Canadian Rental Service

Features Party and event Profiles
Second time around

Experience, market savvy and deep roots in a community can lead to success. But Bruce and Paula Rodgers have found that the party rental business can also be a young person’s game.


September 23, 2011
By Patrick Flannery


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Experience, market savvy and deep roots in a community can lead to success. But Bruce and Paula Rodgers have found that the party rental business can also be a young person’s game.

FinalTouch-13 
Final Touch can get by with a small staff. From left to right: Kathy Hatfield, Amy Rodgers, Kevin Campbell, Paula Rodgers and Bruce Rodgers.


 

If at first you do succeed, try something new. This appears to be the motto of Bruce and Paula Rodgers, owners of Final Touch Party Rentals in Stellarton, N.S. After having difficulty finding party supplies locally for their wedding nine years ago (it is the second marriage for each of them, too) the couple saw an opportunity to be their own bosses in the party rental business. The former employees of United Rentals and the Bank of Nova Scotia retired from their old jobs and started up fresh, renting tents, tables, chairs and other party gear to the folks of Pictou County, about halfway between Halifax and Sidney, N.S. Nine years later, business has grown to the point where Bruce and Paula are finding it hard to take care of everything themselves and contemplating selling Final Touch to someone younger.

It is funny how life never dishes out its changes one at a time. After their wedding in October 2002, Bruce and Paula had a lot of time to talk as they drove to their honeymoon in Quebec City. They had had to go to Truro, N.S., about half an hour away from where they live, in order to rent the event supplies for their reception. Bruce had recently retired from his position as a manager at United Rentals, and the bank branch where Paula was a supervisor had closed, so they both were living on their severances and wondering what to do next. They started to toss around the idea of a party rental store to serve their part of Pictou County.

“When we came back in January we went down to the ARA show in California to see what was available,” Paula remembers. “We came home, did up a business plan and within 24 hours we had our money.”

After they were married they lived in the same house, leaving Bruce’s house empty for the entire winter. So they used it as their first shop. “You never know what you are getting into,” Paula remembers. “It is kind of scary.” They worked out of the house for three years, but business went so well they had to build a new building to accommodate all the inventory. “We are still here, but it is getting pretty damned tight,” Paula reports.

Final Touch carries a full line of event supplies, including such hard-to-find items as outdoor candles that can withstand 30 kilometre-per-hour winds. Customers can find wedding decorations, tents, dinnerware, tables and chairs, serving sets and more. Most of business comes from Pictou County, a mixed urban and rural area with around 47,000 residents. There are five small towns in the county, and most people work at the Michelin plant, the Sobey’s warehouse or the local pulp and paper mill. Paula did an analysis of Final Touch’s clientele five years ago and found they were doing 47 per cent weddings, 38 per cent corporate events and the rest anniversaries, birthday parties and other miscellaneous functions. “Our focus is weddings and commercial events,” Paula says.

When it comes to weddings, Paula leaves the planning to the bride. “We don’t have time,” she says. “When a bride comes in it takes half and hour if she knows what she wants or it could take two hours if she’s as green as grass. We do not do the decorating, we do not do setup other than the tents. When we are busy, we are busy. Just like any rental place, you have to work your ass off in the summer to get through the winter.”

The two appear to have been correct in their assessment of the market opportunity in Pictou County. Paula says sales have grown between 10 and 15 per cent every single year they have been in business. They are the only game in town since their sole competitor in the tent business closed three years ago. “For weddings we have everything, like the backdrops the accessories, the coloured sashes and the organza overlays,” Paula says. “All that is in such high demand right now that we are up to our necks in it. We are trying to accommodate the brides and the brides are all going on the Internet. They know what is out there and then they come in here and say, ‘Why don’t you have it?’ So every year we just keep growing our merchandise to satisfy the brides. We have a lot of inventory, but we are very careful to not get into those colours we know we will not rent.”

They hit the road to promote their business in the early days, exhibiting at a local home show and bridal Welcome Wagon shows. Two years in they built their website, www.finaltouchrentals.ca , but actually stopped advertising shortly after that. “We just couldn’t meet the demand,” Paula says. Final Touch has been able to get by with seasonal workers between May and September, ramping up to about seven employees at the height of the summer busy season. “We are not MacFarlands here,” Paula laughs. “We are just a little Ma and Pa business.”

“I think a lot of our business is based on customer service,” Paula says. “We do go the extra mile to satisfy our customers and that is what the customers appreciate. They want that personal touch, they want to know that we will do our best to accommodate them. That is our reputation that we have built over the years. Bruce is very well known in Pictou County and that really helps, you know. They say, ‘Call Bruce, he can do it.’”

ounty is on the northern coast of Nova Scotia, across Northumberland Strait from P.E.I. Stellarton itself is one of five towns in the county, and is only five kilometres away from New Glasgow, the largest town in the area. The population of the county is around 47,000, mostly English-speaking with a median income of about $43,000. Tourism is important to the area, along with coal mining, forestry, fishing and agriculture.

Final Touch does most of its business right in Pictou County, but has travelled as far as P.E.I. and New Brunswick. The Trans-Canada highway passes just to the north of Stellarton, making travel around the region easy.

In addition to a large selection of wedding and party supplies, Final Touch has a special focus on candles. Bruce and Paula keep a large inventory of a variety of innovative candles in a myriad of styles, including candles that will stay lit in the wind.

With a successful second act coming to a close, Bruce and Paula are looking forward to moving on to the third phase of their lives and careers. At 65, Bruce is finding it harder and harder to meet the demands of a booming events rental business. “The trouble with Bruce is, he does all the deliveries and all the tent setup, which is physically demanding work,” Paula says. “He is so particular that he does not want anyone else to do it. No one can do it as well as he can. So until he gets to the point of relinquishing that power, the man is working seven days a week, 12-hour days.” Paula is open about their desire to slow down and find a buyer for Final Touch. “We need someone younger with the energy to make it grow more,” she says. “It is a great business if you are young.”


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