Spring Forward


Well, the spring we were Crew Callall waiting for is finally here. The trees are budding, the snow (for those of us who get snow) is melting, and hopefully the rental market is thawing out a little, too. For most of us, it was a pretty cold winter in that regard, and we’ve all been looking forward to a spring thaw.

But along with the budding of the trees, we’re seeing the budding of a lot of new “sprouts” in the rental industry. This comes about mostly from our economic times, as companies look to expand business lines and make additional revenue from existing assets.

Among them, as predicted by so many of our industry pundits, are two types of new growth: new forms of rental and staging events, and new competition coming from other types of companies.
The new types of meetings and events for the rental industry mostly revolve around the economy’s current imperative to reduce costs, and the world’s current imperative to go “green.” Both are accomplished by the biggest trends I’m seeing — the regionalization of meetings that must be done in person, and the virtualization of meetings that are discretionary or optional.

Firstly, the “regionalization” movement was already afoot before the current economic crisis. The “green” revolution, and the threat of terrorism, already had companies cutting back on travel. Many of the clients I work with had already started paring back attendee lists for large, national or international meetings, and supplementing them with regional events, videoconferences, and web-based meetings, often tying them all together with distance communication tools. The early outcry about this from “traditional” meeting planners got drowned out when the economic crisis added to the din, and, frankly, this spring’s events have been well received. Add to this a new generation of executives who are used to web-based events and social media, and much of the early prognostications of doom have fallen by the wayside. And it has provided corporate management with the cover necessary to be perceived as “environmentally conscious” and “forward-thinking” — instead of just “cheap.”

What has this done to the rental and staging industry? Well, first, it has made us broaden our definition of the “meeting.”

On my first job as Staging Manager, at the old Southam organization in Canada, I shared an office with the company’s Convention Services Manager, Mike Schilz. I remember one morning telling him I liked my job better than his, because at least in a “main tent” staging gig everything was in one room, where I could see it, whereas his job usually involved meetings often scattered all over a city. Well, no more. Now, a “staging” gig may well take place in several cities — or even several countries — simultaneously.

So the biggest change, to the staging company, has been logistical. Shipping has changed — because it used to be that you pulled everything required for a show and shipped it to site. Now, you essentially pull for several “shows” at the same time — with more duplication of gear, and more shipping containers, required.

Another big change has been alliances. Obviously, with regionalized meetings, the national and international companies have the advantage of multiple crews and locations. However, these types of meetings are new even to those organizations (I know — I’ve run a couple) that are mostly still used to operating as separate units, even if they have “national” departments. So, although they have a theoretical advantage, working these types of events will still involve a learning curve even for them. The local companies are competing by forming alliances, using each other’s locations, inventories, and crews to create the ability to serve these regional types of events.

These types of alliances, both those already possessed by the national organizations and those that are being formed by the local ones, will also come into play soon with new competition — which we’ll be discussing in our next issue.

Until then, enjoy the spring thaw.

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 joelrollins@mac.com