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JUNE 2013 issue of
Rental Management

Party Perfect: Investing in your customers
05/31/2013

Creating new inventory items on request

 

Over the past three years, we’ve made our own tables, and burlap drapes and ceiling swag. It all started because a customer asked us for an item we didn’t have. Now, these things are part of our inventory.

Our event planners have visions and ideas, and they come to us with concepts. When someone comes to us with a concept, we look at the rentability of the product. Is it something that’s trending? Is it cost-effective? Is it prominent on the West Coast? If it’s something we think could rent, we do it.

One example is the harvest table and this is how it works with most things. The planner showed us a photo. We did research online. A few years ago, there wasn’t much online about harvest tables, so we had to test things to see what would work and what didn’t. We made a prototype and all of us were giving input. Then we had the planner come back and then she gave us some ideas. We tweaked a couple things and then built the rest.

For the tabletop, we knew right from the get-go what we wanted. We talked to the building supply person to see what the best wood would be. The challenge was creating a leg that could come off and be stored in the top instead of separately. We tried a couple of variations for the legs.

We first saw the photo in April and the first harvest table rental was in the beginning of July. It probably took us about a month to get the prototype right. Once we started construction, it took about a month to make 12 tables. We knew how long the prototype took, so we planned that much time for production, including the underlayment and the finish. One of our tenting guys has a talent for woodworking, so that was his sole job for the month. There were days that all of us were out there working at the end.

The planner rented the tables three times that summer and then we started promoting them. We were very nervous the first year. You have to spend a lot of time marketing and hoping it rents. We really didn’t know if the tables would rent because there’s no guarantee. We knew we had to get significant money back the first year. We do a lot of work for corporate clients and we thought the harvest table was more of a corporate item. Once we had the prototype done, we started showing it to everybody. Every email that left our store  included an attachment about these tables.

Now, two years later, we’ve more than tripled our inventory. Ironically, it took about a month to make the rest. The first time around, there was some time taken up with making jigs and so on.

The tables have branched us out into a different market. We do a lot of tenting. Some people do a lot of indoor events, so they don’t need our tents, but they love our harvest tables. In our market, there are several venues that have wood interiors because it’s a logging area, so the tables go well in those venues.

One of the biggest advantages to being an equipment rental store as well as party and event is that we have all the tools to build things. We can do it in-house. We have a big tent that we have up year-round in the back of the store and we turned it into the wood shop.

You want to create new inventory items as a customer service, but it is very much a gamble. You take it on and hope you can rent them out again. The key is once you create it, you have to promote it, because if people don’t know you have something, they can’t rent it. Marketing is important.

The same scenario now has happened over and over again. Someone came to us looking for burlap drapes and it was someone who wanted them with the harvest tables. We talked with the customer and sourced the material. You have to think of fire codes and so on when you’re making a rental item. We found the material and made the drapes. Someone else heard we were making them and wanted them the same weekend, so we had to double our inventory.

We now have at least 26 burlap drapes and we use them in tents. It helps bring that rustic feel that customers seem to want. They also work well with the harvest tables. We’ve had interest in the drapes through our website and other rental companies have contacted us about renting them.

Our design builds are not limited to the décor element of rentals, as we have custom-built tents for many of our customers. Clients have asked us to create tents specific to their needs. One planner had us build a custom Bedouin tent with flared walls and patterned fabric. We also designed a structure tent for installation on the rooftop terrace of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. This tent also had to keep with the resort’s aesthetics.

It takes time to make new items. For the burlap drapes, we were sewing until midnight one night. It also takes desire to take your
events to the next level. Events that have new items get noticed.

It’s also all about customer service. You’re willing to invest in your customers, because they want you to create these things. They
come to you with ideas and if you’re willing to create something for them, it can create a lifelong customer.

Angie Venekamp, manager, Rental Network, Squamish, British Columbia, Canada, can be reached at 604-892-8200 or email angie@rentalnetwork.ca.

 

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