A little bit of rain in the morning might have altered the golf portion of the event, but nothing could keep Louisiana rental store operators and vendors away from the state association’s annual Crawfish Boil on May 19 at Lafayette Rental Service, Lafayette, La. — especially after last year’s event was canceled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“We had a great attendance for the crawfish boil,” says Marty Bamburg, owner, Bayou Bounce Co., Shreveport, La., and ARA of Louisiana president. “Normally we parlay the crawfish boil with a golf tournament. Instead of going to the golf course in the morning, quite a few of us went to Drew Brees’ entertainment center, which had golf simulators. It wasn’t quite the same, but those of us who could attend had a great time. Then we all went to Byron Alleman’s operation for the crawfish boil. We had a great crowd. Everyone understood how important it was to see people face-to-face again. We are all great friends and have the same ‘dog in the hunt,’ so to speak. We just wanted to see everyone and check in on how everyone has been doing. If they are succeeding, everyone is succeeding. As I said throughout the day and at our meeting at the end of the day, ‘We succeed together and fail together.’”
Taking time to see how everyone was doing after enduring the worst of the pandemic was important to Bamburg. “We tried to find out how people were affected and how they were trying to recuperate from COVID. Those who were in equipment rental did pretty well during COVID. Most of us in event rental were really down in some areas. For me, my inflatables were really down, but my tent business was up 50 percent with putting up tents for COVID testing sites, etc. After touching base with those who came, I think the pulse of the group is OK. Everyone has had to sacrifice some. It was like one guy at the event said, ‘It made me appreciate my business again.’ I could resonate with that,” he says.
Byron Alleman, president, Lafayette Rental Service and ARA of Louisiana secretary/treasurer, agrees that everyone wanted to reconnect with each other.
“We just wanted to get together. We have missed each other. We have been away from all of this too long. We did a little bit of electronic communication during the pandemic, but it is not the same. Mostly we just wanted to get together, see how everyone was doing and discuss the issues,” he says.
At one point, the board didn’t know whether they could actually pull off the event this year. “A few months ago, we had a board meeting. We thought we would have to postpone this again. A month later, things looked better. We had just enough time to put this together and schedule it before the end of crawfish season. On short notice, we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ It turned out to be a beautiful event,” Alleman says.
New ARA of Louisiana board member Blaine Rivers, manager/vice president, Ram Rent-All, Monroe, La., drove three hours with his father, Jay, owner, to attend the event and meet board members he has seen only through online board calls.
“We wanted to see Byron, who was hosting the event, see everyone who was there and talk to the reps. We wanted to see and hear from other rental operators throughout the state. It was a fantastic event. It was good to talk with everyone. It is the first in-person meeting the ARA of Louisiana has had since COVID broke out, and it was the first time I have met some of the other board members as well as some of the reps. I gave out my card to multiple people and multiple people gave me their cards. We had some good takeaways from this gathering. That is why we love going. We were able to meet people, talk shop and bounce ideas off each other,” he says.
Some of that shop talk centered around the handling of deliveries. “We have a minimum cost to deliver equipment. With COVID and with it being more difficult to hire people, we had to crack down on how far away we would deliver something. If someone needs to rent something for a day, is it worth us driving to Arkansas? It helped comfort me as I talked with others and found this was a similar deal for them. We might need to go up on the delivery rates. I was glad we weren’t the only ones who were thinking that way,” Blaine says.
Networking always has been a big draw for Mike Tatum, owner, Majestic Tent and Event, Shreveport, La., who has attended this event for years.
“I always enjoy going. It is really good to network with people who are doing the same thing as you. You can bounce ideas off of people who know what they are talking about. They can tell you the good and bad,” he says.
Both Tatum and his wife also are crawfish fans. “I like crawfish. My wife could eat crawfish three or four times a week. They offered large servings of crawfish and all the accessories. Nobody went hungry,” he says with a laugh.
For additional entertainment, Alleman brought in a band for everyone to enjoy. “The band is the New Orleans Refugees. The band members consisted of friends as well as my partner Tim’s sons, who also work for us. Tim’s sons were playing music and working in restaurants in New Orleans. All that went away when COVID hit. They came to work for us and have been a great addition. They are full-time employees and part-time musicians. Everyone seemed to enjoy their music,” Alleman says.
The event closed with an ARA of Louisiana meeting.
“We covered a little bit of business at the end of the event. James Auerbach, American Rental Association [ARA] vice president of the event segment, and Bryce Puckett, ARA Region Four director, told us what was going on with ARA, particularly about the new ARA Job Board and the educational opportunities through RentalU. ARA Insurance Preferred Agent Gates Goza talked about safety items and what we can do safety-wise to help control costs. As a group we also talked about COVID protocols and the difficulty of finding, hiring and training new people,” Alleman says.
All gave the event rave reviews. “Everyone had a good time and talked about how much fun it was,” Bamburg says.
“Everything was great,” Blaine adds. “It was a good turnout. Everyone was happy. The crawfish was good, as was the live music. I look forward to doing more events like this in the future.”