Special Events

The Party Rental GOLD RUSH

NEW PRODUCTS AND BETTER SERVICE WILL MAKE PARTY RENTAL SHINE IN 2001

The year 2000 showed double-digit growth for party rental, and the party should keep going in 2001. Special Events Magazine polled party rental specialists throughout North America to see what products, services and trends will make the market shine this year.

WHAT'S LOOKING GOOD

Although dressy damasks and silver chiavaris remain popular, "there's a movement to more contemporary items," notes Linda Lieberman, president of Just Linens, sister company to New York-based Service Party Rentals. "Frosted glass dishes and square platters and dishware are flying out of here. Maybe it's the whole computer/dot-com/Internet thing, making caterers look for more contemporary things."

"The Asian look is certainly here, with square plates, flat black matte plates and simple 10/18 flatware that is very sleek-looking," adds Lonny Eggleston, head of Unique Tabletop Rentals of Bellflower, Calif. "Chargers continue to be a huge deal; we will have a mosaic, Moroccan look for a charger, with a banquet lamp to match."

Along with exotic looks, designers also want to "bring nature back into the table setting," says Jerry Nehus, president of Van Nuys, Calif.-based L.A. Party Rents, "with fountains, ceramic leaf plates, and aluminum plates with a banana leaf pattern."

The push to offer something new is unrelenting. "We're trying to get some creative new product development responding to different niches," says Jim McManus, executive director of sales for Teterboro, N.J.-based Party Rental Ltd. "Caterers don't want the use the same old chafers." Also, new codes in New York restrict the use of flame in buildings, "so we're trying to figure how to cook and display food."

CYBERSPACE AND SHOWROOMS

No matter how pretty the plate, the point of party rental is getting it to the customer. Increasingly, operators look to the Internet to speed the process.

"Everybody" has a Web site to display inventory, according to Stan Skriloff, head of Broadway Famous Party Rentals of Brooklyn, N.Y. This year, Broadway plans to go a step further, with an interactive site permitting customers to order online, check the status of their order and their account, and even review what items they used for events a year ago. "I'm talking more in the way of making your customers part of your company," Skriloff says.

Karl's Party Rental, Oak Creek, Wis., will have online ordering available to customers this month, according to vice president John Schlueter.

In the face of new technology, the power of the old-fashioned showroom never seems to fade.

"Before I go to buy, I wait to see the reception [of an item] in our showroom," Lieberman says. "The day I put one dish out, a woman ordered 250 for a bar mitzvah."

"You cannot just show a glass on a shelf," notes Rhonda Pedersen, president of customer service for Pedersen's Party Rentals, Burnaby, British Columbia. "Every display we set up takes four to five hours, but it raises customers' expectations for their whole event. You have to market it as a package."

MOVING BEYOND BORDERS

The old saying holds that all politics is local, and, in many ways, so is the rental business.

At press time, party rental operations in the Washington area were busy with inaugural balls. December brought the first crush of dry-run events for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

In contrast, party rental firms in the Los Angeles area are bracing for threatened strikes by both the screen actors and writers guilds, which could bring the entertainment business to a halt. "We have a heavy base of premieres and actual scene shooting," Nehus says. "But right now it's great because they are filming a lot!"

To offset the ups and downs of local business, several party rental firms are taking their services on the road.

Chicago Party Rental of Countryside, Ill., kicked off its National Rental Program in July, providing supplemental equipment to other rental and other special event companies across the United States. "Due to the volume of equipment we have, we can use it in varying seasons throughout the country," marketing director Debra Shipper explains.

Although it has toured nationwide for the past couple of years, "the past couple of months have been extremely busy," for Karl's, Schlueter says. Taking its tenting and other equipment on the road "is very beneficial for us. With the [winter] weather in Wisconsin, we wouldn't be doing a lot of tenting here otherwise. And it's good for the customer because they get the same personnel in every city. They need to be shown the right way to do it only once."

PAYING THE MAN

In this labor-intensive business, the pressure of the tight labor market is painful.

"We continue to work to find people," says Richard Nealon, vice president of Arizona Tents and Events, Phoenix. "They came from unrelated markets: truck rental, catering, some of the best people lately from resorts. They're hard to keep, and we pay people more than in past years."

"I predict everyone will have to raise rental rates in response to shrinking profit margins caused by the increased cost of labor," says David S. Painter, head of Chantilly, Va.-based Chantilly General Rental. "Variable pricing will come to the party rental industry in the form of yield management. Vacation rentals have always been priced this way, but our industry has traditionally followed a static pricing model where an item costs the same thing all the time regardless of demand or utilization. This will change as more savvy operators begin to capitalize on the computer power they currently own to maximize their return."

In 2001, the pressure will remain for party rental operations to "be mobile," Nehus says. "Listen to your clientele, find the products they are looking for and bring them into the rental scene."

RESOURCES: Arizona Tents and Events, 602/252-8368; Broadway Famous Party Rentals, 718/821-4000; Celebration Party Rentals, 908/735-7368; Chantilly General Rental, 703/378-2255; Chicago Party Rental, 800/322-5868, 708/352-3642; Diamond Party Special Event Rentals, 801/262-2080; Event Source, 216/749-3500; Karl's Party Rental, 414/831-7000; L.A. Party Rents, 877/LA PARTY (527-2789), 310/785-0000; Party Rental Ltd., 888/774-4776, 201/727-4727; Pedersen's Party Rentals, 604/324-7368; SE Consulting Design, 503/570-8700; Service Party Rentals, 212/752-7661; Tablescapes, 312/733-9700; Transformit, 212/864-6656; Unique Tabletop Rentals, 562/529-3632

Here's what party rental pros are taking a shine to:

"Sake sets are a nice touch, along with higher-end chopsticks," says Debra Shipper of Chicago Party Rental, thanks to the "increase in Asian awareness and themed events."

The new Contemporary chair from Tablescapes, Chicago, features clean, geometric lines a la "Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh," president Kathy Ruff says. Also, it's black, and "black is back."

Smallwares - name-card holders, napkin rings, table number stands - are big, according to Rhonda Pedersen of Pedersen's Party Rentals. "People see them [on tabletops] in a homeware or department store, and they want to rent them once, not buy them." Although Pedersen's stocks hundreds, the cost per item is low. "They're sturdy and small, and if one goes missing, it's not the end of the world."

Clear-top tents, says John Bibbo Jr., president of Cleveland-based Event Source, because they seem "glamorous. They're something different, more expensive, a whole new spin."

"Tent liners and drapes don't take up much space and can be used for different things," notes Megan Jones, president of Flemington, N.J.-based Celebration Party Rentals.

"We added sheer overlays to our line, and rentals just exploded," notes David S. Painter of Chantilly General Rental.

Easy-to-assemble, free-standing, lightweight fabric structures, according to Marc Posnock, marketing director for Transformit of Gorham, Maine. The company's new Dream Spinners line fits easily in ballrooms with restrictive ceiling heights; they can be moved easily even if rigging points aren't readily available.

TENT WIND LOADS: ARE TOUGH NEW RULES BLOWING IN?

Although the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 are already bringing business to special event rental firms in the Salt Lake City area, tent renters are watching the regulators to see how tough they make the rules.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has set a standard for tent wind ratings that is "beyond what most manufacturers provide," says Rick Rutherford, sales manager for Salt Lake City-based Diamond Party Special Event Rentals. The new code "put me two days behind schedule on an 18,000-square-foot job.

"We're working with Academy Tent and Canvas [based in Los Angeles] and [consultant] Spencer Etzel to come up with a retrofitting kit to take standard frame canopies to provide an Exposure C wind rating," he says. He worries that the tougher regulations "could set a precedent with other cities, raising the cost of doing business and cost of the product."

The retrofitting requires that "rafters have to be closer together and the aluminum extrusions larger to withstand the load," explains Etzel, president of SE Consulting Design of Wilsonville, Ore.

"All frame tents are rated to 35 to 40 [mph], but we've had up to 60-mile-an-hour winds," a special event expert close to the committee notes. "It's always better overkilling. We don't want to have a tent collapse at the Olympics."

Will the new regulations spread? "Other ski resorts may pick [them] up," Etzel says. "The real comment is, if you're going to do wintertime work in a high altitude in a snow climate, then meet the environment."

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