Special Events

RENTAL ESSENTIALS: CATERERS WHO LOVE THEIR RENTAL COMPANIES--AND WHY

LIKE A GOOD marriage, a good business relationship is based on respect, trust and consideration. Caterers often tell Special Events Magazine that they love their rental companies, and here we find out what makes these “marriages” work.

FIX THE PROBLEM

For Meryl Snow, vice president of Berwyn, Pa.-based Feastivities Catered Events, her party rental company goes “above and beyond.”

For example, one of Snow's big corporate clients insisted on using a rental company that she wasn't familiar with. During the event setup, the pole tent started swaying. “We immediately called that rental company, only to get their voice mail system without an emergency number,” Snow says.

Her next step was to call her longtime vendor, Party Center of Phoenixville, Pa. “They came out with a crew and tied the tent properly,” she says. “Yes, above and beyond!”

Party Center sales manager Barbara Gutt explains, “I work for a company that says, ‘Whatever it takes.’” Calls at the eleventh hour are not a problem, she says, because “we're on call 24 hours.”

Another of her company's strengths, Gutt says, is its can-do-it-now attitude. “Our attitude is, ‘Let's fix it now and ask questions later,’” she says. “Our operations people may say, ‘Hey, that's not even our tent.’ But that's not the point. We're a big security blanket. I've had caterers tell me that we give them peace of mind because they don't have to worry about the rentals — I worry about it for them. It's really a lot of pressure off them.”

EFFECTIVE ORDERS

Debra Lykkemark, head of Culinary Capers Catering of Vancouver, British Columbia, has a laundry list of reasons why she sticks with her rental company — Vancouver-based Pedersen's Party Rentals — from its willingness to purchase items she needs to its discounting of rentals in support of her charitable work to its commitment to solving problems day or night.

She is particularly impressed with Pedersen's flexibility. “In 1999, we did the NHL All-Star Gala for 4,500 people,” Lykkemark says. “The client wanted all china and glassware — no disposables. To accomplish this, Pedersen's needed to make a major purchase of inventory. They also helped us a lot by dividing the order into 18 different orders — each bar and food area had a separate rental order. They also supervised and staffed the bussing areas so that we could concentrate on food and beverage.”

Rhonda Pedersen, vice president of customer services for Pedersen's, sees her company's contribution to the NHL event by segmenting the order as evidence of a strategic approach to supplying rentals.

“If we were to load 11 trucks and dump it all on site, it would be a nightmare,” she notes. “We pride ourselves on our knowledge of the whole event and watching the production schedule. Most rental companies think the production schedule is a joke and don't read it. But it affects the whole chain of command.”

Pedersen thinks that the partnership between caterer and rental company works both ways. “I don't worry how much our clients mark up our rentals — I hope all my customers end up as millionaires!” she says. But even though Pedersen's Party Rentals is the most expensive in the market, Pedersen says, if her loyal customer needs a lower price, “I will come in lower, because she's never gone anywhere else. There are some clients who switch every six months and come to me only when ‘it's slow.’ Well, we need you when it's slow for us, too!”

MAKING IT RIGHT

Carlyn Berghoff, head of Chicago-based Artistic Events by Carlyn Berghoff Catering, respects a company that respects her, and that's Hall's Rental Service of Niles, Ill.

“They conform to your company and your structures; we don't have to conform to theirs,” she says. “We are often a nervous bunch, and they handle the heat of that very well. An example — I do a monster event every year, and this year at load-in, [Hall's] had some major changes that really threw us off.” She called the head of the company on a Sunday morning, who came to the job site to make things right. “I felt heard,” Berghoff says. “I am in a large market with a lot of big personalities, and Hall's remembers that we are all different and want to be treated uniquely.”

Hall's customer service supervisor Nancy Brockway sees her company's strength as its “small-company” attitude despite its big-company size.

“Our caterers don't call over here and feel completely lost,” Brockway says. “People are comfortable with us. We're accessible 24/7. We know that things change, so we go along with the flow.” As an example of Hall's commitment to service, she notes that many Chicago venues won't permit event companies to leave installations in place overnight. “So you see our trucks out late Saturday or early Sunday.”

Lee Linderman, director of off-premise sales and marketing for Los Angles-based Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, has worked with all the major rental companies in the area, including Abbey Event Services, Classic Party Rentals, Regal Rents and Unique Tabletop Rentals.

Although he works with many companies, Linderman tries to stick with the same salesperson at each firm, year in and year out. “I have developed long and solid relationships with numerous people in the business who are part of the ‘team,’” he says. “They are indeed life support when you are in the off-premise environment. They focus on weather, traffic, installation and fire-safety issues — to name a few — and over time have developed a keen sense of what my needs are, often even before my staff arrives on premise.”

GIVE AND GIVE

Linderman stresses the importance of teamwork to make the event succeed. His rental companies “have all provided me a wealth of knowledge over the years, and they continue to offer added value when making a ‘sales’ call, because just like caterer, the right relationship must suit the client and the client's needs,” he says.

“All I can say for each of my ‘teams’ is that they have always bailed me out — whatever the problem, challenge or crisis,” he adds. “Never mind whose fault it is or was — there is never a moment to assign blame. Everyone's instinct is to fix the problem as quickly as possible.”




RESOURCES

Artistic Events by Carlyn Berghoff Catering, 312/432-0200; Culinary Capers Catering, 604/875-0123; Feastivities Catered Events, 610/889-0750; Hall's Rental Service, 847/929-2222; Party Center, 610/935-8368; Pedersen's Party Rentals, 604/324-7368; Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, 323/491-1250

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