"Make new friends but keep the old," an old Girl Scout song goes. "One is silver and the other's gold." And the same can be said of clients—new clients are valuable, but longtime clients are invaluable.

Conventional wisdom holds that it costs far more to win a new client—up to five times more, according to The Insight Advantage—than it does to keep an old one. And with competitors eager to poach business, event rental professionals are using a range of enticements to keep their established clients in the fold.

CONSTANT CONTACTS

Charlotte, N.C.-based Party Reflections has one valued client—a caterer—"who has been with us for over 30 years," explains owner Dan Hooks.

The company pays extra attention to its longtime clients. "We keep track of our repeat clients by appointing an account representative to monitor their needs throughout the year," Hooks says. "We keep a close eye on any customer who decides to leave us and try to determine if we could have done anything more to retain their business."

Party Reflections clients who reach a certain volume of business and pay their bills on time are treated to the company's Preferred Rental Program, which gives them the best delivery rates and pricing. And while no customer gets preferential treatment in regard to scheduling, "We will certainly work a good customer into the plan when they forget to make the call soon enough for our logistics department," Hooks says.

MILLER'S WILL HAVE IT!

Miller's Rentals of Edison, N.J., started out in the 1930s as a restaurant supply business, "and every once in a while, we get an old-timer in our showroom looking for some obscure product, such as a part for a coffee percolator that was made in 1901," says president Steve Kohn. "Mind you, we haven’t carried items like that in 60 years, but for someone to think of us says something about our company."

Kohn calls steady clients "the key to success," adding, "Yes, it's nice to have those 'one-hit wonders,' but it's those clients who keep coming back that serve as the backbone of a stable and growing company."

Miller's gives tender loving care to its key clients. "When we are closed for deliveries during a heavy-booked weekend and they need something last minute, we always seem to find a way to get it for them," Kohn says. "Can they call us any hour of the night? Absolutely. If a key client wants something within reason and we don’t have it, we will make every effort to either sub-rent it or even buy it. That’s just good business."

While he values his longtime clients, Kohn stresses the importance of bringing in new ones all the time. "Although we plan to be around for a while, there is no guarantee that your best clients will be," he says. "I think it's more important to have a variety of good clients than to focus on just a few."

SOMETHING SPECIAL

Quality--delivered consistently--keeps clients coming back to CORT Event Furnishings, headquartered in South San Francisco, Calif. “CORT has many loyal clients who’ve been customers since we created an event furnishings division over 11 years ago," notes director of marketing and product development Kevin Dana. "They stay with CORT because they trust us to consistently deliver high-quality products year after year. They know we’ll be around when other companies may be gone.”

Dana also points to the "extras" his firm provides. Besides competitive rental rates, "CORT provides more added-value services than other rental companies, such as space planning, 2D and 3D product files, uniformed professional delivery persons, and products specifically created to suit the needs of event planners," Dana says.

MEET THE BOSS

About half the clients are repeat and half are new every year at Phoenix-based Kool Party Rentals, and some have been with the company since its founding five years ago, notes president Jack Weiner.

Valued clients get face time with Weiner. "As the owner, I personally travel to all of our markets to work with our top clients, and our top account execs know how to take care of them as well," he explains. "They absolutely get preferred scheduling, and we are always willing to buy new products for our best clients, as long as it fits in our product mix."

Weiner takes the long view on business relationships. "We aren't as focused on the profit of any one given event," he says, "but rather the profit derived from the long-term relationships we have built and the volume those clients generate."

FROM VENDOR TO PARTNER

Indeed, many rental pros stress the importance of building relationships as key to retaining clients long-term.

"In order to keep customers as long as we have, you have to learn how to turn relationships into partnerships," Hooks says. "We are in this industry together to support each other for the enhanced experience of the end customer. As partners, we discuss the opportunities in the marketplace and work together to inventory the items that our customers need to stay on top of their particular discipline. From new foodservice items to fashion-forward linen and a variety of chairs, we listen to our customers so that they feel they are a part of our success and that we depend on each other to stay on top."

Read the full story in the July-August issue of Special Events, available only to subscribers. Not a subscriber yet? Not a subscriber? We can fix that; renewing subscribers click here; first-time subscribers click here.

Photo by iStockphoto.com / © Robert Kyllo