Many people might think: Tents? How dull. But for father-daughter team John and Julie Creedon, the business of putting up temporary structures - and decorating, dismantling, cleaning and storing them, as well as preparing the food that is showcased beneath - is an intricate, creative, versatile process.
With their Worcester-based company, Creedon and Co., it's meant trips to Las Vegas, Florida, France and Germany, innumerable trade shows and conferences and a role in forging lifetime memories at graduations and nuptials. Similarly, there's the logistical planning for their more than 200 tents, which range from 10 feet to a massive three football fields long, and can include dance floors, staging, lighting and can take anywhere from a few hours to three days for a team of burly men to assemble.
"The good news is it's still fun," noted John, who launched the tenting and catering business in 1985. "There aren't a whole lot of people who can get up and say they love coming to work. It's still a thrill for me to come in here everyday."
It's an enthusiasm shared by his daughter, who started in the kitchen at age 12 and officially became full-time four years ago, now handling growth and development. "Work is, probably, my life," she said with a laugh.
Such dedication makes the duo "two terrible people to go out to dinner with," John noted dryly, because business talk can dominate, and the caterers-by-trade often find themselves critiquing various aspects of the service.
Due to the nature of their profession the pair "work when everyone else parties," John said. Many of their weekends have been absorbed by events along the east coast or thousands of miles from home. But at the same time, John said they revel in meeting new people and making friends from coast to coast.
Its roughly 40 seasonal and full-time employees include a mix of cousins, uncles and aunts who assemble tents, cook, prep and clean up - and, for 21 years, a third generation, John's father, was also an integral part. Four-legged family is included, too: An 8-year-old golden retriever, Doug, plods through the building and waits expectantly by a jar of treats with a sign urging bearers to offer just one at a time.
"To have them part of it, I can leave a legacy," John said. "That's one of the keys of a family business: Your values are passed along."
But blood or not, everyone gets the familial treatment, the Creedons noted. They've splurged on trips to the water park and Boston Harbor cruises for employees. Likewise, everyone who's in the office at noontime is offered a hot lunch - every day, free of charge. Simply put, "We try to treat our customers and employees the way we'd want to be treated," John explained.
This is a philosophy he began cultivating nearly 25 years ago. After several years employed as a pizza slinger, he launched Creedon and Co. on Millbury Street as a breakfast and lunch restaurant and catering service.
That eventually broadened to tenting. Then, a decade later, the company relocated to its current site on Jolma Road, tucked behind the crush of stores on Worcester's Grafton Street. A warehouse expansion followed last year.
Although John declined to divulge sales figures, he noted that the company's $5 million in inventory speaks to the company's magnitude.
A walk through the facility illustrates the small company's physical size. Its warehouse is filled with more than 500 tables, 20,000 chairs, ceiling-high shelves boasting Creedon and Co. bottled water, platters and silverware. Elsewhere, tent pieces as large as a house, freshly laundered, drape from the ceiling to dry; others are folded into squares the size of kitchen tables.
John sees more expansion in the future, as well. Likely, that'll mean broadening out geographically. However, as Julie noted, "everything changes. That's our motto."
Indeed, versatility is a must: Because 40 percent of business comes in the week of the event, "the company schedule changes snapping your fingers," said John, explaining that jobs range from meals for 10 to armies of 2,500.
But one rule stands, no matter how hectic things get: Whenever someone is in the office, they answer the phone. Within two rings, no matter what time it is. "It's not going to voicemail or an operator," said Julie.