Putting together our annual look at the world of event rental is one of our bigger challenges. We make scores of phone calls and chart elaborate spreadsheets to try to divine the trends.
As we prepared this year's profiles of top event rental companies, we found ourselves collecting so much data and so many interesting stories from companies worldwide that we decided we couldn't stop at listing 25-we had to go to 30. (Who knows, next year we may make the list bigger still ... )
It's been a year of contradictions for the event rental industry. Some party rental pros have enjoyed revenue increases in the high double-digits. For some companies, that's been thanks to acquisitions, but for others, it's been due to the best of all reasons--organic growth.
Other firms, however, have had to fight a sluggish economy and a wary client base. Perhaps no story was more poignant than one we heard from an event rental firm in Africa. Although the firm was listed in our top 25 last year, its revenue translated into U.S. dollars didn't hit the mark this year. But there's a story behind the story: The firm actually had an increase of more than 500 percent in revenue, but its country's economy is so troubled, its currency has fallen roughly 300 percent. As one of the company principals told us, "If you ever need to write an article on surviving very harsh economic climates in Africa, you can always talk to me!"
Consolidation in event rental is an ongoing hot topic, and we certainly see ongoing evidence of deal making. But consolidators face the challenge of figuring out how the operations they fold into a system will actually fit into a system.
Event rental certainly must rely on systems; failure to do so means inventory management will be a shambles, delivery will be costly and inefficient, and so on. But part of staging truly wonderful special events--and event rental is critical in staging truly wonderful special events---is making them distinctive. A cookie cutter approach won't wow event guests, and so it won't work for event rental's clients-the planners.
Indeed, the one consistent theme we heard this year is that event rental is facing conflicting pressures: the need to rein in costs, while still offering new inventory. The pressure to stand out by stocking exciting items that nobody else in the market does is unrelenting. The successful operators are those who are tuned in to their clients' unique needs and committed to meeting them.