on design and manufacture for more than a year. The Sale Cloth Tents arrived last week and Ashley Parkin said the first wedding using them is scheduled for late May at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth.

“A majority of tents are made out of vinyl and they are very durable, very rugged and very wind resistant,” Ashley Parkin said.

In a nod to the Seacoast’s heritage, the Parkins eventually settled on a nautical theme with a look of a sailboat sail and mast. “They are more expensive to make,” Mike Parkin said. But reinvestment is part of his reinvention formula for the company and he said it will be worth it to expand market share and broaden the company’s special-event offerings.

Parkin also changed his business model by having two dedicated sales managers, Ashley and Cedar Gordon, to handle weddings and special corporate events. In particular, he believed it was important to have female sales professionals deal directly with future brides and their families.

“They can see better eye to eye with the brides,” he said.

The new tent line will add to an already busy outdoor season schedule (May 1 to Nov. 1) which can include as many 40 events a weekend during the peak. The company has 18 year-round employees and that expands to 60 during busy periods. The evolution of the company’s product line includes offering seven different lines of china and dozens of linen colors, dance floors and inflatable fun equipment — along with a staff of full event planners, a showroom and stocked warehouse.

Parkin believes he has bet correctly on this new line this time around because the company’s 2009 schedule is even busier than 2008 — and the company has added to its regular client list

“We’ve actually seen a uptick in business,” he said.