How A&B evolved into party and event
Over the 40-plus years that A&B Party and Tent Rental has been located on Hyde Park Road in London, Ontario, Canada, three generations have grown up in the rental business. From general rental franchise origins to 100 percent event rental, A&B has withstood the test of time and surrounding development to create a lasting legacy in its market.
A&B Party and Tent Rental was founded as A-Z Rental in 1969 by Fred “Fritz” and Avril de Lange. Originally a franchise out of Chicago, the first location was on Hyde Park Road, about four miles down the road from A&B’s current location.
“They carried everything from A-Z, mostly small tools, garden equipment, a small collection of tables and chairs and enough dishes, cutlery and linens for about 300 people,” says Phil de Lange, A&B’s director of operations.
The name changed to A&B Rental Center in 1971. Jerry de Lange, Fred’s son, grew up working at his father’s business. “While the original store was being erected, Jerry had to sleep in the building for a week with the inventory until the windows and doors were installed,” Phil says. “The business eventually required an employee to manage deliveries and pickups around the city, so Jerry obtained his driver’s license to operate the company vehicle — a Ford van. He quickly gained a reputation of ‘fastest delivery driver in the city.’”
After college, Jerry began working for one of the Canadian banks during the week while working weekends at the family business. As the business grew and expanded, Jerry quit his job at the bank to work for his father full-time. Several years passed and an opportunity arose for Jerry to purchase the shares of his father’s silent partner — which he took advantage of and secured a third of the company when he was 33 years old.
Jerry ventured out on his own in 1989 with the party rental business — which was valued at roughly a third of the company — while Fred and Jerry’s brother, Ivor, operated the tool and construction business.
“Jerry found the tent and rental business to be more fun and upbeat, so it was a perfect move for him to capitalize on the rental business and support his growing family. Jerry’s wife, Alice, who previously worked as a nurse, came into the family business in 2002 after their six children were grown. She began helping out with laundry and bookkeeping, but currently she works in sales and customer service — a ‘tried and true rental girl,’” Phil says.
Phil and Devin, Jerry’s sons, also grew up in the business with their parents. “In a party rental business, there are various, age-appropriate jobs for everyone, so with six kids in the family, everyone had an opportunity to be involved. From cleaning chairs to setting up tents, washing dishes or loading trucks for deliveries, there was never a shortage of tasks,” Phil says. “One of my first jobs as a child was accompanying my dad to pick up and drop off dunk tanks. I learned very early on to make sure that the dunk tank was securely fastened on the hitch.”
Phil decided right out of high school that he would follow his father’s footsteps and make the party rental business his career. After working every summer at the store, Phil realized that he had a knack for the business and he saw the successes that his father had realized.
“The draw to the business was the ability to see immediate results when you do a good job, and provide rentals and service that people are happy with — it’s a very rewarding experience,” Phil says.
Devin also always knew that he would take part in the family business. He was drawn to the fast-paced environment of the party rental business in the summertime, and he takes pride in interacting with customers and managing his delivery/setup crew.
In 1989, the family built A&B’s current location, which as 11,500 sq. ft. of showroom and warehousing space. “Over the next several years, we realized that we were quickly outgrowing the space, so we added 3,000 sq. ft. of additional warehouse space in 2008. In 2012, after once again outgrowing the space, we built a 6,500-sq.-ft. warehousing space onto a neighboring building,” Phil says.
The current location includes a 2,800-sq.-ft. showroom. “Having a large showroom was a selling technique for us. Most rental stores had small 10-ft.-by-10-ft. showrooms — if they had one at all — but Jerry wanted people to experience and see the actual products that they could rent. We also wanted to have space to accommodate party paper products, including specialty napkins, balloons, paper plates, wedding accessories and other products,” Phil says.
“On a busy weekend day, we average around 100 people walking into our showroom for either rentals or paper products. The walk-in traffic has increased over the past few years as the space around us has continued to develop into commercial retail space owned by Walmart and a number of large residential developments have been erected around our store,” he says.
“The downfall of the economy in recent years has not affected our business in any notable way,” Phil adds. “Though London, Ontario, has the second highest unemployment rate in Canada, our business continues to perform well and thrive.”
Having a third-generation store helps generate business, as does having a great reputation. “Our customer mix is approximately
60 percent individual and 40 percent business/corporate. We have been in the London market for so many years that word-of-mouth is still how most people hear about us,” Phil says.
“Historically, our company used radio and television as the main vehicles of advertising. More recently, we’ve realized that the way that our customers seek out information has changed. To remain competitive, we’ve focused more advertising efforts on digital vehicles. Through our website, social media and online advertising, we’re able to connect our customers to our business,” Phil says.
A bright idea
When Jerry de Lange, owner, A&B Party and Tent Rental, London, Ontario, Canada, ventured out on his own in the party rental business, he had a unique vision for his new company. Ensuring that his company met his customer’s expectations at every touch point was paramount in his mind. Borrowing from the UPS business service model, Jerry wanted each delivery driver to wear a recognizable uniform when delivering quality rental equipment, on time. His mantra continues today with sons Devin and Phil. Their crews wear the company color — bright pink — while making deliveries in bright pink delivery trucks.
A&B benefits from The Rental Show
Jerry de Lange, owner, A&B Party and Tent Rental, London, Ontario, Canada, began attending The Rental Show in the early 1980s. His first special events show was at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1986 where he found an abundance of knowledge and new ideas that he was able to bring back to his budding family business.
Phil de Lange, one of Jerry’s sons, first attended The Rental Show in 2000 in Anaheim, Calif. — where A&B was awarded
the “President’s Image Award” for all of Canada after being nominated by one of its customers.
“Our attendance in these shows ensures that we keep abreast of all new rental products and décor trends,” Phil says. “The shows also are beneficial because they allow us to connect with other business owners from all over North America and share insights and advice on running a successful party rental business.”
The Rental Show is next scheduled for Feb. 10-13, 2013, in Las Vegas. For more information, go to therentalshow.com. — Whitney Carnahan