More than likely, as you’re getting started or expanding your special event category, some items will become clear customer favorites. Hardware Retailing spoke with Chuck Kempker, who has four hardware store and rental locations in southeastern Iowa, and Chuck Shipp, president of Clean Anything (cleananything.com), who has more than four decades of experience in the rental industry, specializing in equipment cleaning and maintenance. Here is some of their advice about what you should know about each of these products.
Easy to rent and maintain, chairs are most likely to be your most popular rental item. “Start advertising your chairs, and you’ll be surprised at your customer base,” says Shipp. “There are many occasions where people will need chairs, even if it’s just a few extras for a family reunion.”
When building your inventory, only buy quality commercial folding chairs. Start with a basic folding chair. As demand grows, try other styles, such as a fanback chair that can be use with chair covers in a wedding.
You likely won’t be renting chairs too long before someone asks for a table. Shipp recommends stocking wooden ones. They hold up to abuse and last, while plastic tables are susceptible to scratches and gouges. However, if you decide to go with plastic, buy only the highest quality lifetime tables, and choose white, a universal color, he says. With any tables, have linens or disposable covering available as an add-on. Start with 8-foot rectangular tables and 60-inch or 72-inch round tables.
“Someone might call and say they’re going to have a party for 50 people,” says Kempker. “They say they want a tent, then we start telling them about everything else we have available, and it’s just a trickle down effect from there. While tents are a labor-intensive item to rent, they can get you a lot of added rentals, because 95 percent of the time, customers will also want tables, chairs and linens.”
Try starting with a commercial-grade, 20-by-20-foot tent. This will cover most events, and you can add a larger tent from there. For liability reasons, always have your staff set up tents, rather than the customer, so you can ensure they are properly staked. In addition, your staff is likely to take better care of the tent during set-up and tear-down. Also consider having tents professionally cleaned once a year, but after every rental, you’ll want to clean them yourself. “Tent cleaning is easy, simple, and you can do it by hand. Use a damp mop or a floor machine,” says Shipp. “Never clean a tent directly on the ground and always use a drop cloth under it. If you are careful with your tent, it will last a long time.”
Bounce houses for the children are always a hit at a special event. Make sure you buy professional grade items, not something you could buy in a retail outlet. While these will be more expensive up front, they will last longer and you’ll get the reputation for renting nicer items. Some retailers allow their customers to set up their own bounce houses, but it is imperative you carefully go over the details of staking them to the ground for safety. Clean them with a disinfectant after every use.
If customers inquire about renting tables, offering table linens is an add-on service. Many retailers use a third-party vendor, which allows them to offer a wider color selection and alleviates the labor involved with laundry. “I originally had the mindset that, if I own it, I’ll make more money,” says Kempker. “But there is a lot of labor involved in renting linens, and that takes away a lot of profit.” When he orders them from a vendor, linens arrive folded, pressed and ready to rent, and when the party is over, he bags them up and sends them back. Linen vendors also stock a wide variety of colors to accommodate a range of customer requests.
Listen to your customers and you’ll learn they’re likely searching for a few food-service items, such as popcorn and cotton candy machines for backyard parties, or chafing dishes and chocolate fountains for more formal events. If your party rental niche gains steam, you may want to consider renting dishes. To make sure they are properly cleaned after a rental, Kempker recommends getting a commercial grade dishwasher. He got his from a restaurant that went out of business. The more items you are able to offer customers throwing a party, the more likely you are to establish yourself as the top rental destination for special events.