Tiffany Sporn has a lot of her father in her.
Sporn said her father, Robert Hyre, knew nothing about running a business when he bought Ray Party Rental in 2006, but he built up revenues by adding tent rentals.
Sporn, a former nurse, was similarly inexperienced when she took over the business following her father’s death in 2009. Now she’s trying to grow the business by moving to a bigger facility and changing its name to Swell Event Rental.
“I believe I’m a lot like my dad,” Sporn said. “I have people tell me that all the time. He was more of a shoot-from-the-hip guy. I’m a little bit more of a planner.”
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Ray Party Rental’s roots stretch back to the 1930s. In recent years it’s been located at Market and Waterman in a former car dealership with floor-to-ceiling windows. Sporn said moving to a location in south Wichita with more room and parking outweighed the old location’s visibility.
The new location off Hydraulic has about 22,000 square feet. It’s also on one level, which makes some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the event rental business – such as cleaning and pressing linens and washing dinnerware – a lot easier than utilizing a basement.
After transporting some 5,000 linens, 500 tables and more than 50 tents, Sporn said, “Never will I cry about moving a house again.”
Chairs, chafing dishes, popcorn and snow cone machines, lights and a chandelier – for that really opulent tent – fill up more space.
Swell handles up to 80 events a week. Sporn said the company wasn’t hurt too badly by the economic downturn.
“Corporate (business) went down, but weddings went up,” she said.
Currently, corporate events make up about half of Swell’s business, with weddings, parties and other types of events accounting for the other half. Sporn would like to increase the number of corporate events, “but I don’t want to scare brides away,” she added.
Swell employs 14 people, including Sporn’s brother, Robbie, and sister, Jamie Hodgden.
“We’ve got a good crew,” Sporn said. “They’re fast, they work together, and they get it done.”
Swell recently held an open house for vendors, caterers, event coordinators and others at the new location. The company’s new name is part of rebranding strategy that the Apples & Arrows advertising agency is helping with.
“It was time for a change,” Sporn said. “We do events. We create things. I don’t know, I just like that word, ‘Swell.’ ”
Sporn said the event rental business is rarely boring. In addition to last-minute requests for tents and other equipment, which Swell fulfills when possible, there are the oddball questions, such as: Does Swell rent camels?
It does not.
Sporn took a 10-week entrepreneurship class at Wichita State University after taking over the business. She says she’s in “a continual learning process every day.”
She considered selling the company at one point. Then she thought about her father, who used to drop his business card off at events featuring a competitor’s tents.
“I just remember how hard Dad worked, and I just couldn’t do it,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing it now.”