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Finding the right marketing strategy

By Connie Lannan

April 4, 2024

Many rental store owners have found a wide variety of ways to market their businesses to potential and current clients. Here’s a glimpse of the strategies being utilized by some owners that are proving effective for their operations.

Big Dawg Party Rentals, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Photo courtesy of Big Dawg Party Rentals

Established in 2013 by Brendan Quinlan, this event rental operation caters primarily to the market’s professional segments — large corporations, event planners, wedding caterers and venue owners.

In the beginning, Quinlan’s marketing strategy was broad, “utilizing guerilla advertising tactics to maximize our visibility in the competitive landscape of New York City,” he says.

Using Instagram and Facebook, he also invested in “eye-catching wraps for our fleet of trucks, ensuring that our brand remained top of mind amidst the urban chaos,” Quinlan adds.

Today, he has taken a more nuanced approach “driven by data analytics and client insights,” he says. “By harnessing the power of AI [artificial intelligence] programs — a proprietary program we had custom-built to efficiently analyze data from routing, sales, time clock and inventory management systems — we’ve delved deep into our past data, meticulously analyzing everything from previous orders, venue demographics, customer preferences and market trends. This granular understanding has enabled us to fine-tune our targeting, ensuring that our marketing efforts resonate with the right audience at the right time.”

While still maintaining a presence across various social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn, “our approach has shifted toward quality over quantity. We prioritize meaningful engagement over sheer numbers, with LinkedIn emerging as our preferred channel for reaching our target demographic of corporate clients and industry professionals,” Quinlan says.

While he has experimented with paid social media, he currently relies on a more organic reach. “We publish around 10-12 blog posts annually on our website to improve SEO [search engine optimization],” he says. “We occasionally seek external expertise for specific marketing tasks such as SEO and PPC [pay-per-click] campaigns, but we’ve increasingly embraced an in-house approach to managing our marketing endeavors,” Quinlan says. He also uses OpenAI to help generate content.

For 2024, Quinlan has devoted about 3 percent of his budget to marketing efforts, “with a focus on evaluating the ROI [return on investment] of each channel,” he says. “Our success metrics extend far beyond website traffic or lead generation. They encompass a holistic view of our brand’s performance in the market. We delve into conversion rates, revenue metrics and, perhaps most importantly, customer feedback. This multifaceted approach allows us to gauge the efficacy of our marketing initiatives while also providing valuable insights into areas for improvement.”

For Quinlan, his marketing journey has “underscored the importance of adaptability, staying attuned to market dynamics and embracing innovative technologies. Prioritizing customer relationships has been pivotal, fostering enduring connections built on trust and loyalty. These lessons form the cornerstone of our marketing approach, guiding our decisions and strategies in navigating the ever-evolving industry landscape,” he says.

Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals, Sacramento, Calif.

Photo courtesy of Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals

Owner Tom Butts has used a variety of marketing avenues to get the word out about his equipment rental operation and brand his operation as offering “a different type of rental experience,” he says.

The business, which was established in 2004, has gained notoriety for its lively and humorous videos that he posts on Instagram. While he also posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, he plans to start posting on TikTok soon.

These videos parody everything from famous movies like the “Star Wars” trilogies and “The Wolf Man” to classic television specials such as “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Construction equipment, many times uniquely wrapped to go along with the theme of the video, is a staple. All are written and produced by the Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals team and have become an integral part of the company’s branding, attracting a large fan base from across the country.

Butts began using the videos in 2015. “We started with basic things, such as with ‘Star Wars.’ We do a video every May 4 [highlighting ‘May the Fourth be with you.’] My son, Drew, did it. It was awesome. We put it up and people loved it. I said, ‘Let’s do Evel Knievel, let’s do Halloween and other holiday videos.’ The videos help us with our branding and help us stand out. They are us showing who we are and us having fun with what we do,” he says.

The videos have developed a diverse and loyal following. “The response has been through the roof. After one video, I had the head people at Dynapac North America reach out to us because one of their rollers was in it. They wanted to help spread the word. Caterpillar shared one of my [equipment] wraps. I talk to people who sell equipment who are in LA and they say, ‘Those are the guys with the videos,’” he adds.

Butts says he has just touched the surface on this front. The latest venture in this vein will be starting a television show, which he hopes to run on YouTube or Amazon Prime. That project is in the initial stages.

While a huge proponent of new, clean stickers on his trucks and equipment, he also invests heavily in promotional products and merchandise. Butts offers everything from promotional shirts to water bottles. While he doesn’t have an outside sales force, he and his staff give those out to customers.

On his website, he invites customers to offer testimonials as well as photos with their Nor-Cal items. “We have photos of customers in their Nor-Cal shirts and hoodies from all over the world,” he says.

Another marketing tool is his sponsorship of the No. 76 NASCAR Craftsman Truck driven by Spencer Boyd. “I don’t think many [other rental operations] are doing this,” Butts says, adding that at the end of 2025 “the truck I part-own will be coming to our business for display.” Until then customers can visit Nor-Cal Equipment Rentals and see the restored 1929 Chevy Rat Rod he has in his shop.

For Butts, it is all about branding and relationships — getting his company noticed and honoring those long-term contractors and homeowners as well as new customers who find him through his unique marketing strategies.

“People tell me how different our company is from others in the industry. I love my company and love promoting it. If you are not unique in your own way, I don’t think you will be seen. Be yourself and be proud of it. You will find your market,” he says.

Sugar Moon Mobile Bar Co., Colorado Springs, Colo.

Photo courtesy of Sugar Moon Mobile Bar Co.

Owner Kelli Crosby launched her mobile bar rental company in 2021. Since establishing the operation, she has developed a diversified clientele, primarily of wedding and corporate planners, caterers and venues as well as brides.

At first her strategy was to start with the wedding market. “I quickly discovered there is so much more to marketing than weddings. I met with a wedding planner who had been a corporate planner. She did some email introductions to the world of corporate destination management company (DMC) planners. That got the ball rolling,” she says.

From the beginning, Crosby knew that besides having a strong website, social media would be a top marketing tool for her.

“If you are not on social media, you are missing a major opportunity to reach your target market. You have to know who that market is, the hashtags they are searching, who they are following and you need to go and follow all those. I am not a social media or search engine optimization wizard, but just the basics of it are impressive if you follow all the people who are your target market, plus your competition, vendors in your comparable field and then all the hashtags they are posting. You need to follow those hashtags and post those hashtags. That is where the algorithm becomes a beautiful thing,” she says.

She is very active on Instagram, which feeds to Facebook. Pinterest is also a must. She is on LinkedIn and TikTok as well as having Yelp, YouTube and Indeed accounts. “What I understand is that if you are active on Indeed with both a personal and business page, that actually boosts all your other efforts in social media,” she says.

These efforts have paid off. “I get 50 percent of my business between Instagram and Google,” she says, noting that she routinely updates the photos and videos on her Google business page.

Other marketing avenues she uses include:

  • Cold-calling or cold-emailing planners and venues.
  • Pursuing free television news coverage when she started her business, which resulted in news exposure when she was just getting it established.
  • Meeting face-to-face with brides at bridal fairs.
  • Participating in styled shoots and then using those photos on her website and social media feeds.
  • Investing in unique and memorable promotional products for when she gathers with groups at bridal fairs and smaller vendor groups.
  • Developing strong vendor partnerships, from planners to venues. When vendors ask how they can help her business, she requests that they send an introductory email from her to their contacts.
  • Investing in geofencing to reach more targeted ads based on ZIP codes and events happening at certain areas and times. “I only did this for about four months. I was hoping for more results. If money allowed, I could see potential if I did it longer,” she says.

For the future, she is looking at adding blogs to her website to improve her SEO.

Crosby has been the sole driver of her marketing efforts, which encompass about 3 percent of her budget. She admits it is a continual learning process.

“I have read other people’s blogs. I did a consultation with a social media expert early on, but she was out of my budget,” she says, adding, “I am actively learning as I want to take advantage of this avenue to improve my business.”

ABC Equipment Rental, Tulsa, Okla.

Photo courtesy of ABC Equipment Rental

Charles Hewett, president, took over the reins of his family’s equipment rental operation eight years ago. Since then he has grown the business to where it now serves about 70 percent contractors and 30 percent homeowners.

Having grown up in the business, he knew his market and its demographics. In the beginning, “I just followed those market trends of who rents, what kind of businesses rent the most, etc., and I joined organizations and associations that cater to those markets, including the Associated Builders and Contractors and other local peer groups. I also relied on the American Rental Association’s resources, particularly those that highlighted how to know your customer base,” he says.

As the business grew and the market changed, he started to focus more on paid searches to generate leads.

“We deal primarily with Google’s search engine optimization pay-per-click. We’ve been pretty heavy into this for the past 15 years. Because it is more competitive than it has ever been, it pays for me to have an outside firm do this,” he says.

About two years ago, he also added an outside sales team that works hand-in-hand with his inside salespeople.

“We have our inside sales team generate leads for the outside sales team. Because there is not always time and we have such a high volume of customers, the inside salespeople don’t have time to get into the details of what every customer needs. If we think it is a good lead, we have our outside salespeople follow up,” he says.

What works in his favor is that his family’s business has been operating in Tulsa since 1952. Local awareness is strong. To enhance that he wraps his trucks with his logo and equips his outside salespeople with some promotional materials — hats, pens and notepads — that they deliver when visiting job sites.

While paid search is his primary vehicle, he recently expanded into radio.

“I have a campaign going with a series of ads running on drive time. It is a free trial as they hope I will spend more with them,” he says.

In all, he spends about 1.5 percent of his budget on marketing. For Hewett, that amount seems to be a sweet spot for his business. “My financial numbers don’t show that I need to do more advertising. I seem to be having good growth and revenue year over year. If business is slowing, I will increase my advertising, but right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to spend more on marketing,” he says.

Even so, it’s something he continually monitors. “If you don’t have a plate at the table, someone else will eat your lunch,” he says.