How to be an Excellent Rental Company

Starting out in the event industry, I was very green. I liked planning parties. I knew I had a creative bent and an organizational side. At some point in college a skills assessment test indicated I should become a florist. The event industry seemed like a good fit. I just needed some experience.

I applied to every event industry job I could think of; banquet server, catering assistant, flower delivery driver (that’s a story for another time), and wedding planning assistant. One afternoon, in a situation totally unrelated to my job search, I stumbled into a party rental store in a strip mall. While I was there to rent tablecloths I struck up a conversation with the store’s owner. I mentioned that I was currently looking for a job in the event industry and she perked right up.

She mentioned that she was looking for someone and I should come back the very next day to start. No interview. No resume. No application. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong supporter of trusting your gut instincts but, whoa. I couldn’t believe this woman hired me without knowing a thing about me.

Eager to get my feet wet in events though, I showed up bright and early the next day to dive into the party rental business. After showing me around (the business consisted of a 400-square-foot showroom and an adjacent storage room with some additional inventory), she handed me a price sheet. The information was fairly straight-forward but it could not adequately prepare me for what happened next.

Less than 10 minutes into my first day on the job, the owner of the party rental shop left.

Yep. Left an untrained, totally inexperienced, completely clueless girl in her business to answer phones, field questions, help customers, receive inventory returns, send out will-call orders…. and the list went on. Except there wasn’t a list at all. No procedures. No guide. No resources.

Just me and a price sheet. No training. No policies. No standards.

As I look back on that experience, I often wonder what that owner was thinking to entrust me with so much power. I had power to interact with her customers, give information, send out merchandise…. I could have given away the whole shop while she was gone. I didn’t know what her policies were. I didn’t know what values the company wanted me to convey to customers. I could have made promises they couldn’t keep. I could have left a pretty bad taste in customers’ mouths.

Obviously, this is a pretty extreme situation. Most business owners wouldn’t hand over the keys to their kingdom with such reckless abandon. But lots of business owners hire employees without properly training them. Owners often rely on finding a “good person” rather than pairing an an excellent employee with a well-designed system.

As you grow your business, consider writing a procedure manual. Even if you’re a one-man shop, you’ll find this exercise helpful. Writing down what you do and why you do it can help you clarify your vision and create consistency. It will also save you a huge headache when your business does grow. Instead of being too busy to train someone, you’ll be able to hire help and clearly lay out your expectations without having to reinvent the wheel.

An operations manual, along with some helpful training, would have prepared me for success in that rental business. I could have been an asset supporting the vision and goals of the owner. Instead, I quit at the end of the lonely chaotic day. While the owner didn’t teach me much that day, I did learn that I wanted to work for an excellent company.

Don’t be that inconsistent unorganized unstructured company. You can be a whole lot better. You can be excellent.

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