A weblog about theatrical drapery and stage curtains for Production Managers, Set Designers, Custom Drapery Resellers, and local/school/church Productions
Over the last several years, Rent What? and Sew What? have focused on expanding our online presence in new and innovative ways. From the informative websites, and then to recently adding expansive Flickr photo streams and an exciting YouTube channel, and even to our exceptional blog, it has been a longstanding goal for the company to provide user-friendly online content on custom and rental theatrical drapery and other related topics. We aim to inform, educate, and entertain clients and consumers on all aspects of our business and everything our company has to offer to our invaluable customers.
Our latest venture is with LinkedIn, and we are extremely excited to be able to share it with you now! While Company President Megan Duckett has maintained a personal Linked In account for years, we recently launched an official company page for our clients to read and enjoy.
We know that people access information on the web in many different ways, and so we wanted to offer one more channel to those looking for information on theatrical and special event drapery. LinkedIn is a great way to keep up with the happenings at Sew What? and Rent What?, our blog, and the companies in general.
By simply clicking on the “Follow” button on the upper right-hand corner, you will quickly and easily be able to keep up with all the news on Rent What? theatrical rental stage curtains, solenoids, traveller track, lift systems, pop-up dressing rooms, and everything else that our company has to offer!
Yes, it is that time again – “Papa Bill” Rowe (aka Megan’s dad) arrives next week from Australia, and everyone here can hardly wait. Whether it’s helping our Quality Control guys check and fold drapes, helping our rental department inspect returned inventory, or helping our Shipping and Receiving Manager pack boxes, Bill is always ready to lend a hand wherever it is needed. Not to mention that he is never without a smile for everyone he comes upon.
This year will be especially fun. We’ve got tons of activities planned during his visit – from a block party with our neighbor Lowy Enterprises (complete with taco cart and music), to an afternoon of bedazzling of jeans and tee shirts, to celebrating Bill’s 70th birthday with an evening of country line dancing in our bedazzled clothes (those who know Bill know he is a big fan of both bedazzling and line dancing). Hopefully he will even teach us all a line dance, as he did on his last visit.
Stay tuned for future blog posts (with photos) of Bill’s 2013 visit. Until then, check out this post from last year and this post from August to learn more about Bill.
JUST SPOTTED – one of our very own SEW WHAT? black drapery storage bags…… at the HOUSE OF BLUES, San Diego! Thanks, Stubbs, for sending this to us – like the Travelocity gnome…….. we love to see where our gorgeous branded drapery bags pop up!
HOB San Diego………..tonight is Yellowcard…….. go check them out, support a local venue AND enjoy the backdrop!
We at Rent What? are very proud and excited to introduce the newest member of our ever-growing staff to you. We were lucky enough to have Carrie Johns join our team, as she comes with decades of experience in the theatrical drapery rental/sales industry, and is proving to be an extremely valuable asset to our rental team. We love her upbeat personality, her boundless energy, and of course, her contagious laugh! Please read on to learn a little bit about this incredibly creative (and extremely fun) new member of our Rent What?/Sew What? Family!
When did you first start at Rent What? What were you originally hired to do, and how have your duties changed since working here?
I started in June of 2013, hired into the Rent What? Sales department with over 23 years of experience behind me.
If you could take a vacation to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Paris, definitely Paris! I love its history, theatre, art culture, language and of course its food (pastries, cheese, and wine especially!). YUMM!
What kind of work did you do before coming to Rent What?
I worked as a Rental Sales Consultant at another company (similar to Rent What?) since 1991, and actually helped start that company’s rental department from scratch with the owners. I worked on a lot of local, national and international theatre shows, stage productions, and even trade shows (a LOT of traveller drapes, borders, and legs!).
Do you have a special talent?
Outside of work I’m a Graphic/Abstract Artist. Before working as a Rental Sales Consultant, I worked for a company that created graphic designs for a variety of large companies. Helping make designs for their locations, merchandise, and branding in general was very exciting, and I continue to do it on my own to this day. As far as my abstract artwork, I love to create and design my own CG and acrylic art for fun here in LA.
What is your favorite memory from being part of the Rent What? family?
Everyone is very cool and the atmosphere has a really great energy. I especially love our mascots Crispin and Sweetie–the cutest dogs that ever roamed an office!!
What is your favorite sports team/TV Show/Book/Movie?
Sports Team would have to be the Dodgers (GO DODGER BLUE!)
TV Show at the moment would be Master Chef, but my all-time favorite show would definitely be “Friends”!
Book – Anything about art or art history, especially abstract art
Movie – The 1998 version of “ELIZABETH”
What are some of your hobbies?
Softball, Biking, Bowling, River Rafting, Camping—basically anything outdoors! I also especially love being able to paint and do graphic design at home, too. And finding the best, freshest seafood in LA has also been fun (crab, lobster, shrimp, salmon and sushi especially).
What project have you worked on recently that was interesting or challenging?
I absolutely love working with all of the concert tours that do business with Rent What? year in and year out. They are a whole new clientele that I haven’t worked with much before, so there is definitely a learning curve, but I have a great teacher with company owner Megan Duckett!
Anything more about your time here at RW?
I really love and appreciate the fact that you can be yourself here and contribute your various talents to the company, and it’s wholeheartedly embraced!
I may have told the story about lining the Halloween coffins about a dozen times (or more) now. But for those that haven’t heard the story a summary might be in order.
When looking back at the history of our business and the influencing events in the early days – the opportunity to line 10 “gently used” ex-mortuary caskets for a Halloween event back in the early 90′s was indeed a turning point.
No – I did not know how to sew – but figured that since I was a girl I ought to be able to figure it out.
NO – I did not have a sewing machine or any craft supplies
YES – I was determined to do it and cash in on the “horror” of it all. $100 per coffin was offered – I needed to pay for all materials and supplies myself however – so I had to do it smart.
And here is where my reminiscing actually starts for this post – because a brand new sewing machine to purchase was going to be several hundred dollars…. and I wasn’t up for investing so much of the potential return into a machine and so I got out the yellow pages (yes – this is pre internet in my world) and I found the closest sewing machine store…….. A locals store by the name of AAA Sewing and Vacuum. Back then they were on Sepulveda Blvd near Warehouse Records (anyone remember them???)
In I went – and a gentleman assisted me with selecting a rental machine. Just a little table top unit in a plastic case. It would rent for $45.00 per month – and I would need to know how to use it. They offered a free lesson with the rental – and so I took them up on it. During a friendly 30 minute one-on-one I learned how to thread the machine, to correct the tension and to change the needle. Stepping out of the store with my tool of choice I had exactly 30 days to get the job done.
And indeed I did get the job done – and the machine served me very well.
But it isn’t about the machine – it is about the store; the people there and their passion for not only what they did and loved but that I might too succeed and become a crafter, like them, too. Now as I drive up and down my local strip malls, I have watched businesses come and go. It seems lucky these days if someone that was about 10 years ago can still be found. The internet has changed everything, and the way we buy has become so disconnected that we don’t feel the need to meet and greet and connect personally any more when we are buying (or even selling at times).
So firstly this is a shout out – to their success. To congratulate them on being a part of what inspired me to start my business, and also that they have done such a bang-up job of it that they are indeed still in business. Recently they moved into a nice new location, in Lomita, and when I drove by the other afternoon I snapped a photo out my car window. How cool to see them move into a nice bright and shiny location – and very sentimental for me. Onward and upward for each of us you might say.
So – what might have happened if I had walked in the store that day and the salesman had blown me off (for pulling up in a rattling and sputtering 71′ black beetle that needed a coat of paint) or if he had rented me a machine and then pushed me out the door with no instruction. In hindsight I can’t thank him enough for not just “making the sale” but for actually proactively helping me find my way.
So – here is my shout out to a local business!
AAA Sewing & Vacuum Center
2365 Pacific Coast Hwy, Lomita, CA
I mentioned a couple of times (back in May and then recently) that Sew What? has its own LinkedIn page. Well, Rent What? does as well.
LinkedIn is a great way to keep up with Rent What?, both this blog and the company in general. We’d love for you, our loyal blog readers, to follow us! As a matter of fact, we’d love you to follow both companies – sometimes there is content that we share across both company pages, but sometimes content is listed on one or the other (but not both).
And so following both company pages will allow you to keep up with all the news on Sew What? custom stage curtains and Rent What? rental stage curtains.
Here’s a preview – looking forward to seeing you there!
Back in May, I told you that Sew What? got its own page on LinkedIn. Well, recently, we’ve been adding content to the LinkedIn page, including updating it with previews of the posts on this blog.
LinkedIn is a great way to keep up with Sew What?, both this blog and the company in general. We’d love for you, our loyal blog readers, to follow us!
Here’s a preview – looking forward to seeing you there!
As you may know, though Sew What? has been around for many years, our sister company Rent What? is still relatively young (our 4th anniversary was July 2013). Despite the company’s youth, we have seen many changes throughout the years, as we constantly work on ways to improve our processes and the customer’s experience.
One area that has seen a number of improvements is in the tracking of inventory. When Rent What? first began in 2009, our inventory was fairly small (mostly black masking drapes), and so our system of tracking inventory was fairly simple. But as the years went on and the company grew (and our inventory grew along with it), we realized we needed better processes to manage inventory control. We needed to know exactly what was in the building at all times, what items were out on which rental orders, and which items had just been returned and were in the inspection process.
Our first step was to purchase a more robust rental software, and to barcode all of our rental inventory items. That choice proved successful for a few years, but of course there were still occasional inventory discrepancies – not a lot, but more than we liked. A warehouse staff member might forget to scan a bar code, for example, on an incoming or outgoing order, making it appear that an item wasn’t shipped to a customer, or that the customer didn’t return an item. So we started looking for an even better solution for managing our inventory.
Through the hard work and diligence of our Warehouse / Technical Manager, Rick Garcia, and CFO / Technical Director Adam Duckett, RFID was selected as the best method to track our inventory. Several months ago, the decision was made to implement RFID tracking, and since then, we have been retrofitting our inventory with the tags. Now, the project is nearly complete, with only a few items out on longer rental orders missing RFID tags (which will be added to those inventory items when they are returned).
When Rick and Adam first proposed RFID, I had heard of the term, but I didn’t know much about it. I now know much more, thanks to Rick’s tutelage, and so I thought I would pass on the information to our blog readers.
What is RFID?
RFID stands for “Radio Frequency Identification.” RFID tags are intelligent bar codes that can talk to a networked system to track every product. RFID tags communicate with an electronic reader that will detect items almost instantly. We are using Passive RFID tags, which are coded to the inventory control number of the rental inventory item and then sewn into the hem of the rental drape or otherwise attached to the rental item.
What are Passive RFID Tags?
Passive RFID tags rely entirely on the reader as their power source. Passive Tags work as follows:
- Data stored within an RFID tag’s microchip waits to be read.
- The tag’s antenna receives electromagnetic energy from an RFID reader’s antenna.
- Using power harvested from the reader’s electromagnetic field, the tag sends radio waves back to the reader.
- The reader picks up the tag’s radio waves and interprets the frequencies as meaningful data.
- The readers that we use are keyboard wedge-type devices.
What is a keyboard wedge?
A keyboard wedge is an interface which allows a non-keyboard device to plug into a computer as though it were sending keyboard data. Since most data-entry software is set up to take data from a keyboard, it is necessary to use a keyboard wedge if you want to utilize a peripheral such as an RFID reader and have it send information to the program. A keyboard wedge is so called because the physical version “wedges” between the keyboard and the computer. The keyboard is plugged into the wedge, which in turn is plugged into the computer, so that data may be inputted through either the keyboard or the other peripheral.
Why did we decide to use a keyboard wedge device?
Using wedge type devices allows us to use our current inventory management system without the need for intermediate software. Not using the intermediate software allows our system to update in real time and will notify us of any problems immediately.
What other benefits have we discovered since implementing RFID inventory tracking?
Using RFID allows us to scan the complete order as it is leaving or entering the building, so we are able to verify that all the drapes have actually been loaded on the truck as an order leaves or have been received into our building as an order is being returned.
There are some people who have crossed our path at one time or another who genuinely helped form us – by either bringing a mad skill – or lending a helping hand, or even an ear, when it was most needed.
This is a short but sincere shout out to just a couple of specific people who might not realize just how much they meant!
Cynthia Ray – a coworker from many years ago. When I said one night after quitting my job that I was exhausted but had just sold a job to pleat up several hundred yards of special custom order borders for Stevie Nicks……….. She got in her car three nights in a row and drove from LA to Torrance to pleat and pin with me into the wee hours of the night. Without her help I would never have finished the project on time, and let’s face it – the show WILL go on – with or without the drapes. Thanks to a great friend who stepped in just when I needed it!
Isaac Waksul and Rosalie Zigman – Pre-Sew What, and long before I was capable of realizing what an amazing opportunity I had………for about 18 months I worked for Isaac along with his trusted Rosalie out of his surfside offices in Long Beach. Isaac planned events for the big technology players, and yet when it came time for research, he sent me off to the public library. Learning how to look, listen, extract, condense, and then read it again! At the time, I am certain I must have foolishly questioned – “why be soooo thorough?” – but in years that followed after the business was up and running, I realized that my skills in research meant that we were better decision makers, turning over every rock, sometimes twice, and in doing so making best practice decisions and new discoveries, too. Coming full circle, Rosalie now works with us here at Rent What? and as a testament to Isaac’s methods, she manages to do in 2 half days what would take most of us a full week. Rosalie is a gem – and I think of Isaac most every day when faced with questions. He certainly taught me how to find the answers, and beyond that how to communicate the answers. Great people.
Wakaba Tada – being a new business is hard enough as it is – and then you need money. The banks won’t lend to you unless you have 3 years of books to look at – so what to do? We were always blessed to organically self-fund, where consistent profitability allowed us to keep investing (no matter how small) back into the business. But keeping the books by hand more or less, I went by the little local banking office every day – where I was assigned a lovely woman my age from Japan. Wakaba walked us through our banking needs, guided our decisions and saw us through to the day when the bank extended an official “line of credit” – pretty much unheard of for such a young business at the time. Years later we became friends outside of the business and bank – eventually taking aerobics classes together at the local YMCA, and in later years when she married she invited our son William to be her ring bearer! Wakaba now lives in Japan with her husband and has specialized in investment banking.
DAD – yes – Boot-Scooting-Billy to some – and Papa to others. But Dad has been here holding hands, drying tears, vaccuming up pins and keeping the team dancing for 17 years now. So, thanks Dad – from all of us – because you made a difference and continue to – in fact we’re all looking forward to your next visit in October……..
Dad (aka Bill Rowe)
With Thanks – and to so many others …. unmentioned but not forgotten.
Question – Can I remember each and every year since we started this here thing?
Answer – Nope. I cannot even remember what I had for breakfast!
Here are the high points!
1996 – Quit my day job and plunge headfirst into business in Warehouse # 1.
Hire and expand. Get burgled. Hire and expand
2000 – Move to Warehouse # 2. Hire and expand and have way too many workers comp claims.
Hire a marketing company ……….and expand
2005 – Take out a whopping commercial loan and buy / move into Warehouse # 3. Hire and expand – hire and expand
2006 – Win the Dell Small Business Excellence Award and meet Michael Dell.
Hire and expand – hire and expand…
Sounds rather like a broken record, doesn’t it! Well, I do well recall several significant moments………………
Such as bumping into Craig Waldman in the hallway while working at Merv Griffin back in early 1996, when he said to me “You have a strange look like you are going to give notice or something”…. OH MY – and a mind reader too? Well, I had been meaning to tell them exactly that. Indeed – I had the look of one foot out the door, I suppose.
So from there the small hobby business that Adam and I had been grooming in the garage, of all places, was about to be birthed – into its own warehouse. All the bills, all the risks and none of the health insurance or 401k’s that we’d grown to love. Thankfully Adam had a stable position, so it was just my income we were putting on the line – but it was enough to motivate us to work day, and night – and day, and night…….. until …… well – feels like we still do.
That is a fact – that in small business every day in business is a gift – and every new client is an opportunity to share the word. When the words are good, then it is all fun and games – but that wasn’t always the case – and there were laughs and tears alike. Still are, come to think of it.
The first warehouse was in Torrance at the airport – managed by KAY properties – they took a gamble on us, and how sweet they were as landlords. So, in 800 sq ft of roller-doored garage space, we were “up n’ running”. Mini fridge, check. Coffee maker, check. Obligatory cheap Palm in mini-lobby, check. Hand me down computer from Isaac Waksul… you got it. Old kitchen table to sit at, and we were OPEN for business.
Small problem – no work. no carpet, no cutting table, one sewing machine and the phone not ringing yet. Let the adventure begin!
Getting the phone ringing proved to be less of a challenge, and heck, we were able to connect the phone to ring through to my “pager” so we were able to be found at any moment! Technology talking – lol – and that was hi-tech. I wore a corded headset plugged into the portable phone while I was at the machine sewing and would have to yell over the “brrrrrr, brrrrrr, grrrrr” of the machine every time I took a pass under the needle. “Huh? What?” the callers would ask….. Well at least they knew it was made by hand in America.
We got carpet thanks to Joe Gallagher’s dad – he was a carpet layer. We bought a cutting table from All Access, and slowly, one at a time, began to build clients and employees. Maria Martinez being our longest employee – indeed she was a first hire and we quite literally grew up together. We stitched our way through all sorts of celebrations and losses, there was thread and drapes for the good days and the bad.
So many memories – one employee we hired who insisted on coming in each day wearing her Sunday best – jewels and heels and skirts and all. Another who took buses all the way from East Los Angeles every day, in and out of Torrance (no small feat I tell you), as they were so committed to the job. Recalling the time we were broken into, and discovered that the insurance we had bought had an “alarm clause,” and as I did not have an alarm in place we weren’t covered for any of the stolen equipment. Horrid. Now THAT was a bad day.
And this only brings us a year or two into it – I suppose that there would be chapters to write to tell all the tales……….
I must say – that if we knew then when we know now, we probably would never have done it. Really! Good thing that ignorance is bliss. Let’s face it – we were without the internet to “scare” us off with “TMI” about our 80% likelihood of failure. And so we thought, like the little red engine, that we could. So we did. With every breath, we lived and breathed the business. Those were long days, late nights and endless weeks that bled into months. But in looking back, I don’t suppose I would have wanted it any other way. We are thankful to staff, family, friends and clients who have supported and guided us all the way.
The chapters of a business’ timeline are like the chapters of a recipe book. The ingredients vary, the prep time is never the same, over cook it and you are screwed, and the final outcome is always “the sum of ALL parts” – just having the sugar doesn’t make cotton candy……………. Indeed it was our dedicated staff and willing clientele that made this pavlova rise.
Thankful beyond words,
Megan sleeping at the warehouse on the cutting table, with some furry friends, Romeo and Sweetie, in the early days
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