A Coffee Break With Kenny Puff, Movie Vendor Extraordinnaire

Kenny Puff’s Elmsford-based Party Line Rentals started out as Westchester Tool Rental some 30 years ago, renting chain saws, plows, and the like. Soon enough, Puff found himself renting tables and chairs, and then tents, until he spun Party Line off into a full-service party rental company. 

But his is not your typical backyard party operation: Party Line has become a staple vendor for TV and movie production companies filming in the tri-state area. His rentals have appeared on sets of movies like Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and Salt, to name a few, in some of Manhattan’s most iconic spots. To date he’s done more than 1,200 movies, TV shows, and documentaries.

Today, Party Line is a $4 million (plus $3 million on the tool-rental side), 48-employee behemoth, consistently in high demand not only for movie sets, but weddings, graduation parties, bat and bar mitzvahs—you name it. We sat down with Puff during a quick coffee break to hear about his experience running one of the tri-state area’s most formidable party rental operations. 

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You started as a tool-rental company. What prompted the move to a party-rental spinoff?

I kept getting inquiries for tents, tables, and chairs. A lot of people said if you want any sizeable business, you really have to separate them. So we opened up a separate business using a separate name. 

Are the two businesses mutually exclusive?

We co-market things and cross-train employees, but, for the most part, they are independent, freestanding businesses. We cover two different market segments—one is down and dirty, and the other is a little frilly. My tool shop repairs all the equipment for the party side. One supports the other and gives it the backup we need.

On the party side, how do you ensure your customers are satisfied with their set-ups?

We focus on our rental experience, which equates to customer service, from the initial phone call to taking the tent down. It’s ‘Are we easy to deal with? Do we have the product you need? Do we answer your questions? Do we satisfy your need? Do we give you suggestions? Do we give you support?’ Then, when we get on-site, we deliver what was promised.

How did you first get involved in movies?

Toonces the Cat [from Saturday Night Live] was filming a pilot. They called and said they wanted a horse-drawn plow, and I was like, ‘No, you want a Roto Tiller,’ and they said they needed the plow as a prop. I said, ‘I can’t help you with that, but I can help you with tents.’ We hung up the phone, and, a few hours later, she called me back asking for tents. I’ve had a strong presence with the movie industry every since.

Describe your involvement on movie sets. 

We’re dealing more with the people who are decorating the sets. Sometimes we’re supplying them tools to build the set, or equipment to help activate the set. When we did Spider-Man, for example, we rented them a compressor to shoot the [spider] web. 

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What’s the secret to your lasting business success?

Listening to the customer. A customer will tell you what they want, what they don’t want, what they like and don’t like. Why would you say ‘no’ to a customer? Is it going to cost you more money? If a customer is asking you a question and they’re willing to pay for it, give them that added service. 

How has the event industry changed in the last 30 years?

The Internet. Thank you, Amazon—pay, ship, receive. Customers are asking, “What do you mean I have to file for a tent a month in advance? What do you mean we have to order these custom linens?” So, the lead times in a lot of these parties are getting shorter. Years ago, you used to call for a wedding two years in advance. Now, your lead time can be as short as three, four weeks for a wedding for 150 people.

What about trends in events and parties?

Theme parties and destination parties are definitely on the rise. Great Gatsby themes, heavy floral themes, snow-cone tents, clear-top tents. Also, we’re covering a lot of swimming pools—that’s flourished. Basically, if you dream it up and your budget allows it, you can almost do anything. 

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