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6 Reasons for Paying Off Debt With a Rental Business

When I started college it became quickly apparent that part-time school year jobs and entry-level summer internships were not going to cover the full cost of school, even at an in-state tuition level.

To help alleviate the college expenses my father and I started a party rental business called Picnic Table Rental to bring in some side income. This was an excellent idea and business model for six main reasons:

1. You Can Start Rental Companies Small and Grow

A rental business is something that you can start with a single item that you might already own. Maybe it’s a trailer or a lawn aerator or a sewing machine.

As you rent the item out you bring in income that you can use to add more products to your offering. You can start and keep the company small without a huge investment and still run it as a legitimate and profitable business, or grow it into an empire.

We started with an old pickup truck and five folding picnic tables that we stored in our garage, and we grew it into a massive full-time business with an inventory of hundred of items. You can even start by renting items you own, making the start-up costs very low.

2. You Can Run the Business On Your Free Time

A rental business run from your home can be arranged to work on your free time.

You can have customers leave messages and call them back on your lunch break. If you are renting out items for a party on a Friday afternoon, for example, it can be arranged so that your deliver the items on Thursday night.

You will find customers to be very flexible with this.

This is how we ran Picnic Table Rental, and it worked well. My father and i were still able to work our full-time jobs and operate the company on evenings and weekends.

3. The Company Can Be Local or Remote

Sure you can rent out items to the local community, and this is the model for most rental businesses, but there are also rental business models that can be run from a remote location.

Perhaps you rent text books to college students or electronics to large conventions and other events. Products that can be shipped at a reasonable cost can easily be rented out from a website.

In either case, this type of business can be managed from your home if you so choose. No need to have customers come to an expensive retail location if you can manage a delivery process.

4. Rental Business Does Not Require Burdensome Overhead

A smaller rental business that doesn’t require massive storage space can be run from your basement or garage, so you don’t need to be paying the rent or mortgage and other expenses on a retail or warehouse building.

Even if you do need extra storage space it isn’t difficult to find affordable storage units on a month-to-month contract in most locations. This is how we housed Picnic Table Rental when it grew beyond our garage’s capacity, and it worked very well.

5. Rental Items Can Be Sold Off At the End of Their Life

Rental items that are approaching the end of their serviceable life, whether they are wearing down or just don’t look nice enough to rent out any more, can usually be sold online to recoup at least some of their original cost.

Since the cost of the item should have been paid off many times over through rentals this is really an extra profit which can also be used toward purchasing new or replacement items.

6. The Company Can Be Sold When You Are Done With It

All of the hard work that you put into building your rental business can pay off a little extra when you no longer need the business. If you have paid off your loans, saved up some extra income, or paid your way through your (or your child’s) college education the company can be sold for profit.

You might sell off the company inventory piece-by-piece, or you might sell the company as a whole to somebody who would like to take over operations. This would include payment for the brand recognition that you have built up for the company.

These are just some of the great reasons to use a rental business model for extra income. What is you favorite thing about rental business?

Rental Startup Checklist Image

How Google Ads Work

A simple way to test out a business idea or product is to run an ad on Google to see if you can generate any customers.

Google Adwords is a platform that allows you to run ads on search result pages in Google. Don’t confuse this with Google Adsense, which allows you to host ads by other people on your website.


The how-to’s of setting up an ad on Google change as updates and improvements are made to the Google Adwords interface, but the general principles of how the ads work stay the same.

1. Ads are targeted to specific keywords and specific geographic locations (if necessary).
2. Ads are written. A headline, a line of text, and a link are provided.
3. A budget and “bidding limit” is set. The “bidding limit” is the maximum price you are willing to pay to get one person to click on your ad. This can range from several cents to several dollars.
4. Ads run.
5. Customers click your ad. You pay Google for each click, and the price can fluctuate with varying traffic, relevance of your ad to the search term, and ranking of your ad. You can set a budget, such as $10.00 per day, so that there is a limit to your expenses.

How the Ads Show Up In Search Results

Ads can show up above the search results at the very top of the page, or they can be in the margin at the top of the right-hand side of the page.

The topmost ad is always considered the most valuable, as these generally get the most clicks and cost the most.

How Ads Can Rank Higher

Basically, there is an auction going on for the ad space. The ads which are most relevant to the search term get some priority, and the ads which are willing to pay the most per click get some priority. The order in which the ads show up on the page is based on an equation including both of these factors.

Google looks at how relevant your ad is to the keyword that was searched by the user, how relevant your landing site is to the search term (the landing site is the site that is visited when somebody clicks on your ad), and how much you are willing to pay to have a customer click through to your site. This is set when the ad is created, but can be adjusted.

What You Will Pay

The bidding price is important. When you set up the ad you can allow Google to adjust your bid price to optimize for the most clicks, or you can set a hard limit to the price that you are willing to pay for each click.

For an example, let’s say you set a daily budget of $5.00 for an ad. If you set a bidding limit of $0.50 you can expect to get at least 10 clicks on your ad, but it may take a while because if any ads have a higher bid limit they will probably show up higher in the ad rankings.

It is entirely possible that you will get more than ten clicks. If the competition in your market is low you might only pay $0.25 per click, meaning you will bring in 20 people through your ad before your budgets runs out.

If you allow Google to choose your bidding limit it will almost always bid higher and bring in fewer people to your site, in my experience. Google may bid $1 or $2 or even more per click for you, meaning you might only get three or four clicks on your ad before your budget runs out. There is a good chance, however, that you will get these clicks very quickly.

In a recent campaign I let Google set my bids and it burned through my $10 limit in less than twenty minutes, bringing in eight customers. I then set the limit to $0.50 per click for another $10 budget and brought in twenty clicks over the course of about one day.


It is my preference to pay less and get more traffic over a longer period of time. This allows me to react and make adjustments to the ad or to my site if need be.

Different situations call for different tactics, though, and you may have a situation in which getting traffic to your site fast is necessary and worth the expense.

The New Phone Book

Getting the word out about your company can be tough. Really tough.

It is easy to pay for advertising, but advertising costs can quickly skyrocket without an equivalent boost in sales.

For local businesses it used to be easy enough to get business by placing an ad in the phone book. Those days are over. There is a new phone book in town.

The Old Days

When we first started Picnic Table Rental in the mid-2000’s it was simple enough to put a small ad in the local phone book announcing that our business existed. It drummed up enough business to get us started, and word of mouth really carried us from there.

These days, most people do not look at a phone book when they want to find a local business. They pull out their phone or sit down at the computer and do a Google search for the right business.

Why Google Stinks

Almost everybody searches via Google today. Google owns the search market by a wide margin. If we want our business to be found online, Google is where we need to focus.

The way that the Google search results are structured there can be some major disadvantages for your business, especially if you are in a crowded market.

  1. You have to be found for the right keywords. For your business to get found it needs to appear in the search results when a customer is looking for your type of business. To appear in these results your site needs to be relevant to the phrase that is searched.

As an example, your company may provide tent rental in Chicago. Your company website may mention “tent rental” and “Chicago” many times, which makes it more likely to rank high in the Google search results for the search phrase “tent rental in Chicago.”

The trouble is, your customers could be searching with a completely different phrase to find your service. If they are typing in “canopy rental in Chicago” it is less likely that your company will show up.

There are ways to research what terms are being searched in Google using the Google Keyword Planner, but it can still be tricky to find the best phrases.

  1. The top ranking search results get all of the traffic. We know that on average the #1 search result in a Google search is going to get clicked by about 40% of the searchers. The #2 result is going to get about 20%. The rest of the results on the first page of search results will get less than 10% of the search traffic each. The second page of results gets virtually zero traffic.

If your website does not rank at the top for relevant keywords you will not be found by most customers. In the phone book it was easy to open to the page with the service that you were looking for and scan all of the companies offering that service. This does not happen online.

  1. It takes time and effort to rank at the top. Even if your website is set up well and is optimized to show up in the relevant Google searches, it takes time for Google to find your site. It could be weeks or months before Google picks up your site and adds it to search results naturally, meaning you will have to buy ad space to get your business seen.
  2. It is difficult to stand out. In the phone book it was possible to buy color ads with logos and designs to make your ad stand out on the page. Google search results do not allow this. You can alter the wording that shows up for your site, but you cannot make it jump off the page when the customer looks at it.

Why Google Rocks

  1. You can easily target the exact customers that are ideal for your company. Somebody who types in “tent rental in Chicago” has a very specific need, and they are ready to make a purchase. You do not need to educate them on the necessity of tent rental. They are already looking for it. You can get your business directly in front of these “hot” leads.
  2. If you do a great job on your website Google will make sure you are found. Google rewards well-built sites that offer a lot of value in their field. If you put effort into making a great resource for your customers you will probably get rewarded for it.
  3. If you get to the top of the rankings you can get a lot of natural traffic without paying for ads. When Google determines that you are the #1 resource on tent rental in Chicago you are automatically seen as the local expert on that topic, and you will naturally get most of the search traffic for that topic. This all leads to more customers.
  4. If you buy ads you can quickly get targeted customer leads. Even if your website does not rank at the top it is easy to spend a few dollars a day on Google ads and get your business seen (and your website visited) by customers quickly.

Get Familiar with Google

It is worth your time to become familiar with the way Google does business and filters search results and ads. Google is a vital tool for customers, so it has become a vital tool for businesses.

In the coming weeks we will dig deeper into the ways we can leverage Google and other online tools to advertise our businesses.

Rental Biz Ideas: Picnic Tables

A market close to my heart, because I have built a business and watched it thrive there, is picnic table rental.

This is an idea that may sound strange to you at first. Picnic tables?

These are not your local park’s heavy wooden tables. These are tough, lightweight plastic tables with a metal frame to attach the benches and provide support. They fold up into a thin rectangle just a few inches thick, allowing you to transport dozens of them at a time in a standard auto trailer.

The Market

The anchor for business in this market is graduation parties, which keep the business hopping from May into July.

Other events that provide business for picnic table rental companies include corporate events, county fairs, family reunions, and outdoor wedding receptions.

The Costs and Prices

A standard six foot picnic table (which seats six adults) retails for about $270. Most parties will rent no more than three or four tables, so it is quite possible to start out with a small inventory and save up to grow over time. This is what we did, and within a couple of years we were managing an inventory of a couple hundred picnic tables in addition to other products.

Luckily, you can find these tables at big box store like Sams Club. Since it is a seasonal product it usually goes on sale at some point during the year. This is a great time to add tables to your inventory.

The other major necessity is a trailer (and a vehicle that can pull a heavy trailer). If you are starting out with a small number of tables (less than ten) you can actually fit them into the back of most pickup trucks. This requires some form of sidewall, which we built ourselves out of metal pipes and wood boards. For larger quantities of tables it will be difficult to do business without a trailer.

It is completely reasonable to expect somewhere in the $20-$30 range per day per picnic table rental. Even if you only work weekends you can recoup the cost of a table pretty quickly if you get it rented out for both Saturdays and Sundays. It should not be a problem to get at least two or three years of use out of a table if it is treated well.

Accessories and Add-Ons

Picnic table rental can stand on its own as a business, which is a beautiful thing. As the business grows it makes sense to add other products though.

The most natural product line to add to this business is stand-alone tables. Usually six-foot or eight-foot rectangular tables are useful as buffet tables at parties.

Stand-alone chairs are also important. Customers hosting indoor parties will find it preferable to use tables and chairs rather than picnic tables due to the size of the picnic tables.

Complementary Businesses

Tent rental is also a logical complementary business to picnic table rental, since the parties using picnic tables are often outdoors.

Any type of entertainment or dinner rental company will benefit from working together with a picnic table rental company. The parties serviced by picnic table rental businesses may require sound equipment, dance floors, linens, place settings, or any number of related items.

Considerations for Picnic Table Rental

You will have to provide delivery. Picnic tables are too big to easily fit in to most cars, so you will have to provide delivery and pickup for the tables.

Picnic tables are clunky. It is possible to carry these tables by yourself, but you will probably want a partner to help you. A pushcart is also a useful tool.

Picnic tables are easy to clean. If you bring a couple of towels and a bucket of soapy water you can easily clean tables when you pick them up and then immediately drop them off at another party.

In short:

Picnic table rental is a great market to get into. There is a lot of potential for business from a variety of sources so the company can grow and prosper over time.

Getting In Front of Your Ideal Customer

Are you trying to get your business in front of interested customers?

How are you doing so? Hopefully you are not wasting money on mass media like TV ads or billboards.

Mass media is not very effective for small businesses that serve specific niches. A billboard might get your company in front of thousands of people every day, but if your target customers do not take the road past that specific billboard on a regular basis your money is squandered on useless impressions.

Before you spend money on advertising, ask yourself these three questions to make sure your ad will be in front of the ideal customers:

Where do my target customers spend their time?

Is my ideal customer typically a fitness nut that visits a gym every day, for example? If so, can I find a way to advertise my company at gyms around town?

The fact that your customers work out at a gym each day might not even relate specifically to your business, but it may be a common trait of your customers.

What do my target customers do that is related to my business?

A party rental business that often works with graduation parties might make an effort to advertise at school events. For example, they might buy ad space in the high school basketball game programs.

Many parents go to the games throughout the year and will hopefully remember your business at the end of the year when it comes time to plan a graduation party.

What other companies work with my ideal customer?

Let’s go back to the party rental example. When I was a senior in high school I remember receiving information about buying my class ring. At the same time I received a packet of information about buying senior pictures, graduation invites, and so on.

This packet would be a great place to advertise a party rental business. You can imagine the student bringing home all of the information and going through it with their parents. As they put together all of the plans for pictures, a ring, and a graduation party it will be convenient to have the information for a trusted party rental company that can help them with their party.

How can you apply each of these situations to your business to find unique, targeted advertising opportunities?

Rental Biz Ideas: Dinner Party Supplies

Large parties are expensive, so more and more people are choosing to coordinate the details of their party on their own instead of hiring a party planner. The internet and the rise of specialized rental companies have only helped spur this along.

When my sister got married the entire wedding and reception was planned and put together by the family. The reception required the most work and the most rental products of anything we did that weekend. What surprised me most was that there were no companies in the area that offered all of the pieces necessary for putting on a large dinner.

We needed place settings, table cloths, napkins, centerpieces, and serving dishes but had to rent from multiple companies to get everything.

With the popularity of outdoor and do-it-yourself weddings it would not be difficult to start your business and make it known as the go-to company for putting together rental supplies for large dinners.

The Market

The market for dinner party supplies is anchored by wedding receptions, but it can also extend out to other gatherings including reunions, graduation parties, banquets, and fundraisers. Even large family holiday parties could require the use of these products.

Reception halls that host many of these dinners may or may not own all of the products for the use of their customers. You might be able to become their contractor for any needed supplies whenever dinner parties occur. At the very least, you may be able to become their recommended supplier.

Another place to look for referral business is with tent rental and table/chair rental companies. These businesses regularly work with customers who are planning do-it-yourself parties, and recommendations from them can bring in a lot of business for you.

The Products

As mentioned, great dinner party rental products included place settings (plates, bowls, cups, silverware, etc) and linens such as table cloths, table skirts, and napkins.

Accessories and Add-Ons

Table centerpieces are also a great option for rental. I can say from my own wedding experience that putting together centerpieces for dozens of tables to add some atmosphere to the reception was a time-consuming headache. I would have happily chosen a design from the offerings of a rental company and paid to use them for the night.

Serving dishes also make sense as an offering. There is an endless variety of options in this case. Coffee pots, water carafes, platters, utensils, and many other products can be offered.

The Costs and Prices

Aside from the cost of purchasing the products, you will need a way to transport sizeable quantities of the products safely. In most cases a pickup truck or SUV will probably suffice for space, but you will need a way to protect glassware.

The other problem to solve is the cleaning of the products. Most people that rent place settings are not going to have a way to wash large numbers of dishes and silverware, so you will need a system for transporting the dirty products and then washing them.

If you offer linen rental you may need an industrial washing machine and dryer to get the linens sufficiently clean between uses.

The acquisition cost of the party rental supplies will depend upon what supplies you are starting out with and what designs you get for each.

Rental prices for dinnerware start at roughly $0.50 per piece for a basic design (meaning that each of the plates, the drinking glasses, the knives, the spoons, etc, cost $0.50). Costs go up a little for choices in color and design.

Linens can actually bring a large return on investment. It is not uncommon to see linen rental prices listed near or at their purchase price. They do require a heavy-duty washing machine to keep them in pristine, rentable condition however. You company will also need to offer a variety of shapes and sizes for linens, and eventually a variety of colors and designs.

Complementary Businesses

Tent rental and table/chair rental are potential companies to work with for referrals, but it can also make sense for a dinner supply rental company to branch out into offering these products on their own over time to create a complete solution for the customer.

The “drink service” rental market also has promise. This can include portable bars and the supplies to stock them as well as bar tables and stools.

Finally, entertainment rental also complements this business given that the setting for much of the dinner supply rental business will include music or a DJ. Lights, speakers, and a dance floor could be in high demand among the dinner supply rental customers.

As always, the best way to find out what complementary products your customers want is to listen to them. When customers call you with questions or to book a rental they will ask about products that you do not carry. Over time you will see patterns emerge and it will be clear which markets to expand into.

Considerations for Dinner Party Supply Rental

You will need down time to wash products between rentals. You cannot simply wipe down the products offered in this market – dedicated time will be needed between each rental to thoroughly clean and sanitize dishes and linens. This may limit the frequency with which you can rent out the products.

Start out with basic designs on your products and add more designs over time. The colors and designs used on the linens and place settings are important and customers will have strong opinions about them. The best way to start is with all-white designs, adding selection over time.

Start out with a basic product line and add to your product quantities before widening your selection. It is a difficult temptation to resist, but in this business it will be better to have the capability to provide all of the linens for large parties than to only be able to provide a fraction of the linens and a fraction of the place settings. If you are starting small it is in your best interest to get really good in one product offering before adding other products.

In short:

Dinner party rental is a labor-intensive business that will require some effort after-hours to keep products in good shape, but the industry has promise for business throughout most of the year and can easily work as an evenings-and-weekends business run on the side from home.


The Problem with Discounts

There is no question that lowering prices can bring in more customers and increase your sales. In the long run, though, it will hurt your business.

How Are You Training Your Customers?

There is a local business that always offers a 20% discount to any person wearing team colors the day after the local football team wins a game.

This sounds like a great deal if you are a customer, and it is. If you plan to buy something from that business it is obviously worthwhile to wait and see if the football team wins.

It is easy to imagine the monster sales that happen the day after a victory. What about the rest of the week, though? Clearly this promotion deflates sales on the other days of the week. The sales after a victory may be substantial, but do they make up for the lower sales the rest of the week?

Consider the profit margin on a sale. Let’s say, for example, that after factoring in overhead costs like rent, employee wages, product costs, insurance, and so on the typical profit on a product is 40%. This is a totally reasonable number for many business.

This company, while offering a 20% discount, has to DOUBLE their sales to make up for the lost profit from the discount. And then they have to make up for the lower sales the rest of the week.

They have to do an awful lot of work just to get to the point where they are showing a gain.

This is all because the business has trained their customers to wait for a discount before making a purchase.

The Expectation of Value

If we are going to “train” potential customers to expect something from our business it should be the expectation of value rather than the expectation of discounts.

How often do you turn on the television and see an ad promoting a massive sale on fine luxury car brands? You cannot go a single commercial break without seeing one of these for low- or mid-priced brands, but rarely do you see a discount ad for a luxury brand.

The customers who buy the high-end cars are looking for the best in style, product, service, and reputation. They are willing to pay a price equivalent to the high value provided by the car. A discount may even cheapen the perception of the product and make it less desirable.

This is the way to position a business. Provide the best products in the best possible way. Treat people well, go above and beyond, and wow them. Do such a good job that the customers cannot imagine dealing with the cheaper, crappier competitor just to save a few bucks. These are the customers that will spread the word about your business and do your advertising for you.

Fewer Customers, Better Customers

High-end companies that offer great products and services (and charge higher, un-discounted prices) are going to get fewer customers. That is ok. They don’t need as many customers to make the same profit as the company who is discounting.

And let me tell you a secret.

In my years of managing a specialty running store, which sold running shoes for as much as $170, it was always the customer that came in asking for old models at a high discount who was the worst to deal with.

The customer who asked for a $20 pair of shoes was rarely satisfied if we did manage to find one. They were the pickiest about the colors and styles on the shoe, and they expected more performance and durability out of the shoe.

My experience talking to others in various industries has reinforced that this principle spans industries. The customers shopping for discounts are often the most difficult customers to deal with.

When Giving Discounts Can Work

With all of this having been said, there are certainly times that it does make sense to offer a discount.

Rare, Limited-Time Deals or Slow-Season Deals

Occasional deals or coupons that are only offered for a limited time can work well to increase business, especially during your slow times of year.

Most rental companies will have slow times of the year. Depending on your industry, it might make sense to offer a short-term deal (like a “Black Friday” deal), but it could also make sense to lower your prices to an off-season rate. The industry that you are in, and how much of a sales dip you see during the slow time of year, will affect the type of off-season offerings that work best for your company.

One-Time Coupons

A great way to reward customers is with a one-time coupon. In this case you would offer the customer a percentage off of an item or an order for signing up for your email list, referring a new customer to your business, or performing some other action that is favorable for your business.

These coupons are for one-time use and should only be used by the customers who earn them.

In Short

The right pricing and discounting strategy can set your company apart from the competition. What discounting strategies have you tried, and how have they worked out for your business?

Rental Business Ideas: Tents

Looking for an almost sure-fire rental business in almost any geographic region?

Tent rental is as close as it gets.

The Market

When there are large events or parties going on tents are needed for comfort and protection from sun and rain. Very few people own a 20’x40′ tent due to the purchase price and the rarity with which they are used, so they must rent one.

The market for tent rental includes personal parties, such as graduation parties and weddings, corporate events, and even public gatherings such as fairs and festivals.

The Costs and Prices

The initial cost of buying a tent can be fairly steep, but the profit margins on this type of product is very good. The prices will vary widely from region to region, but let’s consider a 20 foot by 40 foot frame tent as an example. The cost of this tent is going to be in the $4,000 range, but the rental price will be in the $300-$500+ range (depending on your region). The price of the tent can be easily made up within one season of rentals, and the everything after that is profit.

The Products

The niche of “tent rental” may seem very specific, but there is quite a variety of products within the niche. Some of the basic categories include:

Pop-Up Tents

Pop-up tents are smaller tents which fold up into a rectangular case that you can easily wheel around. They are usually pretty small (often 10 feet by 10 feet or so) but they are light weight and easy to transport.

Pole Tents

Pole tents get into larger sizes with heavy-duty canvas. These tents are a little more complex to set up, as they require staking to hold up the tent structurally, but they can be used to cover larger party areas.

Their main benefit is the ease of transport compared to frame tents, but their main drawback is the complexity of setup. Also, pole tents can only be set up on grass in most situations. The tent requires staking for structural support, so setting up pole tents on pavement becomes very difficult.

Frame Tents

Frame tents are the sturdiest variety of tent and can come in large sizes. They often look quite elegant, also. Frame tents take up the most space when transporting, but they are quite durable and are easier to set up because they are not structurally held up by staking.

Accessories and Add-Ons

With a main business of tent rental there are some great accessories that can be added to the business’s product offering to increase sales.

A common accessory is sidewalls for the tent, which can be attached to create an enclosed space. Some sidewalls include windows to let light in. We always charged more for windowed sidewalls at Picnic Table Rental.

Another accessory is lighting, or really any form of decoration, that can be hung along the edges of the tent. This creates a great atmospheric effect for parties.

Complementary Businesses

Tent rental companies can partner with rental companies that specialize in tables and chairs, entertainment, or music and dance floors to create referral business for each other. Tent companies could also logically start to provide services like these as their business grows.

What Is Needed to Start This Biz?

Tent rental is one of the more labor-intensive rental businesses, due to the setup and tear-down of the tents, but the potential income will be worthwhile.

The most basic necessity for this type of business is a truck. Tents can take up a good deal of space. For pop-up tents and pole tents you can probably get by with a pickup truck when you start out. Frame tents require a trailer or enclosed truck because they require the transportation of frame poles that are usually twenty feet long.

Most tents come with a staking system so that the tent can be fastened to the ground (preventing it from taking off like a kite). You are going to find that staking tents down just is not feasible for many customers. They may want the tent on their driveway, extending out from their garage, or they might have a sprinkler system in the yard that you DO NOT want to damage.

In picnic table rental we added concrete blocks and plastic barrels to our inventory. If a water source was available at the tent site we would tie the tent down to the barrels and fill them with water to weight the whole tent down. These are inexpensive solutions to the staking problem.

Also, this business requires a crew of workers. Most tents are impossible to set up alone. Even a two-person crew may be too small for some tents, though you can make it work if you plan and practice setup ahead of time.

Considerations for Tent Rental

When starting up a tent rental business here are a few things to consider:

Extra care needs to be taken with the canvas. We had a policy of always laying out a tarp on the ground before spreading out the tent canvas. We even used a tarp that was a different color on each side so that we could always have the same side facing the ground. This protected the canvas from dirt, especially the underside of the canvas which people can look at when they are sitting under the tent. It is difficult to keep this clean, but it makes your company look much more professional.

Tents can break. It was rare, but there were occasions in our business when tent components broke while in a customer’s possession. Sometimes it was the weather, sometimes it was the customer’s fault. We had to make an extra trip in each case to troubleshoot the problem and get the tent back up, which is inconvenient and can throw a wrench in your schedule.

Customers don’t always listen to your specifications. This is one of the main frustrations for tent rental businesses. A 20×20 foot tent requires more than a 20×20 space to set up because it requires stakes to be set a few feet out from the tent. There has to be a sufficient clearing between buildings, trees, and fences.

It was always difficult to deal with this type of situation. Do you spend the time to try setting up the tent, knowing it will be a tight squeeze (if it can even fit at all)? Do you simply leave without setting up the tent? If so, do you still charge the customer? It is a tricky situation.

Local laws might also require utility location to be completed before a tent is staked down. The customers need to be made aware of this and have it taken care of before your tent delivery.

Don’t let people cancel without paying due to good weather. Some customers will book your tent in case the weather is bad, and then they will call you up the morning of the event and try to cancel the rental if the weather is good. At this point it is too late for you to rent out the tent again for that day, so you will lose the opportunity to make an income with your product unless you have a clear and sound cancellation policy in place ahead of time that ensures at least partial payment for cancellations.

Bad weather may force you to bail. This only happened to us once in several years of tent rentals, but it may affect you depending on the weather in your geographic region. Strong winds or storms might prevent you from being able to set up a tent for a customer. If this is the case it is best to cut your losses and move on. Trying to get the tent up in horrible weather can ruin the tent or cause damage to the customer’s property.

You need to help your potential customers envision the tent at their event. Provide pictures of the tents in your inventory on your company’s website. Show the tent with tables and chairs set up inside, like they would be at a party. Show the tent set up at some of the events you have worked for. Provide a diagram that shows table and chair configurations that will fit inside the tent. Make it as easy as possible for the customer to both envision the tent in use and verify that it will work for their needs.

In short:

Tent rental is a fantastic side business. The demand is high for tent rental in almost every area because it is a product that many people need on occasion, but few people own. The startup cost is high, but it can pay for itself quickly.

Setting a Cancellation Policy for Your Rental Business

Imagine this:

You are loading up the truck to make a delivery for your rental business. Moments before you leave a call comes in from the very customer you are about to deliver to, and they want to cancel their order. Maybe you are delivering chairs for an outdoor wedding, and poor weather has forced them to a different venue. Or perhaps they ordered a tent to protect a party in case it rained, and it happens to be a beautiful sunny day.

What do you do?

Without a policy in place you can lose a lot of sales this way. It is essential to craft a deposit and cancellation policy for your rental business so that you have something to fall back on when these situations arise.


First, it is wise to collect a deposit from the customer in order for them to secure their order with you. This gives some assurance that you won’t lose everything (namely, the ability to rent out your product to anybody on that day) if the customer pulls out at the last minute.

The balance can then be paid when the products are delivered.

The right deposit will differ from one industry to the next. You could ask for 25% of the total price up front, or even for 50%. You could also test different deposit percentages over time to see how customers react. 25-35% is a good, safe range that gets the customer to commit without scaring them off. They will see it as a risk to commit too much money before the product is delivered.

Set a Cancellation/Alteration Deadline

Changes or cancellations to a customer’s order in the days leading up to the actual rental period can hurt your business. You may not have time to get a cancelled item rented out with just a few days’ notice, so you lose the potential income from that product.

Set a deadline for order alterations and for outright cancellation. A week or two before the delivery date is a good range. It could even be a month, but this is getting to be pretty far out from delivery day. A couple of weeks should be sufficient notice if the customer needs to make a change to their order. Setting a deadline too far out from the delivery date transfers too much risk to the customer and may prevent them from doing business with you at all.

If the customer cancels before the deadline they should forfeit their deposit, but not be required to pay the difference.

If the customer cancels after the deadline they should be made to pay the full rental price because it is too close to the rental date to have get the product rented out again, so the customer is preventing you from making an income with that product on the day they had originally reserved it.

When the Weather Forces Cancellation

The weather can cause a tricky situation in some industries. A tent rental company should make a customer pay full price if they cancel at the last minute due to beautiful weather making the tent unnecessary.

If the weather prevents the setup of the tent by your company (due to lightning or very strong winds) you may choose not to charge the customer the full price. This is a difficult situation, since the customer is not causing the setup problem in any way.

This is the type of situation that is much smoother with a clear cancellation policy. You can decide ahead of time to charge full price, even for weather cancellations. You could also decide to only charge the deposit in this instance so that your company doesn’t lose out on all of the income from the transaction but the customer doesn’t have to pay full price for a tent that they cannot use due to factors outside of their control.


How to Set Up an Email List For Your Small Business

Our last post talked about why your business needs to have an email list. Now, let’s take a look at the mechanics of the email list.

Getting the list set up is pretty simple, but before starting it is important to know that collecting email addresses and manually typing them into the “To” section of your email is NOT the way to go.

Aside from the hassle of such a process, it can cause problems with spam laws because the recipients of the emails do not have an opportunity to “double opt-in.” The double opt-in means that the customer signs up for the email list and then confirms their interest in the list by clicking a link in a confirmation email. This prevents customers from being added to the list if they do not want to be on it.

To begin an email list we need to do four things:

  1. Sign up for an email provider
  2. Create opt-in forms for your list
  3. Get people signed up
  4. Send them emails

1. Finding an Email Provider

Signing up for an email service provider is essential. It may be difficult to get yourself to pay for a service that you feel could be done yourself for free, but there are many benefits to doing so:

-Most providers start their service with a low-price or free trial and price only goes up as the number of your subscribers grows

-The service will automate the sending of email, even if you list has hundreds or thousands of members

-The service will automatically provide double-opt ins for list joining

-They will provide forms for your website that allow customers to sign up for you list by entering their email – you just have to copy and paste the form code

-They can automatically send pre-written emails in a predetermined sequence and timing to each customer that joins the list

-They will provide statistics about the number of customers opening emails, clicking links in emails, etc.

There are many email providers out there, but Aweber and Mailchimp are the two most well-known. You can compare and contrast the two, but in the end you need to just pick on and go with it. I have used Aweber for a couple of years and I love it.

2. Create Opt-In Forms

Email service providers will help you to easily generate sign up forms for your list and will provide you with the code for the form that you can easily copy and paste into your website, allowing visitors to join your list and get regular updates from your business.

You can choose the look and outlay of your opt-in form, and which fields are included.

As you have probably seen on many websites, most forms ask for your name and email address to sign up for a list. Some simply ask for your email. Some may ask for more information.

If it is relevant to your business you can ask for more information, such as phone number or zip code. The more fields you add to the form the lower your opt-in rates will typically be (opt-in rates is the average percentage of people visiting your site who signs up for the email list). However, the opt-ins that you do get from a form with more fields tend to be “warmer” customers who are especially interested in your business and your offerings – they took the time to fill in a long form with more of their personal information because they were so interested.

Once the form is created you simply paste the code into your site. The typical recommendation is to include an opt-in form on the top-right corner of your website and at the bottom of any blog posts (if they read your posts to the bottom the visitors are obviously interested in the information you are sharing).

3. Get People Signed Up

Once the form is up you simply allow it to collect members of your email list. You should not do this passively, however.

A good way to increase the rate of your opt-ins is to test different opt-in forms. You should try changing colors, changing designs, changing wording, and changing anything else you can think of. Test two versions against each other to see which gets a better opt-in rate, and then test a new version against the winner.

Another method for increasing opt-ins is to offer something free in exchange for signing up for the email list. It works best if this is a digital product that helps lead to the use of your services, and is included in the first automatic email as soon as the customer signs up for the list.

As an example, say you run a rental company that offers concession machines. You might offer a PDF guide that explains the proper concession offerings for different party settings.

It does not have to be elaborate, just useful. The concessions guide helps customers solve the problem of which concessions are appropriate for their event, which in turn helps them decide to do business with your company. It also encourages the customer to sign up for your email list to get the guide, and as a result they will get more useful updates from you over time.

4. Write emails

The tough part of managing an email list is keeping in regular contact with your members. If you go too long between emails your customer will forget who you are or why they are on your list, and they will probably unsubscribe.

If you send emails out too often the customers can get annoyed and unsubscribe.

There are two types of emails that can be sent through your email service provider, and a little bit of planning with them will help you maintain healthy contact with your list.


The first type of email is an “autoresponder.” This is an email that is written in advance and is automatically sent out to each customer after they sign up for your list.  I like to have eight to twelve emails written in an autoresponder list. Each email provides some valuable information to the subscriber and does not ask for anything in return, except for any questions that the subscriber would like answered.

I set up my autoresponders so that the customer gets:

  • the immediate email with their free guide that I advertised to encourage their opt-in
  • another informative email the following day that gives them a quick win by helping them to solve a problem easily
  • the next email exactly one week after they opted in to the list
  • and then more emails every week or two after.

By the time the subscriber has received a dozen emails from me they should be familiar with me and trust me (and my business).

I set my autoresponders to go out on specific days each week after the first three are sent. My weekly autoresponders only go out on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which opens up the other days of the week for broadcast emails. We will get to those in a minute.

To illustrate my process: if the customer subscribes to the list on a Tuesday they will immediately receive an email with their free guide.

On Wednesday they will receive the informative “quick win” email.

The next email is scheduled to be sent at exactly one week after the initial email. The reasoning is that if they customer was free and able to subscribe to the list at 2pm on a Tuesday, they are likely to have the same schedule and be available and online at that time each week.

The remaining autoresponders are sent out once every week or two, but only on a Wednesdays or Thursdays. My goal with this is to avoid sending multiple emails to a subscriber on the same day by sending a manual broadcast email the same day that an automated autoresponder is sent.

Broadcast Emails

While autoresponder emails contain “evergreen” content that is pertinent to the reader no matter when they read it, broadcast emails are what I would call “current event” messages.

Broadcasts can be written and scheduled ahead of time, but they are sent out all at once to everybody who happens to be on your list on that given day.

The purpose of the broadcast email is to let your readers know about something that is time-specific, such as a sale that you are having, a new product that is available, or some other type of announcement.

As I mentioned above, I schedule my autoresponder messages for Wednesdays and Thursdays so that I can feel free to send broadcast messages any other day of the week without bombarding my subscribers with too many messages on the same day.

Get Started Now!

An email list is a vital component for any business in the internet age. It is essentially a list of your most interested prospects and customers.

Using a properly-planned sequence of autoresponders and broadcasts provides valuable information to your customers while building up a sense of trust in your company. This trust leads to more sales down the line.

Your email list will take time to grow. It will probably start as a slow trickle of sign-ups and will eventually grow into a steady stream. Putting it off will only hinder your ability to effectively market to your list, so don’t wait. The best day to start the email list is today.

I recommend you go check out Aweber. This is an affiliate link, meaning if you decide to sign up for Aweber after clicking on this link I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. In fact, you can try it for your first month of use for only one dollar.

Also, to see an email list in action consider joining the Smart Rental Business email newsletter by filling out the form below.