Deciding which specialty linens to buy is not just about finding the perfect look, but about care and storage. Testing out specialty linen swatches from companies will help determine whether the specialty linen you fell in love with at The Rental Show can withstand your laundry process.
What attracts rental professionals — and their customers — to specialty linens is usually the look. With a variety of fabrics and details like embroidery, sequins and appliquéd ribbons, specialty linens are the prom gowns among the little black dresses. They stand out and call attention, and make for a snazzy cake table, among other uses.
Robin Brockelsby, president, Creative Coverings Linen Rentals & Sales, Reno, Nev., a national linen rental and manufacturing company, says to go with practical thinking, rather than personal taste. “I really try to look for overlays or specialty tablecloths that I know are going to rent, rather than what I love personally. You really have to think about what 60 percent of customers are going to say, ‘Oh, I love that.’ Think with your mind, not with your heart,” she says.
Also, she says, listen to your customers. “I think party rental companies should add specialty linens to their inventory when they find their customers asking for that linen regularly. Most party rental companies carry some type of a polyester/poplin linen line. Products like lamour — a matte satin— or an iridescent crush, pintuck or a faux dupioni silk are more specialized, and more expensive to purchase and own,” Brockelsby says.
“When buying specialty linens like those, it makes sense to buy what’s hot. When chocolate was the hottest color for a couple of years and people were calling for it like crazy, it definitely made sense for party rental companies to own it. It didn’t necessarily make sense to buy periwinkle lamour, because it probably wasn’t going to rent as often — unless the client was willing to pay a ton of money for it and it could be paid for during the first rental,” she says.
Rental stores will know within that first month of their busy season what’s going to be popular with their customers, she says. For tips, Brockelsby recommends looking at fashion Web sites and magazines. “What colors are they showing? Right now, the clothing magazines are showing really bright colors. Wedding dress companies are a great source. What colors are they selling their bridesmaid dresses in? Look for those colors to help determine color trends. Black-and-white patterns are super hot. Steel gray is another new color. For the summer, consider bright colors, such as oranges, yellows and apple green,” she says.
Once the linen is chosen, consider asking the manufacturer for laundry recommendations and requirements, says Oren Fox, A-1 Tablecloth Co., South Hackensack, N.J. “You want to make sure that the item is able to withstand multiple washings and uses. This will allow you to maximize your return. Before we put any of our specialty fabrics into our rental inventory, we put the fabric through rigorous testing in our state-of-the art commercial laundry facility. This includes multiple washings with cloths stained in a variety of common grease- and oil-based stains including red wine, coffee, butter, ketchup, mustard and salad dressing. If they don’t come out, then we will not rent the fabric. We advertise our washing instructions for each of our fabrics as well.”
Another thing to consider is ironing, Fox says. “You will need to steam and/or iron the majority of the linens that you inventory. We use a commercial gas iron for these items, but other types of irons will work as well,” he says.
Rental companies also should do a wash test, says Mary Kerr, vice president of operations for Tablecloth Co., Paterson, N.J. “We will send a napkin or two to clients to test wash in their environment. We always try to get people to wash it in their own environment first, so they can wash it a couple times, the way it’s going to be used,” Kerr says, adding that, since all operations have different chemicals and temperatures, a linen may wash very differently at a manufacturer’s operation versus at the rental operation.
Brockelsby agrees and recommends that rental companies who don’t have an in-house laundry work with others. “A lot of party rental companies that don’t have laundry can go to another rental company and may be able to contract for laundry services,” she says.
Laundry care is one reason Brockelsby recommends 100 percent polyester fabric. “When purchasing something high end, look for products that are 100 percent polyester-based. In most cases, products that are 100 percent polyester won’t need dry cleaning,” she says.
Also, when purchasing pre-made linens, ask for a slightly larger size, she says. “If you are purchasing something polyester, many of the manglers/irons are really hot and they can continue to shrink the fabric. Whenever we manufacture a tablecloth for our rental company, we make it at least 2 in. longer. So if you’re purchasing a 120-in., ask for a 122-in.,” she says.
When buying, recommendations differ. “In general, rental stores should have enough inventory for their average size party,” Brockelsby says. “Let’s say you do parties for 200 to 300 people on a regular basis. They should buy enough linen to accommodate an event that size.”
Another option is subrenting, Fox says. “As an example, you may have a request for 50 120-in. round fuchsia sequins and you only choose to own 25 of them. You can buy the 25 and rent the other 25,” he says.
Either way, when determining what and how much to buy, think about space, Kerr adds. “It’s not only laundry, but storage of specialty linen. They may need to be hung, rather than stacked on a shelf,” she says.