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Exquisite Events

Author: Kat Gore
March, 2016 Issue

If you’re thinking of hosting an event in the North Bay, you’ll quickly discover there’s no shortage of services available to you.

From lavish weddings to shindigs for political figures, event rental businesses are working behind the scenes to ensure each celebration fits the client’s vision and exceeds expectations. To get a glimpse into the world of companies that manage almost every aspect of an event, from outfitting a gorgeous vineyard wedding venue down to specific cutlery and final touches, we checked in with four premiere North Bay event rental companies.

Big 4 Party Rentals

Based in Novato, Big 4 Party Rentals is a family business that was started seven years ago. The party rental and event solution company caters to the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties, San Francisco and the East Bay.
Big 4 did a lot of weddings when it first burst on to the scene (as well as, of course, other types of events). “We had a passion for the event industry and felt that there was a need for a top-of-the-line event rental service provider. The industry was originally ‘party-centric,’ meaning that the focus was on parties,” says CEO Rob Roberts.
Roberts works at Big 4 with his wife, Kim, two sons, Wes and Travis, and sister-in-law Suzie Weir. In his previous career, he was the on-scene coordinator for disaster and pollution events for the state of California. Roberts says that job gave him the skillset for his current work and was a natural segue into the event business. “I managed larger events in what is called an Incident Command System. I pulled resources from different agencies and I do the same thing here now. If we’re making a wedding cake or handling an event for 50,000 people at AT&T Park, we ramp up our resources,” Roberts says. “We better serve our customers that way. We can bundle everything together and be a one-stop shop.”
For the last four or five years, Big 4 has focused more on corporate events, festivals and concerts, although private parties continue to be the company’s mainstay. “We’ve created a culture centering around events, which encompasses every aspect of the event,” Roberts says.
He enjoys the anticipation aspect of his work. “I’m able to complete something and make magic for people for their event. It lets me and my team be creative and make people’s dreams come true.”
Big 4’s clients are offered full consulting services, and the staff strives to create a one-stop experience for those looking to create an event. The company currently stages 800 to 1,000 events per year and provides event planning, tenting, setup and teardown as well as onsite coordination and standby services. “Big 4 offers solutions for virtually every aspect of an event,” Roberts says. “We provide consulting, tabletop decor, furniture, bars, portable power, tenting, props, stages, dance floors, VIP restrooms, lighting and audio services.”
Big 4 works with brides and their families, as well as event planners and caterers, offering exemplary customer service to help ease the stress that’s often present when planning an event. The company uses computer-aided design (CAD) to bring clients’ dreams to life. Big 4 specializes in larger tents, typically 6,000 to 10,000 square feet, and lighting decor. Clients needn’t worry about the tents being weather-sensitive; Big 4’s climate control equipment can warm a chilly winter night or cool a sweltering summer day. Canopies are available to rent as well.
Big 4 offers clients the opportunity to choose from a vast array of table linens, napkins and table skirts. Examples of specialty linens include damask, lamour, satins, organza and pintuck fabrics.
The event rental provider works on several fund-raisers and corporate parties annually that cost close to $100,000 each. “Last spring, we set up the tent and event for the San Francisco Giants’ opening day after they won their third World Series trophy,” Roberts says. Big 4 has also done several events that hosted up to 20,000 people, including some concerts and festivals.
The business has heard it all in terms of unconventional requests. They’ve done events on World War II-era warships and have organized functions for the secret service and political figures. Roberts and his team have been asked to put tents on San Francisco rooftops and to build a platform over a swimming pool—then tent it to host a wedding.
“I really do love what we do every day,” Roberts says. “You get to be a kid again and create, build, come up with crazy ideas and work together. It gets our creative juices flowing and we get to share in the clients’ excitement.”

Cal-West Rentals and Encore Events Rentals

Encore Events Rentals is the sister company to Cal-West Rentals, which is located in Petaluma and specializes in heavy equipment. Cal-West delivers to Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, seven days per week. The Doherty family has owned and managed the company for more than 37 years, and second-generation siblings Bridget and Tyler Doherty are currently at the helm. The Dohertys started Encore Events Rentals September 2010 and now manage both Encore Events and Cal-West.
Encore Events has showrooms and warehouses in Petaluma and Healdsburg, and a design studio in St. Helena was added in summer 2014. Encore’s delivery service makes stops in Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Mendocino counties, and the business prides itself on an accommodating and dependable delivery experience. Bridget Doherty, president at Encore Events, says the company works with many winery events and weddings but the team also does corporate and private home events.

“Inventory-wise, we offer everything but the flowers that you see on a table,” she says. Encore’s rental inventory includes chairs, linens, tables, dance floors, shade and heating, china, glassware, custom wood structures, lighting, flatware, tents, lounge furniture and decor.
Bridget says their specialty is Wine Country-inspired inventory. Encore has a woodshop in-house and makes custom farm tables and other furniture. “Our design taste and product selection leans toward the Wine Country look. It’s authentic here, so it’s a natural fit,” she says. Service-wise, Encore Events offers design services, CAD drawing for large events, on-call availability, will call, site inspection, full installation, late-night pickups and custom work.
“We just started adding custom bars last year, and we’ll continue to grow that area as bars become a central part of many events.”
The Encore Events team works directly with brides and wedding planners based in Napa, Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino counties, as well as in San Francisco. Typically, customers interact with 10 to 30 people by the time they’ve finished working with Encore, including salespeople, delivery crews and managers. Doherty says Encore has a strong team approach internally, as does the event industry as a whole.
“What I love most—and what people enjoy about working here—is the team aspect of events and our company. An event is a 100 percent team sport that involves playing with other vendors and being a part of the big picture,” she says. “It happens within Encore Events constantly. We’re a strong team here and people are what make every event successful and beautiful.”
Doherty says the largest and most lavish events Encore is involved with are high-end, large budget weddings, often held at wineries or private estates. “One big wedding last year was a So Eventful [a Healdsburg-based event design and planning company] wedding at Chalk Hill Winery. That was an impressive, gorgeous wedding,” she says. The business also works with large-scale holiday parties; in December 2015 it collaborated on a winery holiday party for more than 1,000 people.
As far as odd requests, “Weddings around here are so customized that anything you can imagine, people ask for—as well as stuff you can’t even imagine,” she laughs. Indeed, clients have asked Encore if they could rent a variety of uncommon items for their special event, including sleeping bags, t-shirt launchers, snowmaker machines and even sweat towels for rock band members.
Doherty says she enjoys seeing the end result of everyone’s hard work: happy clients and gorgeous and unique events. “The event industry is very creative and resourceful, which lets us all grow and contribute to something greater,” she says.

Bright Event Rentals

Bright Event Rentals, formerly known as Wine Country Party and Events, serves the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa counties. The full-service rental company works on all types of events, from weddings to corporate and private gatherings. Director of Business Development Michael Prichett says weddings are a “humongous” part of the business, but they don’t make up the majority. “We’ll take care of anything under the sky,” he says.
The company has been in business since 1976 and has been purchased a few times. Michael Bjornstad and John Moran, who’ve been in the rental business for many years, purchased Wine Country Party and Events in July 2013 then rebranded it to Bright Event Rentals. “The goal for Bright is to become a California-based event rental provider. In May, we opened in Brisbane to service the San Francisco market. It’s all one big regional company that we’re continuing to grow,” Prichett says.
Prichett knew Bjornstad and Moran through his work as a general manager at a different event company. “They talked to me about their philosophy and what they were trying to accomplish in growing a California-based event rental company,” Prichett says. “Knowing the people, the trust I had in them, their focus on customer service and ease of use, as well as wanting to produce high quality and innovative products, I thought it would be a great, great team to grow with.”
Bright Event Rentals does event planning, setup, tear down and offers many products including linens, folding chairs, tables, tents, china and decor.
“We focus on trying to elevate what would be considered the standard offering for rentals,” Prichett says. “We look at a typical Libbey glass that someone would normally rent, from a rental company and we’ve elevated that to fine china.”
Prichett says Bright closely examined different categories of standard rentals and then brought their offerings to a higher quality. “In addition to that, being really innovative with trends is such an important part of our business,” Prichett says. Bright Event Rentals studies current rental and retail trends, then incorporates what’s new into the inventory.
The business works with wedding planners and directly with brides. Prichett says that typically, event planners do the majority of the design work, but when a client doesn’t have a planner, the Bright staff steps in to fill the holes.
Prichett describes Bright Event Rentals as “an event planner’s right arm. They have a vision about what they’re trying to accomplish and we help flesh that out and execute it onsite. We have a skilled set of drivers and installers who execute the visions of our clients,” Prichett says. “Our great sales staff help communicate, build and plan an event and then hand it off to our ops team.”
An event can be ready to go after an afternoon or can require a two-week installation with many different pieces and parts, such as flooring, carpeting, HVAC, tenting and lighting. Bright Event Rentals’ services and inventory includes CAD for planning, dinner and glassware, flatware, tabletop decor, furniture, tents, electrical, climate control, linen and more. It’s involved with roughly 20,000 events annually, covering everything from a will-call to pick up 20 chairs for a holiday dinner to execution of a multi-million dollar wedding.
“The quality of our work, customer service, ease of use and innovative products, along with our high standard of quality, is what we pride ourselves on,” Prichett says when asked about what sets the company apart.
Bright Event Rentals has worked on countless lavish, big-budget events. One that stands out to Prichett was a “Great Gatsby”-themed wedding. Staff installed a floor over a pool and created a Gatsby backdrop. “We were trying to be as authentic as possible, and budget wasn’t an issue, the client just wanted that look,” Pritchett says.
At another event, Bright Event Rentals created a dining room over the top of a garden by building a level floor. In the middle of the dining room’s walkway was a Plexiglass portion of the floor that had chickens in it and looked down into the garden. “People would walk and under their feet they saw chickens going about their business in the vegetable garden,” Prichett recalls.
He says that some of the things people ask for when it comes to creating a wedding in what is (sometimes) essentially the middle of nowhere are pretty impressive.
“It’s all about emotions with our work. Sometimes it’s equally as rewarding to see a multi-million dollar wedding that took a lot of work as it is to see something small and special, like a 60th wedding anniversary,” Prichett says.

Milestone Events Group

Milestone Events Group President Marshall Bauer founded his company in March 2014. Milestone currentlypartners with seven winery sites in Sonoma County and helps clients looking to host an event choose the venue that best suits their needs. Upon selecting a site, the Milestone team assists in planning and producing the event. Milestone has worked on numerous events, with weddings, nonprofit, corporate and winery-related events being the most common. Bauer says the company currently does a little under 150 events a year but it’s growing quickly.
“I owned a rental company in Sonoma for 10 years, and it grew to be the largest one in the North Bay,” Bauer says. “We were doing between 5,000 and 6,000 parties per year. From that vantage point, I noticed that wineries were really struggling to generate events for themselves, and when they did, to do so profitably. I approached several wineries and said, ‘You have an underused asset. Let’s optimize it and create a win for the customer, you, the vendor community and ourselves,’” Bauer says.
Milestone’s website makes it simple for clients looking for an event location to work with the company, even if they live out of the area. The site is designed around distance selling and it gives people the chance to confidently be a part of the event evaluation and planning process; from understanding pricing to being able to virtually walk through each venue.
Milestone also differs from a typical event planner in that it works to put legal agreements in place with the sites and vendors to define responsibilities and protect the wineries from exposure. The company invests its own dollars to make sure each winery is able to attract customers; the wineries aren’t required to pay to market, sell nor produce the events. The Milestone team helps wineries on a gratis, (or, at most a cost-plus) basis for their internal events. Milestone provides analysis and recommendations to help optimize their event business, but the winery remains in charge of all final decisions. “We come in and partner with the winery, only asking them to be a winery,” Bauer says.
Additionally, Milestone heavily subsidizes event-planning services. The client saves anywhere from 50 to 75 percent over a traditional event planner, he says. Milestone also helps clients work with other providers involved in events, such as florists, caterers, DJs and photographers.
Milestone’s current partners include Armida Winery, Copain Wines, Hanna Winery and Vineyards in Healdsburg; Robert Young Estate Winery, Sbragia Family Vineyards and Trentadue Winery in Geyserville; and Madrone Vineyards Estate in Glen Ellen. Bauer says that Milestone is looking to expand in a controlled manner.
 “The key to us and a winery growing is that we want to take a site and help make it competitive from all standpoints; including aesthetics, service delivery, customer experience, and price. When we both feel we can do that, then we want to engage with that property,” he explains.
To help determine if there’s viability for success, Milestone conducts a complimentary audit and provides an analysis of its findings for review. Bauer adds, “A site that’s permitted to hold events shouldn’t live in fear of maximizing that opportunity. By setting event client expectations properly from the start, then monitoring and reviewing to ensure regulatory compliance (including traffic, attendees, noise and ABC), permitted wineries can earn critical income without creating neighbors that are critical of their endeavors.”

Flowers for Everyone

Sequoia Floral International is a locally owned and operated floral wholesaler that’s been serving the North Bay since 1976. With a 25,000-square-foot facility, it’s the largest floral wholesaler between San Francisco and Portland.
Local Sales Manager Danette Whiting says working in floral can be a very “fun, upbeat and creative environment, where the trends are always changing. For example, we’re seeing a slight push now towards pastel colors that were extremely popular in the 1980s.”
 She explains, “We mostly sell to event planners who will, in turn, rent what they’ve purchased from us to their own clients. Our customer base mostly consists of florists, wedding and event planners, wineries, catering companies and various other businesses that will either rent or resell the product.”
The company’s main source of sales comes from weddings. According to Whiting, the “bohemian” look is a current trend that incorporates a lot of different foliage and natural materials in wedding bouquets and flower crowns.
The industry is never predictable, she adds. Once, Whiting says, “We hosted a large floral and event design company here from Las Vegas.  They rented a space from us for four days to complete their event. It was something I’d never been involved with before, but was exciting for all of us to see it come together.”



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