Customer Spotlight: Ed Knight | Eventquip
We asked Ed Knight, President of Eventquip in Montgomeryville, PA to share his experiences as an event rental operator going through the last 12 months of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As we all can relate, there have been highs and lows as Knight shares his personal experiences over the last twelve months. We hope that you are able to take some of his experiences and actions as you create your roadmap for your post-pandemic business.
Setting up for a great year when...
We were set for a record year. Booked business was hugely outpacing prior years. We more than doubled our slow season (January - March) warehouse labor so all our equipment would be in fantastic shape and ready to rent. All tents were washed, checked, RFID tagged, and stored away nicely. We color coded bolts, washed flooring, refurbished and built more lighting. Inventory counts were perfect. Everything was super ready. This caused us to spend much more than usual for off season labor, making cash tight, but that’s OK - because 2020 was going to be amazing.
In one week in March 2020, all work for the upcoming quarter canceled. March thru June went to $0.00
Seeing the early attempts on the news with hospitals across the country using ‘pop up’ tents for drive up COVID-19 testing sites, we knew tent companies could offer better alternatives. On a Saturday after a week of non-stop canceling and rescheduling of upcoming work, we designed 4 drive thru testing tents with varying capacity. Monday morning 40 installers showed up for work and we didn’t have anything to install. We had them all get right on building a 2-lane drive thru testing tent next to our own building. We pulled our own cars into it, took pictures and sent them to the hospitals before 10AM that day. That afternoon, a local hospital had us come out and put up a drive thru tent. The next day we did the first testing site in Philadelphia - it’s still a testing site. We’d start each morning with nothing on the books. Orders would come in and our logistics guys would load and dispatch trucks as fast as we could do the paperwork. We would finally have a signed contract just before our truck would be pulling up to install their tent. Same day deliveries! We went on to do about a hundred more.
Simultaneously, we had a scheduled meeting in late March with the public relations company that manages our website and social media. This was supposed to be a regular update and discussion of simple things - website colors, possible blog/news posts, etc. Instead, we explained how bad things have turned and the need to cut any unnecessary spending and see what we could get for 1/4 of what we had been paying or possibly canceling altogether. They agreed to look at it hard and come up with a plan. They came back two days later with a different plan. - Maintain the existing budget for a month, see how it goes and take it month by month. They would increase our search engine optimization (SEO) so we would be found on the web for testing tents and any other opportunities we collectively could think of. We brainstormed topics; tents for – medical, employee screening, contactless delivery, food drive thru pickup, safe distancing, restaurants, schools, fitness clubs, weight rooms, and more. This became very successful. We were wrong about some topics - We were guessing, and no one knew what would happen. But some were a hit. Corporations started ordering employee screening tents, Chick-fil-a’s were an early adopter of takeout delivery tents as were some restaurants, and grocery & retail were ordering cueing tents to maintain safe distance while their customers waited in line to get in.
Keeping staff morale up was important. I was constantly reassuring everyone this is going to be ok because we are going to “Rent every tent we have”. We got with the Restaurant Associations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, & Delaware. Got ourselves listed on the COVID-19 Resources Page of their websites - and more importantly got their membership directories. We mailed over 12,000 Restaurant Tent post cards. For our first target, we attacked Jersey Shore Restaurants as we felt they would be the first to open with the summer season coming - and they were. Our salespeople all took different shore areas, canvased the streets between late morning and noon, knocked on the back door of restaurant kitchens, talked to the manager, or often the owner, about a tent for outdoor dining. The first dining tent we installed was in April at Tuckers Tavern in Long Beach Island, an 80’ x 80’ Aztec Series 2000 tent. We put 10’ long Tidewater swallow tail flags 40’ in the air on the tops of the four center poles so it would really attract attention. And it did - for Tuckers and EventQuip. Restaurants started calling. Turns out, one restaurant tent begets another. Being first in each of the markets was key. We’d put one tent up, all the neighboring restaurants would see our name on it and call. Tuckers tent stayed up till November. It was so successful they have booked it again for April to November of 2021 - regardless of COVID-19.
Tents for events started back slowly in July. We were consistently doing a handful of weddings every weekend through the end of November when it got too cold. Down from prior years, but promising. Some of these weddings with as many as 200 people. Most of them incredibly beautiful. An interesting observation from the weddings we did in 2020 - on par, they are nicer than they would have been. Unlike recessions, it’s not unpopular to be seen spending money.
Then we pursued schools. Colleges and Private Schools - especially the expensive ones that would have the best budgets and the most to lose if students couldn’t attend. This was better than tenting restaurants. Lots of individual classroom tents with floors. These places really know how to spend money.
August - We ran out of tents.
Nationwide tent demand was at an all-time high and manufacturers were requiring a 6 to 10 weeks lead time. This was unprecedented. We held a zoom meeting every weekday at 11am with our sales force, office, and inventory crew to figure (guess) what we would be running out of in a month or so – prepare accordingly – only to run out in the next 2 weeks anyway. “What’s going on this week’s Aztec order?” was a daily topic. Which was funny, except, some weeks had more than one order. We turned our humble repair shop into full-fledged manufacturing (but still very humble). We were still ordering tops from our manufacturers while making our own. We just kept sending out tents as fast as we could get them. January, February, and March of 2021 we are making more inventory for the spring.
We had never had so many long-term rentals. We get to charge more for long term and the overall cost percentage is lower. I’m going to miss it when things get fully back to normal. Credit goes to our entire team. Everyone stepped it up. A lot. We speculated, researched, brainstormed, learned new things, grew, and saved the company. We ended 2020 down 27% from 2019 with the bottom line up substantially.
Some schools and restaurants still have tents up, some had us take them down for the winter. All of them have reserved long term tents again to start in the spring.
Our outlook for 2021
It’s not over till no one is scared.
COVID-19 could disappear off the face of the planet today and the changes we’ve made or the things we do different will be happening for a while. Restaurants, Schools, Gyms etc. will continue with tented, outdoor space into the summer and maybe the fall. A few of the college graduations have postponed to 2022, as has the large annual events that happen in the spring. The annual large events scheduled for the fall might happen. Weddings and Events are increasing velocity. We expect wedding and event tent rentals to climb and at some-point start to replace the long-term rentals. We don’t know yet exactly when that will happen, but we will easily make the transition when it does. We anticipate a surge in event tenting when no one is scared. Demand will be crazy. We are slowly ramping up our infrastructure and staffing to handle the spring long-term rental demand and event surge.
In December we started discussions with the hospitals to install vaccine sites and start converting testing tents to vaccine tents. Depending on the availability and the requirements of the different vaccines, this may be promising.
We will take this full circle. For us, COVID-19 started with testing tents, we provided assorted solutions for gathering safe along the way, and it will end with vaccine tents. We are ready.