Wine Country Party & Events may grow even larger in scale under new owners.


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."

Doing so would enable a sister location to be set up in San Francisco that could serve communities like Woodside, Burlingame and other destinations on the Peninsula or in the South Bay, said Bauer, who has remained as a consultant and investor in the business.

The new owners hope to open a branch or warehouse in San Francisco within the next year, Moran said.

"We're looking to grow the business organically, and if other opportunities in California arise, we'll take a look at it," Moran said. "We're just getting started here, so I think we're evaluating the marketplace and where there are opportunities."

The company has 55 to 60 year-round employees and expands seasonally to around 125 workers, Bjornstad said. Its clients are based primarily in Napa and Sonoma, with about 5 percent of its business based in Mendocino County, where the company has a Fort Bragg branch, Bauer said. It occasionally services events in Marin County.

In loaning out equipment for events, about a third goes to the general public for weddings and anniversaries, another third is rented to event planners and caterers, and the rest go to wineries and nonprofit organizations, Bauer explained.

In addition to the expected party fare like tables, chairs, glasses, stemware and linens, the company also provides custom-made furniture like a rustic wooden wall with a sliding door that was designed for an outdoor wedding at Chalk Hill and props like antique suitcases or pillows to turn hay bales into seats.

The company is looking to hire 15 to 20 employees, primarily for delivery and installation, said Loren Marple, general manager, who also used to work at Classic Party Rentals.

"We're actively trying to hire as many qualified individuals as we can right now," Marple said.

The Sonoma company will be competing with Classic Party Rentals for business, Moran said.

"We have a lot of the same clients and go after the same clients," Moran said.

Bjornstad said he and Moran were in the right place at the right time.

"My partner and I really enjoy the business," Bjornstad said. "We've been out of the business for a while, and it was good timing for us personally and it was good timing for the Bauers."