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Where the best events start

In the spring of 2008, Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga, Ont., presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the grand opening of a new facility housing the operations of Affair Rentals, whose slogan reads, “The Best Events Start Here.”


February 24, 2009
By Canadian Rental Service

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State-of-the-art facility is a testament to the successful growth of Affair Rentals

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Affair Rentals is a full-service event rental company located in Mississauga, Ont., that provides services to more than 8,500 functions a year.


 

In the spring of 2008, Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga, Ont., presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked the grand opening of a new facility housing the operations of Affair Rentals, whose slogan reads, “The Best Events Start Here.”  It is the third move for the company, which has grown to more than 10 times its original size, now widely recognized as one of the major players in the special events industry in Canada.

For guests touring the company’s new home it is hard to imagine, in this new state-of-the-art $4-million, 40,000-square-foot facility, that the company started off as a humble rental store located in an isolated unit inside of a strip mall. But that is how it began, explains company president, Rick Lukasik, who relates how his mother Loretto started the business in 1985. “She saw the potential for this market early.  Back then there were not many dedicated party rental stores.  Most were divisions of equipment rental shops, but she wanted to focus exclusively on party rentals,” he says. “She started with the basic rental items, two patterns of dishware, one pattern of cutlery and disposables such as candles and balloons. It seems funny now, but back then the disposable items were popular.”

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The company offers a broad inventory of china, glassware, flatware, linens, tables, chairs, kitchen equipment, traditional pole tents, frame tents, high peak tension tents, lighting systems, heating, cooling and sub-flooring.
 
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At left, Chris MacLellan, managing director; right, Rick Lukasik, president of Affair Rentals. 
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One quarter of the large and expansive building houses the laundry and linen operation.
 
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Jeff Harris, linen contract manager, inspects one
of the company’s washers. Affair Rentals operates a full-service
commercial laundry, specializing in processing goods for the
hospitality industry.
 

 
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The company’s tent washing and repair division is also housed onsite. 
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Mayor Hazel McCallion of Mississauga, Ont., took
centre stage at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the grand opening of
Affair Rentals’ new, $4-million, 40,000-square-foot facility.
 
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The company employees 53 full-time staff members in the winter months and 65 in the busy summer season.


 

The company soon expanded its inventory, offering small tents. “Renting tents was a new ball game compared to other, less labour intensive products.  We started with small 20- by 20-foot frame and pole tents from Eureka for parties of 20 to 25, mostly for residential use,” says Lukasik.

As the company built its customer base it quickly outgrew its single-unit facility, eventually taking over the unit next door and then kept moving into adjacent units as they were vacated. “We kept knocking down walls and expanding until we took over all five units in the building,” he says. The company operated out of that building for 10 years before moving just down the road in 1996 to a 20,000-square-foot facility. “We thought that new building was going to last us forever. We joked that we might need a golf cart to get around in it. We didn’t think we would move again,” he says, but by late 2003, having greatly expanded their product lines and service offerings and with a satellite building in use a few minutes away, housing a tent repair operation and general storage, it became clear that more space was needed and plans began to find a new, much larger, home.  After more than four years of searching, in late 2007 a suitable building was found and renovation plans were begun to design a facility that would house the company for its next stage of growth.  In May of 2008, after several months of construction on the interior of the new facility, they settled into their current 40,000-square-foot location.

The new facility has undergone comprehensive renovations to address the unique operational needs of a company with such a wide range of products and services. Divided into four key departments, it  includes a commercial laundry; a dishware department that is responsible for cleaning and packaging all incoming smallware items to rigorous specifications; a tenting division which maintains the company’s extensive inventory of tents and provides cleaning and repair services to a range of other tent companies; and finally the company showroom, which provides a visual display of their product line and a place for event professionals and private clients to make their selections.  In addition to a broad inventory of china, glassware, flatware, linens, tables and chairs to suit any need or budget, the company now has a large inventory of high quality mobile kitchen equipment, traditional pole tents, frame tents, high peak tension tents, and a wide range of options, including, heating, cooling, lighting systems and sub-flooring.  

Complementing its tent and rental divisions Affair Rentals also operates a full-service commercial laundry, specializing in processing goods for the hospitality industry. Clients include several major international airlines, passenger rail, multinational food service operations, as well as golf courses and a range of other event venues. One quarter of the large and expansive back end of the building houses the laundry and linen operation, which utilizes five commercial washers, four presses and nine driers. Its tent washing and repair division is housed on site and the company also services tents from other rental companies. The company employees 53 people in the winter, 65 in the busy summer season.

Chris MacLellan joined the management team in 2000 and started working towards transitioning the company from its reliance on a limited but loyal list of caterers and private clients, to its focus on targeting a wide range of corporate and municipal clientele, while reaching out to a range of other caterers, event planners and festival co-ordinators. “I wanted to focus on sales and marketing, but shortly after I started, the pace of business often forced me out to tent sites several times a week in the summer months, where I took part in the installation process, swinging a sledge hammer to drive in tent stakes and slugging gear with the team members.  At the end of a long day I would sometimes ask Rick, ‘When does the management part of the job start again?’” he jokes, adding that he still goes out on jobsites on occasion when he wants to escape the hectic pace of the office and get to know the new crew members.

Although approximately 90 per cent of the company’s business is now centred on festivals, corporate events and charitable functions, MacLellan says it still provides high-level services to the always booming wedding industry and maintains a devoted base of discerning private clients who year after year continue to rely on their services for their rental needs and refer them to family and friends.  

Despite the market segment they are serving, whether it is a small wedding or a high-profile festival, MacLellan says the two primary ingredients in the event rental business are quality products and exceptional customer service. “Providing high-level customer service is an essential element in the event rental industry. In this business, it’s not just about meeting a client’s needs, it’s about managing expectations.” he says. “We make an ongoing concerted effort to provide the educational tools necessary for our clients and potential clients to make informed decisions about bridging the often wide gap between what they think they ‘must have’ versus what they can reasonably afford.  There are of course clients for whom budget is no issue; however, even in these cases we want to ensure our clients are not spending more than they need to.  Charitable functions in particular are of great interest to us and we provide free of charge consulting to function organizers on how they can control costs while at the same time ensuring their fundraising efforts are supported by the finest rental items available in the industry.”

The company provided services to more than 8,500 functions in 2008 and anticipates an increase to more than 9,000 functions in 2009.  Technological tools are leveraged at every opportunity to enhance the client experience throughout the process. This includes the use of computer-generated 3-D models customized to the specifics of each event, enabling clients to experience their proposed event design in a virtual format while still in the planning stages. In addition, the company’s website (www.affair-rentals.com) allows clients to browse its entire product line and, if desired, generate real-time quotes before contacting a service representative. “Our site traffic continues to grow at a staggering rate each and every year, having brought in nearly two million hits this past year, with more than 3,500 unique visitors to the site each month accounting for more than 300,000 pageviews annually. These may seem trivial numbers when compared to mainstream web-based companies; however, our conversion rates are well above average and at current rate of growth we expect the number of clients who find us via the web to double every two to three years,” says MacLellan, explaining that that the company’s website is one of the most powerful marketing tools it has.  “Although traditional print media still has its place, our initial and ongoing contact with clients is occurring more and more through digital media.”

The company utilizes inventory control and customer relationship management software designed by California based RentMaster (www.rentmaster.info) that has been heavily customized to suit the company’s needs.  “We spent a great deal of time and energy searching for the best software available and after testing virtually every program on the market, we opted for Rentmaster, principally due to the amazing ability of the developer to implement desired adjustments to suit the unique needs of a company such as our that deals with a high volume of clientele.  We beta tested it for several months and went live in October of 2008. I can state with confidence that the finished product is easily the finest program available for the special event and party rental Industry. We look forward to taking advantage of the powerful new tools it provides to us as we continue to build towards the future,” says Lukasik, “Gone are the days of having staff members stuff envelopes with brochures and informational booklets for mailing, a costly process that has negative impacts upon the environment.  We’re not quite paperless yet, but the ability to e-mail digital copies of quotes, orders, invoices and the like has enabled us to greatly reduce our printing costs while significantly improving response time across the board.”

Lukasik says that the long-term success of the company has hinged on its employees and department heads, who he says are “…the hardest working people in the industry.” They include Silvana D’Armi, dishware department head, who has been with the company for an impressive 20 plus years; Lori Jankowski, head of the linen department, an industry veteran who has been with the company for 13 years; Nick Sittampalam, head of the tent division, who has been a valued employee for nearly 11 years, and MacLellan, the managing director, who has nine years with the company. “Our success has been driven in large part by our careful attention towards sourcing high quality personnel and placing them in key roles to provide models for others to follow,” he says. “Leading by example is of central importance to our operation.”

As the company continues to expand its inventory and clientele base Lukasik and MacLellan are confident that the new facility will provide a highly efficient base of operations to drive the ongoing development of its brand within the special events industry.

“Our target is to further define and develop the unique qualities of our service that distinguish us from our competitors.  Ultimately, we are working towards the day when the perspective of our current clients – who see our services as synonymous with unmatched professionalism, quality and affordability – will spread universally across the industry.” says MacLellan. “Integral to achieving this vision is to continue to align ourselves with similarly minded charitable organizations, caterers, venues, event production companies and high-profile events and festivals.  Going forward, we will seek to continue our steady growth within the industry and build upon our broad list of clientele who believe with good reason that the best events start here.”


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