Dan Hooks

A Rental Pro Replies: What to Do When the 'Desperate' Client Calls

Party rental expert Dan Hooks of Party Reflections on the problem of last-minute clients asking vendors to save the day

Dan HooksA Facebook post about a bridal client who initially turned down a "too expensive" vendor only to return at the last minute in desperation—and asking for the same low-ball price the failed vendor promised—has launched a tidal wave of comments. Here, the insights of Dan Hooks, CERP, president of Party Reflections, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.

Unfortunately, this does happen all too often in this business, and for various reasons. We seemingly get caught in two main scenarios:

First, the bride or event planner has decided to use a low-cost provider who has promised the Taj Mahal and delivered Bubba’s garage. Not that there is anything wrong with Bubba’s garage, but if their vision and expectation is far north of that, then they are certain to be disappointed.

Many reasons can cause this divergence in vision, but 24 to 48 hours before the event is not the time to realize this terrible fact. Sometimes, we have experience with the planner or bride from the bidding process that led us to this point. We are not the least expensive provider in our market and we know that we will lose some bids because of it. We are certainly fine with that because we only want to deploy our resources where they can be valued by our customer as much as we value them.

This being said, we have received numerous calls over the years from customers in this very position who admit they went with a cheaper option for a myriad of reasons, but now they need our help to “fix” the situation. The desperation in their voices certainly compels us to do everything we can for them, but it does not outweigh our conviction to our principles and our business model.

If we had already quoted the job and lost it, we will make every effort to provide what we quoted for the same price as it was quoted. This is sometimes difficult since labor may be at a premium now given the other customers we must satisfy who did value what we brought to the table from the beginning. We have an obligation to put them first since they were the first to reserve our services.

While we really love “saving the day”, and it happens all too often, we will not “match prices” with the vendor who let them down. The phrase “you get what you paid for” seems to ring true enough, and it should not have to be explained. Ergo, for us to match their price would mean we would have to offer a similar product with poor service, and that is not why they called us with this situation. They already have that covered. They are calling us to fix the situation--not add to it.

The desire to look like a real hero and match the low-ball price used to appeal to us before the frequency of it increased, and we realized that we were getting a reputation of the “fixers” if something goes wrong. Inevitably, these same customers that you saved will come back to you and want you to do their next project for the same low price again. This is just another reason to stick to your business and pricing model regardless of the situation.

We are being asked to come in at the last minute, with a full schedule of our own, rearrange our delivery crews and schedules, rush a process that should take weeks in preparation, and put our reputation on the line. The least the customer could do is to pay us the amount we ask for. We would never penalize a customer by charging them more for the same event because we had the ability to. We demand a certain return on our equipment, and I would rather turn the customer down than have them feel we were trying to take advantage of them.

Trying to solve someone else’s problem often turns into problems for us because we have not been given the correct amount of time to prepare the equipment or schedule the delivery to avoid weather challenges. These challenges often end up costing us more than it would have under normal circumstances, but out desire to help the customer usually overrides these possibilities.

To sum up this eventuality, we have a quote on our website:

Message from Our President

As Warren Buffett says, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

At Party Reflections, we know you can rent equipment like ours for less money other places, but we also know you will not find the quality or the service we provide to make your event memorable. You only get one opportunity to make the right vendor selection for your event; so remember the bitterness of poor quality outlasts the sweetness of a lower price. We ask you to choose wisely.

I decided to put this as my message because of this very reason. It is too easy to commoditize our industry by thinking that “a chair is a chair,” but unfortunately, the fallacy in this revelation comes too late for many to recover their event.

Second, the other situations we find ourselves in revolve around brides or event planners calling at the last minute when it starts to rain and wanting us to perform miracles at the 11th hour. For all of the reasons mentioned earlier, we find ourselves under much more pressure to perform with many more possibilities for error because of the nonexistent preparation time. We handle these exactly the same. We will try our best to accommodate the “emergency,” but it may lead to more expenses because we are not as prepared as we could have been with more notice.

The most frustrating ones are the events where a rain plan was discussed at length in order to prepare the customer for the possible eventuality of inclement weather, yet they gambled and lost and now are looking to us to “save the day” once again. Now our crews are working in the rain, endangering them and the equipment as we are forced to perform under adverse working conditions while the customer does not understand why they should pay more for our services.

We have had to refuse service to some who set us up to fail by holding out until it was too late for us to handle the job without guests showing up while we were still setting up.

This is always risky because even though the customer knows we are there as the hero, when we leave we don’t know that the perception was that we did not finish on time, which could hurt our reputation for other customers who may be at the event. Unfortunately, it is much easier to throw the rental company under the bus than it is to admit you made a mistake as the planner and should have been better prepared. This is not the type relationship we try to foster with our planners, and we will certainly remember it the next time they call for help.

Dan Hooks, CERP, is president of Party Reflections Inc., a full-service special event rental company with locations in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., and Columbia, S.C. He is the second-generation leader of the family-owned company, which has been in operation since 1958 in Charlotte.

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