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Tania Newman of Chair Decor Etc

The life of a lowly rental company in today’s DIY and competitive market

Tania Newman of Chair Decor Etc.A 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 Tania Newman, general manager of Chair Decor Etc. in Vancouver, British Columbia:

Two of today’s biggest challenges as a decor rental company are the DIY market and the low-priced, home-based competition. I get many calls last minute from brides needing to be rescued because their home-based vendor overbooked, didn’t show up, closed their doors or canceled last minute because they can’t cope.

So now I need to save you and can I match their price, you ask? NOT!

When they come in a panic because their vendor has screwed them, that’s one thing as they really have no other alternatives. However, when a current client comes to you because their DIY mess blew up in their face or their cheaper vendor bailed on them, that’s when we should stand up. However, one also needs to be careful because if this client is from a preferred venue or a client referral, the backlash could be worse, resulting in lost future business.

I try to explain to them why the DIY fell apart and ask if now they understand why we charge what we do: because it really is hard and a lot of work to decorate, do 25 centerpieces or set up that backdrop--which, no, cannot be picked up and moved after the ceremony! I hope to educate through explanation in an effort to stick to my price. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but in order to stay sane, I have to stay the course, stick to my guns and know that eventually logic will prevail!

DOES BEING NICE PAY? Sometimes if you offer the “can do” attitude, it works to your advantage and results in lots of referrals. But these days that is happening less and less. Many times “can do” has ended up blowing up in my face big time and giving the appearance of desperation. I have given my all, my A1 service and expertise, only to get the call, "We have decided to go with so-and-so because they offer everything we need.” Awesome …

Our biggest challenges are home-based businesses and businesses being able to buy direct from China, India or wherever their wholesale stuff is coming from. Everyone is a wholesaler these days and will sell to anyone with a Provincial Sales Tax number. The quick sale, the easy money, the cash deal--all are up for grabs.

CLIENTS GET GOOGLING With corporate clients, it’s all about bottom line. I am seeing so many frustrated independent planners who lose their hold on their clients because clients can Google anything and find stuff cheaper. Everyone has a great website these days, but have you been to their place of business? Have you seen how they handle, transport, launder and care for their goods? Have you taken into account shipping, packaging, laundering, etc.? Maybe all this that will help you understand why the price is what it is.

Clients also need to remember they have hired a planner who has armed him or herself with vendors who know what they are doing and are all happily “married” to each other so the event flows effortlessly--but I guess that doesn’t matter either. You would rather have 10 cheaper vendors on site who don’t know each other and can’t anticipate each other’s moves, usually resulting in a disaster of some sort or a “misunderstanding” that ends up costing more money. By all means, go right ahead and figure it out--even though that’s what you are paying a planner to do!

Here's a good example of a corporate gig that is doing things cheaper and where I see how it can easily fall apart. I have a 2016 gig booked for 800 chair covers, and rather than pay my labor fees, they will have students set up and take down. Good luck, because when it’s time to come back at 1 a.m., 99 percent of those students won't show up--and now what?

They also wanted 800 black chargers and would I be interested in that as we currently don’t stock those. What is your budget, I ask? $3-$4 per charger, they tell me. So of course I take $4--who wouldn’t! I do my research (which takes time) and find a company in the East that has a good price but I have to get them to Vancouver (which will cost) and I have to find proper containers for them as the cardboard they will come in will be tossed out on-site for sure. Then they have to be hand-washed afterwards and usually wiped off before using them because of dust and whatever else. So I tell them $4. $4 is too high, they tell me; they can get them cheaper in Toronto. Of course you can--but you have to have them shipped to Vancouver! Oh and how will you transport them once they are here, and how will you wash and transport them back afterwards? After your event, where will you store 800 charger plates? But of course, be my guest and DIY!

One final good example: One of North America’s largest and most profitable junk-removal companies had a conference in Vancouver. They were referred to me for chair covers for three different events. They had to see samples of colored bands to make sure the bands matched the brand, made three appointments to come in, and canceled all three stating they were “too busy to come.” (Of course my time is worth nothing--but I digress!)

So after many photos, emails, phone calls, chair covers on hold, they tell me so-and-so has them for cheaper so we will be cancelling our covers with you and booking with them--unless you match their price. WHAT? Well so-and-so’s covers don’t fit the one venue’s chairs. This is what I do so this is what I am the expert on--knowing what fits on what chairs. Well, can you match their price for the bigger event, they ask? No.

At this point I know they are stuck, so now the game begins. How about I drop $1 off my price for all of the events and we move forward? (Can do!) No, we are cancelling the two smaller orders but I guess we "have to use" you for the larger event because of the size of the chairs. Have to use me? Have I not been servicing you to death for over a month? So they cancel the two smaller orders and move forward with the bigger event. They decide to do the labor themselves and set up 450 chair covers (good luck!) rather than pay my rate. And ….

WHAT COULD GO WRONG? On installation day, I get a call from the convention center asking how fast I can get there because they are so far behind and are asking if our staff can help. The convention center is a union building so they will charge a ridiculous amount to help, and of course the client declines. I assume they made it through in the end.

When we went to pick up, my driver found three Mount Everest heaps of chair covers and table cloths in the middle of the ballroom. I called the event manager at the venue and asked, what the heck happened? It turns out the client (who, may I remind you, is a billion dollar company) just walked out after their event, leaving all the covers on for the VCC staff to deal with. In the end they got hit with a bill for $1,000 from the venue and a smaller bill from me for cleaning up as delivery is door-to-door only. I guess that the DIY you thought was going to save you so much cost you a lot more in the end!

Years ago, this didn’t happen because there weren’t as many options and money wasn’t generally an issue. Weddings are always tricky because of emotion and it’s not a corporation’s credit card paying for it all. Wedding clients will always try and haggle but these days, between the last-minute, the competition and everyone watching reality TV and Martha Stewart teaching them how to DIY a bridal bouquet, it’s seriously devaluing what we as professionals do.

The bottom line: I am not here to steal from you but I am here to make a living, make sure your wedding/event is spectacular while putting food on the table to make sure my family is fed. I imagine all of my clients are doing the exact same thing in their industry.

Do we sell our own houses? No, we hire a realtor because they have the expertise, the connections and usually the buyer waiting in the background! If you are having a dinner party for 12 or even a birthday/anniversary party for 50, then DIY your brains out! But if you are having an event for 450 or spending $40K on a wedding, then hire the professional please!

Tania Newman is general manager of Chair Decor Etc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a past president of ISES Vancouver.

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