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Event Rental Operators Grapple with Tight Labor Market

With unemployment at an 18-year low, event rental operators are scrambling to find workers.

Politicians and the stock market cheer when unemployment dips. Who isn’t cheering: the event rental industry. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is at an 18-year low, and even groups often left behind in the job market, such adults without a high school diploma, are seeing near-record job gains, says the Labor Department. The result for event rental--a labor-intensive business that relies on everyone from sales executives to drivers to tent installers--is so hard-pressed to find staff that some companies must now turn away jobs.

The problem cuts across the majority of markets.

“The economy has been in growth mode for nine years straight,” says Michael Berman, president of Milpitas, Calif.-based Stuart Event Rentals. “Despite starting this cycle at nearly record unemployment/underemployment, economic growth has taken all of that slack out of the labor market. There just simply aren't that many people who are employable currently sitting on the sidelines anymore.”

Boomtowns are hit with a double whammy.

Not only are three of the fastest growing large cities in the U.S. located in Texas, according to Census Bureau, but seven of the small towns surrounding her home base of Austin, Texas, are also booming, says Delores Crum, president of Premiere Events. “Our growth rate is astounding, and for that reason, jobs are plentiful,” she explains. “Anyone who has a commercial driver’s license or experience driving a box truck—movers, UPS drivers, etc.—can pretty much write his or her own ticket.”

Another staffing headache: Event rental is work—hard work. “The real issue is finding people who want to work the long hours at the current pay rate, when Amazon and other large companies are offering higher paying jobs than our industry allows, for much easier work,” says Charlie Feldbaum, chairman of Minneapolis-based Apres Event Decor and Tent Rental. “With low unemployment [in Minneapolis], we have a much smaller pool in which to find people, and constantly compete with higher paying starting positions.”

DRIVER HIRING STALLS While strong employees are a prize in any job category, most event rental operators have the hardest time finding tenting installers and drivers.

“The best party rental drivers have a strong work ethic, laser-like focus on safety and great customer service skills,” says Robin Denny, director of sales for CORT Party Rental in Seattle. However, “With 3.5 percent unemployment in our market and the $15 Seattle minimum wage, demand far outweighs the supply of qualified drivers in our market.”

Each piece of inventory is valuable, but truck drivers are in charge of hurtling 25,000-pound trucks packed with inventory down public highways. And finding drivers with clean driving—and drug—records is …

See the full story, with tips on recruiting and the role of undocumented workers, in the Summer issue of Special Events. Not a subscriber? We can fix that—just click here.


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