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A-1 Party Rentals to Broaden Event BaseHow communication builds better vendor relationships

The event production cycle is getting tighter, and rental companies are feeling the squeeze to fill tall orders on short notice.

"As the world becomes smaller and the global economy shrinks, demands are placed upon everyone," says Robert Hughes, director of special events for Cincinnati-based All Occasions Event Rental.

How you work with your vendors/suppliers can determine whether you can take care of your clients. Here, four rental experts reveal how they get the most out of their vendors.

Put the Check in the Mail

Philip Silverman, vice president of Raphael's Party Rentals in San Diego, believes in the power of paying up. "I can call up [my vendor] and say I need equipment right now, and I may get it before another customer because they know I always pay and I always pay on time," he says.

Honesty is also at the top of Silverman's list in developing vendor relationships.

"I'll call them up and tell them if I've received an extra table or chair," he says. By offering to pay for the extra item or to send it back, Silverman earns trust and respect from his vendors, he adds. "The next time you want something, they're going to take care of you."

Knowledge Is Power

Kelly Murphy, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Panache Party Rentals, says the key to a good vendor relationship is taking the time to teach vendors about the rental business. "Manufacturers need to be re-educated about the impact that rental companies have on the industry," she says.

When she started her company, Murphy was surprised to find that manufacturers didn't call on her for business. Even more unsettling, "we called on seven distributors, and only one responded."

Murphy and her team began introducing themselves to manufacturers and inviting them to the Panache showroom. "When they walk in here and see what you do, their eyes light up," she says. "We are a testing market for manufacturers if they have a new product and want to see how people are going to react to it."

Share Your Thoughts

Once you've established strong relationships with vendors, keep the lines of communication open, says Tom Gifford, president of Abbey Event Services in Burbank, Calif.

"I try to be upfront and tell them what my situation is and be understanding of what their position is," he says. "When I have to bid something out, I won't go to someone else just because they have a better price. I try very hard to be loyal to my vendors whenever I can. A lot of what makes us be profitable is buying our equipment wisely but at the same time not squeezing our vendors so much they won't be around in the future."

Gifford says the trick to success with vendors is explaining what you need and making sure they understand. "Last February I was doing a very complicated job in Beverly Hills where I needed to put in some custom tenting. I had a good idea of what I wanted for certain areas, but there were other areas where I wasn't sure."

He had his tent manufacturer visit the site. "I asked him what impact it would have on him if I ordered products but didn't need them, and I asked his time line for providing what I needed," Gifford says. "By bringing him into my problem, he was able to suggest a solution that worked best for both of us."

Communication also results in better products, according to Gifford. "Explain to the manufacturer what problems you are having with their products and work with them on how to fix them," he says. "Our tents have changed over the years because we say what isn't working and [manufacturers] make adjustments."

Buyer Beware

Straying from your usual vendors to save money can cost you in the end. "There is a group of people who sell to party and event rental companies that are selling chairs and china" but might not be around in the future, Gifford warns. "Obviously you need to avoid purchasing something that you are not going to be able to get more of," he says. "You should know where the company's source is and have some reason to think that their source is still going to be there for them next year."

And how does Gifford's loyalty pay off? "Time and time again I have purchased a product from the companies that I use instead of somebody who would give it to me for a lower price," he says. "And it's those manufacturers that have bailed me out again and again."

Murphy says the bottom line is all about relationships: "Establish a good relationship with your vendors, and they'll go out of their way for you. It's a two-way street. I appreciate someone going above and beyond for me, and I have loyalties to vendors who do so."

Resources: Abbey Event Services, 818/569-3838; All Occasions Event Rental, 513/563-0600; Panache Party Rentals, 954/781-5335; Raphael's Party Rentals, 858/689-7368

Covina, Calif.-based A-1 Party Rentals changed its name to A-1 Event and Party Rentals in June to reflect a change in the company's direction. "We're changing into an event services company rather than just a party rental store," said Rene Martinez, general manager and co-owner.

Formerly general manager of Abbey Event Services' Rancho Dominguez, Calif., office, Martinez was hired by A-1 owner Chet Fortney. "My incentive was to gain equity in the store," Martinez said.

He added that A-1's location - east of Los Angeles in the growing Inland Empire area - is key. "There are rental companies here, but no one is doing event services. It's like a sleeping giant," Martinez said. Another former Abbey employee, Hector Rodriguez, has joined A-1 as account executive.

A-1 is stocking up on inventory, which currently includes 15,000 chairs, 500 round tables and 800 rectangular tables. "And we just bought $10,000 worth of linens," Martinez said. The company also added silver, china and champagne fountains.

With the added inventory, A-1 eventually will move into bigger quarters. "We are looking for 30,000 to 40,000 square feet of warehouse space," Martinez said.

The company is also looking to beef up its staff from 20 to 45 by the end of summer. "We've already hired an installer," Martinez said. "We're looking for more salespeople to take us where we want to be. We want to take the store from $1.5 million in revenue to $3 million within a year."

Martinez has been in the event industry for 20 years. "At Abbey, I learned how to take a party rental store to an event services com-pany," he said. "I want to do that for myself now."

Houston-based Stellar Event & Presentation Resources has acquired All Tent and Table Rentals of Houston. Former All Tent personnel, including president and owner Cher Binks, will join Houston-based Abbey Event Services, also owned by Stellar. Abbey Event Services recently changed its name from Abbey Party & Tent Rentals. Abbey Event Services, 7930 Blankenship, Houston, TX 77055; 713/957-4800; Web site: www.stellarevent.com.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based DMC Amy Zak & Associates has changed its name to AZA Events as a result of new ownership. Amy Zak sold the company to new owner and president Cathy Rankin. Zak serves as executive director. 6615 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 2, Scottsdale, AZ 85250; 480/951-4526; Web site: www.azaevents.com.

Chicago Scenic Studios, a full-service event production firm, has moved to a 140,000-square-foot plant at 1315 N. North Branch St., Chicago, IL 60622. The phone number has changed to 312/274-9900. In addition, Chicago Scenic has redesigned its Web site at www.chicagoscenic.com.

Nelson and Beverly Clark have sold the bridal accessories portion of Beverly Clark Enterprises to Maple-wood LF Investors, based in Chicago. Maplewood representative Gail Frigo has been appointed president of the newly acquired Beverly Clark Collection. The Clarks, who want to expand their honeymoon travel club (www. beverlyclarktravel.com) and new Web-based company (www.wedding location.com), will serve on the Beverly Clark Collection advisory board. 1120 Mark Ave., Carpinteria, CA 93013; 800/888-6866, 805/566-1425; Web site: www.beverlyclark.com.

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