The Big Event: Weathering the storm
By Tara Jacobs
Keep an eye out for opportunities to enhance your business.
By Tara Jacobs
The last three months in the event rental industry have been downright dire. Weddings, county fairs, conferences and tradeshows have all been cancelled. As an event planner, I’ve been anxiously watching the news for signs of reopening. As for the return of “mass gatherings,” that’s definitely months away. But is it fair to group small to mid-size events with “mass gatherings?” You really can’t compare an NHL game or concert to a conference or trade show that welcomes a couple hundred attendees over the course of a day. In-person events were the first to shut down and will be the last to come back. But how long can the average event rental owner wait? Will the vendors I’ve built trusting relationships with be there for me when events make their comeback?
To find out how these operators are weathering the storm, I called Kevin Legallais, owner and president of Boneyard Event Services, located in Mississauga, Ont. When I think of events, the word “pivot” comes to mind. I can’t count the number of times Kevin’s team has pivoted for me, from last-minute floor plan tweaks to helping vendors set up a booth. While I initially thought event rental stores could turn this crisis into an opportunity, I learned it’s not that simple.
For example, “brewers can ‘pivot’ to make sanitizer. And some custom shops can plexi-glass their way into covering some costs to get through.But when you have the basics, like tents, pipe-and-drape and rental tables, it is hard to turn them into something else,” says Legallais. If a restaurant is looking for tables and chairs to expand their patio, it’s cheaper to buy these items than rent long-term.
While many industries have had their hardships featured in the news, I asked Kevin why the event space hasn’t garnered the same attention. He describes our industry as “the invisible economy.” Legallais continues, “I was happy to see something that started in Germany, which was the distinction that business events should not be considered as mass gatherings, such as concerts or sporting events, where everyone is in one place at one time. Trade and consumer shows can provide more controlled measures.”
But what about Canada? Do we have any programs to help rental owners, who undoubtedly carry the huge overhead to house rental products?
“Getting to a reasonable agreement with your landlord is paramount to surviving in a time with little or no revenue,” says Legallais. “The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program isn’t working as a whole and hopefully it gets changed to positively support those of us who need it desperately to survive.”
In anticipation of a return to in-person events, Boneyard has made a concerted effort to “devise ‘the new way’ of thinking outside of the booth.”
While you’ll need to be mindful of cost, think small and see what controls you can implement quickly.
“We are looking at efficient solutions to sanitize our equipment before it goes out to each event,” says Legallais. This might include “sanitization steamers for use in the warehouse as equipment is prepped, as well as a service to exhibitors.”
Use this downtime to develop new protocols for your staff. “Take this time to evaluate your business. Most of us are so busy during the regular cycle that we don’t find time to really dig into our processes, offerings, opportunities and focus,” says Lagallais.
Encourage pre-orders through deeper discounts and marketing communications to minimize contact on-site. If space permits, promote the use of transportation services and advance warehousing in order to minimize truck deliveries during move in and out. When events get the green light to proceed, these are some of the new items and services Boneyard will offer as part of their standard rental lineup: clear vinyl divider curtains between booths; plexi shields at registration counters; floorplan design and signage supporting traffic flow and distancing; hand sanitizing stations and outdoor queuing shelters.
While we all sit tight, let your customers know what your best practices will be when business resumes. As Legallais notes, “It will take communication, collaboration and collectivity to come back.”