As I’ve collected stories of event rental pros throughout the years, I’ve come to see some patterns emerge. Successful companies share similar traits. Likewise, the event rental businesses I’ve seen disappear have also had a lot in common with one another. Here are a few of the mistakes I’ve seen happen and how to avoid them:
Mistake #1: Offer everything to everybody.
Many times, when starting or growing a rental business, it can be tempting to provide anything and everything that will rent. You start out offering candleholders and then add linens. Before you know it, you’re renting chairs and tables too. But it doesn’t stop there. When a client requests a particular style, you buy more inventory to accommodate them. Somewhere down the road, you’ve got a little bit of everything… country hoedown items, wedding decor, modern furniture, a chandelier or two. Your collection met the needs of the clients who came along but it isn’t cohesive, curated, or noteworthy.
The most successful event rental businesses I work with specialize. They have a specific style (bohemian, mid century, glam, etc.) or a particular product (lighting, farm tables, lawn games) and they stick to it. They become known for that specialty and attract clients who are obsessed with getting that thing. They strive to be the best in that category and they don’t waver.
Mistake #2: If rentals aren’t cutting it, add services.
If you’re struggling in your rental business, you might be considering offering additional services. Instead of just providing the vessels for the centerpieces, you starting offering florals as well. A client asks you to style the rentals at her wedding and suddenly you’re also coordinating. You want to generate more revenue so you add a sales component to your business; you start selling furniture, candles, or decor to bring in some extra money.
If the rental portion of your business isn’t successful, it is unlikely that adding another arm to your business will solve your problems. The most successful rental companies I know focus on providing the best rentals they can to the right clients. They don’t get deviate. They don’t dilute their brand. They don’t step on the toes of their referral sources. Instead, they concentrate on offering great rentals and grow their business in that arena rather than supplement with distracting additional services.
Mistake #3: To avoid wasting time on bad leads, automate the sales process.
Sometimes just getting through your inbox can suck the time out of your whole day. Email inquiries can take up all of your work hours. Especially if the requests are for items you don’t offer, budgets you can’t service, venues outside your area, or people just asking for things you don’t offer, you might want to automate your sales process. The temptation to spell out all of your policies in minute detail on your website, plaster your minimums on every page, and add a “shopping cart” feature can be alluring. Let’s face it, you don’t want to waste your time on people what aren’t really going to rent from you.
The best rental companies I know are definitely into efficiency (see below) but they understand that most event rentals require a high-touch customer experience. As a result they work hard to make sure that all of their marketing is aligned with their brand, tells their story, and attracts customers who will be a great fit. They recognize that when they receive inquiries, they need to prequalify the lead to make sure that both parties will be happy in the relationship. Then, they take advantage of the sales process to educate their clients, gain their trust, and establish their expertise. While they are prepared and consistent, the sales process is anything but automated; they attend to the unique needs and situations of each of their customers.
Mistake #4: Don’t implement systems until you’re busier.
When you’re just starting out, you can fly by the seat of your pants. The excitement of getting your first few customers can create an adrenaline rush like nothing else. And since you’re just beginning, every experience is new. It is easy enough to be consistent when you’re the only one working in your business. Even when you just have a small team or a handful of events per weekend, you may be able manage it all in your head or with a spreadsheet or be personally involved in every delivery. But at some point, that breaks down and the balls start dropping.
Event rental companies that survive and thrive in the long-run implement systems in their businesses early and often. They strive for efficiency and consistency. They don’t rely on their own memories, they have a process for writing things down so everyone involved in the order is one the same page. They don’t imagine how their staff will act onsite at a delivery; they train them explicitly about what and how to do things.
They don’t wait for bad things to happen before putting a policy in place; they anticipate problems and create plans for prevention and recovery. They do all this before things get too busy. Creating and constantly innovating systems is the lifeblood of their business. Even when they are small, they act like a legit, professional, big company with appropriate systems and policies to facilitate growth.
Mistake #5: Start cheap, raise prices later.
Pricing your event rentals can be tricky business. You’ve got to account for the purchase price, the predicted number of uses, the storage and transport of the piece, its value, and customers’ price sensitivity. Young event rental businesses often feel pressure to offer low prices in the beginning thinking that they have to be cheaper than the competition. This strategy, however, can quickly become a race to the bottom.
The most successful rental businesses I know set their pricing based on their brand and the value the offer. They of course account for purchase price and customer price sensitivity but they don’t get stuck in the comparison game. They pay attention to their dollar utilization and time utilization for individual pieces as well as their overall collection and make appropriate adjustments as needed. They are confident in they value of what they offer and aren’t apologetic about their prices.
If you identify with any of the scenarios above, you’re not alone. We want to help you run the best event rental business you possibly can. Find out more about successful event rental businesses in our Event Rental Business Key Metrics Infographic.