Canadian Rental Service

Features Business Intelligence Party and event
Editorial: A tale of two markets – equipment rentals and event rentals

One side of our industry needs our help.


September 17, 2020
By Patrick Flannery

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The equipment rental and the event rental industries have always been uneasy bedfellows within the overall rental industry. In many respects, they are much the same. Obviously, both are renting stuff to customers. Items are provided at a rate and for a time defined by a rental contract. The major business activity is customer service, warehousing, maintaining and delivering the rented items. Lots of stores rent both equipment and party supplies. There’s even some crossover in the items rented – event rental stores often carry heaters, generators and outdoor lighting.

But once you get an inch deeper than the surface similarity, you find two very different businesses. The challenges of handling tables, linens and tents are quite different from the challenges of handling skid steers, plate compactors and scissor lifts. The main target demographics of each business are almost opposites: direct to the general public and event planners with a heavy female skew, versus business-to-business and DIYers with a heavy male skew. Party stores have experts in tent erection. Equipment stores have mechanics. Sales in a party store happen around a nice table with a cappuccino. Sales in an equipment store happen in a muddy yard. Event rentals relies on being able to offer 100 different items that perform the same basic function. Equipment rentals requires an item for each of 100 different functions.

These differences pale to insignificance next to the difference in the impact of the pandemic on the two sectors.

Construction and all its support industries were declared essential in all provinces from the outset of the lockdown, with a few more restrictions for a couple weeks in April in Ontario and Quebec. Equipment rental was specifically called out in the orders in several jurisdictions as an essential service. This meant service to contractors could continue, albeit with special measures to clean equipment, maintain distancing during deliveries and implement online ordering, contract signing and payment. Homeowner rentals were slowed in some areas by requirements to limit the numbers inside stores and do curbside pickups, but at least stores could continue to do business at some level. Some stores even reported upticks in business as bored shut-ins turned to those home improvement projects they’d been putting off for years. The American Rental Association’s reports show the average member taking about a 15 percent decline in business.

Just read Kim Rixon’s report on page eight for a stark illustration of how different it’s been for the event rental industry. She’s estimating Muskoka Party Rentals has lost 90 percent of its bookings for the entire year. In her best-case scenario, that will translate into about an 85 percent decline in 2020 revenues. The store is completely shut down and none of the seasonal staff brought back. The backlog created by events deferred to next year means new business for 2021 cannot be accepted, causing cash flow from deposits to dry up. In Ottawa, Mike Wood of Ottawa Special Events has become something of a hero by appearing on local and national media, and in front of House of Commons committees, to advocate for stronger measures to help small businesses like his. Unfortunately, he’s had the time because, like Rixon, OSE has been nearly mothballed by the cancellation of the events it depends on.

One of the remarkable things about rental industry has always been our eagerness to help one another. What do you say, equipment rental operators? Let’s reach out to our friends in the event rental sector today and see what we can do to support them in this terrible time.