(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a three-part series spotlighting Terry Turner, President of All Occasions Party Rentals in Knoxville.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Halloween is known as “Trick or Treat” time. In the case of Terry Turner, President of All Occasions Party Rentals in Knoxville, what was supposed to be a temporary gig during late 1991 turned into a career “treat” that has continued for 30 years.
We sat down recently with the company’s top executive and Past Chair of the Knoxville Chamber to learn more about how a Clinton native became head of the region’s premier event rental source. As our lead might suggest, it was not planned, but rather serendipitous with a dose of entrepreneurial DNA thrown in for good measure.
Turner’s journey is also one that shows the importance of persistence, perseverance and patience. As he described the past three decades, it was like growing most businesses – there were some ups and there were some challenges.
Today, All Occasions is the “go to” source for those planning special events. From the headquarters and warehouse on Middlebrook Pike, the company offers a full range of special event equipment including tents, tables, chairs, linen, china, serving ware, decor, fabric draping, lighting, staging, concessions, convention and meeting equipment. Prominent local events that All Occasions supports include the International Biscuit Festival, Smoky Mountain Highland Games at Maryville College, Children’s Festival of Reading, Destination Imagination, Dogwood Arts Festival, L’amour du Vin fundraiser for the Knoxville Museum of Art, “An Evening in Orange” (UT Medical Center), and “Grits & Grains” among many other fundraisers, festivals and private events.
In 2012, Turner started Tailgate Tennessee, a partnership with UT Athletics to provide concierge level tailgate services.
“Our bread and butter is within 60 miles of Knoxville,” Turner says in describing the core client base. “We never sacrifice to do something elsewhere if it means we cannot do something for Knoxville.”
That said, All Occasions has served major events outside the local region such Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, Bonnaroo, and the annual Korn Ferry Tour Championship in Evansville, IN.
Turner says he learned early in life what it was like to work in a small business.
“Dad was always an entrepreneur but like a June bug . . . try things for a few years and then do something else,” he said. Those ventures ranged from a grocery store that installed self-service gas pumps in the early 1970s to an excavating business and a pizza restaurant. His mother worked for Rust Engineering/MK Ferguson for many years.
“I had a typical childhood,” he explained, adding, “College didn’t work out for me.” So, needing a source of income, the young Turner went to work for Hewgley’s Music Shop selling instruments. It was a fortuitous decision; that’s how he met Regina, a customer and now his wife.
Unfortunately, soon after their marriage in 1991, Hewgley’s, which had moved to the Old City, closed, and Turner was hired by the liquidator to sell the remaining inventory. It was a temporary gig, so he wondered what would come next.
“Two weeks after the closure, I got a call from Cobble Staffing,” Turner says of the company that had placed him with the liquidator. It was a call that would impact his life going forward.
“Chuck (Rothstein of Party Rentals) and I hit it off,” he says of the relationship, both professional and personal, that has lasted for three decades.
From being a temporary employee, Turner followed Rothstein’s core advice: “You have to immerse yourself in every aspect of the business.” That meant everything from loading trucks to setting-up tents and washing dishes after events.
Turner moved into sales and worked with Rothstein to start a division focused on company picnics and corporate events. “I was working all of the time,” he said.
Then, in the fall of 1997, shortly after the birth of Jared, the Turners’ first son, Rothstein announced, “I’m selling the company.” It was a major milestone in the lives of the Party Rentals team.
NEXT IN THE WEEKDAY EDITION ON MONDAY: Life after the acquisition by Rent X.