In November, the American Rental Association launched the Certified Event Rental Professional program. ARA developed the program in response to what association director of education Maureen Conway, Ph.D., calls “an industry cry” to educate and legitimize the party and event sector of the rental industry.
Conway says she has worked closely with rental professionals and the University of Illinois' Department of Education to develop a user-friendly, “educationally sound” program designed to improve rental company operations while giving customers a way to separate the party pros from the rest of rental. Currently, the CERP program has 126 students enrolled, with many more slated to join, Conway says. “We've just been bombarded, slammed with registrations,” she adds.
Enrollees in the CERP program can expect to get the best of both education and hands-on training, according to Conway. The full program includes a preliminary Foundations of the Party and Event Rental Industry course that covers event industry history and basic practices. After completing Foundations, students choose two specializations from a “buffet,” as Conway dubs it, of 14 in-depth courses on topics from decor to warehouse management. In addition, students are required to earn points based on industry experience, which they can gain by attending educational conferences, earning industry honors and awards, and publishing original material on industry issues.
The program is geared toward the seasonal nature of the rental business, Conway says. A “variable entry/variable exit” system allows students to enter the program at any time and complete it at a pace that suits them. Instruction through Web-based and multimedia learning materials lets students learn from almost anywhere and provides an interactive educational experience. Conway estimates that completion of the course and final assessment exam will take about one year for most students, although one eager CERP pioneer is about to finish after only six months.
So what do rental industry professionals get in return for hitting the books — and Web sites and CDs and educational events? For starters, informed and confident customers, Conway says.
“You know, it's hard when you look at a rental place — are they really equipment-based? What is their background and expertise?” notes Maun Petersen, owner of Salt Lake City's Diamond Rental and Sales and a CERP advisory committee member. With a CERP designation, Petersen says, rental companies can give customers a sense of assurance that party and event rentals aren't “just a little part of their business that they are doing on the side.”
Committee member John Crabbe, president of Vermont Tent Co. in South Burlington, Vt., points to another potential benefit of certification: lower overhead. “If we do it right and have fewer claims,” Crabbe says, “the [insurance] rates go down.” More efficient labor and better warehouse systems — direct objectives of CERP courses — can further reduce operating expenses, according to Crabbe.
Persuading rental industry employees to see their work as a career path rather than just a job has been a driving force behind Petersen's involvement with CERP development. “Once they go through these courses and understand, they're going to get excited about this,” he says. And, he adds, what's good for the employee is good for the business owner. “If [business owners] want to retain people, they have to provide them with an opportunity to grow within the organization,” Petersen says. “It is the greatest message you can give employees when you invest money and give them this opportunity.”
Crabbe agrees: “I've got people calling me commenting on the quality of my guys.” Crabbe himself is going through the certification program along with 10 of his employees. “My employees are excited about the process and are hungry to get more.”
Crabbe recently discovered an added program benefit when one employee saw an opportunity to follow a dream. Crabbe says his employee told him, “You know, I've kind of fooled around as a disc jockey and I'd really like to be more of an electrical and lighting specialist within the company.” Realizing the advantage of having a multi-skilled staff member, Crabbe was happy to encourage his employee to pursue a new discipline.
Andrew Paquette, CERP committee member and president of Bravo Party Rentals in the Montreal area, has high praise — and high hopes — for CERP. Paquette believes that certification “bolsters a professional image of the individual and the rental store” and shows the industry as specialized and progressive. He would eventually like to see every party rental company in the world staff only CERPs, he says. He also looks forward to finding at least one CERP on staff in every communications firm, event planning and public relations company, and banquet department. “After we have achieved this,” Paquette says, “the committee members will rest.”
What is CERP?
CERP stands for ARA's Certified Event Rental Professional. The CERP program is a course of study leading to a final assessment exam and CERP certification.
How do I sign up?
Registration forms are available to download from the ARA Web site at www.ararental.org in the Education and Training section, or via ARA's fax-on-demand system at 877/384-7368, document 217.
How much does it cost?
The full CERP program including registration, courses, final assessment and certification is $475.
How long does it take?
About one year.
Can I learn from home?
Yes. CERP is an off-site program you complete at your own pace.
RESOURCES: ARA, 800/334-2177, 309/764-2475; Bravo Party Rentals, 514/685-8000; Diamond Rental and Sales, 801/262-2229; Vermont Tent Co., 802/863-6107