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Loot Rentals: Setting the standard for boutique event rentals

By Connie Lannan

August 8, 2023

Co-founders and co-owners Rhoda Brimberry, left, and Anna Crelia. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green Photography

Co-founders and co-owners Rhoda Brimberry, left, and Anna Crelia. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green Photography

Browse the website of Loot Rentals, which has locations in Austin and Fort Worth, Texas, and you are transported to a world of inspiration and “good vibes,” as the website states. It is a place where the feelings created by the rentals are just as important as the actual items.

For sisters-in-law Rhoda Brimberry, co-owner, co-founder and CEO, and Anna Crelia, co-owner, co-founder and creative director, who established this boutique event rental business in 2011, the goal, as listed on their website, has always been to “enhance human connection through inspiring spaces” via “a specially curated collection of beautiful, unique pieces and a distinctive, design-forward approach to event rentals.”

Their unique journey started in 2010 when Crelia was planning her wedding. “They had a very distinctive vibe for their wedding, which was a speakeasy, jazz-type of feel. She had a very strong visual in her head, which included mismatched china, vintage silverware, vintage crocheted tablecloths, oil lamps and such, and no one carried these items out in the market,” Brimberry says.

Brimberry, who is married to Crelia’s brother, was living in Fort Worth at the time. She was recruited to help in the search. “I made it my job to help get these things for her wedding. Shortly after, it appeared to me that it was a very inefficient process, very time-consuming, very expensive and space-consuming. It made me start thinking like ‘What do other people do in these situations?’ I did some research and saw that other people were selling it all off. I thought there is a business idea in here. I started thinking that perhaps we could keep these items and rent them out to others,” she says.

Before she could even finish presenting her idea, Crelia was onboard. “She had already been thinking about it. On her honeymoon, I started advertising that we had these items. We got some hits on Craigslist. We didn’t even have a website or name. I emailed her while she was on vacation and said that when she got back we have some clients who wanted to meet,” Brimberry says.

With Brimberry’s marketing and advertising background and Crelia’s degree in fashion merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, as well as her work designing websites for some fashion brands in New York City, they took their knowledge and ran with the idea.

“We came up with the name Loot, which means a collection of treasures, and created a splash page. We then worked with a designer to come up with our branding to make it look official. A caterer in town found our website and was doing something that was perfect with the items we had. That is how we got our first gig,” Brimberry says.

The first hiccup was that this event was for 300 people. While they had items for 150 from Crelia’s wedding, they needed more to fulfill this order. With each of them taking out small loans from their mothers, they were able to garner enough funds to purchase the needed items.

Anna Crelia, left, and Rhoda Brimberry with some of their offerings. Photo courtesy of Katie Nixon

Anna Crelia, left, and Rhoda Brimberry with some of their offerings. Photo courtesy of Katie Nixon

More events followed with wedding and event planner clients all looking for that boutique concept. For Brimberry and Crelia, that has involved bringing one’s inspiring home or interior space to the event space. “We follow interiors a lot. Interior trends help us decide what we will put in our collections. So you are not finding a place to set your body, but you are drawn to a place where you are inspired to relax and interact with the people sitting next to you. Whereas other event rental companies are very foundational, I consider us the icing on top of the cake,” Brimberry says.

When they started, “boutique” event rental operations were quite rare. “We were one of the very first companies in Texas to capture the word ‘boutique,’” Brimberry says. “We were not the first in the U.S. There were a couple of companies in California who had the same idea. It was kind of serendipitous. They [the companies in California] were in business one year before us. I remembered they offered a workshop in which we could come and learn from them. We all kind of dived into this with people who had only been doing this for a year and they didn’t have rental experience either. We went out there and found it validating. We were very inspired by what they had done.”

That trip also expanded their entire concept of operating a business. “Having never run a business before, we thought it would be fine if we had 10 events per month. At the time, we were thinking in hobby terms and not a full-fledged business. After meeting them, we started thinking that we could do something bigger,” she says.

Slowly but surely, the business grew. For the first year Brimberry was still living in Fort Worth, so the sisters-in-law worked separately. In 2012, she and her family moved to Austin. They set up shop in an office inside a gallery. As their inventory grew, they kept adding storage units, then moved to a small warehouse and then a larger one. In 2020, Crelia moved to Fort Worth, which created the need for two locations. Today, between their two locations, they have about 34,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space for all their furniture and décor items.

While they started out with china being a significant part of their inventory, about two years ago they switched gears. The move out of china came after they adopted the Entrepreneurial Operating System®  (EOS).

“That helped us to do a big evaluation of the company. We realized there was a lot of energy going into and keeping up with the tabletop items, but they weren’t big drivers of revenue. The revenue drivers were the bigger pieces and the furniture. It was a difficult decision to stop that, but to grow the organization we focused on our furniture and décor offerings,” Brimberry says.

Today their collection includes larger furniture and décor, featuring bars, dining tables, chairs, benches, lounge furniture, rugs, pillows, backdrop, plants and lighting. “We don’t carry anything that requires a linen because the table shows off itself with the beautiful wood or legs it has. That is the kind of thing we offer. We bump it up a notch,” she says.

Loot Rentals logoTheir items have been featured in high-profile events such as SXSW and the Austin City Limits Music Fest, intimate and lavish weddings and parties, corporate events, television pilots and magazine shoots as well as at family holiday gatherings.

Loot has become synonymous with vintage. “We very much like vintage items as they have classic features. We love that designer look, and the quality stands out in the market. As we continued to grow, we started to collect more modern pieces, keeping that design-forward look in mind as we were adding these pieces. We are always watching the trends. There is always a place for vintage because of the sustainability aspect. Vintage is still very much alive. We like to mix it with the modern — for the Loot look — things we have discovered on our own and we get excited about as well,” she says.

Like other event rental operations, they have dealt with many challenges over the years. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was the toughest one so far, Brimberry says.

“PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans saved us along with our landlord being so accommodating. We had to furlough a good amount of our staff. We kept our lights on by selling things. We also pivoted into a new industry, which was staging. That helped us to stay afloat and provided some fun work. During the pandemic, the Austin real estate industry was soaring. We staged homes and made our items work for us,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Randi Reding

Photo courtesy of Randi Reding

Since then, the company has been able to bring back appropriate staff and rebound. “We far exceeded our goal, which was a big confidence booster,” Brimberry says.

While most of their business is done online, clients can come into their showrooms or visit their warehouses once a month. “That allows planners to walk through with their clients to touch and feel the items. That has been effective for us,” she says.

The company has definitely made its mark in the industry. “I consider us to be the thought leaders in the boutique industry because it was so fresh and new when we started and we were one of the firsts. Now there are more than 1,000 across the U.S. We have many coming to us. Our collection is unique to us. We are very intentional,” she says.

So what does the future hold? “We have people come to us from other areas who say we can really use something like what we have here in these other markets. It is a fun goal and dream to see how we can move it to these other markets and still keep that down-home feel. I know that rental is an intimate relationship game. I don’t want to come into a market and say, ‘Love us.’ I want to build those foundational relationships and then eventually get in there and see how we can help. I do see expansion in our future,” she says.

Whatever the future holds, their customers can guarantee that the Loot Rentals team will continue to create events that inspire and offer good vibes.