Crotto turns part-time dream into thriving business
Some rental stores get started in unusual places and unusual times. Sept. 11, 2010, wasn’t what one would call an auspicious date for new beginnings, but Jeff Crotto, owner, All About Events, Jacksonville, Fla., is proving fate wrong. In the past two years, he created his full-time company, hired six employees, expanded his warehouse space and realized his dream of owning a business.
“I had been in the rental business for nearly a decade and I noticed that there was a hole in the market for top quality rental items,” Crotto says. “I believed that I could start a company that filled that need. I knew that we could provide the best for potential clients.”
Crotto’s first job in the equipment rental industry was as a driver/installer more than 10 years ago. “I eventually worked my way up to sales and then management. I had the experience of working for both successful and failed rental companies. I figured that this gave me a working knowledge of what worked and, more importantly, what didn’t work.”
When he started his business, he was working full-time for a competitor. Crotto said he always wanted to start his own business, so the challenge was making it happen. After his first event on Sept. 11, 2010, he started booking weddings with about 50 to 75 guests. “Word started to get around about the work we were doing,” he says, and pretty soon, he was busy.
The long hours were hard, he says, trying to give his all to both responsibilities. “I would work until 5 p.m. and then I would go do deliveries and pickups. Truth be told, I had to do this all without my full-time boss finding out. It was tough, but it was worth it,” he says.
“I couldn’t have done it without help. My girlfriend, Rosie, and her son, Zach, who’s in college, helped me immensely. Rosie answered the phone while I was at work and both of them helped me with deliveries,” he says.
The next challenge was cutting ties. Crotto says everyone reaches that point where they say to themselves, “It’s now or never.” “I got there and I decided I wouldn’t allow myself to fail. If I continued running All About Events on a part-time basis, it was never going to become what I knew it could be,” he says.
As business grew, the company handled larger events. Pretty soon, he had to hire help. “I was losing business because I was unable to react to my customer’s needs because I was on the road delivering and picking up our inventory. You can’t be all things to your business. If you try, it will fail,” Crotto says. “I hired a driver/installer first. It was the most important position that would allow me to tend to the other areas of my company. I believed that if I was available to see to my customer’s needs I would get more business and that would pay for the driver. It worked.”
Hiring was a challenge. “When I believe I need a new employee, I usually hire on a part-time basis first. I promise 20-30 hours or something that we can both live with. Then, once I know I can cover it, I try to get them more hours as quickly as possible,” he says.
“This may sound cliché, but I want the person who is a hard worker. You know, the boy or girl next door who is excited to have a job and looks forward to doing it well every day. I get so many compliments on our employees because our customers identify with them and they are so easy to work with. My employees don’t make excuses, they offer solutions. This is very important. When you’re talking about adding a new employee, you’re talking about having someone count on you for a paycheck. I take it very seriously,” Crotto says.
Now, jobs are bigger, but he has more inventory in his 4,500-sq.-ft. warehouse and six employees to make it happen. “We had to subrent a lot when we first started; we had some big events. However, we did a good job. We never said we couldn’t do it. Now, years later, those people are repeat customers because they know that we get the job done and we don’t have to subrent very often,” he says.
Walk-in traffic is slim, so much of the work comes from word-of-mouth, he says. “Sometimes the tumbleweeds blow by, but customers will walk in. Usually they call first, but we do get the occasional wanderer,” he says. “We like to work with local churches and they generate referrals. We do advertise online, though,” he says.
He says that like many, he fell into the rental business. “I’d love to tell you it was my life’s ambition and part of a master plan, but it wasn’t. When I moved to Jacksonville, I took the first job I could find. I think the best things in life happen that way,” he says.
Now, Crotto says, he sees every job and every event as an opportunity. “When the customer wants something, say ‘Yes.’ You open more doors with ‘Yes.’ It might be a pain to do it, but the customer will find someone else who is willing to do it if you won’t. That’s lost business,” he says.
His goal is 100 percent customer satisfaction. “Without that, we won’t make it. We bend over backward to get the customer exactly what they need every time. If they want something out of the ordinary, we could easily say, ‘We don’t do that,’ and they will go find the company who will. It makes more sense for us to say, ‘We would be happy to do that for you,’” he says.