Rental has long been recognized as the environmentally responsible way of getting projects and events done. This is inherent in the very concept of the practice: Rent one item over and over again, thereby reducing the need for several people to own — and one day cast into the garbage heap — multiple pieces of one particular item. This ecologically friendly model is what motivated entrepreneurial sisters Emilie and Stephanie Lalonde to choose rental as the vehicle for their new business, Vision Event Rentals, Gloucester, Ontario, Canada.
The idea for the company germinated in 2019 when the sisters, both interested in business ownership and seeking an outlet, gained inspiration in the form of another event rental business’ closure.
“My dad found a business that was closing, and he brought it up to us, knowing that we were both interested in business,” Emilie, Vision Event Rentals CEO, says. “So, we thought and brainstormed a lot about setting up that kind of business and then, when the pandemic hit, we found a lot of equipment sales. There were other companies around that were selling inventory, so we thought that it would be a great thing to look into. We were able to obtain our supplies from those sales.”
Having a business that is engaged in renting supplies proved to be the perfect balance for both sisters’ professional goals and personal values.
“I just graduated a few months ago in communications and sociology,” Emilie says. “My sister is studying communications and business right now at the same university in Ottawa. We both thought it would be good to put our knowledge into practice. Also, we both love nature and our environment, so we wanted to do something waste free. That is how we got the renting idea. That way, people are not just buying stuff and throwing it away. It is a nice way to have a waste-free company. From there, we wanted to do something that we care a lot about. We thought of big events.”
Stephanie, who serves as the company’s advertising/promotions manager, gained insights from a side business of her own that she wanted to carry over to their new enterprise.
“I ran a window cleaning business, and what I really enjoyed about that was working with people and the relations you have with the clients. I thought, ‘What can I do that would involve dealing with clients, talking with people and networking?’ We put our interests together and came up with Vision Event Rentals,” she says.
Still in its early stages — operating mainly online now but with a showroom as a work-in-progress — Vision Event Rentals is starting small but has big aspirations for the future.
“Right now, we’re mostly just looking at individuals having events outdoors,” Emilie says. “Since a lot of weddings and stuff like that got cancelled because of the pandemic, people are having smaller gatherings, looking to get just a few chairs and tables here and there. That is where we come in, because we do not have the inventory yet to help them throw a big wedding. And no one can have a big wedding or event right now, anyway, so I think that’s why people are reaching out to us. We have had some church representatives and community centers come by, too. It’s been more of the private sector.”
“Where we are in our business’s evolution is working to our advantage in that respect, in that we have to start small,” Stephanie adds. “People needing to gather outside is giving us different opportunities.”
Both Lalondes acknowledge that while the smaller events have been right up the alley of their startup company, the absence of big trade shows, weddings and other celebrations has made it hard for them to take their business to the next level by way of face-to-face and word-of-mouth promotion.
“It’s been hard to know where to put our advertising,” Stephanie says. “There are no big shows right now, like The Wedding Show, for promotion. That has made it harder to get our name out there. Something else that has been hard to chew is not being able to be part of other events such as weddings. People that we know are not throwing parties or getting married. But we are able to use our online platform, which is great nowadays.”
While growth has inevitably been slow in a year defined by event cancellations and postponements, Emilie and Stephanie are optimistic about the future given the range of opportunities in their area.
“We have a lot of government buildings here in the Gloucester/Ottawa area, and it would be great to be able to get into that system eventually,” Emilie says. “We have big universities here, too. Business related to those prospects would be our main goal. We’re also looking to spread out a bit more outside of the Ottawa region. We have already had some requests from Montreal, a few hours away. But right now, we don’t have the capacity to go all the way there for a few tables.”
The pair also are looking to offer services above and beyond the rental of event supplies.
“We’re looking at being able to go into the organizational side of the business,” Emilie says. “We’ll offer the rentals, yes, but we also want to be able to organize how to place tables in certain ways, work with the linen colors and advise on the best color pairings. All of this would be great to offer with our expertise and education.”
One way they are preparing to bolster this education and offer the value-added services is through the American Rental Association’s (ARA) Certified Event Rental Professional (CERP) program.
“I’m looking into enrolling in the CERP program,” Stephanie says. “We want to have [those credentials]. We want to have a CERP on hand. It will help me to learn more about different event product placements and the smart ways to organize an event, going beyond just renting stuff. I believe there is only one CERP in the Ottawa region right now, so I’m looking forward to being the second one.”
As they continue to grow and expand their event inventory, one other priority for the Lalondes is to establish relationships with reliable local manufacturer/suppliers. As Emilie puts it, they are on a mission to find “the right manufacturers to get our tables and chairs. We want to support the locals and try to find things that are North American. We want vendors that are close to us, so that we can support local suppliers and our country while getting the best quality at the lowest price.”
For now, the sisters are grateful to be launching a company that is true to their core values of environmental stewardship.
“We’re really happy to be able to put our green thumbs to work and to support our environment in a waste-free manner by renting items out,” Emilie says.