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The art of up-sell

Event Production, Features, Management, Tent Décor | April 1, 2009 | By:

When salespeople act as partners rather than pushers, tent renters enjoy the profits.

Do you want to supersize it? Need batteries today for your purchase? Apply for a credit card and save 10 percent? The up-sell is nearly unavoidable for consumers. Even when making online purchases, a store Web site will tell you if you are interested in product A, you might also want to look at product B. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but pushy salespeople can turn off a customer as often as they make a sale.

The true art of up-selling, however, is an accepted practice and vital to the profitability of tent rental businesses. Professionals say the emphasis is on the word art.

“It’s just good business,” says Sam Wodetzki, vice president and owner of American Pavilion, Danville, Ill. “It helps our bottom line, and it helps our customers learn about products that maybe they didn’t know about.”

Salespeople as partners

Effective salespeople establish themselves as partners on a project rather than hardcore budget busters, says Narcy Martinez, president of Austin, Texas-based Marquee Tents. For example, Marquee Tents became a sponsor for the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. With a financial stake in the event’s outcome, the company was able to leverage its sponsor relationship to suggest ways to grow the event. Marquee convinced planners to add massage tents, enhancing both the event and Marquee’s profits.

Typically, salespeople earn a commission on what they sell or rent. Finding the right balance between sales and customer service is the key, say their bosses. Sales models vary between rental companies, but several managers say service is at the forefront of how they approach their jobs. Providing the best customer service is what brings back business year after year, and moving returning clients into upgraded products becomes easier as relationships grow stronger. That’s a cost-efficient sales model, owners say.

Consider a repeat customer of American Pavilion, who came in for the usual soft-sided tenting. When the sales representative discovered that the client was also hiring security to watch over the tent and its contents, American Pavilion was able to sell the customer on a hard-sided tent. That suggestion, or up-sell, boosted American Pavilion’s profits, and the added cost was a wash for the customer, who no longer needed to hire security.

“It’s an art, not a science,” Wodetzki says. “You have to assess your customers rather than hit them over the head with all the options.”

Ria Bruns of Classic Tents & Events, Atlanta, Ga., hosts free monthly workshops to show, rather than tell, prospective customers what their options are. The workshops are held inside a tent that has been accessorized so that clients can visualize what each upgrade could do for their event. “The client is happier because you’ve given them the image of what they’re going to get,” Bruns says.

Upgrade trends

A popular children’s book by Laura Joffe Numeroff illustrates the concept of up-selling: “If you give a mouse a cookie,” you may want to offer him a cold glass of milk. Of course, a napkin will be needed to catch the crumbs and a straw is nice to drink the milk. You get the idea.

“We start with the footprint of the tent,” Martinez says. From there, salespeople can begin suggesting items that add to the decor or might be necessary due to special circumstances, such as weather or location. Heating and air conditioning are two examples. Tables and chairs are no-brainers when it comes to up-selling, but rental professionals say they’ve found success with other products as well. Clear flooring over swimming pools, for example, has the dual benefit of adding square footage in tight venues while also creating a unique element of decor. Linens, beyond the traditional red, black, white and ecru, can serve a dual purpose as well. “The use of fabric can transform an ordinary venue into a one-of-a-kind experience,” says Jim Gallagher, CEO of Partytime Productions Inc., Addison, Ill.

Sometimes, the up-sell is business-to-business. Linen rentals to caterers have “shot through the roof,” says Brian Stumph, general manager of Champaign, Ill.-based Herriott’s. “It’s easier for caterers to use our services than launder linens themselves. We’ve definitely increased our quantity.”

Lighting is a relatively easy up-sell, Wodetzki says. Because audiovisuals require blackout tent sides or windows, some lighting typically is required. But graphics is an area in which American Pavilion has increased profits, and customers have been “thrilled with the visibility,” Wodetzki says. “With digital capabilities, graphics have come so far in the last 10 years. Where we just painted on the tent before, now we have clarity and detail. It’s not inexpensive, but for the right application, it’s worth every penny.”

Even small-scale events have room for up-selling. Herriott’s sells a lot of trash boxes to customers who plan backyard parties, which appear to be increasing, perhaps due to the current economic environment, several rental professionals say.

“Families are trying to determine whether to go with brick-and-mortar venues, which control food and alcohol costs, or tent the yard and control the food and beverage costs themselves,” Bruns says.

By partnering with clients instead of pushing them, and by spending enough time with clients to learn what their needs truly are and how you can meet them, tent rental professionals can find opportunities to up-sell, even in a down economy. In fact, choosing not to up-sell is a disservice to the customer because it means “you’ve already made that choice for them,” Wodetzki says.

Susan Hegarty is a freelance writer and editor based in Apple Valley, Minn., and owner of Pencil Thin Communications Inc.

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