Used wisely, gadgets, apps and other digital tools offer a solid return on investment for tent rental and event planning operations.
By John Gehner
Nearly every month, consumers and businesses confront the launch of digital products and services that promise to change the world. Some live up to the hype, gaining a devoted user base and long life. Others burn hot and bright, then fade for reasons obvious or obscure.
Surveying the special events landscape, event industry strategist Howard Givner admits that he’s not overwhelmed by how the industry has embraced technology. “I’ve found that when people say they’ve embraced it, what they mean is social media,” he says.
Smart planners, says Givner, use technology from the standpoint of ROI and strategic perspectives. “People are better off not having it if they can’t do it strategically and do it well,” he says.
Communication on the go
Wedding industry veteran Alan Berg observes that today’s brides prefer email exchanges with vendors. In fact, brides register unique email addresses to manage their wedding correspondence and keep it separate from other email.
A thoughtfully designed business website, mobile-friendly and featuring customer testimonials, is essential. “More and more people are viewing websites on their mobile devices … You need to [optimize] your site so it’s friendly to a small screen,” Berg says. “Things that should be clear, in real text (not graphics), on your homepage include your name, phone number and address.
“Someone who is on their way to meet you can click to call, click to map and know they’ve reached the right site. … In other words, ask yourself what they need to do on-the-go in relation to your business.”
Public accounts on social networking sites should be used to connect with others in your market and industry. “Use keywords on your Facebook profile so you’ll come up in searches,” Berg says. “Make regular and relevant posts about events you’ve worked on.” He notes that some prospective customers simply lurk without posting, so businesses need to highlight how they’ve helped past clients achieve their goals. “Remember to talk about the customer benefits—don’t just brag about what you did,” he says.
Some online information about your company, of course, cannot be controlled. Consumer-review sites such as Yelp allow anyone to post comments. Inevitably, some feedback will not be flattering.
“Take it as market research, not a personal affront,” Berg says. “Think of it this way: What would you have to pay someone to get the opinions of a few, dozens, or even hundreds of your customers? If it’s a market research firm, the answer is a lot of money. So pay attention to what’s being said as constructive criticism.”
The best strategy to shield your business from negative reviews? Respond to positive reviews. “[Say] something personal about that client to show that you really know them and how pleased you were to work with them,” Berg says. “[Being engaged] discourages negative reviews, or at least tones them down.”
Classic Party Rentals’ Chicago location employs up to 300 staffers serving more than 5,000 clients and more than 16,000 events annually, which means a considerable number of people and products are in motion every day. A fleet-tracking GPS system monitors all of that movement and provides significant ROI, says operations manager Daniel McManus. The fleet’s operating costs have decreased due to remote vehicle diagnostics. “We can also service our clients in a more efficient way for both emergency and last-minute calls by providing the location and detailed mapping features for our entire fleet of trucks,” he says.
GPS encourages safe driving practices and reduces the need to speak directly with drivers at every turn. “While it is not technically real time, the system does update itself every three minutes so it is pretty close.Â It allows us to give ETAs to both clients and sales reps and it monitors how long trucks have been stopped at specific locations as well as their speed.”
A “bread crumb” feature provides a history of a vehicle’s travels over a defined period of time, which can help identify the most efficient routes, travel times and dock times for different locations.
“Many of our drivers already were using personal GPS systems on their route,” McManus says. “Our sales and customer service departments were thrilled with this program and our dispatch department was very positive with its capabilities … Once they saw firsthand what a valuable service this was for our customers, they were hooked.”
In a transitional moment in his career, Givner started to percolate an idea: a tool for event specialists that performed quick calculations during project planning and client negotiations. “I was surprised there hadn’t been much available and definitely thought the industry needed it,” Givner says.
That idea became the award-winning Super Planner™ app. Available for both Apple® and Android™ devices, the app is composed of three core sections: food and beverage, audio-visual and venue capacity. Each section contains efficient ways to estimate catering orders, staffing, place settings, space arrangements and more.
“The most popular feature is the venue capacity,” Givner says. “Venues notoriously say they can hold more than they can. And there are people who say they really like the place setting feature as well.”
In 2011, IFAI’s Tent Rental Division launched the My Event Tent app to assist event planners with their tent needs. The product provides assistance in calculating space requirements and connects users with vendors in their area. As of April 2012, it has been downloaded more than 500 times.
“It’s a wonderful tool, making both a bride’s and an event planner’s job so easy,” says Beth Wilson, marketing manager for Mahaffey Tent and Party Rentals in Memphis, Tenn. “Now a bride can truly envision the space needed for her big day, and an event planner can map out where to place a tent or determine what venue is right for the client.”
Classic Party Rentals’ roster of Chicago-area sales reps utilizes the customer relationship management service salesforce.com, a platform that features a variety of cloud apps. McManus explains that it has streamlined the sales process and offers additional valuable tools: data syncing with the company’s rental program; appointment and task syncing with iPhone®, Android and Blackberry® devices; allowing reps to “always have their clients with them”; personalized service with the ability to add on a “call center”; client activity tracking; and flexible real-time reporting with graphs, charts and tables.
Many special event companies have been quick to embrace content-sharing sites such as Pinterest, which allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their personal pinboards. “I usually spend about an hour a day or less on either pinning/repinningÂ or looking at others’ pins,” says Jaime Newsom, co-owner of Social Butterflies LLC in Memphis, Tenn.Â
“I liken it to the old days where clients used to hand you a folder of torn-out magazine pages that showcase the different things they want at their event,” Newsom says. “Except now it is all on one board they have put together.”
Meghan Schinderle, co-owner with Katie Webb of Intertwined Events in Los Angeles, Calif., has been actively using Pinterest for about five months, devoting about an hour to it each day. “The ROI is great,” Schinderle says. “Pinterest is the second-highest traffic referral source to our website and blog.”
Intertwined Events helps clients create boards that they can add to, or send images for, to better define their vision and style. “We then can show that to other vendors (rental, florist, caterer, photographer) so that everyone is on the same page.” Schinderle also cites Dropbox as a service helpful to sharing content between parties.
Nadine Gritten, graphic designer with Special Event Rentals in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has been using Pinterest for six months as a complement to Twitter™, Facebook and a YouTube channel. “We monitor Pinerest every day, though how many times we pin or repin is different on a daily basis. If we have some great photos on our blog, we share some of those. If we come across an article or photos that stand out to us, we share those.”
“We find that these sites are also a great way to share ideas and be able to show interested parties what our company can do,” Gritten says. “Plus, all of these social media sites are really working together now.”
Sheree Bochenek, creative director at AprÃ¨s Party and Tent Rental of Edina, Minn., takes a multidimensional approach. A Pinterest icon is displayed on the company’s website as an incentive to visitors. “I believe we would lose [Pinterest] followers if we just self-promoted or showed only AprÃ¨s photographs,” she says. “It is a fine balance, and I’m sure boundaries will be pushed as this media grows.”