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November 2004
Let's Party!
By Lindsay LeCorchick

     When turning into the Hawthorne Road parking lot of Party Reflections the plain white building doesn’t seem much more than a warehouse for the rental pieces the customer knows are inside; but walking into the showroom it becomes readily apparent that this place is more than just tables and chairs for your neighbor’s high school graduation party.

     The incredibly decorated showroom features tables adorned with products running the gamut from classic place settings and elegant stemware, to funky-themed zebra tablecloths and equally wild accessories, to ultra-modern geometrics and contrasting block colors. The walls are lined with options of glassware, silverware, place settings and fabric swatches. A group of salespeople are stationed at the back of the large showroom fielding calls.

     Taking all this in, it is clear that a lot happens within these walls. But until you sit down with President Dan Hooks, you probably would never guess what all that is.

     Party Reflections was established in 1958 by Hooks’ father with just a few tables and chairs. Hooks has worked in every department of the business from washing dishes to making deliveries to finally being in charge. After 12 years at Providence Day and a degree from Wake Forest University, Hooks was ready to fill the shoes of his father. And as the years went on those tables and chairs multiplied, and other party necessities were added. Now almost 50 years and one generation later, this $3 million plus business is equipped to handle any size event, regardless of location.

     “We do everything for an event, except for the food, the flowers and the entertainment,” Hooks explains. “We provide the tents, tables and chairs, linens, glassware, draping for convention service type things, lighting – you name it, we pretty much provide everything.”

     And any size event really means any size. The business caters to small dinner parties in need of servingware and glasses as well as large scale events such as Taste of Charlotte and the Wachovia Championship. Hooks and his crew of approximately 55 employees are ready for any challenge. Hooks estimates their inventory to be upwards of five or ten million individual pieces and, while that may seem like a lot, with approximately15,000 events to serve annually, every bit of it is used.

     Needless to say, organization is key for a company running so many different things at one time. Hooks credits a “good computer system” and his staff of warehouse and operations managers. Also on the payroll are two groups of salespeople. One group handles general inquiries and private events; the other group handles corporate events and business brought in by regular partners such as caterers and event planners, which constitutes a good half of Party Reflections’ business.

      “We’ve split up our sales force to handle business the way we need to,” Hooks says. “We have retail out front taking care of Mrs. Smith who wants some glassware for a party for the weekend, and we’ve got people in the back that actually go on site for corporate events.”


One Stop Shopping

     Trying to be the best doesn’t come easily in this market. Hooks says his company has about three big competitors; however, he has worked to offer a product/service that is more universal and appeals to anyone who may be in need of temporary equipment for an event. Party Reflections carries all items necessary to turn any dream into reality, from tents to full table set-ups to color-coordinated bamboo chairs. Customers, regardless of size or prestige of the event, can truly get it all at this accommodating place.

     Of course having the most up-to-date selection is another way to beat out the competition in this line of work. Many people can attest that their wedding day or other major event is one they will remember forever. Most customers want the current trend in décor, and Hooks and company are constantly updating the selection. From their years of experience, the company knows what to look for – and where.

     “Colors go out of style. Colors come in style. Fabrics, patterns, different things are always on the cutting edge,” Hooks explains. “And generally if you see it in California today, wait a year and it will be here.”

     Party Reflections also maintains a Web site that allows customers to browse the selection and even order online.

      While the company lays the groundwork for some of the most successful events, there still is a need to build up their offerings to potential new customers. In that regard, Party Reflections utilizes local print magazines to get its message across to targeted customers. Since a large amount of the company’s business comes from corporate events, publications geared toward businesspeople are a good bet.

     Significantly, an estimated 35 percent of the company’s business comes from weddings alone. Obviously bridal publications and events are venues for Party Reflections’ advertising dollars, however, in the case of nuptials, Hooks takes it to the next level.

     For area brides-to-be, the bi-annual Bridal Showcase is a must-attend at the Charlotte Convention Center. Being such a large part of their business, Hooks decided to capitalize on access to all the potential customers. In order to get his name out there, he, along with a partner and both of their wives, started up Carolina Weddings and Events and purchased the rights to the bridal show four years ago.

     Party Reflections handles all the rental needs for the event, at the same time showcasing what they can do for prospective weddings. Hooks estimates that well over half of the bridal business coming in to the company has stemmed from the Bridal Showcase.

     Despite their expansive reach, Hooks says there are no plans for the business to branch out further into other facets of a production. For example, major lighting and sound is “left to the professionals.” And the same goes for Carolina Weddings and Events. While Hooks and his partners certainly have the know-how and supplies, he works too closely with wedding and event planners on a day-to-day basis to want to start taking clients. And besides, Party Reflections has enough to worry about.


Behind the Scenes

     We’re the first in and the last out. Nobody sees us come in, and everybody is gone by the time we come back to pick up our stuff,” Hooks says of the covert nature of his work. “The better we do our job, the less apparent we are!”

     Although most events go off without a hitch, for many of the larger corporate events there is a company person on the scene to iron out the kinks.

     “For the Shout Festival and Speed Street we actually have the staff person on site to take care of any needs that might come up. If somebody needs an extra table, we have a stash of tables and chairs they can get to quickly and get that handled,” Hooks explains matter-of-factly. “Whether a tent needs to be moved or something other needs to be taken care of, we can deal with it on site pretty quickly.”


This Party Just Gets Bigger

     Growth has been the order of this business since its inception in 1958. From a few tables and a few chairs, Party Reflections has grown, first adding more of the same, then later branching out to linens, dishes, glasses, tents and so much more.

     The business has really seen a boom in the last decade. In that period of time, Hooks estimates his company revenue has quadrupled. He credits this rapid growth spurt to various external factors.

     “The market is just getting much more advanced and culturally diverse,” he postulates. “You have customers coming in from all different walks of life, all different parts of the country. We’re sort of a melting pot here in Charlotte. You’re getting influences from a lot of different places which require our inventory to grow.”

     Hooks is quick to give credit where credit is due, explaining that a lot of the credit is due to his father’s good business sense. He says his dad was constantly putting money back into the business, always adding new inventory and keeping abreast of the latest trends. That was, and still is, a business philosophy that remains intact at Party Reflections.

     Increases in inventory obviously lead to the need for more space. That is something the company is currently facing, and Hooks says negotiations are currently underway to purchase a new location within the same Elizabeth neighborhood that will give them over twice the space they have now.

     Currently operating with 50,000 square feet in two separate locations, Hooks and his employees are currently inconvenienced by having part of their inventory, specifically, the tents, in a separate location. With the advent of their new 115,000-square-foot location, which they hope to operate out of by June of next year, space will no longer be a problem – at least for the time being.

     At more than twice the square footage of their present facilities, Hooks would consider renting out the extra space but he remains realistic as well saying, “We have doubled in seven years; if we double again in seven years then we will need every bit of that warehouse. That’s the hope.”

     The patriarch of Party Reflections, the senior Hooks, is still around. Son says of father that while his dad does have other projects he’s taken on in retirement, he still finds time to drop by weekly. The younger Hooks modestly says his dad is impressed with where the business is going, and it’s safe to assume he’s proud of his son who has so competently carried on in his father’s footsteps, being a part of Charlotte’s biggest and best parties.
Lindsay LeCorchick is a charlotte-based freelance writer.
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