Angela Pennington has a job unique in special events. As vice president of inventory for Los Angeles-based powerhouse Classic Party Rentals, she is responsible for inventory in Classic's massive 34-warehouse system. Armed with an MBA from UCLA's Anderson School of Management, she sources product, oversees capital expenditures and works closely with each local management team on planning, placement, replenishment and standardization of product. Here, she shares her strategies.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: One of the big strategies behind Classic's acquisition program has been its new ability to share inventory between locations. What factors in today's market make that work well, and what factors present challenges?
ANGELA PENNINGTON: It's actually great. Especially with tightening budgets and labor costs, the ability to transfer equipment between our stores allows us to meet demands in all markets as needed with less capital investment. The sharing of equipment also makes us more efficient; we can manage costs better, increase our equipment utilization — which is a big number that we look at — and also allow our individual stores, especially our smaller stores, to have access to more product lines and greater variety.
There are some logistical challenges in making some of it happen. If our events are overlapping, then the movement just won't happen. And styles are different from market to market. You would think that certain markets might be on the same timeline in terms of trends, but that is not necessarily the case. And that actually benefits us, because if something is past its prime in one market, it's probably hitting in another market.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What are news-making rental items in 2009?
PENNINGTON: This industry is becoming more and more a fashion/style business. What is big in the stores is typically big in events. So I think you will start seeing bright, bold colors — lots of yellows, purples, greens. Eco-friendly products — things made from recyclable materials, from natural fibers, faux leather chairs — are big. One other thing: colored stemware as accent pieces on the table. We are getting a lot more requests for that.
SPECIAL EVENTS: How is the current lousy economy affecting your inventory decisions? What do you do differently now than you did a year ago?
PENNINGTON: Classic has always managed inventory and purchasing aggressively. Our inventory utilization is a key metric for our business, and how I manage and move product and determine purchasing needs is really based off of that metric. So continuing these practices — weeding out products that don't rent and sharing inventory between stores — has become a much more important factor for us. We will continue to focus on investing in the right equipment, the right price, the right location and the right quantities. It's harder to accomplish but much more important today.
Another thing that we are paying more and more attention to is how we package our equipment, how we handle it and how we take care of it. This maximizes its life and thus minimizes our maintenance expenditures and allows us to focus on investing for growth in other areas, such as new products, and not just in replacement. No matter what, we are always, always looking for something new and different and unique, that piques interest and keeps the momentum and excitement going in our business.
One of the big trends as a result of the economy is that people are concerned about value. So they are watching their budgets more closely; “more with less” is a bigger theme. People are interested in creating the same effect and same feel and same personality, but with less and for less.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What inventory lines demand the most of your attention, and why?
PENNINGTON: Chairs require a great deal of time. Because they are in such high demand and high volume, we are always turning them, so they require more maintenance. If they are not cared for properly, linens are easily damaged and mildewed. And tastes change regularly, so that requires a broader selection.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Where do you source product?
PENNINGTON: It's a little bit of everything. We source product both domestically and internationally; I spent two weeks recently overseas looking at new products and manufacturers. Trade shows are great for ideas, but I think everyday, real-life situations are the best sources for inspiration. Going to restaurants, looking at retail, talking to friends and family, looking at catalogues, seeing what is happening in the magazines. It's putting it all together and then going and looking for that product or having it created. When you think about an event, it's not right out of the box. We don't do them that way anymore; that's just not how the industry is run.
Classic's Web site is www.classicpartyrentals.com.
Photo by Nadine Froger Photography. In the background is Classic's Valencia chair.