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GOOD AS THEY are at servicing the parties thrown by others, many party rental operators throw their own bashes, whether to win new customers or to woo current clients. Here, some tips on putting life into your own rental party.


    The new rule for staging parties at Austin RentAll Party, in Austin, Texas, is to “start planning six months out instead of six weeks,” says Damon Holditch, CSEP, CERP, company president. Austin RentAll throws parties including client visits and an annual “linen sale,” offering brides and wedding planners a 50-percent discount on specialty linen selected and paid for at the event; the linen must be used within a year. The first linen sale was put together in two weeks, Holditch says, but now, “we have these in our marketing plan and in our budget.”


    When Peter Grazzini's event rental company — Perfect Settings in Washington — was just one year old, he took a chance, staging an elaborate event at a museum for 450 event planners and caterers featuring 20 unique tabletops, a three-piece jazz ensemble and even valet parking. It was a “huge undertaking,” Grazzini says, but one that paid off hugely: “I was a small company when I did that event. But within 30 days, I started negotiations on a contract that would eventually double my business.”


    Ralph Stern, CEO of Tri-Rentals Party Specialists in Phoenix, passes over what he calls the “macro” party in favor of the “micro” party — the lunches he stages as often as twice a month for six to 12 guests, both current and prospective clients, to tour his facility. Along with seeing the showroom and warehouse, guests meet inside salespeople, who are “on the front lines answering phones and assisting the outside sales staff,” Stern says. This up-close experience “doesn't guarantee that they'll start using us,” he notes, “but we leave them with a positive experience about us and our operation, and in many instances they have given us the chance to prove ourselves by giving us an order.”


    When Stuart, Fla.-based Eventmakers International threw its 20th anniversary James Bond-themed bash in April for its clients, the company's employees played a major role in the event, says Eventmakers principal Dana Coates. “Each employee was required to generate ideas, help implement concepts and participate in the evening,” she says. “It was heartwarming to see drivers socializing with clients that they had been delivering to for years.”

    Indeed, the semiannual open house for more than 600 customers staged by Karl's Event Rental of Oak Creek, Wis., keeps getting better thanks to input from employee focus groups, says executive assistant Noreen Engberg. The elaborate event partners with more than 25 vendors, each of whom has the opportunity to present a booth in a trade show floor area.


    Even with vendor-partner donations, the Karl's open house costs roughly $85,000 a pop. But party rental party pros caution against skimping. “Do not do a facility party if you are not going to make it the most impressive facility party ever given in your market,” Holditch says. “Do it over the top or don't do it.”


    Things go wrong at your clients' events, so expect the same at your own. Raphael's Party Rentals in San Diego was just launching one of its annual open houses for more 3,000 current and prospective clients in its 65,000-square-foot warehouse when a downpour hit, flooding a fully decorated tent. The storm was “your worst dream,” as business development manager Charlene Lain puts it, but it had a sunny side. “We were able to show our guests how quickly we can react in an emergency as we pumped out the water, turned on the heaters and fans, and were able to still use the area for the party.”


    Operators emphasize that when it's your party, don't be shy about strutting all your stuff, because it's just as important to remind current customers how good you are as it is to persuade potential patrons.

    Baker Party Rentals in Costa Mesa, Calif., hosted nearly 100 guests from the local chapter of the Association of Bridal Consultants in January with a catered event featuring 10 different tabletops. While it was great exposure for potential clients, the payoff included a “confidence-booster for people who already work with us to see how well organized we are and how well we care for our items,” says Baker staffer Erica Strauss.

    M&M The Special Events Co., with locations in Chicago and Dallas, regularly hosts events to showcase its inventory and decor capabilities. But the event staged in Dallas when the company acquired the former Abbey Party Rents last year had a wry edge for M&M president Michael Berk. “The response was fabulous, and the most-often-heard remark was, ‘I didn't know that you did that,’” Berk says. “Which is something that brings a tear to my eye, as we have eight outside salespeople who are supposed to make sure our customers know all that we do.”


Austin RentAll Party, 512/491-7368; Baker Party Rentals, 714/545-4667; Eventmakers International, 772/286-1841; Karl's Event Rental, 414/831-7069; M&M The Special Events Co., 630/871-9999; Perfect Settings, 202/722-2900; Raphael's Party Rentals, 858/689-7368; Tri-Rentals Party Specialists, 602/232-9900

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