Cross Renting: Smooth & Painless

Cross Renting: Smooth & Painless
  • There's an old joke: "How do you make a million dollars in the Audio Visual Rental & Staging industry? Start with two million!" No Rental or Production company can own 100 percent of what they need, and research shows that you can maximize profits by owning only 70 percent of your equipment needs.2. Cross rentals start by identifying a need. When needing equipment, there are only four choices: buy it, build it yourself, 'steal' it off another show (of yours), or rent it. Like any transaction or relationship, renting from your competitors, direct or indirect, can be wonderful, painful, or disastrous.

This is not how the equipment was shipped out. Transmitters were sent in the pouches, inside a draw, not 'tossed" in the back of a rack where they and the other equipment can get damaged. Such transactions should be avoided to maintain a good relationship with the provider.
The supplier is here to help; they are another set of eyes looking at your show. Whether you are calling a competitor for a rental or a manufacturer for a purchase, if you are not 100 percent, rock-solid convinced of the item(s) you need, tell the person on the telephone not what you need but what you are doing and let them, the expert, help. In addition to knowing my own inventory, I may be familiar with the venue or your show -- because I bid on it, too!

The vendor has the responsibility to insure you are familiar with operating the gear and that you have all the necessary accessories and cables. Please do not get upset if I ask if all those 12 channels of wireless are to be used in one room? Did you want an apple pie today...I mean gobo holders, donuts, or barn doors?

Both the renter and rentee should agree on the status of the order: quote (price only), hold (confirming availability) or confirmed. A good sales person will communicate the payment terms, cancellation policies, insurance, pickup & return procedures, and the amount of lead time the vendor needs for equipment prep.

Transportation of the gear is key, too; did I tell you about the competitor who wanted to rent a 15K DLP projector and transport the projector (without its case) on its side in his Honda Civic? Cases? We don't need no stinkin' cases! Who knew choir risers took up soooooo much truck space? Sound or lighting companies might not know that plasma televisions must ride on their wheels. Who is at responsible for the damage if the roadcase is not labeled as such?
Another key component is the return time. You are entering a contract, and the vendor may be relying on that equipment for another order. Adding information about the renter's event in the rental software can benefit his entire company. "Gee, sales dude, my event ends at 2 AM, till my crew gets the truck loaded and to sleep will be 5 AM; can they sleep late and return it at the end of the (next) day?" Broadcast companies generally charge for late returns.

Also, does the vendor have a 24 hour emergency service line? The cheapest vendor in town probably does not. My experience shows 50 percent of all "equipment failure" is operator error. Most of my gear ships with the owner's manuals.

Another factor is the quality of gear and how it is packaged. When was the last time the speakers were painted? Are they giving you a full 18 space effects rack for that one reverb unit the rock star requires (because they are a Production House doing you a favor by renting) or will it be in it's own case? And what about the "goez-in-ta and goes outta" cables?

Would you believe me if I told you that I get calls for NEW, RUSH last minute orders that include, "My truck is already in your dock" (welcome to NYC AV)? Especially for minute emergencies, I recommend your account be in good standing and the insurance is up to date; it helps speed things up when YOU are in a RUSH. I suggest that any order for today should not be left on a voicemail; hit zero for the operator and speak to a live person.

Step 2: READ the paperwork
Once you receive that order confirmation, please read it; maybe review it with your vendor's salesperson, we make mistakes, too, but we generate the written contract. You can't make steak out of hamburger, and the shop cannot always tell if the customer really needs the filet or chop meat Please make sure I did not forget anything we've discussed, the dates are correct, etc. Being a service industry, it is the salesperson's job to get the order right. However, is it really fair to hold me on the price, when the client simply provides a gear list (AKA laundry list or box rental) and declines my help? Good thing this month's special is free switcher/scalers on all orders (coupon not necessary).

Upon pickup, please check the order. While counting a hamper full of Socopex on a vendor's dock may be impossible, if you are renting a generator, ask the company to prove to you that it runs. "Oh, yeah, there's that magic, super stealth, kill switch we forgot to tell you about." When you do get the gear back to your shop, PLEASE check that the paperwork signed for matches what you received and promptly call the vendor if it doesn't.
Next, whenever possible, test the gear in your shop. A friend of mine recently had to repair 12 of the 16 moving lights he cross-rented! A $45,000 midi piano is worthless without that midi cable (D'oh!). And shouldn't a drum kit include the rug?

Use-treat the gear better than your own. When you return items properly, the vendor looks forward to your next call. How about that hamper with the microphones UNDER the mic stands? (I don't make this stuff up.) Finally, at the return, let the vendor know if you had any problems or suspicions.

Remember, that even thought we're competitors, "the relationship is an exchange." In addition to treating cross rental orders as our own shows, there's the ethics side of the equation. Many of my cross rental clients will use their client's name as the purchase order "number." I value the trust they place with me, especially when we're also delivering directly to their job site.
The best thing about cross renting is it shows the holes in your inventory.

Data is the most valuable raw material a service company can posses. When I worked in North Carolina, the three of us in town had a great partnership that included not duplicating resources -- we had Yamaha & Ramsa soundboards, another had Soundcraft, and the third had Crest and Midas. Part of the cross rental decision includes the hidden cost of back and forth (pickup and return) and that lost, proprietary cable, which costs $97 dollars, plus tax and shipping, to replace.

When I finish designing a show for an end client, I take the room and signal flow diagrams and identify the items that I do not own. Next, before I start entering the order in my rental software, I call my cross rental houses, thus giving my competitors the most possible amount of time to return with a quote. Surprises and changes leading to rush orders will happen; let's just try not to make every order, let alone quotes, an emergency. Speaking of room drawings, I need to go out and get more cocktail napkins.