When I was running my party rental company, Central Coast Tent & Party, I used to have some seriously mixed feelings about closing out the busy season and heading into the slow season.
For one, we were all exhausted. I ran a lean crew, which meant that six days a week we were all scrambling to deliver tables and chairs, perform tent installs, take tents down, and so on.
Here is a video summary of the ideas in this article (for those of you pressed for time). For more details though, read on!
Don’t get me wrong - we loved it. Like my father in law is always saying, “You have to make hay while the sun is shining”, and we were making hay.
It was taxing though, so a part of me welcomed the reprieve that November would bring. It gave us a chance to unwind, get some product cleaned up, and take a few days off.
Once we’d caught our breath though, the fear of the slow months and slow cash flow set in. As lean as we were, I still had a crew to pay and keep busy, as well as office staff to retain.
As a result, November was always a time I’d find myself brainstorming ideas to keep busy, and many to keep the cash coming in throughout the winter.
So, here are my top seven ideas on how to make money in the off season with your party rental resources.
[Disclaimer: Consult with legal counsel and/or your insurance company before performing any business activities outside of the scope of your normal operations.]
1. Holiday Light Installation
This one is my favorite idea, because it just compliments the rental business so well.
Think about it. You already have the crew to help. If your rental company installs tents, you probably already have most of the equipment necessary to perform holiday light installs.
You’ll want to start advertising this service as early as possible, like September or October if possible. If you can’t fit it in until November, that is ok too, but you’ll have to hustle.
The best candidates are clients for whom you’ve done work during the season, and their neighbors. You’ve already forged a trusting relationship with them during event installs, so they’ll undoubtedly trust your company to install their Christmas lights.
Another great place to advertise your light installation services is in neighborhoods with older folks who might not want to get up on a ladder anymore.
Once you’ve booked your jobs, you’ll need to perform the work. My advice would be to go online and search for places to buy lights wholesale, as well as hardware to hang them that won’t damage the structures you’re installing them on.
Once you do your first house, pass out flyers to the rest of the neighborhood, and watch the slow season cash come flowing in.
2. Snow Plowing
Once again, this is an idea is possible because many companies have the equipment already. You may have one or two pickup trucks capable of receiving a snow plow, complete with four wheel drive.
Snow plowing can also keep you very busy, depending on where you live. It is often enough to just reach out to your existing network of family and friends, because if it snows quite a bit in your area, you may need to make several rounds during each snow storm.
This activity can also work out well to allow you to perform other rental-related tasks during the day. You’ll have to hustle though, because when it snows at night you have to be out there clearing driveways.
3. Cleaning and Maintaining Your Rental Equipment
Ok, I know - this isn’t going to directly put money in your pocket before the holidays. However, I would argue that keeping an inventory that is top notch will make you more money in the long run, because you’ll be able to rent items more times for higher ROI, as well as charge more for meticulously maintained rental equipment.
Start by going through all your chairs and tables, one by one and giving them a thorough cleaning. You’re probably already cleaning in between events during the season, but I’m talking about a deep clean. The kind your mom does to the house in the spring when you find the contents of your room in the front lawn. Or was that just me?
Scrub the seats and backrests, making sure to get in between the texture on your plastic folding chairs. Then go through all the spots where dirt and grime can build up, like around the feet caps and seat brackets.
Don’t have enough time to go through each chair with a fine tooth comb and don’t own an expensive chair washer? Try building the chair washer in a bucket!
Think about repainting any that are scratched, taking care not to paint the plastic because that just never looks good. Also, sand down the area around deep scratches before painting, both so the paint adheres better and because even with a coat of new paint you’d be able to see the texture change underneath. Attention to detail here will go a long way.
Once you’ve finished all your chairs, it’s probably already February if your crew moved the way mine did. Still, make sure you go through all your folding tables to make sure they are in tip-top shape.
If you own plywood folding tables, like most rental companies do, you can vastly extend the life of your tables by performing the same maintenance year in and year out.
Start with the tabletops. Fill any deep scratches or gouges with wood filler. Then sand down and apply a fresh coat of polyurethane. Even if you don’t have scratches to fill, a new coat of poly will go a long way in protecting your tables and making them look new next season.
We all know that even though the tables are going to be covered with tablecloths, you’ll avoid complaints from those clients with a simple clear coat during the off-season.
Then, as you’re going through each table, inspect the edges and leg assemblies. Tighten all the nuts and bolts, and make sure every locking mechanism and hinge is working properly.
If any of your tables are missing the vinyl bullnose edging, need replacement bolts or even new legs, you can get new parts here at EventStable.
Your tents are another area that can be very time-intensive in the off-season to give a thorough cleaning, but it’s well worth it.
Start with the tent tops themselves. You’ll probably notice that you’re pulling sizes out of the bag that don’t match what the bag says. Well, good thing you caught that now, rather than in June on an install an hour away from the shop.
To avoid that, consider attaching tent tags to every tent top for easy identification by color, with detailed information printed right on the tag. The tags are custom made for your inventory, so you can label each one and avoid the headaches of mismatched tops and bags once and for all.
The off-season is a great time to label your tops, since you’re cleaning them all anyway.
You may have your own preferred way of cleaning tents (and if you do, please share by leaving a note in the comments), but here is how we used to do it.
We’d set up a row of 4-5 banquet tables, then clean and dry each tent in 30’’ increments. You’ll need sponges, buckets, brushes, towels, and tent top cleaner.
Start at the edge of a top, and then drag it up and on top of the row of tables. Scrub your tents, and then dry (mostly dry), before moving on to the next section.
This method beats laying the tents out flat on a tarp and then soaking the heck out of them.
For the rest of your inventory, this is the time to go through and make sure everything is working as expected.
4. Re-book Last Year’s Events for Next Year
Outside of the wedding business, many of the events you did this year have the potential to happen again next season. All those festivals, concerts, graduations and corporate events are being planned as we speak.
Now is the time to be connecting with those planners about getting your bids together for next year. Are they looking to go bigger? Do they need more or different equipment?
Work closely with the managers of your big events to ascertain what they envision for the next one. Often times they want to make it bigger and better, and now is the time to gain that knowledge so you can be prepared. You don’t want to get too late in the season and then find out they need another 10,000 square feet of tents that you don’t own.
If you can be involved in the planning process, that’s the best. That way, you can make recommendations that best suit your needs. For instance, if you know a planner is looking for a different style of tents, you might be able to recommend sailcloth tents because you know you’ll be able rent them the rest of the year for weddings, giving you a great excuse to make the purchase. You’ll look like a hero to the event planner.
The same goes with tables and chairs. The planners might be looking for new shapes of tables or different styles of chairs. If you are involved now and can steer the decision, you can probably get new chairs paid for in the first year with other events, rather than having to buy something just for the one festival.
Not only that, but if you can lock in the rental now, not only can you get a deposit and generate some cash in the off-season, but you may be able to make the purchase before the end of the year and qualify for a Section 179 deduction. This can reduce the effective purchase price of your equipment by getting a huge tax break. For more info check with your CPA.
5. Get Into Pipe & Drape
If you aren’t already doing pipe and drape jobs, you might be missing out on a lucrative rental category.
Pipe and drape is super cost effective, giving you a great ROI. It also takes up very little space in your warehouse, and unlike table linens, drapes are easier to keep clean. It’s also very easy to set up, so you don’t need specialized crew to make it happen.
Pipe and drape can be used during the season for wedding backdrops, chuppahs, and as room dividers in banquet halls. In the off-season, look to book trade shows and photo shoots. In fact, if you really get into it, trade shows can become a major income driver. You won’t look at November through March the same way again.
6. Bridal Shows
You can look at bridal shows a couple different ways as a revenue driver. First, you can try to become the rental company who sets up the show (see pipe and drape, #5 above). After all, many bridal shows I’ve attended have had booths made out of pipe and drape, as well as tables and chairs in each booth. Be the rental company who gets that business.
In another vein, since bridal shows tend to happen in the winter months, they are a good activity to get your best table settings together, put on your best face and meet all those newly engaged couples (and the mother in law - yay!).
Turn the bridal show into showroom consultations, and then into rental deposits to keep your cash flow churning in the slow months.
On that note, the off-season is also a great time to update your showroom. Thinking about adding a new line of chairs to offer brides next year? Get a sample from your favorite supplier (eh hem), to put in your showroom to drum up rentals before you even buy the chairs.
Monarch holds a 50% off linen sale on rentals of specialty linens for 2 weeks each January. It applies only to specialty tablecloths (not basic polyester), and only to linens they have in stock. The rentals also must be paid in full at the time of the event.
She says, “We literally have a line out the door the entire time”, so obviously the event is a huge success. It generates enough cash to help during the slow season, and also has the benefit of introducing the customers who take advantage of the deal to their other higher end rental items.
Well, I hope that helps to give you ideas about how you can stay busy, and keep the bills paid during the winter. If you find that you can generate enough revenue from these activities, remember that the slow season is also a great time for employee training and team-building activities.