Canadian Rental Service

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Looking forward

Our predictions for event rentals in 2020 and beyond.


March 12, 2020
By Lindsey McCaffery

Topics
Acquisitions, such as Sunbelt’s purchase of Whites, are expected to increase consolidation in the event rental industry going forward.

It’s the beginning of a new year and decade and with that comes predictions for just about every industry out there. So we decided to do our own.

For this article, we talked to five Canadian experts about recent trends they are seeing in their own businesses and the overall event rental industry:

  • Evan Aranoff, co-owner of Luxe Modern Rentals in Toronto
  • Lars Erickson, director of business development for Special Event Rentals in Calgary
  • Dennis Heathcoate, president of National Event Supply in Toronto
  • Michelle Nicol, account manager and festival specialist for Higgins Event Rental in Toronto
  • Mike Wood, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Ottawa Special Events in Ottawa

#1: More movement toward consolidation
According to two experts, there appears to be an increasing shift towards consolidation.

“We’re seeing event rental businesses owned by Baby Boomers in their 60s and 70s who are ready to retire, but not all family members want to take over the business,” says Heathcoate. He runs National Event Supply, one of Canada’s largest B2B wholesale event equipment providers. “So those companies are either going up for sale, or they’re closing the operations down and going to private auction.”

Lars Erickson of Special Event Rentals (which has four locations across Alberta) has also seen larger companies becoming more the norm throughout North America.

“A few years ago, rental companies were popping up that were just focused on one aspect of the industry, that is, they would focus just on tents, or just on vintage decor,” he says. But smaller companies can’t survive on specializing like that because clients don’t want to have to buy event rental items from several different places. So now, we’re seeing more smaller companies being bought out by larger companies.”

Regardless, Heathcoate sees a lot of opportunity for growth in the event rental industry moving forward. “My 15 years of experience with this sector is that generally on the party rental side, there is more than enough business for them to grow it as much as they want,” he says. He points to the economic downturn in 2008, which made little impact on event rental businesses. “The market dropped only two per cent year-over-year in our industry. It was like we didn’t really have a recession at all. The challenge is having enough money to keep buying inventory to meet requirements.”

#2: Rise in last-minute requests
A trend that also appears to be increasing is the number of clients making last-minute demands, even for full events.

“To me, the biggest change in the last decade would be that clients are not planning ahead as much as they used to,” says Erikson. “I’m seeing people call us Tuesday or Wednesday and asking for a tent, tables, chairs, linens and lighting in their backyard by Friday.”

Michelle Nicol has also experienced a surge in this kind of demand. “It’s been a constant trend over the past few years,” she says. “Clients think they can call at the very last minute and we’re expected to be available, as well as at the same cost.”

What is driving this trend?

“I think the online world has driven this expectation of instant gratification,” says Erikson. “If customers are shopping for rentals, they expect it to be like Amazon — they would order something today and have it at their house within 24 hours. But this is hard to do with rentals. When we have capacity to fulfill those requests, it’s great. But the struggle is often staffing. You only have so many people to set up tents and deliver equipment.”

For outdoor events in particular, Nicol believes customers are hesitant to book too far in advance because they are concerned about the weather. In response, she makes clients aware of the company’s cancellation policy and encourages them to book as early as possible.

“Really, if you wait until just days before your event, you really run the risk of us not having anything or anyone available,” she says. “That’s the problem with last-minute demands. I tell customers never to wait to book with us because even if a customer were to call me in the next 10 minutes, we might not have the availability or rentals they need.”

#3: Customers want something unique
Our experts are increasingly receiving client requests for “something different.”

“We hear that shows have looked pretty much the same over the last 10 years,” says Mike Wood of Ottawa Special Events. “Now, people want to see something different and exciting and fresh and what they haven’t seen before.”

The challenge? “You’ll have customers go on Pinterest and see a parachute inflated with lights inside and think it’s only going to cost them $500 to rent, when it’s really worth something more like $15,000,” Wood says. “So, you have to manage their expectations a lot of the time.”

Nicol has recently seen something she predicts will become a trend in events: hanging things from ceilings.

“I even saw one event where they hung their dining tables from ceilings,” she says. “It was unbelievable how they were suspended and then lowered down at dinner time with all the glasses and dishes and cutlery on them. So we’re seeing people defying gravity and using that as an entertainment piece as well.”

Nicol expects there may be a surge in requests for these kinds of spectacles, which would require tables that could withstand being suspended and lowered. “We have our own custom furniture shop in-house, so we’d have to ensure our tables are engineered so they will stay together. It would probably be a whole new build for us.”

Every year at Luxe Modern Rentals in Toronto, the business purchases unique products with different colours and shapes. “There’s definitely been a shift in clients asking for more and more variety—and styles evolve, so we have to be on the pulse of design trends and be constantly evolving,” says co-owner Evan Aranoff. Luxe also has its own refurbishing division, which recovers the company’s furniture and adds new styles and finishes.

That said, it is not always possible to meet client demands for uniqueness.

“A client might not be content with just white and black couches, but it doesn’t make sense for us to purchase a bright red couch for just one event,” says Erikson. “Just because one bride wants something, that doesn’t mean it will be popular with everyone and we’re going to invest in it. We want our items to be ‘rental-friendly,’ meaning we will be able to rent it out more than once.” In response, Special Events Rentals will sometimes refer clients to other companies or offer alternatives to client requests (e.g., instead of a red couch, the client could have red throw pillows).

Novelty has always been important, but our experts see being able to offer something different as a game-changer in 2020. Photo: AdobeStock

#4: Minimalism may also be growing in popularity
Some of our experts have received requests for a more minimalist approach to furniture and event scheduling. For example, Special Event Rentals recently brought in a new streamlined “industrial line” of furniture made of metal and plexiglass — with no linens. This lower-key esthetic has recently proven popular in the corporate world.

But why?

“Especially in an economic climate like in Alberta, perception is a big thing,” Erikson says of companies’ reasoning in his province. “We’ve done corporate Christmas parties for years that were full of staff activities during the day and they’d also have a full bar and live entertainment. But these days, companies don’t want it to look like they’re spending all this money while also laying people off. So this year, we’re seeing mocktails instead of alcohol, and someone playing music from their iPhone instead of a band.”

Ironically, says Erikson, these companies are likely spending almost as much on event rentals as before, “but it’s all about perception.”

Nicol, who is in Toronto, is also seeing a more minimalist approach to events. “Schedules for music festivals are traditionally back-to-back-to-back with performers, but I’m starting to see events provide more time for rest breaks,” she says. “I think event planners are trying not to overwhelm their guests as much, plus in doing so they are giving patrons more time to explore and meet other at these events.”

#5: More non-traditional venues are good for business
Going hand-in-hand with customers wanting something different or unique, events are increasingly moving away from hotels and being held in non-traditional venues like barns, museums, breweries, and outdoor or open green spaces. According to our experts, that’s good for event rental companies.

“The fact people are moving away from traditional indoor venues is great for our business because if a client’s event is in the middle of nowhere, they’re going to need everything from generators to lighting to tents and furniture and place settings,” says Nicol.

Aranoff has seen a lot of these newer venues in Toronto. “People are now opening in the most random of places, like old warehouses, restored old buildings and industrial complexes. They’re even holding events in automobile showrooms,” says Aranoff. “Hotels were able to supply pretty much everything before, but now that these venues are opening they need to rent everything from businesses like us. It’s made our inventory more useful and has been a great opportunity for business.”

Erikson has also seen an increase of unique venues. “We do some work with hotels sometimes, but they’ve always been pretty self-sufficient. Now that everyone wants something unique, including where they’re holding the event, this has definitely been a boon for event rental companies.”

#6: Creating opportunities for spontaneous networking
Face-to-face spontaneous networking at events is becoming more popular and, consequently, so are requests for lounge-type settings.

“Events are providing more of an opportunity for unstructured socializing and networking, rather than having to sit with the same six people at a table for hours, or having to go to a formal meeting room to talk,” says Erikson. “We’re definitely renting more couches and different types of casual furniture to help people socialize, mix and mingle.”

These settings are popping up in variety of different areas, for example, right in the middle of a trade show floor, in the hallway, or in the registration area.

Nicol herself has experienced the effects of the lounge esthetic. “It’s all about creating less formal opportunities for people to network and chat and mingle casually, so you’re seeing lots of ‘pods’ — like a table and a couple chairs — for people to sit and relax and catch up with others,” she says.

“We have exhibited ourselves at trade shows and people looking for information are often afraid that if they make eye contact with you, they’ll get roped into a sales pitch,” she continues. “But if you happen to be in the hallway and walk by that person who dropped by your booth, and there’s a pod right there, it’s just a more natural way to start chatting.”

#7: Sustainability is becoming more front-of-mind
More and more, clients are asking event rental companies for environmentally friendly items.

“We have seen a starting trend where clients are asking if our furniture is derived from environmentally-friendly products,” says Aranoff. “I think in the next couple of years we’re going to see more people asking for that.”

Nicol’s employer has many green initiatives in place. Higgins uses environmentally friendly cleaning products, energy-efficient irons for linens, and is constantly looking for innovative ways to package rentals and prevent waste.

“Lots of companies wrap cutlery in plastic wrap, but we’re now shipping ours out in Tupperware containers, packed in 24s so you’re not unwrapping or making waste or even wasting time,” she says. “Sustainability is really driving change in our industry.”

Aranoff agrees. “The industry can claim to be green because we deal in rentals, but there are always ways we can become more efficient in that sense. I think that’s going to be something event rental companies have to deal with more and more in the next few years.”