|Our business history begins over 60 years ago on the north side of Champaign at the corner of Market Street and Bradley Avenue. Our Grandfather and Great-Grandfather Bert Herriott, was a Champaign County farmer who owned property in Champaign and was looking for a way to develop it. He was an innovator who enjoyed the challenge of developing new ideas. His heart was in farming and he spent many years in the purchasing and improvement of farms. He would purchase a farm, improve it and then trade for a farm that needed rejuvenation. He loved new ideas and worked closely with the University of Illinois College of Agriculture in trying new farming methods.
For a period of time in the early 1900’s Bert had even owned a pool hall and a fuel oil distribution business in Mahomet, a community just west of Champaign. He purchased property and apartments in the city of Champaign over the years which led to his developing, in 1951, one of his pieces of property at the corner of Market and Bradley as a service station with one of his sons Merle (our father and grandfather).
At the time, Merle and wife Berniece and two sons, Mark and David, were living in Detroit, Michigan where Merle was associated with Montgomery Ward & Co. Merle had managed retail stores for Wards and S.S. Kresege (now known as Home Depot). He learned the warehousing and merchandising techniques that we still use in our businesses today.
Merle and his family returned to Champaign in March of 1951 and officially opened Herriott’s Cities Service Station. It was just after World War II and the Korean conflict. Cars were popular, travel was becoming easier and neighborhood service stations were the growth industry of the times.
This was before interstates . . . Two lane highways were the norm. Country started just six blocks to the north of the service station with Market Street being the only direct Champaign connection to US Route 45 North to Chicago. Placing of the service station at this intersection was an excellent marketing move, for it was the only service station in a one-mile radius. By the way, there were four (4) neighborhood grocery stores within a few blocks.
Over the years, Mark and David learned how to wait on the public and work with employees. They became adept at filling the gas tank, washing the windshield and checking the oil . . . All at the same time in order to provide better customer service. They helped after school and on Saturday’s washing cars, handling oil and filter changes, lubing cars and making minor repairs. (By the way a car wash meant hand-washed and included vacuuming the inside of the car - all for a buck and a half. Two bucks if your car had white walls.)
However, as with most good things, everybody wanted to get into the game and service stations began cropping up, literally on every corner. Within six (6) years of opening, there was one grocery store left but 12 service stations had opened within the one-mile radius. So Merle began looking for alternative avenues of income.
Merle, like his father Bert, was an innovator. He may very well have had the very first gas station/convenience store in Champaign-Urbana. Always looking for ways to service the public and give them a reason to stop in and buy something, he put a refrigerator in the sales room of the service station and sold Adair’s (local creamery) milk by the half gallon, Sunbeam bread by the loaf, fresh donuts every morning, candy, ice cream bars, cigarettes, cigars and pop.
Additional opportunity came about in the latter half of the 1950’s for him to carry out an idea he had had for several years, which was to rent out equipment. Now keep in mind, equipment rental was not the way things were done. This was a whole new concept because you either hired it done or you bought the equipment and did it yourself. The opportunity presented itself one day when he had his personal lawn mower from home at the service station to mow the little strip of grass along the parking area. Someone asked if they could use his mower. Merle told them he’d be glad to rent it to them.
Well that got it started - Word spread that you could rent a lawn mower from Herriott’s and before long he was renting 15 mowers at a time, roto-tillers, lawn rollers, aerators, chain saws, stump grinders and on and on. Before long he was renting as well as repairing all types of equipment. The business eventually outgrew the service station location and following a bout with some health problems he moved the company to a new location in the early 1960’s where the rental and repair business continued to flourish. After a few years, he was forced to move again to larger quarters.
By the mid 1970’s Merle and wife Berniece were ready to add a whole new area of rental items. Under Berniece’s direction Party Rental items were added. It started with a few chairs, then a few tables, then someone wanted linens, then dishes and silverware and on and on. Once again opportunity presented itself and what we know now as events1 by Herriott’s was born.
Eldest son David joined the family business in the spring of 1982 after 18 years with Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers. His son Dean worked for the family business for five (5) years before moving to California. In November of 1984, Merle had open-heart surgery and never fully recovered, passing away in June of 1985.
Merle had operated the company as a sole proprietorship. Berniece, Mark and David had to make a decision whether to continue the business or close it. It was found that the normal process, when a sole proprietor dies, was to close the business. Not wanting that to happen – necessary action was taken to continue the business without interruption.
David’s daughter Deborah (Stumph) joined the firm in early 1986 while attending college. In late 1986 the family made a difficult decision. After much consultation, it became apparent that no one in the family had the mechanical knowledge that Merle possessed to successfully develop and carry on the day-to-day mechanical portion of the business. It was decided to sell the mechanical equipment rental, parts and service departments in order to concentrate on the emerging party and event rental business. The parts and service departments were sold to a former employee that had been mentored by Merle, David Sherman, and the rental equipment was sold to other rental companies in the Midwest.
The Herriott Group was incorporated in 1988 with the intent of not only perpetuating and adding to the existing events equipment business, but to set up the mechanism that would allow the family to take advantage of opportunities to develop future business opportunities and to pass the business on to succeeding generations should they choose to become involved.
In 1989, Mark joined the family company after serving many years with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Chicago and Washington DC. We added a new venture the same year when we started Herriott’s Coffee Company. Picking up where Bert and Merle left off - opportunity presented itself and the family said lets give it a try. We are now a roaster and purveyor of high quality coffees and related products in the East Central Illinois – West Central Indiana area.
In July of 1993, we purchased land and buildings on South Neil Street at Devonshire Drive in Champaign to construct a new showroom for the Party Rental & Supply company and refurbish two existing buildings for warehousing. We moved the business to the new location in November of the same year.
In May of 1997, opportunity once again presented itself and The Herriott Group agreed to purchase Illini Tent and Awning Company of Champaign. The addition of tents allowed the event rental business to become a full service event equipment company. We are known for our high peaked top quality “Swoop” tents.