Top Colors and Equipment
Party Rental Trends That Are Growing Businesses

From richly patterned linens, elaborately draped tents and illuminated portable dance floors to all the equipment needed to create backyard carnivals, consumers are, when it comes to parties, going “all out,” or at least, much farther out than during the depths of the economic recession. This means big business for party rental companies.
At Beaumont, Texas-based ABC-Discount Rentals, business held steady through the recession, was up by 20 percent in 2011 versus 2010, and remains on an uptick, according to Allen Moyer, co-owner. “People aren’t taking big vacations; instead, they’re spending more on parties and entertainment around the house,” Moyer said, noting that his company each year serves “countless” parties. Beaumont is promoted by its Convention & Visitors Bureau as a place “where Louisiana Cajun meets Texas cowboy.” It is home to the annual South Texas State Fair as well as a multitude of museums, among them the Art Museum of Southeast Texas.
“Parents truly make a much bigger deal out of their kids’ birthdays than our parents did,” Moyer asserted. “It is not unusual to get a call and have a parent spend $500 for the ‘average’ birthday party today, and many of the birthday parties we do involve well over $1,000 worth of rental” products.
Brooks Schrader, co-owner and co-CEO of Fantasy World Entertainment in Prince Frederick, Md., corroborated Moyer’s comments. Fantasy World Entertainment services 1,200 to 1,400 parties each year, at venues from Maine to Florida. Citing double-digit increases in rental volume last year compared to the previous year, Schrader summarized the consensus of all sources contacted by Tourist Attractions & Parks with the observation that not only are consumers holding more elaborate casual parties that require a rental component; they are also spending more money on rentals for fancy occasions, such as weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
Although a certain small cadre of consumers will always gravitate towards the basics in terms of furniture, there appears to be a strong trend towards, as one operator put it, “doing something different and new.” For instance, Karl’s Event Services, which is headquartered in Oak Creek, Wis., but serves events nationwide through its branch locations in Belleville, N.J.; Orlando, Fla.; Houston, Tex.; Barstow, Calif.; and Frederick, Md., has been receiving a growing number of requests for bamboo and wooden chairs from eco-conscious customers; chiavari chairs with intricate designs are gaining ground as well, reported Sara Spitzer, marketing coordinator.
“Many of our customers, a large number of whom are returning after taking a break from holding events, are requesting two or more different table shapes,” Spitzer added. These, she explained, are interspersed throughout party areas to create visual interest and “break up” the space.
Mary Crothers, owner of Chair-man Mills in Toronto, Canada, also pointed to enhanced interest among customers in table shapes other than the standard round, and to Lucite chairs.
Chair-man Mills services approximately 500 parties per year in and around Toronto, Canada’s financial, cultural and entertainment capital.
“More and more people really like to rent rectangular tables and arrange them end-to-end to form communal tables topped off with one long runner down the middle,” Crothers said. “I am also seeing a lot of eclectic looks being created by combining the contemporary Lucite chairs with traditional cut crystal glassware and charger plates.”
At ABC-Discount Rentals, white resin garden chairs with distinctive padding  are “very popular” for weddings, parties and other events, and demand for black garden chairs is greater than in the past, Moyer said. “Kid-size primary tables and chair requests are on the increase, too, as parents want to celebrate younger children’s birthdays in a big way,” he asserted.
Similarly, in linens, there is a move away from staple colors like white, navy and pastel, as well as significant experimentation with different materials and combinations. “Purple is becoming a very popular linen color for us,” Spitzer stated. “We have also been receiving an increasing number of requests for patterns. Our clients are becoming more bold with their choices, instead of white, it’s bright colors and specialty linens.”
Sandra Fonkoura, co-owner of AS Party Rental in suburban Germantown, Md., said much the same, listing deep teal, coffee and orchid among top linen shades for winter 2012 and citing the popularity of rosette fabric, bold prints and embroidery on linens. The use of linens in several shades of the same color is growing, she added.
For her part, Crothers is consistent with a focus on natural fibers in apparel and accessories, fielding orders for linens manufactured from materials like hemp and burlap; these are often paired with wooden serving pieces. “Whether using traditional linen or the new natural fibers, however, customers are getting away from ‘matchy-matchy,’ where the plates and the linen have to be the same color, and going with various combinations,” Crothers said.
Party-givers’ mission to be “different” has also impacted rental patterns when it comes to other accessories, specifically tents and portable dance floors. “We are increasingly being contracted to provide custom tenting solutions, such as custom clearspan options and lighted tenting,” Spitzer explained. The company recently installed a custom clearspan structure for an event held in Tampa, Fla.
“Tents are really booming as customers” strive “to create a more festive ambiance outside. With tent liners, leg drapes, floral and greenery decorations, plus lighting, no more little white tents with white linens.”
As for dance floors, “the ones with flashing LED lights in them are the ticket,” stated Schrader. “The wooden ones are great and they still have a following, but many customers are more adventurous these days and this fits the mold.”
Moreover, the desire to put a bit of pizzazz into parties is also boosting demand for inflatables and carnival games, noted John Schwartz, owner of Jump For Joy-Frisco in Frisco, Texas, an affluent suburb of Dallas. Last year, the company provided rental equipment to 875 parties; Schwartz deemed 2011 his “best” year in a dozen years in the business.
Schwartz claimed that in keeping with consumers’ tendency to put special touches on their events, some parties that in the past may not have included an inflatables component because it was considered an unnecessary “extra” now feature one or more of these units. For example, the operator recently booked bounce house rental for a baby’s first birthday party. “The baby isn’t going to be using it, of course, but there will be older children there, and the hosts wanted something extra for them to do,” he explained. “People are being a bit looser about the added expense.”
For larger parties, Jump For Joy is in many instances renting two or three larger, interactive inflatable devices with separate entrance and exit points rather than single, often smaller units that quickly become overcrowded because guests “go in, have nothing to do but bounce and often get stuck,” Schwartz stated. Waterslides and obstacle courses rank among customers’ favorite options here.
The story is much the same at Fantasy World Entertainment and ABC-Discount Rentals. Customers of the former have been gravitating heavily towards obstacle courses and custom-themed inflatables to differentiate their events from others, Schrader observed.
“Demand for inflatables is increasing every year,” concurred Moyer. “Repeat customers want something new each time. Inflatables are becoming more extreme and eye-catching;  instead of red, yellow and blue bouncers, you now have” units with “digital graphics of just about any movie theme or action hero out there printed on the vinyl, or your own, custom-made ones.”  The operator added that a growing number of older kids’ and adult parties served by ABC-Discount include inflatables and similar devices; giant obstacle courses and water slides, gladiator jousting and bounce boxing units, bungee runs and velcro walls comprise  a few of the most popular items now in favor with this crowd.
Perhaps not surprisingly, party rental companies are also hearing louder customer cries for carnival games and carts from which frozen treats, popcorn, cotton candy and similar fun fare may be dispensed. “Most customers want their parties to be a complete experience rather than just a celebration, and these elements are part of the package,” Schrader said.
Photo booths, too, have begun to make significant inroads on the party rental circuit. From birthday parties to Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, Fantasy World Entertainment is doing a brisk business in this category, Schrader stated. Digital photo booths from which guests can upload images to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are in heavy demand, the operator noted, with a white leather-covered unit remaining a top option for weddings.
Additionally, older kids to adults want to play on inflatables today. Giant Obstacle Course and Water Slides, Gladiator Jousting, Bouncing Boxing, Bungee Runs and Velcro Walls are just a few of the most popular items rented for the “older crowd.” –

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