The big day of your daughter's wedding is drawing near. You want everything to be perfect, all the way down to the beautiful table settings at the reception. The problem is that you need to drive what seems like — amid the stressful preparation time — halfway across the province to find the décor that suits your occasion.
That is the kind of inconvenience that Julie Critchlow faced while preparing for her own daughter’s wedding in 2004. In a pinch, she ended up purchasing the various tableware items they needed to match their vision of the event. In so doing, the seeds of her event rental business, Tablesettings & More Rentals, were sewn.
“My daughter and I were looking for dinnerware for the wedding and were having a difficult time finding things that she liked in the area. We had to travel quite a distance up the highway to find the items we were looking for,” says Critchlow, owner of the Leamington, Ontario-based rental operation. “We were doing a wedding for 250 people out in a field, and [other rental sources] wanted everything packed and washed by Monday morning at 8 am. I couldn’t see myself in a ballgown doing that. So we purchased our first set of dinnerware, glassware and silverware at that time.”
In possession of a significant amount of prime tableware inventory, Critchlow was ready to take advantage of opportunities to capitalize on her investment.
“We did our first bridal show in 2005. Then, a caterer said, ‘I will rent your things.’ That’s how it started. The idea was that we were going to provide nice things for other people to use and we would do the warewashing for them as a complimentary service. We increased our ability to accommodate up to 400 people with different patterns,” she says.
Elegance and affordability are the calling cards of Tablesettings & More. Critchlow achieves these standards by offering a diverse palette of dinnerware, china and even items handcrafted at home. “We’ve added cocktail tables, bar stools, a variety of chargers, gazebos, arches and table linens to our inventory. We’ve also added harvest tables, which my husband, Mark, and my brother-in-law built for us. A client asked for some, but there were none in our area, so we built 19. Without their handiwork, I would have had to lay out a huge expense to get them, and get them in quickly,” she says.
While Tablesettings & More’s inventory is broad, there are some event staples they have chosen not to carry. That’s where healthy cooperation with nearby rental operators comes into play.
“We don’t carry tents or the big tables. I leave that up to the big guys — that’s their specialty. Mine is in things that go inside the tent or on top of the tables. Anything else, I will subcontract, and I always recommend the local tent guys. We’re really fortunate in this area that the wedding industry and the party rental businesses all work well together to help each other,” Critchlow says.
While Tablesettings & More has been steadily growing since opening its doors in 2005, Critchlow only jumped into the endeavor on a full-time basis in early 2020 — just in time for the pandemic.
“I left my job in the child and family mental health field in December 2019. I took retirement from there, and 2020 was supposed to be the year of, ‘I can really, truly work this.’ Then COVID came. We are just beginning to bounce back, but we are doing really well with our vaccination record in this area,” she says.
As Tablesettings & More’s book of business continues to recover and with 100 percent of her time available now to devote to her event rental business, Critchlow is able to go all-in on supporting causes that are important to her.
“We involve ourselves in different fundraisers,” she says. “For example, when our church was rebuilding, we brought The Four Tenors in for a concert, which raised more than $1 million. We donated everything for the VIP room for that event. We’ve helped with mental health fundraisers at the hospital and last year, we donated to Hogs for Hospice, which is a motorcycle ride where all the proceeds go to our local hospice.”
Like others in the event rental industry, Critchlow spends time contending with her share of familiar challenges. “Right now, it’s really difficult to get help. Even more so for the event industry, because you’re not necessarily working every day, but you need to do something on most weekends. And nobody wants to work the weekends or do anything after-hours. And then, you have to keep up with party and event trends that are changing really quickly. It’s a challenge just to keep your inventory growing,” she says.
Lingering pandemic conditions, employee recruitment difficulties and the race to keep up with ever-changing trends aside, Critchlow remains focused on the one thing that inspired Tablesettings & More all those years ago: being a local resource that helps people realize their event dreams.
“Whether it’s a small intimate party at home, a birthday party, a tented wedding, a baptism or a large wedding in a hall, we are here to help make our clients’ vision become a reality,” Critchlow says.