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REAPING GOOD ADVICE

REAPING GOOD ADVICE

PARTY rental operators brought the questions and a distinguished panel of experts from the ARA's Rental Executive Advisor Program (REAP) supplied the answers at a discussion during the Rental Show, Feb. 6-9 in Orlando, Fla.

The panelists were John H. Crabbe Jr., CERP, president of Vermont Tent Co., South Burlington, Vt.; Daniel W. Hooks, CERP, president of Party Reflections of Charlotte, N.C.; and William Pedersen, president of Pedersen's Party Rentals, Burnaby, British Columbia. Serving as moderator was Andrew Paquette, president of Montreal-based Bravo Location Rentals.

Q: DO YOU HAVE A DAMAGE WAIVER?

Andrew Paquette: Yes — it's 7 percent to 8 percent, and it's 100 percent mandatory. If the client refuses it, then they must provide proof of insurance. {The damage waiver} covers linen and crystal — we carry a lot of Riedel crystal. It avoids a lot of hassles on Monday morning.

John Crabbe: We just started it last year; {up till then} the caterers didn't want it. Like Andrew's, ours is 8 percent. For us, it means no more arguments {over damage}. It does not cover tents, tables or chairs, just dishes, linen. And it covers damage — not loss. {The clients} still have to bring it all back.

William Pedersen: For us, {the waiver is} not mandatory; it's optional. There's just too much resistance. We have it for the convenience of the public.

Daniel Hooks: We've avoided it; there's just too much resistance to it. We have a “count everything” policy.

Q: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH WAX ON LINEN?

JC: We use a commercial laundry service. But it's basically hot water!

WP: I don't think it's a big problem. There are chemicals to get wax out. But the issue of “damage” and linen is funny. What do you call “damage” and what do you call “abuse”? What if it's a hole in the linen big enough to put your head through?

Q: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH FIRE INSPECTORS AND OTHER REGULATORY AUTHORITIES?

WP: We don't have tenting, so we deal with them less. But we do have propane heaters. So we try to keep up with standards in every area. We invite {inspectors} all in, and follow the rules.

DH: You have to be proactive with them. The cost of a fire permit {in his area} has gone up from $105 to $225 for anything larger than a 10-by-20-foot tent.

JC: We met with the fire marshal and helped change the permit requirement from a 400-square-foot tent to a 1,200-square-foot tent. We charge clients a $50 administration fee plus the permit fee, and we rent a package of a fire extinguisher and exit lights for $65. It's a huge profit center for us, and works to our advantage.

Q: HOW DO YOU HANDLE PROBLEMS WITH EQUIPMENT ON SITE?

DH: Having an on-site technician can definitely help. We charge $50 an hour for him to be on site. He helps if the gutters fill up or a sidewall comes loose. He acts as our contact on site.

JC: We charge $50 an hour, too; it's a profit center for us. And it's a way for me to give extra hours for some guys to work on weekends.

WP: Again, we don't do tenting, but we do offer technicians on site for larger events. They make sure the equipment is put away properly and that it's ready for pickup.

Q: WHAT SORT OF EMPLOYEE TRAINING DO YOU OFFER?

WP: New employees are trained in-house. They work three months as a driver's helper. We also have monthly employee meetings, and every six months a general staff meeting.

JC: We offer {ARA's} Certified Event Rental Professional program for everyone. Most important for us is safety. We have a safety committee and safety meetings, and employees must {document their attendance}. This is very important for our workers' compensation insurance discounts. Also, I give a company-wide “state of the union” speech once a year on where we're heading and goals for the company.

DH: I agree — there is no way you can have too many meetings. The worst thing you can do is assume too much about your people. They start to take shortcuts on standards. But everybody has to be on the same page when you're on site. You can't have different standards for different crews.

JC: We use the ARA Lending Library videos. We're always happy that {employees} want to watch the videos.

Q: HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHEN TO DISPOSE OF SLOW-MOVING OR STALE INVENTORY?

WP: There is no formula. We trash it or sell it locally; it's not a problem for us. Furniture goes to our local movie industry; they lose hundreds of chairs a day! Linens we just throw away. We try to give them to churches, but we just run out of sources to donate to.

JC: “Mary the Linen Goddess” in our company cuts linens down to different sizes. But linen ages fast; it lasts only one to two years. Chairs we keep about seven years, and have sold them for anywhere from $3 to $10 apiece. We break up tables for scrap. And staging lasts forever.

DH: We start thinking about getting rid of inventory when we start running out of warehouse space. We try in some way, shape or form to make sure it doesn't come back to us.

Q: DO YOU HAVE ANY OFF-SEASON MONEYMAKERS?

WP: We've tried! We haven't figured out anything specific. Vancouver is a winter destination, so we work with the destination people. The Olympic Winter Games are coming to Vancouver in 2010. We also work with the movie people; they use props and furniture. But January through March is slow, just like in retail.

JC: Our season is May through Nov. 1. In the off-season, we tried to send stuff to Florida, but it didn't work. So we repair, clean and give the guys a rest.

DH: We purchased the local bridal show, which takes place in January and August, our two slowest months. It means that 1,500 brides are looking at us and no one else, and all the vendors come to us.

Q: HOW MUCH DO YOU SPEND ON MARKETING?

WP: We spend 5 percent on marketing, in addition to {ads in} the Yellow Pages phone book. We take 10 orders a day on our Web site, so we spend a lot of money on that. The Web site takes a load of work off your salespeople; they aren't answering, “How much for a dozen glasses?” We also do a lot of charity work — the Vancouver Opera, the symphony. People who attend those functions are in the position to return the favor — and they do. We tried the radio thing, the mass communication thing, but we don't have the budget.

JC: We spend 3 percent to 5 percent a year. We also buy an ad in the New England edition of Martha Stewart Living magazine. New York and Boston brides come to Vermont to get married.

DH: We spend 3 percent to 4 percent. But it's not what you spend, but where you spend it. We've narrowed it down — we don't use a shotgun approach. We target 80 percent of our revenue-builders, not 80 percent of our customers.




RESOURCES

Bravo Location Rentals Inc., 514/685-8000; Party Reflections, 704/332-8176; Pedersen's Party Rentals, 604/324-7368; Vermont Tent Co., 802/863-6107. For details on ARA's CERP program and Lending Library, visit www.ararental.org/education.

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