Of all event professionals, party rental operators are often the first to be asked to cut their prices and the last to be paid. But many party rental pros note that some clients do a far better job than others at making deals that make sense for everyone.

STAR TREATMENT

Clients often get a gold star when they treat the rental crew like gold.

“Every time we get a thank-you note from a client, we read it out loud in our staff meetings, and it gets passed around to staff,” says Tom Gifford, operations vice president for Rancho Dominguez, Calif.-based Abbey Event Services. “It makes a big difference.”

And heartfelt thanks travel well through the stomach. “When caterers feed us, it's huge — people really appreciate it,” Gifford adds. “And it's smart for the caterer, because we all remember how good the food was, so that caterer is on our mind when somebody asks for a referral.”

Gifford emphasizes the importance of making sure that expressions of appreciation from happy clients — be they thank-you notes or flowers or guest passes — are spread widely among employees. “Telling me that I can go to a party is OK, but I really like things that end up going home with my drivers and my warehouse people,” he says. “They work so hard, but they and their families don't often have a lot of personal exposure to the [upscale] events that they work on.”

When it comes to saying thank-you, little things mean a lot, according to Tom Mantyla, vice president and general manager of Baker Party Rentals in Costa Mesa, Calif.

A personal call saying thanks “is No. 1 with me,” followed by a thank-you note, Mantyla says. “This shows someone who took the time to acknowledge us, and that's all I would like to get.” He dismisses requests for outright donations or deeply discounted rates — “That goes in one ear and out the other” — preferring instead to give an incremental discount to nonprofits across the board.

EVERYONE'S A WINNER

When a would-be client asks Dave Painter, head of Chantilly, Va.-based Chantilly Event Rentals, for donated rental items, he will say yes. But that's only if he and the client can work out a “win win” — that is, if the client can come up with something of equal value in exchange for the donated rental items.

One clever caterer — who had already been turned down for free rentals by her usual rental company — met the challenge by offering to cater Chantilly's annual focus group meeting if Chantilly provided rentals for her chamber of commerce gala. “My guests had great food, and the caterer participated in one evening's focus group and is now a steady customer,” Painter says. “Now, that's a win-win situation.”

Painter urges rental operators to approach such arrangements with their eyes open. “My advice is to write down whatever agreement you reach with your customer and have both parties sign it,” he says. He also warns against ignoring the possible tax implications of swapped services. “You may wish to run your agreements past your attorney or CPA to make certain you are not creating tax liabilities for yourself,” he cautions. “Most states and the federal government take a dim view of circumventing taxes.”

SHOW US THE MONEY

Last spring, Austin, Texas-based Austin RentAll Party established a formal policy that charges nonprofits for rental items, but in turn offers to buy a sponsorship for the event, including all advertising and benefits commensurate with the level of sponsorship. The nonprofit must also designate Austin RentAll as its preferred rental vendor for the next 12 months.

The program “is working well,” reports company president Damon Holditch. “They now remember my name as the guy who purchased the sponsorship for X dollars. Before, I was the rental guy who gave them the free rental stuff!” His goal is to communicate the message that rental equipment must be properly compensated for in order for his firm to stay in business. Thanks to the new policy, “The value of our rental services is now recognized by our nonprofits,” he says.

When working with nonprofits, Holditch puts a premium on professionalism. “Our best planners recognize that the rental staff is actually their staff for this event. They treat our people with respect and as if they were on the planner's payroll full time.” Professional touches valued by his rental crew include supplying access to water, food and restrooms along with clear, precise setup directions for the crew, he notes. Indeed, Holditch regards shabby treatment of rental staff as a red flag. “If we are treated with less than professional status, we know trouble can be lurking in the wings,” he adds.

DOING UNTO OTHERS

In the end, treating vendors well is good for business, operators agree. Painter describes one caterer/client who “beats us to death” on proposals, pays 15 days late and subtracts random amounts from bills. Another caterer calls if there's a problem to give the company a chance to resolve it, drops off leftovers when she's near the warehouse and makes sure the delivery crew at events is fed. “Both caterers are customers, but guess which one gets the extra mile from our sales and delivery people?” he asks. “Who do you think we recommend? In the long run, which caterer comes out ahead? It's a funny thing about the Golden Rule — it never seems to fall out of style!”




RESOURCES

Abbey Event Services, 310/900-0099; Austin RentAll Party, 512/491-7368; Baker Party Rentals, 714/545-4667; Chantilly Event Rentals, 703/378-2255