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Rental Essentials: TLC for Inventory Photo by Sayhmog / © Getty Images

Rental Essentials: TLC for Inventory

Party rental operators share tips for protecting inventory and extend its useful life

Special Events has looked at smart ways to dispose of obsolete rental inventory. But as one of our wise readers points out, it's smarter still to preserve the value of inventory by taking good care of it in the first place.

As every Hollywood starlet knows, time is your enemy, and that goes for rental inventory, too. As Brian Jenkins, president of San Marcos, Texas-based Peerless Events and Tents, puts it, "The reality is that rental equipment is going to get obsolete whether through use/abuse, going out of date or simply fair wear and tear. Regardless of how you protect your tables from being scratched or damaged, the customer is not going to take the same precautions."

But, Jenkins adds, there are ways to minimize the damage. The Peerless team has inventory covered—literally.

"All wood chairs are transported in five-compartment chair bags that can be purchased at Argo Bag--cost about $22 each," he explains. "All plastic chairs and resin garden chairs are shipped on shrink-wrapped pallets." Items too large for bags, such as portable bars, are nestled in moving blankets. Bumpers in the warehouse protect against damage, and all furniture is stored on pallets and then on racks.

Peerless' high-value tents are "always" transported in bags, Jenkins says, and the company invariably uses tarps in set-up and tear-down. "Never allow a tent top to touch the ground or pavement regardless of how clean it looks," Jenkins cautions, "as it will damage the tent top."

WRAP IT UP Party rental giant Party Rental Ltd., headquartered in Teterboro, N.J., uses a variety of techniques to baby its inventory. Besides using moving blankets secured with rubber bands to protect furniture, the company has designed custom covers for specialty items, according to Caroline Ramos, director of marketing and communications.

"Also, we created a furniture department that utilizes racking that isolates the inventory a bit differently than normal pallet racking," Ramos says. "With that, coupled with pallets and blankets with straps, we’ve seemed to find a good balance in protection vs. production."

At La Tavola Fine Linen Rental, headquartered in Napa, Calif., protecting linen is in the bag.

"Bagging and sealing our linens and napkins helps to keep our product clean and organized," explains CeCe Cannavo, director of operations. "It is also another step in the quality control process where faded or aging product can be sorted out and retired if necessary."

La Tavola relies on alert staffers to spot damaged inventory.

"Each type of linen has its own lifespan and all linens are checked upon return," Cannavo says. "Everyone in the production chain keeps an eye on quality, and calls any damaged or faded product to the attention of their supervisor. Our warehouse staff knows our product very well, and they ensure that all of the orders meet our high quality standards before they leave." She adds, "When ready to ship, our clean, pressed linens are stored in plastic linen bags to protect them and keep clean. We also have custom racking in our trucks that allows the linen to hang without wrinkling during transport.

Cannavo adds, "When you have over 4,000 SKUs [stock keeping unit], inventory tracking is always a challenge! We are constantly innovating to keep up with better and more efficient ways to sort and track our inventory and maintain quality control. Technology helps, but at the end of the day it is the watchful and experienced eye of the people who handle the product who ensure La Tavola’s excellence."

KEEPING IT CLEAN Certain furniture has to be babied more than other pieces—and that usually includes fragile white furniture.

"We rent a lot of white furniture," notes Amil Mendez, managing partner with Crofton, Md.-based Showtime Events. To protect this delicate product, "We had thick fabric covers made for all of our furniture to protect it during transport," Mendez says." We also have an on-call upholsterer to give damaged furniture a new face-lift. Other than that, consistent cleaning is all we can do to keep furniture looking showroom-ready."

At Kool Party Rentals, headquartered in Phoenix, people protect the product, says director of operations Bonnie Bauman.

"Well-trained production team is essential to the success of our operation, the longevity of our product, and the client satisfaction at the end of an event," she says. "They are truly the unsung heroes of the rental world!"

'BACK TO BASICS' PROGRAM Backing those rental pros is Kool's product-quality program, dubbed "Back to Basics." "For us, it’s a cornerstone to making sure Kool product is always 'show ready,'" Bauman says. "Our emphasis on this program is so strong, that our warehouse crew wears 'B2B' t-shirts, and we have posters and signs hung in the warehouse as constant reminders of handling the product according to Kool company standards."

Kool's Back to Basics program includes custom carts and protective covers for most of the company's inventory, along with requiring use of specific cleaning products to ensure that Kool's trademark acrylic items stay bright and clear. "The custom carts and covers are designed intentionally to pull double duty; they also serve as product protection in the warehouse," Bauman says. "The fewer times a product has to be handled, the less chance for damage."

Another crucial component: inspecting furniture hardware.

"As part of our B2B program, we inspect the feet, nuts and bolts, and other hardware on products every time they go out," Bauman says. "Failure to do this would result in stripped-out screws, missing feet or legs, or unsafe hinges. Spending time on the front end of this process ensures it functions properly for more turns than other rental companies get from similar product, because our focus in on maintenance."

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE If inventory isn't earning its keep by getting rented, consider giving it the boot.

"If inventory in our warehouse is not moving, we just sell it," Mendez says. "Inventory, to me, is like a tenant paying rent. If it fails to far behind on payments, we evict it, take the proceeds and get a better tenant."

Rental operators also have to grapple with the whims of fashion—and that affects rental inventory.

"We are currently in the process of selling our white and black chiavaris because they just don’t move enough," Mendez says. "Everybody--at least my clients--just wants silver and gold."

But Jenkins reminds operators that it's danger to toss inventory willy nilly.

"Be very careful on disposing of equipment," Jenkins cautions. "Often is not worth selling a chair that is in disrepair, as you still will have liability for that chair as long as it is in existence. If you sell a chair to a mom-and-pop operation who have no insurance and the chair collapses, injuring someone, who do you think they are going to come after? The guy with no insurance or you with the $3 million policy? Often, the most effective way to get rid of old equipment is to take a sledgehammer to it and throw it in the dumpster."

RFID Chips Keep Linen on Track at La Tavola

An essential component for La Tavola is its RFID [radio frequency ID] system, whereby every piece of linen has a tiny RIFD chip sewn inside.

"The chip allows us to quickly and easily scan the linens at all points of the departure and arrival process," says La Tavola director of operations CeCe Cannavo. "It is an invaluable tool for getting the volume of work we do done."

"We have a returns department that sorts, counts and scans all of our returns," she explains. "Our RFID system updates the status of the item as returned to the warehouse and in cleaning, helping us to keep track of our inventory at every phase of the process."

The company's returns department separates out the damaged and heavily soiled linens so that the damaged inventory can be reported and repaired, while the heavily soiled linen can be treated properly to prevent staining. "This also helps us to separate everything properly for the most efficient cleaning possible," Cannavo notes. "The department keeps track of where the items are stored during the cleaning process so that we can find them if needed to be expedited out on another order."


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