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In style

In uncertain times, some things in the party rental industry remain certain. People are still going to get married. They are going to have children and birthdays and bar mitzvahs and anniversaries. Classic white never goes out of style. Cash-strapped consumers will rent expensive products. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.


February 24, 2009
By Rich Porayko

Topics

The difference between a fad and a trend is knowing what your market wants

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Photo Courtesy of Tiffany Party Rentals


 

In uncertain times, some things in the party rental industry remain certain. People are still going to get married. They are going to have children and birthdays and bar mitzvahs and anniversaries. Classic white never goes out of style. Cash-strapped consumers will rent expensive products. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.

Other areas of the industry are not as concrete. Although private events are still going ahead, they are tending to be scaled back. Rental companies have to compete with discount retail giants like Wal-Mart and IKEA for smaller cost items such as glassware. Reality TV shows and the Internet are quickly overtaking bridal and wedding magazines as primary sources of influence. More and more couples are opting for destination weddings with limited “home receptions” when they return after the ceremony. Some corporate companies understand the value in promoting their businesses with events and functions, while other organizations have no choice but to cutback or cancel their events for 2009. Even with a recession looming, decreasing the environmental impact of having a wedding is still also a concern.
 

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“Relative to past years, business this year has really been around the same. The holidays were a little bit slower but not noticeable,” says Dave Higgins, vice-president of Higgins Event Rentals in Toronto and Oakville, Ont. “During the Christmas season we had a few corporate events cancelled, but we also had a lot of annual events that were the same as always. Maybe scaled down somewhat though. The household parties seemed to go ahead as usual. We’re getting the calls and some deposits for May and June now; however, we typically get contacted much closer to the date than the hotel or caterer.”

“In terms of décor, square china is still very, very popular; very strong. Polished stainless trays and cutlery are also very strong. For colours, seafoam green was a trend that started last year and is continuing this year. In the last few years some people have gone away from round tables for weddings, and they opt for rectangular banquet tables. Round tables are still the mainstay however.”

When brides-to-be walk into Higgins Event Rentals, they typically already know exactly what they are looking for. Higgins explains, “They are certainly a lot savvier than they were 20 years ago. We see ideas influenced by travel, bridal magazines, the Internet… “

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Photos courtesy of D&K Imports
 
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In British Columbia, Peggy Daniel, co-owner of Squamish-based Rental Network, sees opportunity in some of the latest trends in the industry. “Some of the trends we’ve seen are more lounge furniture, washroom trailers as opposed to port-a-potties and patterned linens are chosen rather than plain. We carry a lounge square which is a four- by four-foot cushioned square with fitted covers that can match the décor of a function and they are meant for lounging on as opposed to sitting on chairs. It makes it more informal or formal depending on the rest of the setting. It goes very well for reception type functions as opposed to dining functions. Washroom trailers are a like an executive washroom. They are trailers that have individual stalls. They are used for outdoor functions for anything from weddings to corporate events, especially tented ones where the washroom facilities are either primitive or non-existent. So we will bring in washroom trailers, which are heated and air-conditioned with flush toilets and running water in the sinks.”

“Vibrant colours seem to be the way that people are going, rather than muted. A lot of greens; everybody has a green theme lately so vibrant greens and a little bit of browns. We see a lot of natural flowers. It has gone more natural. Daisies and twigs!” Daniel laughs tongue in cheek. “Worldwide everyone is environmentally conscious right now and along with that comes the softer tones. And be careful where you are, what you are doing and how you do it!”

Brad Blomme, president of Big Top Tent Rentals Ltd. in Edmonton, Alta., believes in keeping it simple. He also believes in providing value to his customers and in turn, “Business has been good. We are right on par with our early bookings for this year. That’s not to say that it won’t change, but for now we are right at where we were this time last year. So that’s a positive thing. We kind of roll with what kind of big events are coming to Edmonton outside of the usual and this year it doesn’t look like there are any of those types of events coming to town. Weddings are still obviously very popular, almost recession proof. If anything, they seem to be growing in size. So the wedding market is still looking solid. Family reunions and private functions still happen. Festivals are still solid. I don’t see any slowdown in that business.”

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Courtesy of Affair Rentals


 

“It is still a little too early to tell about corporate events, however. The feedback that we are getting from our repeat customers is that they are definitely forging ahead.  We find that when times are bad, the corporate business actually picks up as far as promotions go. For a couple years in Alberta here, we did very little work for show homes because there wasn’t any reason for sellers to market them. But last year that changed. Last year we also did a lot of car dealerships because times are obviously a little tough. They are trying to find a way to bring customers in. Some stuff slows down but in other areas it picks up a little bit too. In what you might lose in customer appreciation events you might make up in promotional type work. People still have to find ways to bring customers through the door. A lot of times tent sales or promotions will do that sort of thing. Overall I think that people might be spending their money a little more wisely, maybe scaling back from what they were doing.  It’s still a little early right now to tell how rough it’s going to be. At this time next year we might be seeing something entirely different. Time will tell; hopefully for the better!”

Big Top carries a complete line of event rental products including tents, tables, chairs, linens and dishes. However, the company has found that sticking with the basics has served them well. “We’ve found the meat and potato products are still the most profitable items and the stuff that keeps your doors open. High-top tables have really gained in popularity over the last few years. Spandex chair covers actually seem to be picking up in momentum even though they have been around for a while. They are a reasonably inexpensive way of dressing up an event. And people are taking that route. But as far as tent liners, we’ve been seeing very little activity. Square plates are certainly gaining in popularity, but for what we do it hasn’t been beneficial to bring in thousands of square plates. It’s popular but we’re not New York or Los Angeles either.”

Blomme recognizes the difference between a fad and a trend.  More importantly, he also knows what his market wants. “There are so many of those design shows that you see restaurant makeovers or you open up a copy of People magazine and you look at the gala events. It’s very driven by New York and Hollywood. People open a magazine and that’s what they want. To say that there is no market for that stuff would be a lie but in Alberta people just want to have fun in their backyard. Some people do choose a fancy hotel but for the most part we find that our customers prefer to be married outdoors or the backyard in a more casual atmosphere.”

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Courtesy of Affair Rentals


 

“We’ve never really taken the angle that we should be investing a lot of our resources in fad items because we just don’t find that we necessarily have the market or clientele for them. We try to stick with products that will still be solid years from now rather than stuff that is in now and back out in two years.”

In Regina, Sask., A-1 Party Rentals store manager Desiree Wright remains optimistic. “The number of events in our area has been about the same. We do a lot of fundraising events.  We haven’t seen as many office functions however, but after the Christmas season it usually slows down.”

“Weddings are staying really busy. Chair covers are very popular right now. Colour wise, I have seen a lot of people looking for purple. Table runners are also quite popular. Square plates and dinnerware are strong. There are a lot of people looking for that whole line. Mainly because I think it is trendier. It is a little bit more unique, you don’t see it everywhere, and it’s not something that has been around forever. A lot of people come in for events have got their ideas from channels like the Food Network. And obviously when you have items in your showroom that helps to create different ideas too.”

Wright’s passion for events is contagious. “I like what I do, I enjoy it. Every event is something different; it is never the same. Every client is looking for something different, something new, so you can use your imagination.”

At Bel-Ayre Rentals in Winnipeg, Man., Louise Serpa is taking a breather in between the Christmas rush and the start of the wedding season. “Christmas was ridiculously busy. It’s slow usually after Christmas and New Year’s but it’s been picking back up. It’s pretty typical, right after Christmas things slow down right up until around March when all the weddings and other seasonal events start.”

Being busy doesn’t happen by accident. Serpa and the team at Bel-Ayre have worked hard to establish relationships with suppliers and planners throughout the wedding industry. “The wedding show is really big for us. We didn’t even have a booth this year and a lot of the vendors that did have booths actually came to us to fill their booth space with our display items. In turn, they funnel customers to our store. We have a lot of event planners and decorators coming through us now, even more than before. Sometimes their customers will come back to us later for smaller parties and events they are not getting professionally planned and they will rent directly from us.”

Serpa also uses the shows to proactively search out new products and opportunities. “There are lots of bright colours this year, especially at the wedding show. The whole spandex table cloth product is coming in which we really like. I saw them at the Rental Show in Las Vegas last year and I’ve been seeing them a lot around the city these days. Generally for the taller 42-inch bar tables, they are a spandex tablecloth that goes over the bar table and basically hugs the shape of it like an hourglass. They are very sleek looking. Charger plates are also really big these days which are the decorative plates that you put under the place setting and remains on the table for the entire meal. It adds to the theme of the table. Square plates are popular as are oversize serving platters in different shapes
and sizes.”

“Lots of big centrepieces are in right now like the super tall glass vases that are filled with anything you can throw in them. Chivari chairs are also very popular. They look like fancy ballroom chairs and appear like they are made out of bamboo. We got a stock of them at the beginning of summer last year and they are out all the time.”

Serpa believes the trends are influenced by the likes of Martha Stewart and other TV celebrities including the reality restaurant makeover shows. “And even when they are going out to eat, a lot of restaurants have all the trendy plates and cutlery and people want to incorporate that into their events.”


*Rich Porayko is a professional writer and founding partner of Construction Creative, a marketing and communications company located in Metro Vancouver, B.C. richp@constructioncreative.com


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