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Rental Essentials: Getting Personal

Rental Essentials: Getting Personal

Rental companies use creative marketing to outshine the competition

SO MANY RENTAL COMPANIES are doing it. Whether with a handwritten note or a nifty mouse pad, rental operators feel the need to create signature marketing touches to get noticed in the crowded rental industry.

In the Pink

When Austin, Texas-based Austin RentAll Party auctioned off its homeowner and contractor rental items to specialize in party rental in 1999, president Damon W. Holditch knew he had to create a new image to get attention.

He figured that most delivery trucks are white, so the company began repainting its fleet of five delivery trucks fuchsia. To complement the look, delivery drivers began wearing purple shirts. “It's very distinctive,” Holditch says. “We felt that when people saw the truck on the street, they would instantly know whose truck it was. They wouldn't even have to read it.”

In addition to a new color scheme, the trucks bear a new logo and slogan — “Service with a style.”

Holditch says it cost $1,500 to paint the smaller trucks and $2,000 to paint the larger trucks. Putting vinyl logos on the trucks ranged from $500 to $700. The expense was well worth it, he adds. “The first time we pulled up on a job site with the painted trucks, one of the caterers stepped outside, then went back inside to his team and said, ‘You guys have to come look at this!’” The job shut down temporarily so the crew could ogle the trucks.

The hot-pink trucks are such a hit, “one of my salespeople is talking about painting her Jeep fuchsia,” Holditch says.

Knickknack King

Pink trucks get peoples' attention, but how do you keep their eyes focused on you?

Mike Berk, president of M&M Party Planning and Rental in Carol Stream, Ill., says he uses ad specialty items to keep his company's name in front of his clients. “We do a lot gimmicky things like giving our customers coffee mugs and stress balls. We'll give them a mug and say, ‘Let's meet over coffee. Here's the cup, we'll bring the coffee.’ Or with the stress ball, we'll say that M&M relieves all your stress when you leave the planning to us.”

M&M sends most of its promotional items during slower months, such as January and February, Berk says. For a quarterly promotion, “We send out a series of postcards, about one every two weeks.”

The postcards, designed to drive traffic to the company's Web site, feature new and different products offered by M&M.

Berk says the response to the 3,000 postcards sent biweekly is measurable. “Every time we send out postcards, we increase our hits to our Web site by 30 percent.”

Each mug costs M&M about $1; the postcards are pennies each. More expensive is a CD-ROM provided to customers. “We created a virtual showroom on a CD-ROM,” Berk says. “It's our Web page on steroids, with a virtual tour of the company, a full view of our product line and a description of what we do.”

With all of those efforts, Berk says there has been a big boost in sales, “but it's hard to judge the value of advertising. You have to do it repeatedly so one piece reinforces the next.”

M&M also gives mouse pads, coasters and screen savers to customers. “If we cover peoples' desks with enough stuff, hopefully they'll think of us when they need a rental company,” Berk says.

Soft Sell

In January, Boston-based Be Our Guest debuted a signature glossy brochure cover. “We are creating marketing material that's fun, classy and cool,” CEO Al Lovata says. “It's designed for caterers and event professionals to take with them when they go on proposals.”

Inside the glossy cover, the brochure details the products. Other features include a back pocket that contains postcards with more featured products. “It's designed to allow [the caterers and event planners] to manage the showing of our products to their end-users,” Lovata says.

Be Our Guest also gives the packet to its wholesale and potential customers. “It reinforces the image that we are professionals who understand that their clients are looking for high-end products,” he says. “It shows that we really understand high-end style.”

The glossy cover and brochure cost about $25 each, Lovata says.

Day at the Races

Denver-based Rent-Rite West owns a NASCAR Southwest Series racing team, which comes in handy for creating a memorable thank you for its top 75 clients. “We have a skybox suite at Pikes Peak International Raceway [in Fountain, Colo.],” company president Tom Wright says.

Rent-Rite's best clients are given the VIP treatment at the raceway, from parking passes and a tour of the track to an open bar and a catered meal in the skybox. “Then we send them a California wine club subscription for three to six months,” Wright says. “They get a couple of bottles of wine a month.”

He says each race-day event is costly (about $700 a person, excluding the wine club subscription) but adds, “I think it's paid off well. [Clients] call us back and say they had a great time and that if anything comes up, they'll call us.”

Rent-Rite takes time to appreciate its smaller-scale clients, too. “We'll send a thank-you card with a discount for repeat service,” Wright says.

Make It Personal

Regardless of their budgets, rental companies can stand out with just a little extra effort.

Cindy Labuhn thinks saying thank you personally is a great signature touch. Labuhn, president of Portland, Ore.-based The Party Place, says, “We send out personalized thank-you cards not only for our regular clients' business, but also when we get referrals from those clients.

“Each of our salespeople writes a personal note to the individual client,” she adds. “We don't use form letters or bulk thank-you cards.”

In March 2000, The Party Place hosted it first open house and reception at the Portland Art Museum as another way to thank its top clients. “We try to plan it around a major exhibit,” Labuhn says.

The event benefits both the host and the attendees. “We get them all in one location to showcase our products, and they can bring a guest and go through the exhibit,” she says.

She looks at her efforts as goodwill in the industry. “We get repeat business from our clients, and we include some of our vendors so they can showcase their products.”

RESOURCES: Austin RentAll Party, 512/491-7368; Be Our Guest, 617/427-2700; M&M Party Planning and Rental, 630/871-9999; The Party Place, 503/292-8875; Rent-Rite West, 303/399-9947

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