When to Buy A(nother) Truck in Your Event Rental Business

The number one area we see event rental business lose money is in deliveries. Setting the right delivery fees plays a big role in your overall profitability. A huge factor in those calculations has to be your delivery trucks. When should you rent? When does it make sense to buy your own truck? Getting it right could make or break your event rental business.

Photo of our clients, Coral Lane. Image used with permission by Andrea Elizabeth Photography.

When the time is right for your event rental business to buy a truck or another truck is based on a number of factors. You’ve obviously got to consider the financial piece of the picture. But that isn’t the only concern. Having a truck “with your name on it” can hold a certain cache. Convenience, time, and risk also play a role. We’ll explore all of these issues as you evaluate when you should add a truck to your fleet.

THE FINANCES

Obviously, with any business decision, we need to do the math. In the case of trucks, you’ll have to compare all of the possible scenarios. If you’re renting trucks for your deliveries right now, start by adding up everything you’re currently paying. Look at a year at a time to see a more complete picture.

Rental Truck Costs
  • Rental Truck Base/Day Rates
  • Mileage Fees
  • Labor for pick-up and drop-off*
  • Any Insurance 
  • Any Additional Fees or Costs

*If it takes two of your crew members one hour to pick up and drop off every time you rent a truck, that payroll starts to add up. Even if you pick the truck up yourself as the owner, be sure to do this math as if you paid an employee to do it. You can’t scale your business in the long run if you’re the one picking up the trucks.

Purchasing a Truck
  • Annual Cost of Truck**
  • Maintenance (include oil changes, tires, repairs, mechanics bills, etc.)
  • Insurance
  • Labor Paid for Maintenance***
  • Roadside Assistance or Other Service/Warranty Plan

**If you paid a downpayment + a monthly payment, include all of that here. If you paid cash outright, include all of that here. 

***Dropping off and picking up at tire shop, mechanic, etc.

When we ask our clients about these costs, the general sentiment is that renting trucks is very expensive. Most young rental businesses want to purchase a truck because they believe it will be easier and less expensive than renting trucks every weekend. However, when you’re doing this math, consider a few factors: 

  • When we surveyed event rental pros informally, we found that maintenance on a box truck could range from $400 to $8,500 per truck per year! Newer trucks did require less maintenance but costs were not necessarily correlating with the year of truck. Then average maintenance costs (including tires, oil changes, and repairs) were $3,709 per truck annually.
  • If there are times when you rent more than one truck simultaneously, be sure you include some rental truck costs in your comparisons. When you purchase one truck, you may still need to rent one or more trucks on occasion. Make sure you include those costs in your calculations. 

PROFESSIONALISM

As I speak with event rental pros about trucks, I often hear “I can’t wait to get one” or “it is embarrassing that we don’t have our own yet.” These comments point to a desire to demonstrate professionalism and a level of experience or success. While I applaud the idea of providing the best service for our clients, I think it can be a bit of a trap to equate having a truck with having “arrived.”

Consider that the relationship between your onsite staff and the other onsite event professionals has a far greater impact on your reputation than whether or not you have a marked truck in the loading dock. Also, if you are a company with great success, you almost certainly would have weekends and days that are booked solid requiring you to rent extra trucks anyway. In those cases, using rental trucks would be a sign of your abundant success.

I do believe that having a lovely logo-wrapped truck pull up to a venue can have an impact for your business. I just want to argue that for those who think that NOT having one yet is a detriment, I don’t think your industry colleagues share your opinion.

PEACE OF MIND

The event industry has very little margin for error. You’ve got tight delivery schedules, sometimes difficult installations with lots of constraints, millions of variables that can impact the outcome, and one shot to get it right. With weddings and special events, there are no do-overs.

There are enough problems that can happen in your event rental business— having a truck break down on the way to an event shouldn’t be one of them. While financial constraints are obviously a factor in whatever decision you make, reliability and peace of mind must be high priorities for any event rental business when it comes to their trucks.

A truck prone to breakdowns or even frequent anticipated repairs that take it out of commission can cost your business financially but also in terms of reputation and ability to fulfill your orders.

ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS

As you weigh the truck scenarios for your event rental business, consider that renting and purchasing a truck are not your only options. Leasing is a viable option that may address your needs more completely.

Leasing a box truck from a company like Penske, Ryder, or even a local brand can have advantages including customization, maintenance and loaner vehicles, roadside assistance, wrapping opportunities, and even washing. While you may have to put up a deposit, you’ll have less cash tied up in the vehicle than if you purchase it and at the end of the lease you can get a new vehicle again. Your monthly payments are predictable and you don’t have to worry about surprise big maintenance fees.

Many event rental pros talk to me about purchasing a used truck from a company like Penske or Enterprise after it has been used for lease or rental. They love the price of these vehicles but sometimes fail to see that those big brands are getting rid of the vehicle for a reason. Box trucks become costly to maintain after just a few years.

Consider this scenario one client recently shared with me.

Conversation about buying a used box truck

That $10k truck actually cost her $17k over three years. If she knew upfront that she would be spending $17,000 over the next three years with nothing to show for it at the end, would she have made a different decision?

This client went on to buy a new box truck and is thrilled to have the reliability and time back. She said it was worth every penny.

If buying a new truck isn’t an option for you, leasing may give you the same benefits. Even if purchasing is a possibility, leasing may give you the peace of mind you’re looking for.

Besides leasing, renting through traditional channels, and purchasing vehicles, consider these other nontraditional alternatives:

  • Truck share services like Fluid (to rent for deliveries or to maximize the use of your own vehicles when you’re not using them)
  • Short-term leases. If you find that you’re renting from Enterprise or Penske every weekend for 3 months in a row, consider negotiating with them for a monthly rental rate for those three months instead of a day rate.
  • Third party delivery services (hire a moving company with a truck to deliver your items either on busy days or for all of your deliveries)
HEDGING YOUR BETS

Regardless of whether you rent, lease, or purchase a truck for your event rental business, you should always have a back-up plan in place. Spend some time making a plan for the following scenarios:

  • A full truck breaks down on the way to an event
  • Your crew gets in an accident
  • You have more events than you’ve got trucks for (how many is too many?)
  • Inclement weather prevents you from travelling to the event for the delivery time
  • Truck gets a flat tire
  • An accident or traffic delays your truck & crew by 2+ hours
  • Your truck gets pulled over for a traffic violation

Does looking at this list cause you some anxiety? I get it!

None of these scenarios has to be a deal breaker. But having a plan in place now (and thinking through how your truck purchasing/renting/leasing plan impacts it) can make all the difference.

We’d love to know what you decide to do. Share your event rental business’ truck adventures with us at rw@rwelephant.com! We can’t wait to hear from you!

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