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Specialty Rental Companies: Niche Extends Its Reach

Niche rental companies specializing in tabletop or furniture—often vintage—are changing the event rental landscape today.

The event rental industry is vast, and company leaders rarely agree on everything. But as Special Events has learned from an informal survey, more than 90 percent of full-line event rental companies agree on this trend: Niche rental companies—which specialize in tabletop, linen or furniture, often with a vintage vibe—have exploded on the scene in the last five years.

What’s behind this trend? A better economy and a love for local, says Douglas Crowe, CERP, chief operating officer of Chicago-based Event Equipment Sales. Clients with more money can be more demanding, “But our communal conscience has driven this as well,” Crowe says. “The resurgence of buying—or renting—from local businesses has helped niche rental companies thrive.”

 What many of niche rental companies offer, notes Emma Fortier, event manager with Edmonton, Alberta-based Special Event Rentals, is smaller quantities of unique items—typically vintage, antique or midcentury modern pieces. This inventory often keys on the hot trend of bringing residential design to special events, Fortier says, such as adding a small lamp or area rug as a fun fillip for standard lounge furniture.

Veteran full-line rental companies must ask: Are the niche companies a threat to business?

COMPLEMENT, NOT COMPETITOR To some operators, any company that can bite off a piece of business is a competitor. But in the main, respondents to the Special Events survey say that the niche rental companies complement their work, rather than compete with it.

In some ways, this is because the niche companies’ inventory is often more high-maintenance than the inventory of full-line companies is.

“Our company is challenged in owning this type of furniture as it is more fragile and susceptible to damage,” explains Sheree Bochenek, creative director at Minneapolis-based Apres Party and Tent Rental. “It is difficult to transport this sort of furniture—with turned legs, for example—for a full-service rental company, as our furniture must be transported in large trucks with metal tent equipment, tables, and so on.”

Another factor in their favor, full-line companies say, is that most niche companies can provide one-of-a-kind products, but not in quantity. Clients need to understand the needs of their specific event.

As Allison Miller, marketing consultant with All Occasions Party Rental in Pittsburgh, puts it, “A larger rental house is not going to have one vintage sofa in a blush color and a $4 chiavari chair. And a smaller niche rental company is not going to have lounge seating for 300 guests and 14 colors of chiavari chairs.”

See the full story in the Summer 2017 issue of Special Events. Not a subscriber? We can fix that—just click here.

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