Downsizing the Dream

Yesterday, I sCrew Callat (like several others on my staff) waiting for Apple’s usual “insanely great” announcement of their latest “breathtaking” portable technology – the iPad.

Let me first explain that I’m the starry-eyed type when it comes to portable computing. Gary once pointed out in a seminar (to a lot of laughs at my expense) that I’m not the kind of guy who stands in line at midnight to get the latest technology – because I’m the kind of guy that runs things in Beta. He was right – my office contains a virtual museum of every major breakthrough in portable computing – from my first 35-pound Compaq “sewing machine” portable to the TRS-80-100 to the Newton to the first Palm to a beta-test iPhone. So, I sat waiting for yet another announcement.

And, with an absolute certainty, I knew what I’d hear from at least one client that day: “Gosh, with all this technology downsizing, people won’t need to rent stuff for presentations any more – they’ll carry them in their pockets”.
I was wrong. I heard it from three clients over the course of the day. And hundreds over the course of twenty years. And each time, I glanced out into our parking lot, thinking to myself, “If that’s true, why have my trucks gotten larger while technology has gotten smaller?”
We hear the same things as projectors get smaller. Companies are going to bring their own. Anybody who utters those words hasn’t been in the rental industry very long. Because the kind of products receiving that kind of downsizing are already a vanishingly small part of rental inventory. Most of the things used in rental (and virtually all of them in staging) are used for the purpose because they ARE larger. Not just for their electronic capabilities, but for their physical presence in a room. We have risers, podiums, drapery, and set pieces, to name a few. People thought flat panel displays were going to reduce what we moved. Nonsense. We now have more of them, and our flat panel inventory takes up more warehouse and trucking space than CRTs ever did. When you make something more portable, you just make it possible to use more of them.

Plus, the electronic side of what we do in staging has physical requirements, too. Have you heard any rumors of a company developing a “pico” line array? Or a “pocket” lighting system? Sure, we now have projectors that could be pulled off a tower just by the weight of the cable they are connected with – but we still have the cable. And the advent of portable technologies like the laptop didn’t reduce what we rented – they VASTLY increased it. Suddenly, we needed larger switching rigs, more screens, and more projectors, because more people were bringing sources for us to work with. And as that technology gets more portable – and more personal – we’ll continue the trend.  Because staging is about setting an impactful environment.

Shortly after the announcement, though, I heard the SECOND thing I always hear after such an announcement: the case for why my rental techs would need to switch from the iPhones they just talked me into giving them to the new iPad. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Don’t sell off the trucks just yet.

rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins, CTS-R, is General Manager of Everett Hall Associates, Inc. and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at Joel can be reached at