Party Perfect — Expanding inventory requires research
04/06/2012

Ask clients about their needs and fulfill them

American consumers are becoming more educated and savvy with their spending, the competitive landscape is getting bigger and companies are forced to up the ante to maintain and grow their customer base. Atlas Party Rental has been in business since 1984, but relying on longevity in business is no longer enough. All businesses must listen to their customers and be prepared to make changes to meet customer needs.

For the last 28 years, our core inventory included linen, china, chargers, glassware, flatware, cooking equipment, tables and chairs. For many years, this inventory has served our clients’ needs. This was a good thing, until we realized that our clients’ needs were changing.

Through our sales team we learned that there was a hole in the marketplace that we needed to fill. Our clients wanted a one-stop shop for all of their rental needs. We knew our existing inventory would not satisfy their demands.

We wanted to approach this as a solvable problem and we wanted to get it right. We could have mindlessly expanded our inventory and hoped that it would be what our clients needed, or we could take our time and do the appropriate research.

Choosing the latter, we sent a short market survey to our email database. At the time the database had about 9,000 contacts. In the survey, we asked, “What rental items don’t we have that you would like to see?” and many of our clients said they wanted trendy and unique offerings. In many of the comments, people listed furniture as an item they would like to see us carry.

Our market research pointed us in a clear direction. We were going to answer the needs of our clients by adding a trendy line of event rental furniture. This line extension would be new territory for us, but we understood that it was a vital move for the growth of our company.

We spoke with several manufacturers of commercial grade furniture and then spoke with some of their rental clients in other parts of the country. There were several furniture options that we could have chosen to include in our inventory, but not all of them met our definition of hip, modern or trendy. Further research revealed that modular rental furniture could be arranged in any number of groupings and that could give us the versatility needed for our diverse customer base.

Understanding our clients’ needs was a very important step in this process. If we had not taken the time to educate ourselves to the desires of the target market we could have ended up with a warehouse full of furniture that no one would rent. The survey we conducted also gave us other important insights into our clients’ purchasing behaviors — such as their longevity as a customer and the items they rent most — that we used to improve their overall experience.

Knowing what to add was the first step, but certainly not the last. Implementing this line extension was a very involved process. We had to increase our warehouse space, so we leased an additional 8,000 sq. ft. across the street to store our growing inventory. We had to train our staff on the new furniture. Our sales people had to reinvigorate their sales pitches to include the furniture and our warehouse staff had to learn how to handle it properly. Even more, our drivers needed to be trained on how to set up and break down the furniture.

The next, and most crucial, step was educating our clients on our new inventory offerings. We launched a marketing campaign that involved newsletters, social media and a series of phone calls to our clients informing them of our new inventory and educating them on the benefits of looking to Atlas as their one-stop shop.

The one-stop shop created a huge savings for our clients because they no longer needed to outsource multiple vendors to complete one order. The furniture that we offer is sleek, modern and can fit any space or décor. To add more value, we had our linen department make customizable pillows for the furniture that would match any theme perfectly.

We didn’t stop with our existing customers. We also wanted potential clients to realize that Atlas was now a one-stop shop. We rolled
out our furniture at the The Special Event conference and trade show, created marketing collateral and generated editorial coverage in
trade media magazines to build further buzz for the line extension.

Randee Wechsler, owner of Atlas Party Rental, says the rental furniture was a great addition to our inventory. “Of all of our products, the furniture is among the top 10 in individual product ROI [return on investment]. Customers use the products for corporate events with custom pillows that have the corporate logos, for bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and any kind of event they have,” she says.

The entire process took six months, but the results were well worth it. Increasing inventory takes many critical and well thought-out steps, but if handled appropriately it can be a smooth transition to greater profits and customer satisfaction. The way to stay in business for another 28 years will be to continuously ask our clients what their needs are and be able to fulfill those needs. It doesn’t get simpler than that.