In this issue, we are publishing our first “Rental & Staging Top 40” list — our first effort to recognize the leaders in the market that provides a snapshot of where we are as an industry. Participation in this Top 40 list was entirely voluntary, and it’s the beginning of an effort that we’ll carry on in 2010.
Why now and not before? The reason boils down to the fact that this industry is characterized by a fairly large number of small companies, with only a few large, national footprint staging companies operating across many geographical markets. And virtually all the staging and or rental/staging
companies are privately held companies — and privately held companies, unlike public ones, are not required to divulge their sales or other financials, which leads typically to reticence in any industry. “Why should I tell the world what my company is doing? What’s in it for me?” companies often ask, when associations, research companies, or trade magazines seek data to size up the industry whether for aggregate market size or ranking of individual companies.
To complicate things, this effort is coming in a year that is not typical of the overall growth of the industry over the past 20 years. Steep upward growth was — for only the second year of the past 20 (the other being late 2001 to late 2002) — not in the cards this year. But this “sideways” year, for a lack of a better term, is giving rise to some interesting dynamics. As Tom Stimson points out in his column in this issue, diversification is important this year. Diversification, this year, includes resurgence in B2B rentals, or “cross-rentals.” The cross-rental or rental to trade market is surging as rental & staging firms react to the strengthening of large national wholesale gear rental houses. So even as many stagers have sharply reduced their capital purchases, they still have need for extra gear for many shows, and they’re cross-renting it from their local peers who are simultaneously their competitors.
If we look at the results of our Top 40 Survey, we are still an industry with a pyramid structure. For a variety of reasons, this business does not lend itself to easy national consolidation or national marketing of services. That’s not to say it does not happen. In fact, a number of companies that participated in this survey have had great success offering services on a national scale. These companies, in this economy, are finding increasing business from pharmaceuticals, financial services, schools, and universities —i.e., not the typical corporate clients that made up the client pool five years ago. But all in all, the number that have done so are members of a fairly exclusive club. Hint: It’s a club that if you’re not in it, you should start planning your strategy and a find a way in. Next year will no doubt see an uptick in the economy, but if you’re not aligned for that, and for the new, post-recession built-in efficiencies that many clients are locking in for good, you won’t be ready.