Pro Tips for Maximizing Profits in Your Event Rental Business with Allison Howell

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Running an event rental business comes with its own unique challenges, especially with managing your inventory!

In this episode, I’m chatting with long-time event rental pro and co-founder of RW Elephant, Allison Howell.

Allison’s insights about inventory management, pricing, and how to stay profitable long-term are fantastic for event rental businesses and other businesses alike.

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WHAT YOU’LL LEARN IN THIS EPISODE
  • How Allison decided to start a software business that helps event rental companies manage their inventory and orders (do people dream about software?)
  • The challenge of being a business person in a creative industry.
  • Why delivery matters just as much as beautiful event elements.
  • What it’s like coding a brand new software during a 5-week multi-country road trip and working with family.
  • The common things new event rental companies often stumble with and don’t feel prepared for.
  • How dollar utilization and time utilization for all the pieces in your collection directly translate to your profitability. (Are you tracking those metrics?)
  • Why tracking ALL of your expenses and costs, even if you start today, will show you the truth behind your business.
  • Using dollar utilization and time utilization to help you price each and every piece your rent to ensure you’re always making a profit.
  • Cost-based pricing versus value-based pricing – which is better?
  • What’s changed about the event rental business in the last 10 years, and how you can stay successful and profitable long-term.
  • Priceless advice for newer event rental companies, based on Allison’s extensive experience.
RESOURCES WE TALKED ABOUT

REMEMBER…
HERE’S THE TRANSCRIPT OF THIS EPISODE

Intro Music:

I love you, but I’m not your lawyer. This is for your educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of this content without first consulting a lawyer.

Annette:

Hey there, welcome to Office Talk In this week’s episode, I’m talking to Allison Howell, who is the co-creator, the co-founder of RW Elephant, which is a software platform for event rental companies. Now you might be thinking, Oh, I’m not an event rental company. I’m going to skip this episode. Hey, do what you got to do. But I always think that you can learn a lot from other industries. And in this episode, she’s going to be diving into how to figure out things like your dollar utilization rate, your time utilization rate, important topics for event rental companies. But I think you can glean a lot from it, even if you’re not in that industry. So with that said, let’s dive into our conversation. Hey Allison, thank you so much for coming on the show. I can’t believe we haven’t had you on the show before.

Allison:

I know. Thank you. I’m very glad to be here.

Annette:

So why don’t you bring our listeners up to speed about who you are, what you do and everything in between?

Allison:

Sure. My name is Alison Howell and I am the co-founder and owner of RW Elephant. We’re a software as a service business that helps party rental companies manage their inventory and orders. And most of our clients are doing really curated collections of inventory. So they only have like vintage lounge furniture or only mismatched chairs. Or we have one client who only rents chandeliers so really kind of a niche market, curated collections, and we help them keep track of what they have, where it’s going when it’s going there and make sure they’re getting paid along the way.

Annette:

I love it. Now, I don’t think I know the story of how you even got started. I think I might’ve asked you once, but how did you even think about creating a company that creates software for party rental companies?

Allison:

That’s not typical people aren’t just dreaming up software in their sleep. Well, I really saw a need and felt like it was maybe a need that I could meet. So I’ve worked in the event world for over 15 years now and kind of done worn a lot of different hats, worked for a catering company at a venue. And I did some coordinating and I owned my own invitation business for a long time. And, and kind of in all those places, I saw all these really creative people doing great work. But a lot of them kind of come and go in the industry because even though they could like do beautiful creative things, they had a very hard time, like running the back end of their business or being efficient in any kind of way that like created scalability and sustainability. So then kind of eventually in my journey through the event world, I ended up working in a specialty event rental company.

And when I started working there, we were using like Excel spreadsheets to keep track of all of our inventory and orders. And so, you know, I would have a client come in and I’d say like, Oh, okay, you want to rent the cream settee and I’d put it on their order. And maybe it’s June, right? And then September rolls around and by September here’s their wedding. And they want, you know, I’ve written down that they rented the cream settes but we now have five cream settees because we purchased more since, you know, they, they rented theirs and I can’t remember which one they rented and, you know, I’m struggling to make sure we’re not double booking anything. And it’s kind of one thing when you’re doing one event at a time, and it’s a totally different thing when you’re doing four events or 14 events or 25 events simultaneously.

And it really gets to the point where I record based, we need a software solution here to manage all of these orders, make sure we’re not doing any double booking, make sure we know what pieces we have so that we’re actually renting all the things that we actually own. And so in that process, I started looking for a software solutions and just did not find solutions I loved. They were either like PC only, and I’m on a Mac girl or they were like really expensive to get into. So they cost $15,000 up front and you had to then buy dedicated hardware to like host the software in your office and you couldn’t access it remotely. Or, you know, there were clunky interfaces or all kinds of barriers that felt like this just wasn’t going to fit for us. So I approached my husband who at the time was in medical school, you know, so he had tons of free time.

And I said, Hey, can you help me create like a sophisticated spreadsheet to like manage all this stuff? And he said, no. And I said, Oh, okay, great. Then I came back to him and said, Hey, how about like a database, like a filemaker pro database or something? And he was like no. And then later he was like, okay, maybe. And eventually he was interested in this project. If we were able to create software that we could then sell to other rental businesses. So we did that from the start. That was the intention that we were going to create this platform so that I could use it in my daily work, but also sell it to other businesses. And so that was the understanding with my boss at the time from the beginning. And so we created RW Elephant really to solve the problem I was having. But with the idea that it could also solve a problem that we saw that other people were having to

Annette:

What I like true entrepreneurial story, like you had a problem, you had an itch that needed to be scratched. So you’re like, I’m going to scratch it. And then, I mean, it seems so daunting to me to like, create a software to create anything kind of with technology. And I just, I just love that. You’re like, Hmm, okay. Husband can, you know, like, it just, it seemed like a little bit more like you didn’t let that deter you, you know, that you kept going back and that kind of that persistence to seeing it through because the pain was, it sounds like pretty, pretty high.

Allison:

Yeah. So the pain was high, for sure. Also maybe, you know, the going back was like one, one might call it tenacity or one might call it like totally stubbornness and, and not taking no for an answer. So we can talk about how that’s played out in our relationship.

Annette:

Your husband might call it nagging. Right,

Allison:

Right. Lots of words to describe this behavior. But you know, like I thought I I’d experienced in the event industry, like so many brilliant, wonderful people doing great work, who couldn’t like be successful in the business side of things because they just couldn’t get the business to be efficient or to repeat itself. And so I just saw, like, this is like kind of a make or break thing, you know the products we were, we were offering this, these rentals were beautiful and amazing, but if you can’t deliver what you promised, like, it doesn’t really matter how beautiful it is. Like you have to be able to actually remember which pieces you offer, be able to deliver on those things. And the double booking was the thing that was like, you know, keeping me up at night. And I, I didn’t want to be in that position, but I mean, the other thing is I had, I had resources.

It wasn’t just accidental. I mean, Tim, my husband, he had been a programmer. He had always been interested in technology. He was transitioning into a career in medicine. And so he had all the technical technology chops. Like he, he was positioned to do this. It wasn’t like, I was just like, okay, I’m going to find some random programmer. And in fact, actually when we first started, we actually went on a road trip. He and I we, we took five weeks. We went across the country. He hadn’t had this break in school and I had worked it out to take this break to work remotely some. And so we drove across the U S and we went through 28 different States. And and we went, actually went into Canada and down into Mexico to, and so on this five week journey, it was quite an adventure for us.

We’d never really done anything like this before, but during that time is when he wrote all the code for RW Elephant. And so, you know, we’d have these long conversations about how it should work. And what about this scenario and what if it does this? And, you know, I had my priorities, like it had to end up being beautiful. It had to be easy to use. I knew the end user, the bride or the corporate client would have to be able to see like a visual representation of the inventory, not just a list of items with prices. So, you know, it was a very collaborative process for, but, you know, we also, I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s like an entrepreneurial accident, but at the same time, like a lot of resources came together. If we hadn’t had those five weeks off together, like there’s no way we could’ve pulled this off in the same kind of way, you know, or if he hadn’t had those skills or if I had sort of had the experience I had. So, I mean, it is, it is kind of neat to look back and see like, Oh, look at all these factors that came together to kind of bring us to this point, you know? Yeah.

Annette:

And how long have you guys been doing this now? You guys have been in business for awhile?

Allison:

Yeah. So that was in 2010. So yeah nine years,

Annette:

Almost 10, almost your ten-year anniversary. That is really inspiring, I think. And just goes to show that, you know, it just, it’s the basics. You, you find a need, you find it, you know, what consumers need, what the problem is, and you try and come up with a solution for it. And you pull the resources together, whether you’re lucky enough to have a husband who knows how to code or you go and you find somebody and you just make it happen. And then I’m sure it’s evolved significantly since the first year.

Allison:

Sure. Yeah. And you know, when he was programming, you know, the initial idea was like, okay, he’s going to kind of get this working model. And then, you know, he doesn’t really have time cause he’s in med school. So we’ll hire an outside developer to like refine it and go from here. And we actually did raise money from our family and friends, pretty much everyone who shares a last name with me, or, you know, my maiden name or my married page owns a piece of our company and and a few friends as well. And, you know, they, they sort of believed in us and it was so generous of them to kind of fund us in the beginning because we really were planning to hire outside developers. And we actually ended up down that road and you know, didn’t work out in the ways we expected to.

So Tim ended up taking the development back on and it’s been very bizarre, but he’s been able to maintain the position as doing almost all of our development himself while still through med through medical school, through residency, and now as a physician. And you know, we have contractors who are fantastic and great, and we have another developer on our team now and a few other people that we really depend on, but it’s been amazing to see like how different, the sort of pace of our businesses than we initially imagined. And even just the shape of who actually is doing the work, you know?

Annette:

Yeah. I think also being in the position that you’re in, it gives you such a unique perspective and insight on common trends or success stories or things that are working for folks in event rental businesses, things that maybe people are missing because you kind of get this overarching view, right. You essentially have data that you could look at. And then reinform kind of inform the consumer about kind of best practices. And I wanted to dive into some of those today with you. If someone is an event rental company, even if you’re not, I think a lot of these concepts will translate from industry to industry, but what are some of the best practices that you’ve seen that really set the success more successful event rental companies apart from others?

Allison:

Yeah. Well, I am fortunate to be able to have that kind of bird’s eye view. Like you’re saying I am so grateful that I have so many clients of mine who confide in me, who talk to me when things are challenging, when things, when they’re celebrating something, they, you know, they, they share with me all the parts of their rental adventures and I’m, I’m, I’m really grateful to be able to be part of those and kind of assets. I do have some perspective about what works and what doesn’t work quite as well. And some of the things that I’ve noticed over my years in this industry are that there are so many incredibly creative people who kind of stumble into this industry. Maybe they were getting married themselves and then started collecting things for their own wedding and decided, Oh, you know, I collected all this stuff.

Now I have it, I could rent it. Or, you know, another story I hear a lot is they were already collecting pieces. Maybe they were like flipping houses or redecorating a lot. And they already had lots of like connection to interior design or other kinds of spaces where they were doing things with furniture and decor. And so anyway, they kind of have they’re dabbling kind of in this space in a little one way or the other, but then they, they decide, okay, I’m going to go ahead and start this rental business. And it it’s, it becomes a little bit of a bigger, a bigger scenario than they first imagined because they first see the creative parts, right? Like, Oh, I can create these beautiful environments. And I can like make these spaces for these memories to be made, which is so powerful and wonderful.

But then there’s like the logistics end of things that they’re not necessarily thinking about initially or recognizing we’ll take as much time as it does, or then there’s like the hiring part that sometimes can be a big factor in whether or not blended space are successful. Like having a crew who can actually do things the way you want to do them. And also becoming the kind of a manager who can tell people how you want to do them so that you can have repeatable systems that are, or deliverables that, you know, your company is known for a particular kind of service. But then another key factor, I think that’s a really big deal in event rentals. That’s kind of different than the other spaces in the event. World is inventory utilization. And that’s, that’s one area where I feel like there’s not very much knowledge that’s shared in the industry and there’s so much power there to be able to think about the dollar utilization and the time utilization of the pieces in your collection and think, are these pieces making memoney?

Is this couch paying it’s rent for the square footage that it’s taking up in my warehouse is, are these tables performing as well as these other tables. And you know, especially when you kind of are super excited about the look or the feel, or like you fall in love with a piece, it can be hard to be objective in this industry. And so there’s so many of my clients who have pieces in their collection that are like an albatross for them, like are not making the money. They’re super heavy and awkward to move around. They get damaged a ton and they’re not actually pulling their weight in their collection, but they hold onto them because they just can’t let go. You know, but if they were able to take a look and say like, okay, how much is this actually bringing in compared to how much we paid for it? They might make a different decision about whether or not they should keep it, because if they could liquidate it, you know, sell that piece and use that same cash to buy a different piece that could be making them four times as much surely they would do that. But you don’t always have those metrics in front of you.

Annette:

How does even one go about making that analysis for themselves?

Allison:

Well, I mean, the first thing is you kind of have to think of like if you compare your warehouse to like an apartment building or something and the pieces in your collection, or like your tenants, you have to kind of imagine that each of those tenants has to pay you rent each month in order for you to not affect them. So that’s kind of where I’m starting from, right. That we’re imagining are these are these pieces, good tenants. And so then if they are, you know, you’d have to decide like, well, how am I measuring that? Because not everybody has the same size apartment, right? Like a couch is taking up a different amount of space than a lantern. So you don’t have to make as much money on the per month, except you also have to account for how much did it cost for you to purchase it originally?

You know, so basically dollar utilization is a measure of how much revenue, a piece generates for every dollar you spent on it. So for instance, if you spent a hundred dollars on a chair and you rent it out for, let’s say $50, then you’d have to rent it two times in order to make back your hundred dollars. So you’d have to rent it twice in order to have a dollar dollar utilization of one. So usually when we’re talking about dollar utilization, we’re talking about the trailing 12 months. So say we’re starting from January 1st, and we’re looking at a piece, you know, that cost a hundred dollars and we’re looking at how much money did it generate in the last 12 months for me, and in the event rental industry, you’re always looking for that number to be over one. So every year that piece should be making at least as much as you paid for it initially within that last year.

But that it can be a tricky number to just look at it by itself because everybody has a really different ratio here. I have some clients who, you know, are right around that one number for their overall collection. And I have some plans who are at a six, you know, they’re making six times as much as they put into their collection. Now maybe that’s because they buy things super duper cheap, or maybe they’re able to mark them up way higher than another person, or maybe they rent it out really fast, or there can be so many factors, but, you know, comparing yourself to yourself is really helpful in this situation to be able to say like, okay, what’s my average utilization. If I took the cost of my whole collection, say I have a hundred thousand dollars worth of inventory. And I look at my revenue from last year, did I make a hundred thousand dollars in rental revenue?

Then I have a utilization of one. If I have $200,000 in rental revenue, then I have utilization up to, or, you know, whatever that is, find my average and then start looking at individual pieces in my collection. Wow. My average is 2.3 for my collection in general, but this one couch, man, it’s bringing me down. It’s only got a utilization of 0.5. You know, if I got rid of this and use the cash that I got from the sale of this couch to buy more tables over here that have a utilization of five, you know, maybe that cash would be a better investment in tables.

Annette:

This is so smart. I think even if you’re not in the event rental business and you’re listening to this, I think sometimes we don’t think about what is my return on investment on certain things that we spend on in our business. And sometimes we’d like to just like throw money at problems, but not do the analysis on the tail end of okay, what was my return? So the fact that this is for event rental businesses, I think there’s still people who are outside of this industry can take away from what you’re talking about now really quickly. So does your software, does the RW soft elephant software help with this analysis?

Allison:

Yeah, so we do provide some dollar utilization numbers for people who have put their acquisition costs in for each of their pieces. One tricky thing is that a lot of people start businesses and don’t keep track of things like that from the beginning. So I just would like to say from the beginning, no matter where you’re at in your business, like keep us keep good records like, and that can start today. Even if you haven’t been keeping good records, but in the past, like start taking pictures of all your receipts or get a bookkeeper on board who can start like keeping track of stuff for you, because knowing how much you paid for stuff is super helpful in the future. So like that historical data, like even if you’re not the kind of person who can organize it yourself, like find someone who can be on your team, who can, because having that info later is going to be super helpful.

So a lot of my clients either don’t enter that information upfront. And so we can’t give them those information that those numbers, or they go back and they enter it later. And then, you know, sometimes they’re using their best guests like, Oh, I think I bought these chairs for $125 each. And you know, when we’re talking about dollar utilization here, we want real costs. So some of my clients will buy pieces and then reupholster them. So when, when I’m talking about that initial cost of the piece, I want to know the cost of the chairs, plus the cost of the fabric, plus the cost of the upholstery you have to account for all of that. And then, you know, maybe some kind of shipping costs or any other costs associated with those specific chairs. Like I want to include all of that as my initial cost for the piece, because that really helps me define what is that initial cost to consider when I’m calculating that dollar utilization,

Annette:

You would include labor in that too, right? If you’re paying somebody to reupholster it.

Allison:

Yeah. Yeah. So the real upholstery cost, or, you know, some of my clients have people in house, so they have a carpenter in house or you know, somebody who’s, who’s doing some kind of work in house. And this isn’t like damage repair. I’m not talking about like ongoing repair of pieces to get them back into a state that you can rent it for your next event. It’s the initial investment in the piece. So yeah, you’ve got to account for all those costs upfront. When you’re thinking about that initial acquisition cost.

Annette:

Do you have any insight as to how people can go about with pricing their goods?

Allison:

Oh, you just want to open all the cans of worms don’t you?

Annette:

It seemed like a really good segue.

Allison:

Yeah, sure. Well, before I talk about specific pricing strategies, it’s interesting to think about that in relation to dollar utilization, because with dollar utilization, again, I’m talking, I think there’s some real value in comparing your collection to itself. So this piece isn’t performing as well as these pieces or this category of pieces isn’t performing as well as these category pieces. Like I’ve had clients, who’ve said like, you know what, I’m going to eliminate all my candlestick holders because it’s just not worth it for the amount I can get back, or they say I’m going to buy when more small accessories, because I can get so much more back on my small accessories than I can on my larger investments. You know?

Annette:

And with the candlestick holders, I have a really good friend who owns a rental company, cleaning that wax off the candlesticks after an event, it takes so much time, but just a little tidbit that I’ve picked up along the way. So when you probably factor that into your costs, your rental cost.

Allison:

Sure. Yeah. Well, and so all that to say, you know, once you have some of those baseline dollar utilization numbers, like that can be really influential as far as what kind of pricing strategies you decide to use, because the dollar utilization is helping you understand like how much you’re getting back on the, on the amount even invested. But then another side of this equation is time utilization. So a time utilization, you’re basically saying like of the available time that this piece could go out, whether you’re measuring that in like minutes of the year or days of the year or possible weekends, or however, kind of the units are that you’re thinking about it in your business, like of all those possible times, how frequently is it being used? And then you can kind of hold those two numbers together. So when you look at those pieces, you can say like, in the, compared to the rest of my collection, if I have a piece that has really high, like time utilization, so it’s out all the time, but it has know low dollar utilization compared to them at rest of my collection.

Then it’s probably the case that my prices are too low. It’s probably the case that I could raise the price on that item and I could rent it less frequently, but make more money on it. Does that make sense? Yeah, so but in the case of like, if it had really high dollar utilization, but super low time utilization, like the opposite would be the case, maybe the prices are too high. If I lowered the price on that item, maybe it would go out more frequently. But I would be able to make a little bit more money because the frequency would increase. So you’re kind of thinking about those things when you’re thinking about pricing strategies. And I have clients who think about pricing strategies in all kinds of different ways, you know, for some of them think of it as cost-based pricing. So they take the amount that it costs them, you know, that total price, the initial cost and the chair, plus the upholstery, you know, labor plus the fabric plus the shipping and, you know, they, they calculate all that.

And then they say like, okay, I’m going to rent it for, I don’t know, three times that cost or I’m going to rent it for a third of that cost. Like everybody has a different formula. A lot of times people will think about what they could sell it for or what something would retail for. So in a lot of circles, that means like two times wholesale or two and a half times wholesale. And then they divide that by four and that would be the rental price. But again, all those are like your cost-based kind of pricing models, I think a harder place to start, but a better place to start is more of a value based pricing model. So on the one hand there, you still have to account for your costs. You would never want to price yourself below your cost. But pricing in some ways is a little bit arbitrary.

Like we’re just kind of picking a number, you know? And so there’s a way in which we want to pick the highest number we can, that people would be willing to purchase that or rent in our case. And so that doesn’t necessarily have a tie to the cost, especially with some of my clients who, you know, can buy at a great bargain or have an eye to pick something a diamond in the rough and then put some elbow grease into it. And if they’re really just calculating hard costs, like they’re not really going to price it according to its value. And so then what we’re really thinking about is how do we price this in a way that’s gonna, you know, think about what does this add to the environment of the event? What does this add to this client’s memory? You know if this weren’t at the event, what would it, what would be lost here? And so some of that is comparing to their other options. You know, if they have these unique lounge pieces there, instead of the $300 pleather lounge set, that’s offered by the DJ, you know, like what’s the value differential there, you know?

Annette:

Well, in your market, you know, if you’re you live somewhere where you don’t have a lot of options, I’m sure you can charge a lot more for like, you know, if you have some sort of unique rental, like mid century furniture or something that you can’t find, you know, in your town.

Allison:

Yeah, sure. Unless you don’t have a sophisticated market, in which case you might have something that’s rare, but you might not have very much demand. And so then again, you’re back to those utilization questions and there’s a little bit of trial and error to decide like how high is too high, how low is too low? How much do I want it to go out? And every piece can be different. I have some clients who have some pieces in their collection that are like really, really heavy. And they actually don’t like renting them out very much. So they price them in such a way where it’s like, Oh yeah, when we rent it it’s worth our time. You know, with the candlestick example, I have clients who give up on the candle sticks because, you know, they feel like, okay, for me to rent it out, let’s say I could rent them for a dollar each.

But then the labor cost in cleaning them actually is more like $4 each. And I don’t have anyone who’s willing to rent it for $5 each because they can go down to Goodwill and buy them for 50 cents each, you know? And so it just doesn’t make sense to rent them. Like there’s there because there, because their market is willing to go to Goodwill to buy them. Does that make sense? Yeah. And so, and so, unless you’re able to say like, well, the value here is in the curation or the value here is in the fact that we’re doing this for you or the value here is in the whole picture, then it’s, it’s hard to get somebody to rent a candlestick for $5.

Annette:

Yeah. So interesting. Do you see that now that you’ve kind of been in this industry for 10 to 15 years? How has the industry changed since you started?

Allison:

Yeah, so it’s a low barrier to entry industry, right. You only have to have like a couch and a Craigslist ad to say, Hey, I’m renting this for photo shoots.

Annette:

Anyone willing to move that couch? Yeah.

Allison:

No, not even. I mean, you could say like couch for rent must be able to move it yourself. You know, like pickups only be like, seriously, there that’s an option. So it’s a pretty low barrier to entry industry. And so I would say there are people entering still for sure. Just like there are in other areas of the event, world photography and florists and planners because they’re appealing creative jobs that feel like they have a lot of autonomy. And especially when it’s a side hustle, it feels like it could be lucrative. But I think it’s, it’s actually hard to stay in this business for much more than three to five years, if you aren’t very good at it. Because it isn’t a super high margin business. I’m not saying that you can’t make money at it. That’s not the case at all.

I have some clients who are really successful, but but there’s a lot of labor involved. And there’s storage space. There’s the cost of hard goods. There’s insurance. It’s, it’s not quite as easy as something like photography or event florals that you could potentially turn on or off or up or down your expenses with the season, you know because there are so many expenses that are, yeah. That are going to be there, whether you have weddings on the books or not. So, you know, one thing that I’ve noticed is that my clients who have sort of transitioned into a place where they’re more stable, do that by focusing a lot on corporate events. And that’s not to say that they abandoned weddings entirely, but most people that I know who are doing, who are really successful and the boutique event space have developed great relationships with either directly with corporations that they’re doing a lot of business with, or with destination management companies that are bringing them events from people coming into their city or corporate event planners. And they’re really bringing some fresh perspective and a point of view and design and aesthetic to that, to that market. Because if you’re just depending on weekend wedding work, it can be hard to sustain this business in the long run.

Annette:

Yeah. Because it’s not, I mean, most people get married once, right. And so you don’t have that repeat relationship unless there’s somebody at that event that sees you and wants to use you for their event. But with a corporate, if you can develop some sort of corporate relationship where they have consistent meetings or events, hopefully they keep coming to you for that help.

Allison:

Right. And while it is a low barrier to industry industry, like a barrier to entry industry there is something to be said about volume here too. Like you kind of have to have a certain amount of volume in order to service that corporate clientele. Like they don’t necessarily want to work with somebody who only has a hundred chairs. You know, they need to be able to work with a rental company who can see 500, you know, or who can do 10 lounge groupings. So you can’t necessarily do that right away when you start this business. But if you’re not moving towards that place, it can be hard to have a sustainable business.

Annette:

So what advice would you give to somebody who is maybe in their first year or two of this event, rental business, they haven’t reached that like three to five-year mark yet. They’re still going pretty strong. What, what, what kind of off the top of your head, some advice you’d give them

Allison:

I love giving advice. So

Annette:

You’ve given a lot of really good advice already. But on top of that, just any thoughts that you’d share?

Allison:

Well, I mean, obviously I’m going to advise that they use RW, Ellephant sooner than later. And I, I mean, I have had so many clients tell me, like, I wish I had started using this sooner. And, and for me that just tells me, like, it’s so hard once you get busy to go back and implement systems. And I mean, I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your own business and that, like, you kind of don’t feel like you need a system until you’re too busy to like go back and do it differently. You know? And so and so I think, I want to say like, plan that you’re going to be a legitimate, like forced to be reckoned with. So many of my clients start this as a hobby business or as a side business, or they think like, Oh, I’m just trying this out.

But like, Hey, you’re, you’re going to do great work. And so I want you to act like that from day one, you know? And I’m not saying like, you have to pretend you’re something you’re not, that’s not at all what I’m trying to say, but like, I do want to say, like, you are legitimate and you deserve to have professional practices in place, and you can say no to business that doesn’t feel good to you. And you can have policies that make sense for you to run your business. Like those things are okay, you don’t have to wait, you don’t have to wait until you’re three or five years into business to put into place policies and procedures and systems that you see people around you who you admire putting into place.

Annette:

Yeah. And can I just plug your conference too? And jump in here, but you host the Lend & Gather Conference, which is specifically for event rental party rental companies. And I was lucky enough to come speak a few years ago and I have to say it was one of my favorite conferences to attend, just because of the, the type of people that you pulled together. Very, just generous and kind people and putting yourself in an environment like that, where you can network or, I mean, networks sounds always so kind of stuffy, but really connect with people and share best practices and learn from them. Maybe even work together in different capacities is super helpful because it is, it is a small industry. And it’s important to know who’s who’s in your industry.

Allison:

Yeah. Well, you know, the thing I think that’s been super valuable about Lend & Gather is these boutique event rental, boutique event rental businesses come together and they are able to say like, Oh, you get, you know, my family doesn’t understand me. My florist friends don’t understand these labor issues. I have my planner friends don’t get the cost of my hard goods. Like there’s so many people who kind of admire what I do, but don’t understand like all the challenges, all the challenges I’m facing. And so they come together and they have this real validation of their shared experience. And then we have experts like you and that who can come in and speak to new perspectives on some of these challenges, which I think is so important to be in that environment, that’s safe and feels good and connected, but at the same time to help people think differently than they’ve been, they’ve been approaching the problem before because that’s how we all get better. That’s how we equip each other. And that’s how we elevate the industry in general. Yeah.

Annette:

Well, Allison, this has been really, really informative. I think I like when you start talking about utilization and like pulled up statistics and stuff, a number of formulas like that really turns me on if people want to learn more about you learn more because you do a lot of different things you have, RW Elephant, you have Lend & Gather, you have your podcasts. Like how do people get in touch with you, connect with you learn from you.

Allison:

Yeah. Well, RWElephant.com is sort of the hub for all of those things. But you can also follow along on Instagram at RWElephant is a great place to see what we’re up to. And there, you can check out the Trunk Show Podcast, which is brand new. It’s a place where telling the stories of our clients and how they got started in their rental businesses.

Annette:

And it’s such a cute name by the way. I love the play on words between elephant. Super smart.

Allison:

Thank you. It was Tim’s idea. So, you know, I’ve got to give credit, give credit where credit is due. So yeah, those are the places that I, I spent the most time and, and you can always sign up for our mailing list as well. There’s links directly to that from our Instagram links. Because I, I love sending out a good email newsletter to tell, to tell my people what’s happening. You know, I want you to be one of my people. I mean, you and that are already one of my people, but Hey, you listen, are out there. I want you to be one of my people too.

Annette:

Yeah. Alison like I said, just working with Alison over the past few years, you’re definitely just such a like kind and generous person. And it’s just nice to see that in the industry. And so definitely connect with Alison, thank you so much for being here and for so generously sharing your time and your knowledge with us.

Allison:

Yeah. Well, my pleasure.

Annette:

Right after we finished the show, Alison, let me know that she would make this chart with the utilization rates available on her website. So to get that, make sure to head on over to the show notes, which you can find over at annettestepanian.com. And we’ll make sure to include a link. So you can see visually what she was talking about. Also, as Allison mentioned, it is so vital that as you’re starting your business, you really take those steps to make yourself stand out as that professional in your industry. And so if contracts are missing in your business, I want to let you know that you can find event rental business contracts over on yourlegalbff.com. So make sure to check those out if you haven’t already gotten a solid contract for yourself for your event rental business. Thanks so much. And I’ll talk to you next time.

Outro Music.