Canadian Rental Service

Smart style

By Treena Hein   

Features Party and event Profiles

On the NJS website, owner Nancy Snell describes her business as “a speciality linen and decor rental company where relationships, listening to, and fulfilling the needs and wants of the customer go hand-in-hand with quality fabrics, fashionable concepts and imaginative vision.”

Snell was pleasantly surprised to win both the President’s Image Award and the tabletop design competition at this years’ CRA Ontario banquet. Considering the spectacular designs NJS executes a speciality linen and decor rental company

This description rings true. When asked about what’s most rewarding about running her business, Snell answers without hesitation. “The collaboration that we are able to do on a weekly basis,” she says. “Teaming up with other local businesses, photographers, tent companies, florists, venues, DJ’s, event planners – knowing who you’re working with and their strengths gives us a huge advantage when planning with a client,” she says. “It’s the lasting friendships we have come to make with other business owners in the industry, our customers, their families and our community.” In mid-April, NJS again hosted their annual “Vendor Blender” event, where other event business owners in the region are invited to what Snell calls “a night of food, drink and catching up. It’s so great to see so many other small business owners in one place.”

NJS was started 19 years ago in 1997 from Snell’s family farm. “I had started doing graphic design and web design, then opened an online store for wedding accessories in 1999,” she recalls. The rental business started over a five-day period, with a single inquiry kicking everything off. “I had a call on a Tuesday for wine glasses, and I said we were thinking of adding these to our inventory,” she remembers. “The next call was Wednesday for white linen table cloths and wine glasses, and I said I was working on it. I started to do my research and when a third call came on Friday, I had a supplier for linen sub-rentals, and had costing to purchase wine glasses. I made arrangements with a local restaurant to use their commercial dishwasher after hours to wash the wine glasses. And that’s how NJS started into the rental industry.”

Snell says there’s always been competition, but that she “just made it a priority to offer unique products and services. I really just listened to the customers and what they were looking for or were having issues finding.” It worked. In the first year, NJS did 40 weddings – mostly renting linens, wine glasses and backdrops. “The following year we added chair covers, dishes, cutlery,” Snell says. “The following year, we had more styles of glasses and centerpieces. I remember we had seven events one weekend and I thought I was going to lose my mind. I had one part-time staff at the time.”

As anyone can imagine, space (even though the business was in separate buildings) was running out, and NJS was also hitting the wall in terms of electricity capacity, water, natural gas and internet speed. After 13 years, in spring 2010, Snell built a 5,000-square-foot showroom and warehouse in the industrial park in Clinton. She’s never looked back. Her daughter Laura started with the business in 2011 and last year, NJS had seven full time employees during peak times. “Our business has grown nicely in the shoulder seasons,” Snell notes. “The fall is huge for us now. Our full swing season goes from May thru October. November and December are slower and a time to organize and do physical inventory counting. January, February and March is all about consultation and planning for upcoming events and attending trade shows and whoosh, we are back at April again with our annual Vendor Blender evening and then a two-day open house for our current customers and general public.”

Inventory and trends
To say NJS has a rather large selection of fabric napkins, table cloths, chair covers and more would be an understatement. The fabrics range from solids to prints, from simple and elegant to contemporary. The company is also known for its outstanding backdrops. To keep up with the current trend of rustic weddings, NJS had custom harvest tables and benches made in 2014. “We’ve also purchased Chiavari chairs in champagne gold and mahogany, for more elegant settings,” Snell says. “We’ve added speciality serving pieces, platters, larger wine glasses, and for 2016, 72-inch round tables and dark wood folding chairs.” Snell never buys something she “thinks” customers will want, but keeps careful track of what people ask for. “The first inquiry is logged, and the second inquiry is our signal that we need to source it,” she says. “By the time the third inquiry happens, we have a costing, availability and rental pricing ready.”

While DIY weddings were very popular two and three years ago, Snell says last year NJS saw a very strong trend to full event setup and teardown. “Brides don’t want their wedding party to be setting tables Saturday morning,” she explains. “They want to enjoy their weekend and are willing to pay to have someone else handle it.”

NJS will do events within a 1.5-hour drive, from Sarnia, Bayfield and Kincardine to Mildmay and Waterloo. “We joke it’s anywhere with gas stations,” Snell says. “Fifteen years ago, you had to have the vehicles full for Sunday rental pickups as no gas stations opened on Sunday before 10 a.m. We were caught a few times.”

In terms of business challenges over the years, Snell says, looking back, she would have purchased rental software sooner. “I went 12 years planning events from modified computer worksheets I created, but there was no correlation to our physical inventory, so I spent nights poring over the coming event worksheets. The best part of that was you knew your inventory like the back of your hand, and the events in detail. But as the events got more detailed and larger it was becoming more difficult to keep the level of accuracy. I spent the money on the software and would never be without it.”

NJS was honoured recently with the Ontario Canadian Rental Association President’s Image and Innovation Award for Party and Event Rental at the CRA banquet. “When Mike Maltby called to tell us that,” she remembers, “I had to ask him to repeat himself. I honestly didn’t know if we had a chance – and we were so focused on consultations and meetings with our 2016 couples and getting prepped for the ARA Show – that I had actually kind of forgotten about it. Until just before we headed to Atlanta and the email came through. I kept thinking it was a misprint! My staff wanted to compete in the table top design competition, so they organized their design, teamed up with a local florist and if we didn’t win the table top design competition that night at the banquet as well! What a bonus night it was for sure!”

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