As we begin our 25thyear publishing Special Events Magazine, each month we salute event professionals who have reached career milestones.
As software supplier Solutions by Computer nears its silver anniversary, more than 2,400 businesses manage their daily operations with the help of the computer software and services the company supplies.
Company founder Jack Shea has extensive experience in computer systems — he served as CFO for Taylor Rental in the '70s, developing inventory management and accounting systems for a clientele consisting mostly of rental franchises. After Taylor Rental sold to Stanley Works, Shea launched Springfield, Mass.-based Solutions by Computer in 1982 with a new system oriented more toward independent rental businesses. Providing tracking and organizational assistance, Solutions by Computer's software solutions enable party rental business to track a warehouse worth of plates, tables, tents and more.
With a long view of almost 25 years observing and supplying party rental businesses with inventory-tracking software, Shea is in the perfect position to observe the explosive expansion of the event industry over the past two decades. Back in 1982, he explains, his company “purely managed the rental slate” — at the time, helping a rental business meant concentrating on tracking inventory and reservations.
While Solutions by Computer still helps with these basic business needs, the scope of the event business has grown. As party rental companies began to explore operations management, Solutions by Computer devised new software options and now also assists in such areas as “the picking of the orders, the staging of the orders, the scheduling of the trucks and that sort of thing,” Shea says. Whereas, “originally, it was just about renting the equipment and keeping track of what the commitments were against it,” he explains, Solutions' software systems have evolved to suit the growing industry.
Shea claims his company's systems have had something to do with the growth in the party rental industry. “The technology that we've done help those businesses grow and be managed professionally,” he says. Explaining technology's increasingly vital role in the organizational side of party rental, he adds, “If you're a special event company and you put up these tents and tables and chairs and table settings and you take digital pictures of them, then in your computer system, you can attach those pictures to the record for the event.” Once this visual record is set up, “If the same customer comes back and they want something similar, you can easily retrieve those pictures,” he explains.
A larger variety of event equipment exists in the burgeoning rental businesses, “totally different” from the paraphernalia requested before, Shea notes. In the beginning, the companies Solutions by Computer supplied rented nothing but the basics — just “tables and chairs,” Shea recalls. “Some of them did tents and that sort of thing, and some had popcorn machines.” Now, more equipment exists for Solutions by Computer software to sift through.
This increase in equipment results from a change in the purveyors of the equipment. “Back in '82,” Shea explains, “there were a few party specialists in the country, but nothing like what's there today.” Party rental used to be a small division of larger rental companies: “Most of the party rental people were partly in party rental and also in equipment or tools, so it was part of their overall business,” he explains.
Along with the increasing specialization in party rental, Shea cites the fact that professionalism, developed “through certification programs,” has increased. In fact, he explains that the professionalism “is obvious in the management of these businesses.” After 25 years, “there's a lot more second- and third generation people getting into the management of these businesses, and they're probably more college-oriented people then there were before,” he explains.
As far as the expansion in the party rental business goes, Shea says, “I've always believed that competition is better, not worse, as long as it is driven by service, not price.” The quality and quantity of competitors in the special event industry has increased as the industry gets a handle on labor costs, something that it struggled with in previous years. “It was a big issue 25 years ago, as people expanded from equipment or tool rental into party rental,” Shea says. “They didn't realize the extent of labor costs in the party rental business.” So although “a lot of them sort of got out of control,” he explains, “they have a much better handle on that now.”
Speaking of the exploding industry that Shea has been a part of for 25 years, he relates how proud he is to have been “able to provide the tools to allow the special event companies to grow and manage themselves better.”
Solutions by Computer 191 Chestnut St., Springfield, MA, 01103; 800/950-2221; www.solutionsbycomputer.com