2008 marks my 20th year as a professional videographer. One of the struggles I have had to deal with over the years was the temptation to buy the latest and greatest video gear. And today, with the many new cameras and editing systems available, that temptation is greater than ever. It is important to have the right equipment in order to do a professional job, but that doesn’t mean you have to purchase the equipment. Welcome to the world of renting.
Recently I sat down with Jeff Lind and Mark Eggert from the rental department of Alpha Video in Edina, Minnesota (www.alphavideo.com). Between the two of them they have 32 years of experience in the rental field. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
I began by asking, "Why would you encourage videographers to rent instead of purchasing equipment?" They pointed out that renting is a great way to go because you can have access to the latest and greatest equipment without having to personally keep up with all the changing technologies. It’s also a good way to try out equipment before you actually buy it. Even if you live far away from a rental house, it’s still possible to rent the equipment and have them ship it to you, although it means planning ahead time-wise and budget-wise.
If anything should happen to the equipment, it is covered by insurance. It’s standard practice for a rental facility to add a 5% fee on all rentals unless a certificate of insurance is on file. But the greatest insurance for the videographer is the knowledge that the equipment being rented is in good condition. Most rental houses will make sure an item is in good working condition before sending it out. They also have a service department to make sure the equipment is well-maintained, and most will have a 24-hour emergency number you can call for support. But because they make sure the equipment works before you take it out, there seldom is a problem.
One of the benefits of renting equipment is that you have a clear understanding of how much to add to a project because of the actual rental cost. This is a great way to think through your pricing structure even when using your own equipment. It is also helpful in explaining a proposal to a client once they see the breakdown between your time and the equipment needed for a job.
In the same way that we as videographers have a network to draw upon, so do rental houses. That means that not only do you have the equipment that is in their catalog, but you have access to their network of other rental facilities—both locally and nationally—and therefore are almost guaranteed that the equipment you need will be available to you.
Recently I rented the new Sony PMW-EX1 solid state camera. Not only could I read what others thought of the camera, but because of being able to rent it locally, I was able to try it out and evaluate it personally for a possible purchase in the future. And even if I don’t purchase it right away, I know that in the near future it will become available (at a very good savings) for purchase through Alpha’s Rental Department because they try to make sure that the equipment they rent out is relatively new and in great condition, and they always have a list of items for sale. I’ve purchased many of the items I own (including my most recent editing system) at a great price from a rental house with the knowledge that, because of the rental house’s maintenance standards, they were also in great condition.
It is fun to get the latest and greatest—but it is even more fun to know you can afford it because you have been wise in the acquisition of equipment. We need to have good business sense when deciding which piece of equipment we really need. Just because it is new and everyone has it doesn’t mean you need to own it. There is a time to buy—and a time to sell—but also a time to rent. One of the greatest resources we have is our local rental center. I would encourage you to find out what resources you have and then begin taking advantage of them.
I would also encourage you to consider renting out your equipment to clients and other videographers. We are in business to make money, and if our equipment can add to our revenue by making it available for rental, then that is a good use of our resources. One of the items I rent out on a regular basis is a video projector and screen. Not only is it a way to make more money, but customers are impressed that you can provide them with all of the equipment they need. If we don’t have it personally, then by being familiar with rental facilities in our area, we can at least have a place to recommend to our clients.
We need to learn to make equipment decisions with our heads and not just with our hearts. When a piece of equipment has outlived its usefulness, get rid of it, either by selling it at a reasonable price, or by donating it to an organization that will give you a receipt that can be used for tax purposes. When it comes time to replace equipment, or to add new equipment, ask, "Will this enable me to do a better and faster job for my clients, and will it allow me to make more money?" Just because something is fun to play with doesn’t mean it is a good business investment. And we especially need to ask, "Is it available for rent?"
Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) recently published The Complete Course on Funeral Videography, an updated an expanded version of his popular Business Everlasting training DVD. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–7 and a 2006 & 2007 EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.