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Sonoma party rental company could get big boost with new owners

  • Bride-to-be Nicole Witous, left, and event consultant, Kim Bullock, plan her upcoming November wedding at Wine Country Party & Events in Sonoma, California on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Two women spread a freshly laundered tablecloth, still damp from washing, and began to glide the circular linen into a giant metal press that resembled a pasta maker. The basil-hued tablecloth slid out the other side, dried and ironed and ready to be hung among a vast array of linens that spanned floor to ceiling in an array of colors in the giant Sonoma warehouse.

Nearby, bistro and cafe chairs were stacked by the dozen, ready to be loaded onto a fleet of 25 trucks that made more than 5,000 deliveries last year.

That was the scene at Wine Country Party & Events, a party rental company that may grow even larger in scale after its recent purchase by a pair of business partners who once turned a small party supply company into a national player.

John Moran, former CEO of Classic Party Rentals, and Mike Bjornstad, its former CFO, bought the Sonoma company for an undisclosed sum earlier this month.

Moran founded Classic Party Rentals in 1997 when he acquired a San Diego company for $4 million. Over the next seven years, he and Bjornstad built the company to reach $84 million in annual revenues and added about a dozen locations in California and Arizona before Bjornstad sold the business in 2004.

Moran later started another company on the East Coast, Event Rentals 2, which he sold to Classic Party Rentals in 2008, he said. Moran is now president of Passport Capital, a San Francisco-based investment firm that manages $3 billion in assets.

Bjornstad stayed with Classic Party Rentals until 2011. Today, that company has more than 30 locations.

"Classic Party Rentals grew significantly through acquisitions and geographic expansion, and our focus with doing this is much more on the local market, and being here in Wine Country," Bjornstad said. "First and foremost we're getting to know the people here, the team of people who have been running the business, doing all the events and continuing to perform well for customers."

Marshall Bauer, who previously owned Wine Country Party & Events with his wife Leslie, said they decided to sell the company so that it could benefit from the investments of a team. The company's revenues were growing 20 percent each year, Bauer said. But the party rental business is capital intensive because it requires buying equipment that's in step with the latest trends and free from dents and nicks.

"The off-season is bad for cash flow and employee retention," Bauer said. "Every year you start the year in the hole. The right thing for the business is to be part of a team."


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