Joe Ammar, president and CEO of River City Events and Big Top Tent Rentals, has worked in the events industry since 1987. In 2007, he felt there were not enough options for event rentals, so, fuelled by a desire to “create unique and memorable event experiences that build brands and relationships, and celebrate special milestones,” he pursued his vision and launched River City Events. Ten years on, the business is the talk of the town when it comes to rentals, planning and design.
“We started as a small company of three in Sherwood Park, AB” Ammar reminisces. “The company grew, the service portfolio expanded and our strategic focus changed, which called for a brand transformation in 2012. We changed our name from River City Event Rentals to River City Events and we moved to downtown Edmonton to be closer to our clients.”
Within five years, the company tripled its sales revenue and experienced major growth. Today, the company employs 50 staff.
In 2016, River City Events acquired one of their biggest competitors – Big Top Tent Rentals, a major rental supplier of party and festival tents. “The acquisition was an important step to move forward in addressing the company’s growth,” says Ammar. “This was a joining of two extraordinary companies that were very similar in size and culture and had common values. As a result of the business combination, our customers and partners now have access to an extended portfolio of rental products and services.”
Ammar describes River City Events as, “A full service company that provides clients with a broad spectrum of services, including event logistics, strategic event consultancy, and creative event production. In conjunction as a rental company, we can also provide all event rentals required to fully support any special event.”
Their 20,000 square foot facility downtown stores a great range of quality products and equipment – from basic rentals like tables, chairs, dinnerware and cutlery to linen, lounge furniture, games, elegant drapes and themed props.
Ammar considers himself fortunate to have been a part of many successful events in Edmonton and beyond, including major sporting occasions like the Grey Cup, Alberta Summer Games, Pan American Junior Athletics Championships, Track Town Canada, Grand Slam of Curling Champions Cup; numerous festivals; big fundraisers like the Edmonton Opera Valentine’s Gala, the Lois Hole Hospital’s Harvest Gala, CapitalCare Foundation’s Feast on the Field, and the Edmonton Consular Ball; award galas such as IABC Capital Awards, City Manager’s Awards, and many more.
He points out that is really hard to pick favourites, but acknowledges that there are events that stand out and hold a special place in his heart, like the Eagle River Casino Grand Opening, Track Town Canada, the Enbridge Centre Grand Opening, all Edmonton Oilers and Eskimos events along with the Lois Hole Hospital’s Harvest Gala.”
The company’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. Three of River City Events’ projects were shortlisted (a wedding, a trade show and a charity fundraiser) for an Edmonton Events award, and Ammar was nominated as Edmonton’s Best Industry Professional along with other prominent industry professionals.
“Our company has been recognized by numerous local organizations and associations,” says Ammar with pride. “River City Events has won a Consumer Choice Award and Best Designed Booth for five consecutive years at Edmonton Bridal Fair and Bridal Fantasy. In addition, we have won a National Philanthropy Award from the Canadian Cancer Society in recognition of our leadership and support. I am the former president of the Canadian Rental Association, Alberta Chapter, and former honourary chair for Canadian Cancer Society’s Strathcona County Relay For Life. In addition, we serve on various organizing committees and boards, including the North Edge Business Association and Synergy Network. We’re also active members of the Edmonton Executive Association and the International Live Events Association.”
Giving back is very important to Ammar and his team. “I am a strong believer in giving back to the community. We support numerous non-profit and charity organizations in our city, including the Canadian Cancer Society, MS Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation, the Parkinson Society, the Canadian Transplant Association, Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and many more. Philanthropy is the foundation of who we are as a company. Investing in our community is a small way to give back to those who have helped support our business since 2007. We’re involved in various community programs, and we contribute $250,000 annually in sponsorships and donations to charities and non-profit organizations.”
Ammar expresses optimism, but acknowledges economy is in tough time. “Helping and giving back even more is one of our main priorities. We do everything we can to support community endeavours and I wish we had the resources to support more non-profit groups and initiatives in our city!”
River City Events has enjoyed great success, but Ammar humbly points his finger to the people, life lessons and circumstances that brought him to where he is today.
“Some of the best business lessons I’ve learned were from watching (and sometimes working with) my father while growing up in the grocery store he owned for nearly two decades,” says Ammar. “My dad had a profound influence on my life. From my dad, I learned about the importance of relationships in business. People choose to do business with people that they know, like and trust, so you have to get to know your customers as individuals and treat them with respect. I also learned that success doesn’t come easy. Patience, hard work, dedication and resilience are key ingredients to success.”
The company owner is also profoundly thankful for his team. “I have always believed that good teamwork starts with a shared understanding of how important it is. Working together is essential in the event planning business, and I am proud to say that teamwork is built into our organization’s culture. It is a part of ‘the way we do things around here.’ I am blessed to work with an incredible group of people who are passionate about what they do.”
He notes that he also learned to, “Never underestimate another opinion. You have to give people an opportunity to be engaged, contribute and be heard. As a leader, it is important to me to recognize potential, ignite enthusiasm and award their contributions.”
Of course, creating River City Events and growing it to the place it is today has kept Ammar very busy, but he’s okay with that. “Balancing life and work is a constant battle at times, but in order to have a productive, healthy, and happy life and career, you need to be self-aware and understand the value of pacing. I work hard, but I play hard as well. You need to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.”
On behalf of everyone at River City Events and Big Top Tent Rentals, Ammar says to their current, past and future clients, “Thank you for believing in us and for supporting us. We work in one of the most culturally diverse and vibrant cities in Canada, so it’s a privilege to raise the profile of our city by creating world-class event experiences and making our city richer, more fun and exciting, beautiful and fascinating. We are extremely excited about the future. I hope the company will continue to grow and evolve and perhaps expand to other markets.”
To learn more about River City Events and Big Top Tent Rentals, and to see photos of the company’s award-winning work, please visit www.rivercityevents.ca.