Canadian Rental Service

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The Event: Slamming the brakes


May 8, 2020
By Tara Jacobs

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Last month, I talked about how going green can drive the event rental business. And it can. Maybe just not now. In a matter of days, “disposable versus reusable” became ridiculously irrelevant.

The impact of COVID-19 can be felt in every industry, but especially in the party and event rental space.

In the event industry, there’s never really a down time, but spring is especially busy. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to manage current business, fall bookings and prospecting for new growth.

As I sat on the planning side of the fence at the start of March, my team was feeling crunched too, adrenaline at its peak, as we put the pedal to the metal, ready to execute over 15 events in eight weeks.

And then, COVID-19 hit Canada. We took the pedal off the gas as social distancing replaced socializing. We thought our events could still cross the finish line, given they were smaller and regional.

Suddenly, the tires came to a screeching stop. I can still smell the burnt rubber, as I had to not only shift gears, but reverse all the work we’d done to launch another spring series of B2B events. Plan. Un-plan. Re-plan. It was at this point I started to see the ripple effect on the event industry as a whole.

For each event cancelled or postponed, there is an event rental operator who suddenly lost spring business. Some operators have laid off staff; others temporarily closed. While many events have postponed to the fall (and not outright cancelled), this doesn’t mean business as usual. Assuming you already have a full fall lineup, will you have the inventory and staff to take on this additional surge in business?

The situation is evolving so rapidly, I’m sure this narrative will be dated by the time you read it! Despite the uncertainty, the time will come again when events of all genres get back on track. Until then, our industry must pivot, as we always do, to cope until we see a comeback.

Here are five ways event rental owner/operators can support customers and staff through COVID-19:

  1. Consider unconventional customers. Do you have the infrastructure to offer delivery services to catering companies or other local businesses? Can you supply rental items to hospitals and pop-up medical screening centres? Leverage social media to market your business (even if your storefront is closed).
  2. Time for training. Listen to podcasts. Sign up for an online safety course in First Aid, slinging and rigging, ladder safety, WHMIS – the list is endless. In an industry where there never seems to be enough time, take this time to sharpen your skills.
  3. Software updates. If you were planning to implement a new POS, GPS or CAD system, now is the time. You’ll have the opportunity to set up your software and give it a test drive before the phones start ringing.
  4. Thirsty Thursday anyone? Try a virtual meeting platform like Zoom to share face-to-face updates with your staff. Raise a toast (alcohol not mandatory but highly recommended), to staying home, staying safe, and staying sane!
  5. Plan for the long term. Business will come back and when it does you’ll want to be top of mind for event planners. If you didn’t have a marketing strategy to reach new customers, consider print, digital and social options. If you had a plan, it might need to be tweaked to meet new industry needs on the other side of the pandemic. Customers will have new expectations, particularly around the cleaning and sterilization of your rentals. Develop a process and promote it to differentiate yourself from the competition and show your customers their health and safety matters.

Time to wrap this up, wash my hands, and make another much-needed cup of coffee. Since I started writing this article (from my home office of course), I’ve been attacked with nerf guns, officiated a Hot Wheels race and took a much needed mental health break in the woods with my seven- and 11-year-old boys. I’m taking this time to enjoy these rare spring moments with my family because when events kick back into high gear, I’ll go from zero to 60 with no looking back.