My co-founder and I launched our event rental startup near the end of last year and have been plugging away at it ever since. In search of a new adventure, I left a well paying job in tech, and she wanted to expand beyond event planning and design. We identified event rentals as an industry that tech had left behind and wanted to set out to change that.
As anyone who has planned a wedding or large event can attest to, many rental companies can be challenging to use. It often involves making numerous calls, waiting on quote requests, asking for availability, and mysterious pricing and fees. There’s seemingly endless online shops that we can buy stuff from without having to send quote requests and ask about availability, so can we do something similar with rentals?
We had idealistic visions of a more sustainable future where people can rent and return goods rather than our endless cycle of buying and tossing them. Parties are perhaps one of the worst offenders for this. How often have you gone into a dollar store or party store to load up your cart with cheap single use items only to have to fill garbage bags after the party? We’re hoping that if we can find the right price point and make it convenient enough then we’ll be able to avoid some of this waste. Not to mention how much better the party will look and feel with higher quality rental items.
We set out to build such a service and have been doing so since the end of last year–developing our website, building out our warehouse and sourcing our inventory.
As we were working with one of our suppliers in China back in January, we started seeing the occasional headline about a mysterious virus emerging there. We didn’t think much of it aside from checking that our order would still be on time. We looked up the factory and it was much further south than Wuhan and our contact reassured us that their city had not seen any new cases in a few days.
Looking back at it now, it feels like the start of a disaster movie
..where a news report plays in the background, foreshadowing what it is to come but no one seems to notice.
As the restrictions started to come into effect, the potential of the spring and summer event season started to dry up. With the restaurants and venues closing, orders started being cancelled and many businesses in the event industry had to start coming to terms with the reality of their cancellation policies.
We’ve seen the horror stories emerge of venues moving 2020 events to 2021 with 2021 pricing (up to 30% rate increase!) or forcing events to undesirable days (a Saturday wedding moved to a Wednesday). These customers are stuck with an impossible choice of accepting a terrible option or forfeit their deposit.
It’s a tough situation for all involved as the venues and vendors still have financial commitments and were relying on that income. To avoid these situations, we try to be careful to not overextend ourselves too much by not considering deposited money ours until we’ve provided the service. Of course, this is easier to do for some vendors than others who need to order from their suppliers in advance. We’ve already reached out to our summer customers to let them know they can have a full refund or move their event day at no cost. Even if it means a financial hit now, we see doing right by the customer as an investment that will pay off for us in the long run.
Now most in our industry are facing a situation where they have little to no revenue with the expenses still piling up. As a startup, this has been our default mode of operation, even before the pandemic, so we are familiar with this territory. We’ve had to keep our operations lean to sustain ourselves and will continue to do so until life starts to resume in some form.
It feels like every few weeks we hear about a new government relief program being offered and we quickly pull up the terms to see if it can benefit us. As a new company, we often fall through the cracks of these programs as we don’t have much to show from last year to meet the eligibility criteria.
We’re not necessarily upset about our lack of relief options as we understand that losing more established companies will impact a lot more employees and the economy as a whole. There is only so much capital to go around and those in charge must triage accordingly.
New business like ours will always come and go, even during the good times. For a new company in the game of business, every day is a fight to justify our existence and the only difference now is that the difficulty has been turned up.
We still have customers with standing orders for large events as soon as late summer and early fall that we hope happen but hope doesn’t pay the rent. We aren’t expecting our elected officials to simply come on TV in a month and thank us for our participation in the pandemic, it is now over, everyone can now go back to what they are doing, sorry to be a bother.
We’re betting on a gradual lifting of the restrictions and that it will be a long time before we see hundreds of people being piled into banquet halls, hotels, venues, and restaurants. Our only option is to adapt to our ever changing circumstances.
This pandemic has forced many companies into the 21st century as being able to facilitate orders online becomes a requirement to operate rather than a nice feature to have. We’ve been investing in our online capabilities since day one and are well positioned to adapt to these new circumstances.
If the people cannot go to the venues for their events then we have to bring the events to the people. We think this is perfect for intimate at home events such as birthdays, anniversaries, or a date night.
We’ve recently introduced event packages to our website which are pre-designed small events where you provide a guest count and it builds your order. It’s perfect for small gatherings of 2 -5 people and is easy to customize. They’re packed neatly in a box and delivered to your door or available for curbside pick-up from our warehouse.
We’re hoping these event packages can also help stimulate other local businesses as they go great with food from your favourite restaurant, flowers from your local florist, and sweets from your local bakery.
We don’t yet know the toll this pandemic will take on our collective mental health but we’re hoping these packages can help people escape the current reality and treat themselves to a night out, at home.