January 2009

The Art of Staging Events: The Life of the Party

Author: Kate Hanzalik

Those who attended the HDTV Green Home Wrap Party at The Traditions in March are probably familiar with the work of John Tokar, owner of The Tent Factory. His stunning red carpet-style staging was lavish and unforgettable with lights, linens, flowers picturesque tents, and top-of-the-line audio-visuals. Celebrities and locals alike were thoroughly impressed with the ambiance that he created.

“The stars and personalities of HGTV were there, the media…He pulled it off flawlessly,” said Marty Sauls, director of marketing and public relations for Traditions Hilton Head. “It couldn’t have been any better.”

Tokar is a visual artist of sorts. He is an event planner extraordinaire and staging genius with a background partly in high-profile marketing campaigns and partly in customized carnival construction. His company provides services that range from setting up tents, tables, chairs, lighting and temporary flooring to developing, marketing, and managing events. Tokar’s business philosophy, similar to his professional demeanor, is straight to the point and sympathetic to the needs of his clients: “Event management and rentals with attention to detail, affordability and simplicity.”

You’ve probably seen him around town, working at weddings, private parties, festivals, government functions, grand openings, annual corporate functions, churches. The Tent Factory’s projects have gone from one to more than 150 since it opened in August of 2007, and among his extensive list of clients are the American Cancer Society, Polo for Charities, Relay for life, Palmetto Animal League, Sea Turtle Cinema and the Jasper County Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m trying to do a lot in the community,” he said, noting that he branches out as far as 100 miles outside of town, but he is fully committed to Beaufort County. “I try to stay active locally… One of the advantages, especially in an economy like ours, is that we keep our money local, and being locally owned, I am able to provide hands-on service like consultation and labor onsite.”

Notable projects include staging for Tyler Florence’s Palmetto Bluff Lowcountry Celebration; the Hilton Head Area Hospitality Association Seafood, Jazz & Brew; the Palmetto Animal League Shelter Pawty; and Polo for Charity at Rose Hill Plantation.

“He’s very reliable,” said Molly Kennedy from Celebration Events, a leading event-planning company on the island. She has worked with his team on several projects, including the prestigious Concours’ d’Elegance & Motoring Festival. “The products are very nice; inventory is very nice and in great condition; they are just great people.”

Each client receives a free one-hour consultation for each event, where Tokar will find out exactly what they are looking to do, albeit marketing or generating revenue or simply having a good time in a good space. “We start picking out the ingredients that would be part of the event: lighting, catering, tents, tables, chairs, centerpieces.” He was quick to point out that communication is instrumental in the success of any public event.

Tokar also said productions work best with at least six weeks notice, however he is no stranger to short-notice opportunities. “I’m detail oriented and I hate to be rushed because things get missed,” said Tokar. “But when I am pressed, my expertise and experience comes through and I am able to roll with it.”

Tokar was in event management for 15 years in New Jersey, New York and Florida. He learned how to brand with the big boys when he worked with Young & Rubicam and BBDO Detroit. He led many national marketing programs for U.S. Army, Proctor and Gamble, Toyota, and Chrysler Corporation at which he planned and implemented a health and fitness campaign that brought him to colleges and university throughout the United States.

But he said the skills he gained while working construction early on in his career have been instrumental to his success. “It taught me how to use my hands; that is something that will never go away.”

He’s built carnival booths and games, gladiator jousts and rock walls; he set up arcades, pinball machine, softballs in milk cans and laser tag fields. The first display that he created was a Velcro wall that kids hurled themselves on and stuck to for fun. Even today, he still makes use of his talent. He and his team recently built an off-road course for a live Land Rover demonstration in Mackey Point.

“We brought in excavators, got trees and rocks. We built mountains, turns and valleys and a log bridge,” he said.

The Tent Factory’s marketing director, Lindsay Catanzaro, said that Tokar’s success is partly the result of his warm demeanor. “If you have a good attitude, in the long run it will help to build the business,” she said. Catanzaro is now reaching out to nearly 600 individuals and businesses in the Lowcountry, and she is receiving some excellent feedback. Among her latest projects, she is working to obtain sponsors for the Hilton Head Kennel Club annual dog show in March.

Tokar has goals for the future and said he is building the business out to make it more event-production oriented, while still maintaining top-quality event rental services. “Our company can provide the template for folks to get an event together,” he said.

For more information or to inquire about the Hilton Head Kennel Club sponsorship program, please contact John Tokar at (843) 645-4410, email thetentfactory@mac.com or visit thetentfactory.net.

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