Say ‘tent’ and I immediately think Millets, rain and mud, but today’s Saturday Spotlight is a world away from such connotations.
Katherine Hudson is the Founder & Director of The Arabian Tent Company (http://www.arabiantents.com/) and only run this fantastic, successful business but has fun whilst doing it. From doing deals with Davina McCall to throwing super parties in the Nevada Desert, this lady knows how to throw a party and I am guessing having a friend who is a tequila connoisseur helps keep things entertaining!
What made you set up your first tent company?
At age 19 I was inspired by outdoor parties and decided I wanted to throw my own. I knew this would be a test run to see if I could do it, and searched
everywhere for a unique and beautiful marquee to hire… I couldn’t find anything suitable so I had to buy one!
I managed to find an Arabian tent through a friend of a friend who’d brought it back from Pakistan, it was old and a bit worn but it was more interesting than anything available to hire at the time, so I took it.
From then on my passion for tented events grew; I used all my holiday from my PA job and took to the festival circuit as a cafe. I realized my strengths and weaknesses as time went on and realised I wanted to focus more on creating a magical atmosphere, which is what I’ve spent my time doing with Arabian Tents, I’m extremely proud of the collection of interiors and furniture we now have.
How have you grown the company and how do you attract new clients?
The Arabian Tent Company has grown really organically over the years; I’ve always focused on doing the very best job humanly possible and being helpful and friendly at all times. When your customer service is excellent, recommendations come thick and fast.
Now we have two sister companies to think about too (The Pearl tent Company and The Complete Chillout Company) we are spending a lot
more time on getting PR, we’ve found that social media works really well for us and editorial on blogs!
I heard you had some pretty impressive clients, can you tell me more?
We do a lot of parties for ‘famous’ people although usually don’t find out who they are until we do the set-up as it’s usually done through event organisers. The one exception was Davina McCall who called me directly (it’s quite funny when you’re called by such a familiar voice!) and was very savvy to deal with – I think she even managed to wangle a discount!
What is the key to throwing an amazing party?
The real key to throwing the best party you possibly can is to relax your guests so they feel fully themselves. This is done through a combination of creating a beautiful environment (beauty is inspiring), comfortable looking seating (very important – I believe people don’t feel relaxed unless they know they have somewhere they can rest!), interesting and interactive entertainment (walkabout characters/entertainment is great for this), a DJ/ band that can feed the energy of a crowd and of course delicious food and drink (although sometimes too much of the latter can mean that your guests won’t necessarily remember the details of how brilliant it was!).
I have seen some gorgeous photos of you travelling – what is your favourite part of the world and why?
I’m not very good at favourites so I’d amalgamate the fresh, natural beauty of New Zealand, the night-life and steak houses of Argentina with the inspirational people and culture of India. Let’s call it New Zegendia – it’s an intriguing paradise!
I know you had some set backs but have kept fighting, what makes you keep giving to your business and growing it?
Because the more you give, the more you get! My business has taught me so much that I’m totally indebted to it! It’s been my complete university of life, taught me to use my instincts and helped me mould my own morality. I love the creativity it allows me to have and it’s so satisfying knowing that you’ve built something from an idea…I believe I can do anything I put my mind to now. I’ve put so much time, effort and passion into Arabian Tents, it’s my baby!
Where do you source your tents and supplies?
I design all of the tents and interiors and source the materials from all over the world; much of the fabric comes from India where the tents are made. I go every year to design a new interior and to be part of the process.
The ornaments and accessories have been picked up along the way on my travels; some from India, Morocco, Argentina and Thailand and the combination of the tents, furniture and ornaments is an explosion of culture.
Who would you say is your business guru and who inspires you?
I don’t have a neatly packaged business guru, but I will admit to being a sucker for Richard Branson! I love his straight-talking open-ness – he’s certainly not afraid of a challenge and I am in awe of what he has achieved.
What plans do you have for the future?
So many! We’ve just taken on a brand new kind of tent for 2012, the Stretch Tent is fabulous, it can be put up anywhere, stretched over anything (water features, trees and steps to name a few ideas) and bolted onto buildings! It’s a great way to have a garden party without getting wet!
I’m sure we’re going to have lots of fun with these this year; they’re already proving very popular.
With Summer drawing to a close I’ve been thinking a lot about winter projects, we are going to launch some really unique and exciting Christmas parties in the next year or so.. it takes a lot of planning to put on something like this and we’re still in the early stages but I’m really excited about it.
This year we will be unveiling our new showroom in East Sussex, we will have each interior on display so you can feel what it’s like to be inside each one, we’ll also have a draping section where The Complete Chillout Company will show off what they can do to transform your party venue.
What is the best party you have helped create?
Oooh, so many to choose from! However, one of the highlights was being part of a group of friends who brought The Untied Embassy to the Burning Man Festival a few years ago…situated in the Nevada Desert in America and prone to dust-storms and extreme heat, Burning Man isn’t for the faint hearted but attracts extremely creative people who build installations and art-cars to share with everyone else, and is undoubtedly the best party you can possibly go to!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting up in the party business today, esp. given the current economic climate?
Recessions are often seen as cutting out the ‘dead wood’ and although I certainly don’t think this is the case of all failing companies over the last few years I do believe they have a way of weeding out the mediocre.
I’d recommend to anyone starting any business now to try to be as different to their competition as possible and very importantly always try to exceed your customer’s expectations.
What is the key to your success?
Being a complete workaholic (a few years ago I used to do almost 2 day’s work in 1!) Being passionate about my customers experience with me and lastly as a control-freak – wanting the tents and spaces I create to be as beautiful and practical as they possibly can be!
You obviously work hard – how do you chill out?
I’m a really active person and don’t tent to ‘relax’ all that much, so you won’t catch me sitting in front of the TV! A good long walk or even better – a cycle, somewhere beautiful is perfect for me to be able to relax as I believe that in order to release your mind, your body has to be active.
I recently went on holiday to France with my partner and our daughter and I had a brilliant time doing all the children’s activities – Go-karting, high wire walking, and wild swimming! In the evenings we cooked with friends and did some serious sampling of the local wine.
I love festivals and I’m lucky enough to be in the right industry to attend many! I go to a lot with friends over the summer and they are my favourite place to be as I believe they bring out the best in people’s natures; my favourites this year were Wilderness and Camp Bestival.
If you were holding a party what theme would you go with and who would you invite?
I’m actually throwing a party for my best friend when she visits from Argentina in December. We’re holding it on the end of the Mayan year and having a ‘Come as you Are’ party with lots of our mutual friends involving a banquet which will be catered for by a dear friend of mine who is just off to train at Ballymaloe cookery school (her brief for this party is ‘the weirder the better’). And no doubt after feasting there will be lots of dressing up and dancing.
Another of our friends is a tequila connoisseur so will no doubt come as a Mexican with a tray of different tequila to try – my favourite way of doing shots is with a slice of orange sprinkled with cinnamon!
A great party theme I’ve come across recently is ‘Lost Toys’ which they came up with for Playgroup Festival in September which will be a fantastic end of the summer party.
If your best friend described you in 5 words, what would they be?
I asked her! And she said; Creative, stylish, Efficient, Hardworking and Entrepreneurial!
What is your life motto??
Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be practical or believe to be beautiful.
To be inspired, find out more at www.arabiantents.com and Facebook.com/ArabianTentCo