Dan Hooks, CERP, president and CEO, Party Reflections, Charlotte, N.C., has served as an American Rental Association (ARA) officer for the last three years, including president-elect in 2020, as ARA’s 59th president in 2021 and as board chair in 2022.
Party Reflections, which has four locations, including Charlotte, Greensboro/Winston-Salem, and Raleigh, N.C., and Columbia, S.C., was founded in 1958 by Wayne and Sue Hooks, Dan’s parents, as Chair and Equipment Rentals. In 1983, the company spun off the special events division and renamed it Party Reflections. The company grew organically, taking advantage of the growth in Charlotte and the events industry, and later through strategic acquisitions to expand its footprint. Party Reflections has been an ARA member since 1985.
As he prepares to complete his service to the ARA board at the conclusion of The ARA Show™ 2023 in Orlando, Hooks provided Rental Management with his thoughts about how the association and the equipment and event rental industry has evolved during his time on the ARA board.
Rental Management: As you complete your three years as an officer, how would you assess the state of the association today versus three years ago?
Dan Hooks: Entering into my term as president-elect in February of 2020, I would have said the organization was stronger than it had ever been. As a member of the board from 2017, we had just completed a new ARA Strategic Plan for the association, and we were moving forward with purpose and direction. The future seemed clear for about 30 days until the world was forever changed.
Today, I believe the association is even stronger than it was then. The focus and direction provided by the ARA Strategic Plan gave us a roadmap to keep our eyes on where we wanted the association to go while navigating the pandemic. We pivoted initially to make sure members knew the association was doing everything it could on their behalf to minimize the effects of the pandemic on our membership. Once we realized the effects were much more pronounced on the event side of the association, we focused our efforts to assisting those members specifically.
The lessons we learned and the experience we gained from surviving the crisis only strengthened our resolve and made us #rentalstrong. The association and its members are stronger today because of the experience.
Rental Management: What do you consider to be the association’s key accomplishments over the last three years?
Hooks: The implementation of the ARA Strategic Plan has led to many of the key accomplishments over the last three years, most notably, the strides we have made in workforce development, consumer awareness and education. The association staff could not have been more productive during such a trying time period. We now have the ARA Job Posting Portal for the association as well as some very professionally created videos for not only consumer awareness, but also for workforce development.
RentalU has made tremendous strides over the last few years as contributions from members, associate members and staff have created a one-stop source of information for all of our members. It is an incredible resource regardless of the size or experience level of your company.
Also from an educational platform, the ARA’s Clean. Safe. Essential. program provided much needed standardized information and instruction to our members to help them navigate the pandemic and keep their doors open. This program was developed at lightning speed and became a fantastic resource to support the membership.
Lastly, I believe our ability to plan and support The ARA Show 2021 in Las Vegas on such short notice may be one of the accomplishments that I will remember the most. While a show in October was not ideal, as many pointed out, its success was a testament to the resiliency of our industry and our members. As an officer, I can say this decision did not come easily or without debate, but I believe it was critical to the stability of our association. The loss of two years of connectivity and financial responsibilities could have proven catastrophic for our association. As it turns out now, we were able to weather the storm financially and we will be back to full strength in this budget cycle.
Rental Management: What are you most excited about when you look at the projects and products ARA already has updated or introduced, and others that will be launched in 2023?
Hooks: There are so many projects and products that have been introduced over the last three years that it is impossible to name them all.
From the equipment side of the industry, I am proud to announce the introduction of an educational program for our members in the form of “Future of Equipment Rental” being presented at The ARA Show in 2023. This will give our equipment members a similar educational opportunity to the EventsU program where managers and employees can learn from one another at the show.
From the event side of the industry, I am very proud to announce the first step in the development of the Tent Safety Initiative for the industry. Having worked with Advanced Textiles Association (ATA) and Clemson University to produce the data necessary, we have formalized a guideline for our members to use when determining ballasting requirements for non-engineered tents.
This program will continue to build as more standardization and best practices are formulated for our industry. The goal is to educate all of our members on the safety aspects of a properly installed tent so that we reduce the threat of injury to our employees and guests.
Rental Management: Having served as an ARA officer, how do you think the equipment and event rental industry is evolving and what might the future hold?
Hooks: From my vantage point as an officer, I have been incredibly encouraged by the success of the equipment sector of the association. The incredible growth this sector experienced through the pandemic shows no sign of letting up. As the technology continues to improve for this equipment, I think the possibilities for growth are endless both in operational performance and workforce development.
I believe the event side of the association is still evolving and may need a few more years to fully complete its evolution. The pandemic has forever changed the way the world views events, but I believe the most encouraging realization was that the world needs to connect and interact on a personal and face-to-face level. True connection cannot be accomplished on a screen and the event industry will continue to grow to facilitate this opportunity.
The future is definitely bright for the entire ARA membership.
Rental Management: What did you learn and what will you most remember from your three-year term as an ARA officer?
Hooks: The thing I will remember most about my term as an officer of the ARA is that as long as you have the right people with the right attitudes toward success around you, the mission cannot fail. I have never faced a more daunting challenge to our company’s survival in the 35 years of my career. With the support and encouragement of the entire ARA staff and the ARA board, I knew we would survive and emerge stronger on the other side. I will be forever grateful for the support of everyone as we dealt with matters not only affecting the association, but our individual companies as well.
Rental Management: As you complete your service as an ARA officer, what message do you have for those in the equipment and event rental industry?
Hooks: There is no better resource or partner than ARA when it comes to operating a rental business in the world today. Members and the association are eager to assist in any way they can to further your success. Membership certainly has its privileges.