By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
When Dawn Weinhardt was five, her parents would sit her in a chair and give her silver polish and silverware to clean for her family’s rental and catering business.
“I used to think that was the most fun ever,” she said, until she realized it was work.
Weinhardt, a 2015 BBB TORCH Award winner, is the third generation to be involved in Weinhardt Party Rentals, which has locations in Des Peres and on the Hill in St. Louis. Her grandparents started out in the catering business, supplying tables, chairs and linens in addition to food. When other caterers asked to borrow the company’s equipment, her grandfather saw a business opportunity.
The 69-year-old business continued to combine rentals with catering for many years, but it has been strictly a rental company for the last 15 years. Dawn’s father, Ed, is president and co-owner of the business with Dawn.
Dawn said she briefly considered leaving the business to pursue her dream of being a theatrical stage manager. “I’m still a stage manager, just on a different stage,” she said.
On a typical summer weekend, Weinhardt provides rentals to as many as 400 events, delivering tables, chairs, linens and dishes to between 50 and 60 of them. The rest of the business is from customers who pick up the equipment they rent. Weinhardt also provides party planning assistance to a variety of customers, from brides and grooms to the St. Louis Zoo’s Zoofari gala for 2,000 people.
The logistics can be daunting. Weinhardt delivered 16,000 chairs to Washington University for its graduation last month while also providing rentals to 30 or 40 events that weekend. It also provided rentals for Webster University’s graduation.
Weinhardt’s staff of 46 includes three office staff at each location, two warehouse managers, a dish department that washes and repacks all the tableware, a laundry department that operates six days a week, people who make repairs and wash chairs as well as delivery drivers and helpers. The telephone is set up to ring at both locations so customers don’t have to figure out which location to call.
“I try to hire the best I possibly can,” she said. She looks for people who are naturally friendly and know how to treat customers. “Having good customer service is really important,” she said.
The company’s mission is “to provide superior customer service and to offer competitive pricing on an outstanding selection of rental items that will make each customer’s event special.”
Weinhardt said the business has grown, largely because people want more choices, especially in linen colors and chairs. “We’ve also gotten into event furniture,” she said, which includes couches for receptions and home parties. It also rents tents for outdoor events.
Weinhardt said and her family believe it’s essential to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. “Who’s going to make sure that people are being taken care of” otherwise, she said. “If you aren’t in the business, you lose sight” of what’s important.
Weinhardt lists pricing on its website so customers know exactly what they’re paying. “We are very upfront with people,” Weinhardt said. “We want them to know what they’re spending.”
Weinhardt works closely with several nonprofits to help them maximize their budgets for events so the maximum amount can go back to the charity. She is active with NAWBO, the National Association of Women Business Owners, serving as membership chair.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.