Its Crunch Time - AvNetwork.com

Its Crunch Time

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Some of us attribute it to Murphy's Law. I believe it's less random than we might expect. My theory is that when event planners go to event planning school, one of the required courses is the following:

#100Q6: Best Dates For Your Event. In this course, a complete analysis is made of the Gregorian Calendar as it relates to scheduling an event. Students gain familiarity with placing their events on the calendar for best visibility and most difficulty for AV vendors. Topics include: Why Wednesdays in March are verboten and Last Minute Events are golden for Monday.

Whatever the reason, the unfortunate result is that while rental and staging companies involved in the corporate and industrial market live in a seasonal environment that concentrates most of the business volume in the January through May season and the September through November season, within those seasons micro-climates exist where particular days are subject to enormous demands. While I hope this situation isn't the rule in many locales, it certainly is in our markets and it has a direct effect on profitability and mental health.

When the amount of resources within a company tip back and forth between Empty and Full on a weekly basis, management scrambles to locate equipment and staff in order to satisfy clients, often turning to sub-rental vendors and freelancers to temporarily expand resources. Within the last few years, companies have emerged that support this dynamic by wholesaling equipment rental and staffing to staging companiesa relationship that has both positive and negative aspects.

Reaching out to a non-competitive sub-rental vendor who provides needed gear at pricing low enough to allow mark-ups is a lifeline for overextended rental companies. It's also a lifeline that doesn't put money in the pocket of a competitor. Likewise, staffing companies and the freelance corps can provide the extra muscle required during the busy season while keeping payroll under control during the slow months. In these situations the outside resources are building on the core that is the staging company.

These same external resources can also be used to allow staging companies with relatively few resources to compete at the upper echelons of the market, with the advantage of lower overhead than the more established staging company. Recently this trend has grown significantly and the definition of the traditional rental and staging company has become even more inexact. Case in point: With the availability of companies willing to provide not just missing bits of inventory, but the full spectrum of gear required for a complex show, why own any inventory of one's own?

The traditional staging company with full-time resources and millions of dollars of inventory attempts to provide clients with an encompassing service that reflects the philosophy of the management in all facets. The company's personality may be evident in the way the equipment is prepped, encased and configured for a particular show. Show staff will behave in a manner sanctioned by the company's management and the impression left with the client will be company's signature.

For many years, the relationship between show producer, technical director and show vendor has been governed by this dynamic, where the producer created the show, the tech director distilled the technical requirements for the show and the vendors supplied the gear and people to make the show happen. Currently, with gear available from wholesalers and staff available from staffing companies the need for a show vendor becomes less apparent to some.

Perhaps hands-on clients aren't going to see this as an advantage because they require the influence they have in a close vendor relationship that is often more like partnership. They want to be able to reach in directly to the decision makers in the companies they work with rather than be subject to the whims of an anonymous hardware provider. Other producers may not care, as long as the show is completed successfully and budget parameters are met or exceeded.

It is likely that room exists in the marketplace for both models. The danger is that growth of the new model becomes self-sustaining due to perceived economies and turns into too much of a force within the market. This will cause changes in the marketplace that are not beneficial in the long run because it will isolate clients and staging vendors from each other and transform staging companies into equipment leasing companies rather than service providers.

As we are very well aware, running a staging and rental business is a demanding occupation and we expend an awful lot of effort to keep our clients satisfied. We also take on a lot of risk, spending money on equipment and keeping it in working order. When we're successful, we provide our clients with a peace of mind that's worth everything to them. It's a pursuit with many nuances. Will it be able to be replaced by a few large gear providers and stables of freelance staff? Time will tell. n

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