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Process, plan . . . and party!

Many different factors determine whether or not a business will be successful. It can be difficult – perhaps impossible – to decide which is the most important.


April 15, 2010
By Mike Davey

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Many different factors determine whether or not a business will be successful. It can be difficult – perhaps impossible – to decide which is the most important. However, the ability to adapt to change has to be near the top of the list. This can be especially important in the rental business.

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Marion Ghiglione, Diana Pereira, and Brian Schaan of Handy Special Events. The entire organization is dedicated to teamwork above all.


Adapting to change can be hard, but the team at Handy Special Events makes it look easy. Located in Saskatoon, Sask., the company has seen more than its fair share of change since opening its doors in 1982. Those changes have been overwhelmingly positive.

The company was founded by the husband and wife team of Barry and Marion Ghiglione. At that time, it was known as Handyman Rental Centre, and operated out of a 2,800-square-foot building in an industrial park in Saskatoon. They soon added special events rental to their offering, and the business as it stands today started to take shape.

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The most obvious changes that the business has had to adapt to include a number of expansions. The first expansion came in 1992, when the Ghigliones moved to 9,000-square-foot building. They added a portable toilet division that same year. Starting out with 40 units that could be rented both to contractors and special events customers, the division soon grew, and expansion was again in the air. The Ghigliones purchased the 9,000-square-foot building next door, and dedicated it to the Special Events division. Expansion didn’t end there as they moved to an 18,000-square-foot building before outgrowing it and moving to their current location with 37,000 square feet and room to grow at 2624 Millar Ave.

Beside the Handy Special Events division, the Handy Group of Companies operates two Handyman Rental Centres (now called Handy Rental), one at 2636 Millar Ave. and the other at Hwy. 5 and McOrmond Drive, both in Saskatoon, as well as the Handy Portables, Handy Heating and Handy Self Storage divisions

The Handy Group of Companies employs more than 70 people, not including temporary staff taken on in the busy months. About 28 of those staff members work for Handy Special Events.

Since the earliest days of the business, Marion Ghiglione has handled the event rental end of the business, while her husband Barry has been in charge of tools and equipment.

“The event rental end of things brings in about 35 per cent of our business,” says Marion. “We’ve kept growing because over the years we’ve explored a lot of new opportunities. We started out with homeowner equipment, then moved into construction and industrial equipment. For special events, we’ve added costumes, tent rental, trade show pipe and drape, specialty linens and structures. To keep growing, you first see the need, and then see what you can do to fill it.”

This philosophy is a big part of what makes Handy Special Events so successful. For example, the business has close to 800 costumes in stock. Costume rental isn’t something we normally associate with party rentals, but in many ways it’s a natural fit. The costumes rent year-round, not just at Halloween. Themed events such as Roaring ‘20s or 1950s themed parties can usually use the costumes too.

“You need a creative approach,” says Ghiglione. “It’s a chance to feel really satisfied, to work with a group or person and give them the event they’re looking for. Each event is different, and each client is different. The key is to determine what the client really wants and what kind of effect or objective they’re trying to achieve. Then you can help them put it together. We try to offer a complete package that goes beyond simply renting the equipment.”

It’s common knowledge that you can’t offer a great customer service experience without a great team. This is another area where Handy Special Events excels.

“There are so many good people out there, but they don’t always know what their talents are, or they don’t use them effectively,” says Ghiglione. “Ideally, you have to build on strengths, and manage weaknesses. We all have different strengths, and finding out what they are is really helpful to having a great staff. We use a strengths finder assessment with all of our team members, and then we work with those results to channel people into the right area. We don’t try to fit a person into a job position, we match the job to the person. When you bring in new people, you look for holes in your strengths, and fill them.”

This approach is one of the elements that has allowed Handy Special Events to grow and prosper, even when the economy could be doing better. It’s also kept staff turnover down, while keeping employee morale and productivity high.

Having good people in the right positions will be more important than ever at the Handy Group of Companies. Marion and Barry Ghiglione have been at the rental game for almost 28 years. While they won’t be retiring, they do believe that it’s time to start stepping back.

Two people are essentially taking over the reins. They are Brian Schaan, division manager of Handy Special Events, and Diana Pereira, the company’s chief operating officer.

Brian Schaan has been with the company for 17 years. In that time he has worked in the portable washroom and equipment divisions, and has worked in the special events division for the last seven years. With that experience backing him, it should be clear to anyone that Schaan has the chops to get the job done. Pereira, however, has only been with the company for two and a half years. But the Ghigliones’ policy of recognizing strengths where they find them means they have total confidence in her abilities.

“We realized that Diana was very talented almost as soon as she started working here,” says Ghiglione. “She had experience in organization and management, and so we moved her into human resources. A little later, she said yes to the next big step when we asked her to fill the new position of chief operating officer. It’s been 13 months now, and her performance has been beyond our expectations. When you get to a certain size, you need certain processes, and the right person to put them in place. Diana was that person.”

Ghiglione says that from the time Pereira moved into the position of COO, she has caused the owners and staff to think a bit differently about their company.

“When we worked in the business, we could pass on all the things we believe in, but when we are not there day-to-day, those things could fall by the wayside,” says Ghiglione. “Diana convinced us that we needed to draft core values, a mission, a vision, and our core aims. It’s a framework for moving forward.”

This didn’t happen overnight, nor did it happen without extensive input from the Handy team. After examining the way the company has grown over the years, and how the company operates, the framework for continuous improvement was laid out.

“It was a huge step, and I believe that it was the right one,” says Ghiglione. You need the right people in place, but you also need guidelines. That way, you’re all looking in the same direction, and working towards the same goals.”

Barry and Marion Ghiglione built the business over the years, starting literally from nothing. What is it like to begin handing over the reins of power?

“Barry said early on, we should make sure to bring people on to our team who can do things better than we can. That took me 25 years to learn,” says Ghiglione, not bothering to stifle her laughter. “It’s been easy to step back, because they’ve been doing a great job. I don’t just mean Brian and Diana, either. The entire team is great, they know their strengths, and they use them well.”

Just because Marion and Barry are stepping back doesn’t mean they won’t be involved. The responsibilities they’ll take on will be a bit different, though.

“Over the last few years we’ve spent more time working on strategy, guidance, mentoring and coaching,” says Ghiglione. “It’s the step of enjoying the business. You work with people, and they excel, so it’s fun. Our responsibility is to be their cheerleaders.”