I AM HERE TO reveal the secret to design success — partnering. We, as an industry, simply don't do it enough. We have the warped sensibility that we need to be all things to all people and have everything one could need for the perfect event at our fingertips. In reality, we are collectively missing opportunities left and right. I am talking about partnering with rental companies and other service providers.
The “in-house” designer has become a staple for larger rental companies. It is the role of the in-house designer to provide new design twists to the typical, basic needs of event designers, producers and the occasional civilian. The big obstacle for us creative types comes in when we must use the options provided to us, forcing us to tailor our design to suit the event inventory available — in practice, making us design backwards. My suggestion: Work it the other way.
POLL YOUR PATRONS
Rental companies: Start focus groups with all your regular clients/designers/producers. Present all of the options you may be looking at to broaden your inventory. Allow the individuals who use the items to choose the items. (I Know, wow, what a concept.) In Los Angeles, as well as in other major cities, event designers must have their finger on the pulse of trends — if not create them outright — to stay competitive. Trends like the “natural elements” that are of the moment in the industry have been done in L.A. for well over a year.
I personally have a long-time relationship with my rental partner, El Segundo, Calif.-based Regal Rents. I have been asked on several occasions to offer my opinion on potential acquisitions and their usability in my work. By being a part of the process early on, both partners can benefit. The event designer/producer gets to design from the start, rather than rely on others' interpretations to complete a concept. The rental company benefits from a more aggressive approach and the chance to gather items that will potentially be more profitable in the long term.
START WITH DESIGN
The key to making this concept work starts with the designer/producer. He or she must take into account durability, usability, diversity in use and, most important, cost. When selecting and/or requesting new rental items, designers must place themselves in the role of the rental provider. Would you warehouse and maintain this item in any given quantity? Could the item be perceived as traditional enough to be used in many different incarnations? If not, is it adaptable?
As an example, Regal now has elegant metal chairs with interchangeable backs, a product developed in collaboration with event designers including yours truly. With the multiple options, you essentially have triple the inventory, yet require only a third of the storage space. If the backs of the chairs become dated, as most anything does, then they are easily replaced without scrapping the entire chair. The outcome: a win-win situation that is the result of asking the right people the right questions at inception.
Another way to partner can be done vendor to vendor. For example, a rental company may not wish to own and maintain chair covers, specialty pads or even some of the more refined linen selections that national supplier BBJ Linen and others have to offer. Of course, a high level of business ethics must be present for this scenario to work. But this is a great opportunity to create a package for those clients who may use the rental company as a starting point for their event plans.
Granted, the idea of packaging a party is not a new concept. There may be the potential of packages becoming commonplace, like the cowboy theme or the revered safari theme. Never mind that each of these themes has been produced for well over 30 years, and continues to be produced today in spite of itself.
Another example: Unique Tabletop Rentals (Los Angeles and Washington) has lovely stemware in its inventory that is a combination of light blue and amber. Event designers have told me they find it matches perfectly with “Herald Square” linen from Resource One, Reseda, Calif. This ensemble is a beautiful accident, a welcomed synaptic misfire that has shown its face at many a UCLA event primarily because, as event designers recognize, both are in the true UCLA color palette.
I ask suppliers, why not partner up to create completely customized collections for repeat clients? Universities and major corporations both are very concerned about branding and color schemes, both entertain on a regular basis, and both typically are not inclined to maintain a stock of such items. (I use universities as my example because Los Angeles is sports-team-challenged — feel free to interpret my point in pro-league terms where applicable.)
Just think of the potential revenue — relatively low-risk — when companies decide to couple. It is like broadening inventory without having to warehouse the stock. Deals can be made to adjust rental rates between partners on their joint ventures so that the package is profitable to both companies.
Initially, partnering can be achieved through creating a small, boutique collection of complementary products, which will lessen the fear factor of being overtaken or cut out of the loop. This is what I call “ethics insurance.” It allows both parties to sample the other's wares and gently up-sell in each other's showrooms. This is also a way to not be glaringly obvious to the consumer that you are competitors.
So now, have I opened Pandora's box? Is this another “pay it forward” concept? Is this topic not yet ready for prime time? Perhaps. But it is written out of my ongoing frustration with the offerings of this modern industry. Maybe it's just me, but I like to set trends rather than follow them a year later. In these times of limited prospects and heavy marketing strategies, partnering is a concept whose time has come.
Charles Banfield is a Los Angeles-based event designer and producer. He won the Gala Award in January for Best Event Marketing Campaign from Special Events Magazine. He can be reached at 323/934-4445; www.charlesbanfield.com.