Joe Valente has a big job handling big events. As general manager of DC Rental in Arlington, Va., he oversees a $13 million operation that serves some 6,500 events a year, including U.S. presidential inaugural balls, big-time sporting events and fundraising galas. Yet he describes his beginnings in the business as “humble”--he started at age 13 as a dishwasher in a catering hall. “It’s been almost 30 years that I have had something to do with this crazy, yetexciting, business,” he says.
One year in college was enough to show Valente that “books and a standard desk job were not for me. I wanted to be where the action was.” Recognizing that the hospitality and event business offered action and plenty of it, he enrolled in the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After graduating, he decided that working with customers in front-of-the-house posts was even more fun than culinary work in the back. Valente spent the next dozen or so years in restaurant and hotel management. While in catering sales for a large hotel in Washington, “I really enjoyed putting events together and seeing them through,” he says. Ready for a change, in 1999 he saw an opening for sales director at DC Rental, which he describes as “a perfect fit.” Now DC’s general manager, he leads both sales and operations teams.
His post at DC has shown him the ups and downs of events. “We had a real surge in business in the year 2000 and kept going into 2001,” he explains. “After 9/11, our country and industry went through some rough and trying times. Now, it's great to report that revenues have been growing steadily since 2002.”
But, he explains, rental companies must work hard to win business. “Though sales are strong, the way we get business is more challenging for our sales team,” he says. Clients with tight budgets and tight schedules are putting new pressures on the rental companies who serve them. DC is meeting the challenge, Valente says, by offering exciting inventory. “Our owners basically travel the world looking for new products that are innovative and practical to rent,” he says. The company has been expanding its arsenal with tenting, pipe and drape, and specialty furniture including lounge-style seating. Lounge areas “are really getting popular, even at weddings, where people can go to relax and get comfortable after dinner is served,” he explains.
Along with superior products, DC strives to offer superior service. “I have worked hard to maintain and enhance the customer service experience,” Valente says. “When calling DC Rental during regular business hours, you will not hear a prerecorded voice asking you to press different numbers. I feel our clients deserve human interaction and a quick response to their requests.”
Indeed, effective communication is the soul of effective rental operations, he notes. “My day is filled with communicating information to and from various managers, staff, clients and vendors,” Valente says. “I work hard each day to instill this vital skill in the staff I work with. It's not uncommon for us to say that almost 90 percent of the challenges we incur here at DC Rental are due to lack of and/or miscommunication. It's just so important with so many people involved in the process.”
DC Rental 3826 S. Four Mile Run, Arlington, VA 22206; 703/671-7300, fax 703/671-0684; www.dcrental.com
Who's the Boss?
"Being a general manager is like being a parent. There are a lot of ‘mini’ jobs that must be done to be successful.”
"Clients are much more educated and more cautious about staying on budget than ever before. It's not out of the ordinary to get a request for a major rental a week out and to have numerous changes until the day before the event. We learned quickly that in order to survive, we had to be very flexible and needed to adjust our operations to this way of doing business. We have been successful because of it.”
'I Wish I'd Learned Sooner ... '
"I wish I’d learned a little earlier in my career to roll with the punches. I’m not sure if it’s got to do with experience or just getting older, but I handle stressful challenges much differently these days. Instead of getting excited about something, I now use a thought process based on experience, and rely on all the other professionals within our organization to see problems and challenges through. When you have a challenge and you have the right team in place, nothing can get in the way.”