This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS Iain from Inside Outside Marquees tells us about the joy of creating beautiful spaces for special and meaningful occasions.
Q: Inside Outside was created over 40 years ago, designing and building high quality marquees. Can you tell us a little bit about why and how you first got involved with Inside Outside?
I actually trained and qualified as a biochemist at university, but took a summer job with a furniture hire company, making deliveries into marquees. I loved the vibrancy of the events world, and I met some amazing and inspiring characters along the way. Luckily for me, my summer work turned into a full-time job and I ended up working with the same company for almost 20 years. During this time, I came into regular contact with lots of different marquee suppliers, including Inside Outside. Inside Outside’s marquees were always the most impressive, their attention to detail was second to none. In short, they embodied everything that I liked about the events industry, so when the opportunity came up to buy Inside Outside, I jumped at the chance!
Q: You also have a great deal of experience in organising marquees for funerals and wakes. This is obviously a hugely stressful time for families. Do you also offer assistance in organising other elements of the day?
We know that it’s an extremely difficult time and that being caught up in making complicated arrangements with a variety of suppliers is the last thing that anyone needs. So yes, we do all we can to offer our clients a comprehensive and stress-free service.
We recently looked after a client who had lost his wife. It was a very difficult time for him, as you can imagine. He asked us to help him to create a beautiful marquee space to celebrate his wife’s life and he wanted a clear topped marquee so that his wife could look down from above and be a part of the occasion too. It was extremely touching and a privilege to be asked to help with such a personal moment.
We always do everything we can to help, so when it became clear that our client was finding it difficult to source and manage the right suppliers, we were glad to be able to help out with some recommendations too. A great benefit of being a part of the events industry for such a long time is that we know which suppliers to trust, which are the most suitable for certain occasions and those that would be the best match for the personalities and needs of individual clients.
In short, we don’t just supply the marquee. We can organise the furniture, lighting, heating, toilets and flooring. And, in addition, we can recommend a variety of other suppliers such as caterers and florists; people we know, trust and have worked with before.
Plus, we also liaise with all the other suppliers that are involved. Throughout the entire process we make arrangements, coordinate deliveries and work with other suppliers to ensure a smooth and stress-free experience for our clients. Important across the board with events, but perhaps never more so than when we’re helping with arrangements for a funeral or wake.
Q: You have been involved in the Guildford Kitchen. Can you tell us a bit about this and how and why it was created?
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on all of our lives and in many different ways. When COVID struck the events industry ground to a halt overnight. Our future marquee hire bookings were either postponed or cancelled and as a business owner it became clear to me that if we were going to successfully negotiate our way through the pandemic we would need to diversify and try something different.
We have great relationships with so many amazing events industry suppliers such as caterers, bar companies, entertainers, florists and so on. All of us were in the same boat. Quite apart from the financial aspects, we love what we do – people who work in events are extremely social creatures – so being unable to work for several months was awful.
As soon as the government eased restrictions around outdoor dining we saw an opportunity.
We’ve been involved in organising our own events before, using our marquees to create venues for networking events, wedding fairs and so on. These had always been hugely successful, so we thought why not create a pop up restaurant?
Having been cooped up for so long we knew that the public would really appreciate the opportunity to have a unique, fun outdoor dining experience – with the benefit of a beautifully designed and decorated marquee to protect them from the unpredictable British weather!
Q: You are able to offer a marquee solution for even the most challenging of spaces. What is the most unusual or trickiest space you have had to create a marquee for?
That’s quite a difficult question to answer. Finding solutions is what we do, so we’ve become the go to supplier for marquees in unusual or tricky spaces. This means that we’ve built Marquees over ponds and swimming pools, incorporated garden features such as trees, statues, gazebos, flowerbeds and so on. We’ve also had to contend with some tiny spaces such as courtyards, or terraced and severely sloping gardens. One thing that we never do is compromise on quality, so regardless of the space, we always look to create a solution that meets the Inside Outside standard.
A couple of years ago we were asked to build a wedding marquee over a man-made lake. It was a really exciting project and certainly full of challenges! We ended up building three separate spaces, spanning the lake and using a bridge to connect a bar and ‘chill out’ marquee to the main reception space.
Q: Do you still get involved in the overall design of the marquees yourself?
Absolutely. It’s a passion for me.
Over the years I’ve designed marquees for so many different and diverse spaces and events. I can’t imagine not putting all of that knowledge to use designing perfect spaces for our clients.
It can be challenging at times, but thankfully I have a fantastic team around me, including my wife Lynne. Lynne takes all of the notes and sketches that I create during site visits with my clients and turns them in to beautiful marquee plans. She also makes sure that any third party services and suppliers are booked, coordinated and kept up to date with the plans.
Designing and delivering marquees that exceed client expectations definitely isn’t a one person job. I consider myself really lucky to have such a great and experienced team of marquee foremen and builders around me and would like to give them all a huge thank you for their support over the years.
Q: What is your longer-term vision for Inside-Outside Marquees?
Whatever we do long term, we always want to keep connected to our core values. The things that we love about our business and that our clients value and appreciate too. Things like great, personal customer service and exceptional attention to detail.
We would love to expand further into the semi-permanent structure market, providing temporary spaces for long term hire. It’s something that we started to do more of during the pandemic. It takes such a lot of hard work and effort to design and build a luxury marquee, and we’re proud of each and every one. But, like a shooting star, they burn brightly but have a limited life span – we build and take them down again week in and week out, so it has been great to see some of our beautiful marquees up and in use for more than just a few days at a time!
Q: How do you relax when you are not working? Do you have a particular hobby that you enjoy?
We work in the events world, so as you can probably imagine, life is pretty busy and our down time is really important to us. Inside Outside is a family run business but spending time together in the office isn’t the same spending time together outside of work. I love spending quality time with my wife and our three daughters.
The events world is amazing, but can be relentless, so walking our two dogs in the Surrey Hills where we live offers an important escape and some time to think. I also love playing as well as watching all kinds of different sports. I especially enjoy going to watch Crystal Palace with my mum. She has been a lifelong supporter of the club – and she can give as good as she gets on the terraces too!
Q: And finally, is there a person or a particular book that has inspired you, your work, or your outlook on life?
I find inspiration in so many places, in small gestures and grand. And whilst I couldn’t pinpoint a specific source of inspiration, I am regularly fascinated and inspired by stories of how people deal with some of the brutal challenges that life can throw their way.
I really got into Audio Books during lockdown. Whether listening or reading, I love books that inspire, and I recently came across two fantastic ones.
‘The Inside-Out Revolution’ by Michael Neill offers a self help and personal development philosophy that’s designed to help you keep a clear and healthy mind whilst maintaining your competitive edge in todays ever faster moving society. Something you definitely need when working in the events world!
The other book, ‘You Can’t Hurt Me’ by David Goggins explains the author’s rise above poverty, prejudice, racism, depression and physical abuse to become a navy seal and one of the world’s top endurance athletes.