story by Ryan Saylor
A new events company in Fort Smith is already making a name for itself, landing one of the region's biggest corporate events after officially being open for business for a little over a month.
RSVP Event Rentals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners, is the brain child of owner Lance Beaty. Beaty was the developer behind the former Phoenix Expo Center, which has since become the new Health Management Associates (HMA) regional service center.
Instead of simply shutting the doors to the Phoenix Expo Center following the lease to HMA, which Beaty said had been successful since its opening in 2009, he decided to take the facility's existing inventory of linens, furniture and dishes to create a new events rental business in the Fort Smith market. After adding "several hundreds of thousands of dollars of new (inventory)," Beaty opened a showroom and 40,000-square-foot storage facility on the north side of the former Phoenix Village Mall property that his company already owned. The business concept, he said, is essentially what he and his staff were already doing at the Phoenix Expo Center, just minus one component.
"We just looked to redeploy assets," Beaty said. "It's a reformatting of what we were doing with the real estate taken out."
Beaty said the business, with more than $1 million in inventory, is completely debt free and already had established relationships in the Fort Smith area that Manager Melissa Smith took with her from the Expo Center to RSVP Event Rentals.
"I had had contacts already, just from (customers) hearing that it was an idea that we were going to have," Smith said.
Of the four established event planning firms in the Fort Smith region, Smith said RSVP would be classified as among the larger firms simply based on the company's inventory and experience with Phoenix Expo Center.
Already, the company has contracted to help manage Baldor's annual sales meeting in Fort Smith beginning Monday (Jan. 20), an event that brings in more than 600 people from across the nation.
Beaty said the Phoenix Expo Center's inventory, coupled with the additional furniture and dinnerware purchased for RSVP, made it possible for the company to get a jump in the Fort Smith events market.
Smith said a little more than a month into being fully operational, RSVP was doing about three or four events each week at an average price of $2,000 each. The events, she said, are a mixture of personal events and business events.
She said even with the economy still in the midst of recovery from a prolonged recession, clients have not held back when it comes to big events such as weddings, sweet 16 parties, quinceañeras and corporate functions. According to Smith, locals are ready to invest in moments to remember.
"We are (finding people wanting to invest in big events), so far. A lot of them are (investing), especially with weddings. 'It's my daughter's…it's her only wedding.' So they're still ready to put that money out there. It's a one-time event."
To serve a growing clientele that may just now be hearing about RSVP Event Rentals through radio advertising or on Wedding Wire, the company has a fully outfitted show room that highlights various dining and event options. Smith said once a decision is made by a client to go with RSVP, all that is required to reserve the company's services is a 25% deposit.
And as for getting the company's services reserved before someone else does, Beaty said that would likely not be a problem.
"We have enough (inventory) to do five separate events, serving 2,200 people at once," he said.
As for what the future holds for RSVP, Smith would like to see the company's bookings more than double from three to four events each week to 10 events per week, something she and Beaty expect to happen as they reach not only past clients from Phoenix Expo Center but also new clients hearing about the events rental company for the first time.
Beaty, whose company is also considering an investment to acquire and renovate Fianna Hills Country Club, said once RSVP completes its first year in business, he's expecting about $1.3 million in sales.
And for anyone who may doubt those sales expectations or his future success, all one has to do it look at the doubters who did not think his idea for an events center inside the former Phoenix Village Mall would be the success it became, leading to RSVP's debt-free venture.
"I guess that just comes with a little bit of foresight and a little bit of luck and being able to identify holes in the market. It was clearly an area that was underserved. We feel like that this continued market is underserved and the event rental business in this market, as well as we feel like the redevelopment of that Fianna Hills Country Club, is another opportunity."