VOL. 10 | NO. 1 | Saturday, December 31, 2016
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
Mahaffey Tent & Event Rentals: All Grown Up, Flexing Creative Muscle
By Don Wade
The beginning of Mahaffey Tent & Event Rentals goes all the back to 1924, when three brothers – Owen, Gene and Earl Mahaffey – got their start making awnings, canvas tarpaulins and cotton pick sacks.
Jack Daniels and Julie Phillips of Mahaffey Tent & Event Rentals show just a small sampling of how the company can adorn a venue, in this case, for a wedding. But it can tackle very large events, like at the Olympics or the Super Bowl.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
It would be five years, in fact, before they received their first request to make a tent. After they made it, the customer never bothered to pick it up.
But that tent found a use – and served as the company’s first tent rental – when the Tri-State Fair, the predecessor to the Mid-South Fair, needed a tent.
Fast forward to today and Mahaffey Tent & Event Rentals divides its business just about evenly between corporate events and weddings.
On Nov. 12, Haley Annable had her wedding and reception at the new Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education. She had a wedding planner, but Mahaffey played a huge role in creating the environment she wanted.
“They draped the ceiling and the side walls,” she said. “It was formal, but romantic and very cozy.”
Annable said that while she liked the venue because it was contemporary, it also felt a little cold for a wedding.
“They just warmed the room up to give it a wedding touch,” she said.
Jack Daniels, director of operations for Mahaffey, says the business has enjoyed substantial growth, and revenue this fiscal year is expected to exceed last year’s by 30 percent.
The business that the Mahaffey brothers started nearly 100 years ago has been anything but static. It evolved from that first tent rental to providing circus tents and “it originally came out of the funeral business,” Daniels said.
Then there was the commerce of service during World War II: The government contracted for the making of hospital war tents and ammunition bags. For the duration of the war, that’s all the company did.
The Mahaffey family sold the business in 1972 to William F. Pretsch, who, having seen the success of clearspan structures in Europe, brought them to the United States in the early 1980s. Pretsch then sold the company in 2011 to William J. Pretsch and George Smith.
Now, Mahaffey rents clearspan structures, pole tents and frame tents; just about anything a corporate or wedding clients wants, Mahaffey can accommodate.
“We work with pretty much all the big-name companies in town,” said Daniels.
Among the venues they’ve served: Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Memphis Botanic Garden, Levitt Shell, The Atrium, Germantown Performing Arts Center, the Metal Museum and Spring Creek Ranch. They’ve provided tents for Memphis in May, and a large rectangular tent for a high school football team wanting something that would resemble a brick-and-mortar indoor practice facility.
Well beyond Memphis, they’ve supplied hospitality and venue tents at events including the Olympics, Super Bowls and major golf tournaments.
Brides-to-be can see Mahaffey’s wedding showroom in person or view a gallery online.
“Each bride is different,” said Julie Phillips, an event consultant for Mahaffey. “Some brides want a simple wedding. Others want to create their own venue. There’s something to be said for a bride coming in and seeing what her day will look like.”
Annable says the process for her wedding was smooth from start to finish, adding that the venue looked just how she wanted and created a memory.
“People are still taking about it,” she said.
Even on the corporate side, Daniels says, clients know what they want and often that is not “just wine and cheese and table and chairs. Everybody wants it to look polished and finished.”
The scope of the service is broad: Everything from the tents to lighting, flooring (including dance floors), liners, linens, tableware, bars and furniture.
Tents can be air-conditioned or heated, and long and narrow or wide. While the potential client can get a good idea of what’s available online, Daniels says the showroom at 4131 Delp St. in Memphis provides a better window into what that future corporate event or dream wedding might look like.
“When people tour our warehouse,” Daniels said, “the amount of event muscle we can flex is staggering.”