Being small business owners, we love to follow other homegrown businesses with people living out their dreams. We stumbled on A La Crate rentals Instagram feed, and an hour later I was ready to move to Wisconsin just so I could rent their products. They rent out amazing pieces for events that range from contemporary sculptures to one-of-a-kind chairs and tables. We love swapping small business stories and thought we would share theirs on this week's Folks of Letterfolk.
To start off, tell us the story behind this photo.
Our team is comprised of visual people. We take a polaroid of our customers (when we have the privilege of meeting them face-to-face) and keep it with their paperwork/reservation thruout the planning process. After their event, the photo goes up on our wall. It's not uncommon for a new customer to walk up to the wall and find a familiar face! It's such a small world.
Tell us how A La Crate was started and what you guys are all about.
The idea of A La Crate was born when we couldn't find rentals with character for our wedding. Jeff and I have design backgrounds and wanted our big day to represent us as a couple. That's a hard thing to do! We ended up collecting everything under the sun and then afterwards went to sell the pieces. Through the selling process, we met so many other couples struggling as well and thought, "Someone should really share!" From there, the concept took off. Now almost six years later, A La Crate is known for its one-of-a-kind pieces. We think of ourselves as an ARTISAN event rental company. We have a curated collection of rentals with uncommon character: things that evoke a time, a place, or simply a feeling. Some are found, some are made. All are thoughtfully crafted and all have a story. Let our stories tell yours!
The first line in your Instagram bio describes A La Crate as "A warehouse of uncommon rentable goods!" What is the most bizzare/uncommon item currently in your warehouse?
Hmm, great question. I think we may need to rethink our tagline! Or perhaps swap out “uncommon" for “artisan". When we wrote that, we really wanted to communicate that our rentals were different. Not what you think of when you first hear the word "rentals." Our pieces are all MADE by us or local artists or FOUND. That is what makes them uncommon in our eyes. To call out the most unique piece, I may have to go with our JD Wolfe Cake Stands (see pic below). These beauts were handmade for A La Crate by local potter, Jennifer Darner Wolfe. To toot her horn, she currently has clay slab boards for sale with Anthropologie ShopTerrain (wow, right?!)! Ecstatic to have custom made pieces by Jennifer in our inventory, too.
How do you go about finding unique and rent-worthy pieces?
It's definitely gotten harder as the trends have changed over the years. We used to do a lot of craigslist purchases, antique malls, flea markets…you name it. Lately we've been BUILDING inventory though. Working with local craftsmen to make cocktail tables, hand-built bars, custom backdrops, reclaimed harvest tables and benches. We find mid-century modern gems and have them reupholstered. We do our best to stay true to carrying MADE and FOUND pieces. It's what makes us "us". That being said, I'm a firm believer in MIXING new with old. So our flea market finds work really well with our new MADE rentals.
What is the most rewarding part of running your own business?
The relationships. Madison has been the best community to open and run a business like ours. The community has been so supportive and taken us under its wing. Before running our own business I didn't really feel connected to the city. Everyone always said how much they loved Madison, and to be honest, I didn't really get it. I "liked" Madison, but didn't "love" it (yet). Once we opened A La Crate (ALC), that switch happened for me. I was able to better get my head around the city. Happy to report I love it here now and that has everything to do with the relationships built.
Seeing you balance raising your kids and running your business hits very close to home for us. Do you have any good secrets in finding a good balance?
I wish there was a secret. Maybe it's to embrace the flexibility that you have juggling both (kids and running a business). We keep trying new schedules/work responsibilities as the business and our family grows. If something isn't working well, we stop complaining and ask each other what we can do to change/improve the situation? Our most recent shift is that I (Sarah) am working full-time and Jeff is staying home full-time (trying to work during naps... keyword "trying”). Our son, Ames, is 3 and our daughter, June, is now 1-1/2! It's yet to be determined how this part of our story unfolds, but we are thankful to have the opportunity to try it.
Where can we find A La Crate to rent some great rentable goods?
We are located in Madison, Wisconsin, and serve a 250-mile radius. We travel as far as Chicago and up to northern Wisconsin as well. If it’s within 250 miles…we’re there!
Lastly, we always like to ask: what is currently up on your letter board?
We'll tag you if it ever changes, but it still says: Let our stories tell yours. - ALC
If you or someone you know have a story you would like to be featured, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.