AS THE SPECIAL EVENT industry grows, many rental companies are opening more locations to accommodate increased customer demands. Although this can be more convenient for the customer, rental companies face new challenges in stocking more shelves with inventory and learning how to keep track of it.
David S. Painter, president of Chantilly General Rental in Chantilly, Va., lists two basic modes for managing inventory: The first is a central warehouse with satellite sales offices; the second is separate, autonomous operations.
With two warehouses 25 miles apart, Chantilly gets the best of both worlds: The company runs a transfer truck between its warehouses weekly. You get by with less inventory and better utilization, Painter says. And you deliver from the site that's most efficient.
In addition to its 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Chantilly, the company also has a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Springfield, Va. Painter says the inventory differs between the locations because of demographics. At the [Chantilly] location, we have little call for polyester linens or stainless steel flatware, but polyester linens are satisfactory with the customers in Springfield.
In Springfield, we do display specialty linens and silver flatware, and we do take occasional orders, but for the most part, it's a more price-concerned customer, he adds.
With multiple locations, You need to find good managers and let them do their thing. John Jakob, Event Services (dba Abbey Party Rents) and Props of Texas
Painter uses a software program to track the inventory between the locations but says he would prefer the system to be more proactive in solving inventory queries. When we get in a situation where we don't have enough inventory, I want the system to ask if we want to take this reservation and to ask how we want to handle it.
Though the transfer of inventory has worked for Chantilly, Painter says he is considering one centralized warehouse. As you keep growing you have to change the way you do business.
A centralized warehouse would save money by eliminating duplication. Right now, we are staffing [both] locations to wash china and do laundry, Painter says.
Separate but Equal
Sharing inventory can be easy when a store operates multiple locations in the same area, but what about when the locations are far apart?
John Jakob used to work for the now-defunct Abbey Party Rents chain, which at one point had 37 stores throughout California and Texas. They were all independent units, he says. We did share some inventory in the Los Angeles area, but it really doesn't work. Bigger equipment like tents could come out of one location, but transportation of items such as chafing dishes takes time and costs money.
Working for Abbey taught Jakob a few things. One of their saving graces is that there wasn't a lot of moving [of inventory], he says. Each store had $1 million to $3 million in inventory.
Jakob says the key to operating multiple stores is hiring people with strong management sense to run each store independently. You need to find good managers and let them do their thing.
Today, Jakob owns three stores in TexasEvent Services (dba Abbey Party Rents), with a location in Dallas and one in Arlington; and Dallas-based Props of Texas, offering prop rentals.
He says the multiple locations give him more market coverage. The reason we went to Arlington was to capture the market in Fort Worth.
The inventory for all three locations is tracked on the same software program even though the stores operate independently. You still have competition between the same company stores, Jakob says. These are strong managers who have pride and a little competitiveness.
Managing a Merger
March 1 was the projected date at press time for a merger between Service Party Rentals and Tri State Top Notch, both of New York, according to company officer Lance York. The result: Tri Serv Party Rentals with, York says, a broader base of clients.
The two companies planned to combine their inventory in a new 65,000-square-foot warehouse in the Bronx. We are bringing together two substantial inventories and determining which products will be rented and which will be put on the shelf to use during peak seasons, York says.
In addition to the central location, Tri Serv planned to continue operating a showroom in midtown Manhattan and a showroom and 5,000-square-foot warehouse on Long Island.
York says having one central location has many benefits, including savings on overhead, insurance and trucking costs.
He hopes the bigger company will bring bigger business. Within a year we project to be the second-largest party rental company in the New York area, he says. (Although it does not disclose revenue, Teterboro, N.J.-based Party Rental Ltd. is widely regarded as No. 1 in the market.) We will be able to do larger parties because event planners use certain companies because they feel they can accommodate them. The largest part of this business is how you service the clients.
RESOURCES: Chantilly General Rental, 703/378-2255; Event Services (dba Abbey Party Rents), 214/350-5373; Tri Serv Party Rentals, 212/288-7384