Lakes Region Tent and Event in Concord should be bustling this time of year, setting up outdoor events throughout the state. With the busy graduation season behind them, staff would be preparing for wedding season to start, stretching until October.
But instead of erecting tents, owner Eric Foster is adjusting contracts, trying to extend goodwill to customers who were just as blindsided by the pandemic as he was.
“Just about everything you can imagine is canceling or postponing,” Foster said.
Normally, customers give a 30% deposit for their event. If they cancel within 180 days of the event, that’s non-refundable. Since most people book events 12-18 months in advance, it can be difficult for Foster to fill a day left open by a cancellation.
This year, however, he’s waived that policy, despite the fact that his clients agreed to it in a contract. He’s encouraging people who had events booked in 2020 to reschedule them for 2021, using their deposit to hold the new day. Although that won’t make up for the lost revenue this year, rescheduled events will allow the business to stay open, Foster said.
“If we were forced to forfeit all these deposits, we’d pretty quickly be out of business,” he said.
Although Lakes Region Tent and Event will raise prices for 2021, rescheduled 2020 bookings won’t be subject to that increase, Foster said.
“We’re trying to create a bit of goodwill,” Foster said. “Our business is turned upside down, and a lot of people’s plans are turned upside down. We appreciate those people, so we’re honoring those prices.”
The business did see a small reprieve when restaurants rented tents in order to facilitate outdoor dining to comply with the governor’s reopening plan. Foster put up 8 tents in a week, but that’s a fraction of the events he would normally do in a week this time of year, he said. In addition, restaurants were operating on a shoestring budget, renting just a tent, as opposed to other equipment like seating, dance floors and lights. For an average event, Foster said, the tent fee only makes up about a quarter of the bill.
When the governor announced that restaurants can reopen indoor dining on June 15, that temporary revenue stream disappeared again.
“The revenue from the restaurants was nice to have, but not something that would make us whole,” Foster said.
On June 5 the governor issued guidance for wedding receptions, allowing them to take place, with restrictions like tables placed 6 feet apart. However, Foster doesn’t anticipate this will make a big difference to his business. Many brides and grooms have guests coming from different states or countries, and they do not feel comfortable asking guests to make travel plans during the pandemic, he said.
“I don’t know if we can save the wedding season for 2020,” he said. “A lot more that goes into it than just being allowed to have the event.”
Foster utilized the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). However, he’s not sure he’ll be eligible for forgiveness of the loan because he hasn’t been able to keep employees working. Usually the company has 15-20 workers during the busy season, but it’s currently Foster and one employee, relying on friends and family to help set up for the rare event that is still happening.
“The PPP program was well intentioned, but it had some flaws,” Foster said. “It was so broad, being a national program, it was impossible for it not to be flawed.”
Now, Foster is looking for possible relief from New Hampshire’s Main Street Relief Fund and hoping that next year his business can bounce back.
“It’s rough times,” he said.
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.