Out of an office in his home in Rocky Mount, Martin Guthrie operates a business that sets up tents for special occasions along the Eastern Coast and into Tennessee.
Down East Canopy supplies tents, canopies, tables and chairs for formal and informal events and offers related support services.
“We come out, we set the tent up, the tables the chairs, the sidewalls the chandeliers,” he said. “After the event, we come back and take it down. Usually what we do is we’ll come up on Wednesday, set everything up on Thursday. After the weekend, on Sunday, we’ll break (the tent) down, and start traveling back to North Carolina on Monday.”
The items are used for weddings, reunions and events such as a backyard picnics, corporate meetings or sporting events. Some of his tents can handle events with 3,000 guests.
Guthrie opened the business in 2000, but has been in the tent rental industry for more than 20 years. He previously owned a construction company and loaned equipment to another company that set up tents; that company, in turn, hired Guthrie’s wife.
“(The owners) wanted to retire and then they brought me in,” he said. “ I ended up taking over. It escalated from that point.”
Guthrie said he prides himself on offering personal service, including personally meeting with each customer.
Q: What products or services do you provide?
A: We do weddings and pretty much do it up and down the whole East Coast, and actually we go farther than that really. We set up tents, tables and chairs. We do the decorating. We do the planning, so pretty much (handle the event) from the start to the finish for the price. We have tents, tables and chairs and dance floors and dishes – everything that it takes to do a wedding.
Q: Who are your key leaders?
A: Owner Martin Guthrie.
Q: How many people do you employ?
A: We have actually contract employees. During the winter months it’s two. During the summer months it averages five.
Q: What is your business philosophy?
A: It’s very much just help people out. I’ll give you an example. You can call me, ask for prices and I’ll give you prices. I’ll tell you, “Hey look, there is someone else who might be able to do it for a little bit less. I don’t have a problem with it.” It’s mainly to help the customer out.
Other rental companies have operating hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. You’re not going to reach them like that. From the start right on down to the finish, I am always available. My cell phone stays on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I had a situation on Sunday where a customer needed a dance floor at the last minute. The lady called me. I said, “Sure, no problem. Give me about 30 minutes or so, and I’ll have the floor out there for you.” I guess you can either do it with another guy that may be able to help you out or may not be able to help you out.
We’ll find a profit (in a job). If we don’t, and don’t want to get involved with it, we’ll suggest some people for you to use.
Q: What makes your business unique?
A: I’m more hands on. I do things a little bit different. When you are calling our office, the number transfers to me, so most of the time you’ll be talking to a live person, and you’ll be talking to a person who can make a decision right there on the spot. In my case, you are talking with the owner 99 percent of the time. On big orders, anything that consist of 2,000 and more, I’m out there with the customer and with my guys.
Q: How has your business grown?
A: Pretty much even with the economy being bad we’ve still been sticking right through it. It seems like each year we have been growing a little bit more. I’ve been doing it since August of 2000
Q: What kind of growth do you expect in the coming years?
A: To be honest with you if we can get back to what we were after 2007 I’d be happy. Back in 2007 we were kicking butt
But in 2008 we weren’t hurting but we could definitely see that the economy has changed lot. We’re still staying busy, but people don’t have the money that they used to have to be putting out for the weddings.