Party Perfect: Take advantage of networking
Party Perfect: Take advantage of networking
11/01/2012

You can meet potential customers everywhere

Networking is important. When I say “network,” I don’t necessarily mean attending your local chamber of commerce meetings, although joining your chamber is a very good move. There are various other networking groups that are available to each one of us. There are wedding planners associations, catering associations, tent renters associations and more. A networking group doesn’t necessarily have to be in or related to the equipment rental industry, either. Any local group can help get your name and what you do better known in the community.

Your network also goes beyond the business. It goes all the way to the parents of your children’s friends or someone you meet in line at the park. For example, our family was in one of those maze lines to get in to see a holiday amusement show last December. I started talking to the person behind me, who turns out to be the owner of a production company that does lighting and staging. We exchanged contact information and a couple of weeks later, he called me. One of his clients was sponsoring a Ravens pep rally and he called me to rent a large frame tent for a shopping center. Since then, we’ve done several jobs together. He knew a man who had bought a pub. They wanted to have a St. Patrick’s Day opening, so we covered the back open area and the patio with frame tents. That’s how networking works.

It’s a conscious decision to be prepared for a networking opportunity. I always have business cards with me because I never know who I will meet where. If I’m going to the gym or to the store for a gallon of milk, I slide one or two business cards in my cell phone case.

The other part of your network is the people in your industry. Don’t be afraid of the competition. You’ll figure out who the knuckleheads are pretty quick. Don’t shy away from someone else who is renting what you are. Pick their brain and work together. At my last event, I was a table short. I picked up the phone to call a rental store 40 minutes away. Boom, I have a table.

If you work together, it won’t take away from your business, but enhance it. I’m also an active member of the American Rental Association (ARA) and my state association, ARA of Maryland. That’s another way to get involved with rental professionals, both on the national and local level.

In addition to networking, marketing has been another main focus for us. We have t-shirts everywhere because I pass them out like candy. I can’t tell you how many “Hopz!!” t-shirts are worn by the kids in town. When we started out, we sponsored Little League teams. Today, we work with schools. While there isn’t the same branding option, it’s a way to support local folks.

As part of any marketing plan, you also should have your trucks and trailers branded, labeled, painted and lettered. We have a big Hopz!! logo, surrounded with our product line: tents, tables, chairs, lighting, linens and dance floors. The contact information is on there — our number is 410-552-HOPZ — designed to be easier for drive-by potential clients to remember.

Getting a phone number that spells your company’s name wasn’t as hard I thought it would be. I called the number with HOPZ and it was not in service. I called the telephone company the next day and they gave me the number. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken calls from people who say, “I’m following your trailer.” It was the only trailer we had in the beginning and the number rang into our cell phones. That trailer paid for itself in the first year.

For me, it’s all about no-cost, low-cost marketing and advertising. We’re in the local Yellow Pages, but I don’t believe we will continue after this year. Our booking process includes the question, “How did you hear about HOPZ!!?” and the response, by a huge margin, has been “the Internet.” Everybody’s market demographic and target is a little different. For us, it’s that 20-something bride or mother of the bride, that human resources professional who needs to plan a company picnic next month, or the parents of those graduating.

We’re the little guys and we’ve tried a few different things, and I guess some of it worked because here we are, in business for more than
11 years. These are just a few of the lessons learned over the past few years — I’m sure there will be more to come.

Jeffrey Sleight is president of Hopz!! Party Rentals, Sykesville, Md. He can be reached at 410-552-4679 or jeff@hopz.net.