With the cost of smartphones pushing up (and over) $1000, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to discover that technology… is expensive. Yet, it happens every day: A planner opens up their email and sees the latest quote from the AV company for their upcoming event equipment rentals. They scroll by page after page of equipment they’re not sure if they want or need, to get to the final page in the document to see a final number in the tens of thousands. “How can it be this expensive?” the planner thinks. “That’s more than double last year!”
They start looking through the pages and look at the equipment numbers. Most of it is high-end AV equipment, so of course, you’d expect that to be expensive. “But why are those show laptops so expensive? I could almost buy them for that?! And how much is that flat screen display? I have a bigger one in my living room!”
And that’s the problem. Equipment prices vary wildly around the country, and around the world, and can be a tremendous impact on your budget. How can the same gear be priced so differently? Why does some of the equipment at events look brand new, and at others, it looks like war surplus?
Have no fear, you’re about to discover the Secret Weapon of AV and Event Production Companies: they don’t own all their own equipment. If they don’t have to buy it, they don’t. If it doesn’t make financial sense to own a piece of gear, they rent it. Then, they mark up their rental price and make a little something off it. Only sometimes, it’s not so little, with markups running from 10% to 50%, depending on the gear. Nice, right? They don’t have to lay out the enormous purchase price, don’t have to store it or maintain it, and yet still make a profit.
The good news is that their secret weapon can be yours to wield! What if there was a way to make sure your pricing was consistent no matter where you were in the country? What if there was a way to ensure quality no matter where you were in the world? You can! By finding a trusted equipment rental vendor like Aria, and cutting out the middle-man, you can have all these benefits and more, and we’re going to walk you through the process, step by step.
Should I rent?
Ok, to be fair, not every situation makes sense to rent, but there are a few things to consider when deciding if you should. The first step should be to determine, even if it’s a ballpark estimate, what your budget is. While it’s always great to shoot for the stars, it’s important to be realistic with your vendors about what you can afford.
Once you’ve got your numbers in mind, you can start to determine what you’ll need for equipment. Don’t worry about being precise, just think of the basics that you know you’ll need. If you’re working with a trusted vendor willing to take the time to get to know your event, they’ll be able to suggest ways to add a little zing to your events, but at this point, just concentrate on the “must haves.”
Then, start looking at the equipment on your list and determine what makes the most sense. Buy it? Rent it? Just get it from my AV vendor? Or maybe you already own some equipment around the office? Let’s go through the pros and cons of each.
“I could buy it for that!”
If you’ve done events for more than a couple of years, chances are you’ve said this. As always, the devil is in the details, and there are some distinct advantages to renting that buying doesn’t allow. For now, let’s explore the end result of buying your own gear.
Let’s say you’ve crunched the numbers, and you literally could buy the gear you want for what you’re being asked to pay to rent it. Obviously, the first step is going to be that purchase, but beyond that, you’re going to have to get it to your event, which means either jamming it into your carry-on (if it’s something small like laptops), or more likely you’re going to have to ship it. You have to make sure it’s packed up safely and securely, has all the cables you need, and send it off to its destination in good time.
On-site, you will now be responsible for setting up and maintaining the equipment, troubleshooting any issues that might come up, and then packing it all up and shipping it back again. Who’s going to be assigned those duties?
Frequently, when people purchase their own equipment it’s justified because they’re going to use it on multiple events. What’s often forgotten, however, is what comes next after the first use. Who’s going to be responsible for inspecting all that gear when it comes back in? Who’s going to make sure it still works when it has to go out to the next event? Also, where are you going to keep it? AV and rental vendors have dry, secure warehouse facilities to take care of your gear. Where are you going to store yours? The storage closet where they keep the extra paper towels might not be the best idea.
The time and money spend on storing, maintaining, and shipping equipment can be significant, so it’s important to consider all of these things when deciding if buying really is the best option. Before you make the final decision, it’s important to also weigh in with the many benefits of renting instead of buying.
The Pros of Renting
Much like leasing a car, renting equipment lets you keep upgrading to the latest and greatest, but without dramatic increases in price. If you buy it yourself, you’re stuck with it until it breaks, or at least until you can justify spending to upgrade to the latest model. There’s also the possibility that the equipment will fail long before its projected life expectancy, but suspiciously shortly after the warranty expired. Now you’re back to square one, deciding if it makes sense to buy a replacement, upgrade to the most recent generation, or find a rental vendor.
On the other hand, if you don’t need the latest and greatest, often older generation gear is rented at a steep discount. The rental company has more than likely recouped their original cost, so they’re able to offer last year’s model at a significantly reduced price. Either way, you’re not the one taking on the initial investment in new technology, and it’s up to you- get the latest and greatest or save a little money.
Beyond that, professional equipment vendors have shipping and maintenance down to a science. The gear is quality inspected between events, all required updates and maintenance are applied, and they make sure all cables and supplies are included in each order. It gets shipped to exactly where you need it, anywhere in the world. Return shipping labels are included, so at the end of the event all you have to do is pack it back up in the box and send it back.
And just because you’re renting, it doesn’t have to mean you’re on your own. A trusted equipment vendor stands behind their gear, and are there to support you in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. Aria’s 24/7 staff are ready to help you with your toughest (and easiest!) questions.
There are even more benefits that are specific to certain types of equipment, but we’ll highlight those in the next section. For now, just remember the general benefits of renting – top quality gear that’s professionally maintained, updated, boxed, and shipped to your event – can be as simple as a phone call or the touch of a finger.
What Can I Rent?
Before we move on to the next steps, it’s worth taking a moment to talk about the amazing amount of event technology that’s now available for you to rent. Most event professionals’ minds immediately jump to laptop and other device rentals, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s just a sample of what’s currently available in Aria’s rental catalog:
And that’s not even an inclusive list, so be sure to check out our full catalog. Let’s take a quick look at some of the additional benefits some of those categories offer.
Laptops and Computers
By far, one of the most common type of equipment we rent is laptops, and with good reason. There are a lot of benefits to renting your event laptops. First and foremost is that, as we’ve already discussed, maintenance is handled by your equipment vendor. Sure, you could have everyone in your department bring their laptops along and use those as your show laptops, but are they all the same type? Do they all have the same updates and patches? Do they all have the same video output? What version of PowerPoint do they have? If the program crashes, will we see the owner’s desktop picture of their kids’ softball team?
If you’re renting, all those laptop issues go away. Your machines will be the same models, with the right software installed, and with all of their software updates applied. No cluttered desktops, pop-ups, or calendar invites, just pure clean-running machines, perfect for your registration staff, your PowerPoint and graphics displays, or maybe throw one in for yourself so you don’t have to bring yours along in your carry-on. Bring your files on a USB drive, and plug in on-site, and you’re ready to take on whatever tasks your event can throw at you.
There’s another benefit that is growing more and more important as time goes on: cybersecurity. The event industry is becoming a larger and larger target for criminals, due to the enormous amount of personal information we are responsible for: executive names, titles, phone numbers, airlines and flight numbers, hotel rooms, and credit card numbers. That’s not even accounting for any sensitive financial information that might have been displayed via PowerPoint, and then inadvertently left on the desktop of the display computer.
Rental laptops from a trusted provider are wiped after every show, ensuring your data is destroyed. Additionally, all security and software updates are applied, making sure criminals can’t sneak in the back door. Plus, by not using your personal or coworker’s laptops, you’re reducing the likelihood that someone has accidentally installed malware or other dangerous software. Also consider having to deal with different passwords and the security of having work or personal data within the machine (even if you set up a different user). More and more companies are locking down laptops, preventing them from using anything other than the company private networks, and some are even preventing the use of unauthorized USB sticks. Company IT policies can change rapidly, and what works in the office may be disabled once the machine is out in the wild.
Finally, we’re not just talking about laptops. Aria rents all-in-ones like the Apple iMac, as well as high-end desktop workstations. So no matter what your on-site computing needs, we’ve got you covered.
One of the more frequent “I could buy one of those” moments comes from the rental of printers from a hotel or convention center, especially when ordered at the last minute. Unfortunately, as the start of the event looms and the planner realizes how much work is going to have to be done on site, the prospect of boxing up their work printer and shipping it seems daunting and inconvenient. You need to be able to work up until the last possible minute before you leave, then hit the ground running once you arrive. Here’s another perfect opportunity to save yourself time, hassle, and money. While you’re ordering up laptops for your event, have us add a printer (or two) to your order to help make sure your show office is up and running at peak efficiency as quickly as possible, allowing you and your staff to get right to work. Whether it’s a small laserjet to get you through your last minute handouts to staff, or a full-size copier to handle the toughest print jobs, we’ve got you covered.
iPads, iPhones, and other Mobile Devices
“What’s a Computer?” asks the little girl in the iPad commercial. It’s a cute marketing line, but it also points to something true. The lines between desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone are blurring, and each year the power packed inside these smaller devices increases exponentially. In addition to the above benefits of laptops, these devices often have even greater security than their larger counterparts, with iPads and Google Chromebooks being some of hardest devices to maliciously hack.
More and more iPads are being used as stand-alone kiosks: for registration, information, navigation, photo stations, and more. Rental companies will often not only rent the iPads themselves, but also high quality or elegant stands for them to be displayed and used efficiently.
Another creative use for iPads is as secondary devices for your attendees. While mobile apps have hit 50% adoption according to some studies, that means 50% of your attendees aren’t using your mobile app. In fact, there’s some evidence to show that people are getting “app fatigue” from installing so many apps, and are resisting installing new apps unless absolutely necessary.
What if instead of requiring your attendees to install software and use their own devices, you provided each of them with an iPad at their seat, preloaded with any conference app, interactivity software, or even note-taking applications? Which apps are available are up to you, so you can keep them from checking in on their Facebook feed, and keep their phones in their pockets. It also makes sure all your apps are going to work flawlessly, as all attendees will be accessing them on the same hardware, no matter what their personal device is. It doesn’t matter what flavor of smartphone they have, they have a device in front of them that just works.
Another thing you might consider is renting iPhones for your entire event team. Temporary numbers with predetermined data usage can make sure all of your team is on the same page- without having to use their personal cellular data! That way you can make sure whatever messaging app you’re using is installed on everyone’s phones, and that everyone’s cell coverage will be the same. Find out what carrier has the best coverage on your site visit, and then make sure to rent phones with SIM cards from that carrier. Everyone will be connected, and nobody will have the dreaded “zero bars” or worse… “roaming”.
Displays: From Bright to Brilliant
You’ve seen it a million times- a breakout room with a small tripod screen and a dim projector. It feels like you traveled back in time to 1996. If the presenter tries to walk away from the lectern, they get blinded by the projector, which is conveniently taking up half the front row of seating. There has to be a better way…
Oh wait, there is! As flat screen displays have come down in price, they’re becoming a real alternative to projection in smaller meeting rooms. Crisp, high definition displays can make even the most ordinary presentations feel brilliant, and you’re not just limited to the one. Why not put in a couple of them? Another option is to stagger them, with one up front and on the left, and another halfway back on the right, allowing even the back row to see clearly and giving the presenter the freedom to move around the room without being blinded.
And why stop at the breakout? LED modular display walls can be positioned throughout your conference, offering information, direction, and lighting the way from room to room. When the inevitable happens and you’re forced to move a breakout from one room to another, simple updates to the displays can let attendees know they’re in the right, or wrong place, and more importantly where they need to go.
Sponsorship opportunities open up as every room has the capability of displaying sponsor information at the touch of a button. Printed sings limit display area and prevent the addition of last-minute sponsors, while digital displays can be instantly updated, and more importantly rotated, to allow for maximum exposure for your event sponsors, often allowing you to cover your costs, or even increase your revenue.
Keep Your Attendees Charged Up
Speaking of sponsorship opportunities, there’s no hotter opportunity than offering branded charging stations for your event. More often than not, it’s just expected that meetings and events will have these charging opportunities available for their attendees. The exposure offered to your sponsors, combined with the convenience offered to your attendees is a win-win. Even so, you might want to have your rental vendor throw in a few outlet strips and extension cords for those that might need to keep their laptops and other devices topped off at their tables.
Try Something New
What we’ve highlighted so far are the most common event technology rentals, but it might be time for your event to try something new. One of the biggest things holding planners back from trying something new is the cost of the latest and greatest technology. As we’ve already said, renting gear lets you access this new tech for a fraction of the cost. Why bring in the same old photo booth when you can bring in the latest video game consoles for your attendees? Whether it’s a sports theme or maybe something a little more aggressive, there are games available for all types of attendees. Combine them with latest, high-resolution displays we talked about earlier, and you have an experience that can appeal to everyone from the casual gamer to the most hardcore!
Speaking of displays, why not get creative and find some alternative uses for projection? Projectors aren’t just for breakouts anymore, but can be beautiful and artistic additions to decor. Almost any surface – wall, ceiling, decorative scenic elements, bar areas – can be livened up with color that moves and changes over time. Sponsor logos can be projected and animated, again allowing for the inclusion of more sponsor names highlighted over the course of the evening. Even cakes or ice sculptures could benefit from the variety, color, and animation possibilities that projectors can provide.
And when you’re ready to take things to the next level, why not experiment with the hottest trend of the last year: Virtual Reality. VR has finally taken off and left the not-ready-for-primetime technology of the past in the dust. Now, you can offer your attendees the chance to try cutting-edge technology. It can be for fun, or for deeper more meaningful connection with parts of the world they might otherwise be unable to visit.
And Now, the How
So, you’ve figured out what gear you think you might need, and now it’s time to spring into action. The next step is to get a quote for what you need. You might want to reach out to several equipment rental vendors, but don’t be satisfied with just comparing the bottom line. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
When was the last time the equipment was serviced? Do they wipe and update their laptops and tablets between every use? If you’re renting a projector or other display, how much action have they seen? Bulbs burn out, and pixels go bad, so it’s important to know the relative age of the equipment you’re going to be renting.
Take a good, hard look at the amount of time you’re going to need the equipment for. Does it make sense to measure the time in days, weeks, or even a month? One of the ways that AV and production companies save money on their own rentals is to rent equipment for longer periods of time at a discount, from AV rental companies like us, sometimes even spreading the cost out over multiple programs. You can do the same! If you have multiple events over the course of a month, it might make sense to negotiate a monthly rate as opposed to just paying the day rate.
Trust Your Gut and Make Your Decision
Once you’ve got all your quotes and asked all the hard questions, now it’s time to choose your vendor. Compare the prices, compare their answers, and trust your instinct. Were they responsive? Did they get back to you in a timely manner? If you had changes, were they made quickly and correctly the first time? At Aria, we pride ourselves on our lightning fast response time, getting back to requests and RFPs often in an hour or less.
One more thing to consider in your final decision is what happens in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. What kind of support is available? Just because you’re renting, doesn’t mean you have to be on your own. Aria offers 24/7/365 technical support, and we’ll even throw in spare equipment on larger orders to make sure you’re 100% covered. If you need it, we can also provide professional staff to help set up and support your equipment in every major city in the US.
A Word About Shipping
Unless you’re picking up the equipment from the warehouse yourself, or having it delivered and professionally set up, chances are you’re going to have to deal with having it shipped to your event location. If so, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, unless you want to pay extra for rush shipping, make sure you give yourself enough lead time from when you place your order and when it needs to arrive on site. If you need it fast, however, Aria can ship anywhere in the US overnight. Combine that with our one hour response time, and we can handle even the most last-minute needs.
When it comes to laptops and tablets, most reputable rental companies can pre-install any custom apps or software you might need for your event, so that’s another good reason to make sure you give yourself enough lead time with your supplier. While you’re negotiating your day/week/month rate, you might want to consider having your equipment shipped to you a little early, giving you time to pre-load PowerPoints or add custom graphics.
A word of caution: many hotels and other venues will charge “handling fees” for any boxes or crates shipped to, or from, their location. These fees can range from next to nothing, to several hundred dollars, so make sure you call and find out in advance if your event venue is one of these properties. The good news is that if you haven’t yet signed the contract, you might be able to have these fees waived as part of your deal, so as always, it pays to be thinking about your AV and event rentals as early on in the process as possible.
Choosing the right event equipment vendor doesn’t have to be a scary or difficult process, and with a little planning can save you thousands of dollars on your overall equipment bills. It’s also an incredibly convenient way to get the latest, cutting-edge technology at a fraction of the cost. Finding a trusted, professional rental vendor that can be a true partner allows you to explore new opportunities, and can really help take your event to the next level. Give us a call, and we’ll help you do exactly that!