RTO World 2019: Feelin’ lucky in Kentucky

APRO Awards Luncheon and Business Meeting Keynote Speaker Kerry Lebensburger, Chief Revenue Officer of Ashley Furniture Industries

RTO World 2019 was a success from start to finish last week as rental dealers and exhibitors from across the country met in Louisville, Kentucky, for the second annual trade show and convention hosted by APRO and TRIB Group. This year’s event hit record numbers—from an increase in attendance to Hot Show sales reaching just under $11.5 million—and while we may have left still arguing about whether it’s ‘Looavul,’ ‘Looeyville,’ or ‘Luhvul,’ we can all agree that RTO World left us feelin’ lucky in Kentucky.

The convention kicked off bright and early Tuesday morning in conjunction with a few state association meetings as well as the TRIB Group annual Membership Meeting. Opening day brewed large groups of rent-to-own enthusiasts checking in and picking up their badges before heading to a Peer Group Meetup of choice. Starting the day with engaging peer groups gets people talking, minds percolating and ideas brewing. They serve as a catalyst to shape the RTO World attendee experience in planting the seeds for what each unique individual should absorb over the next three days. The peer group meetups included industry newcomers, store managers, marketing professionals, I.T. professionals, district managers, and owners/dealers.

2019 Ernie Talley Lifetime Achievement Award Winner David P. David

Tuesday’s schedule also included the annual APRO Awards Luncheon and Business Meeting, sponsored by LG Electronics Corp, USA, that featured keynote speaker Kerry Lebensburger, Chief Revenue Officer of Ashley Furniture Industries. Lebensburger’s presentation offered a sobering look at the industry, what the future might hold and how to achieve resilience. His presentation was a crowd-pleaser on many accounts and will be available for streaming soon. The awards portion of the luncheon was a communion of rent-to-own’s finest getting recognition for their achievements. This year’s slate of noteworthy honorees include Phillip Bumbry, Emerging Leader; George and Angie Ramel, Norm Smith Vendor of the Year; Jonathan Rose, Heritage Award; Dan Singh, Steve Kruse Award of Honor; Gopal Reddy, President’s Award of Excellence; Mike Tissot, Chuck Sims Rental Dealer of the Year; David P. David, Ernie Talley Lifetime Achievement, and John Cleek, Jr. accepting the State Association of the Year award on behalf of the Missouri Rental Dealers Association. Additionally, Florida, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania were recognized in the new Presidents’ Circle award recognizing state associations with outstanding leadership, community involvement, and legislative advocacy. APRO goes the extra mile to keep award winners in the dark until the awards ceremony to add that extra element of surprise.

“I sat there thinking it was quite the coincidence how much the person being described had in common with my life,” shares Singh, recipient of the Steve Kruse Award. “As they went on describing the individual, I thought ‘hey, I did that too…and also that…wait, this is starting to get weird’ and then my name was announced! I was not expecting to win at all, and I’m honored to even be considered.”

One of the many informative presenters, Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor Customer Service, spoke at two different sessions this year discussing the do’s and don’ts of customer service.

While the APRO Awards Luncheon and Business Meeting took place, the Small Batch Managers’ Experience simultaneously opened. The store managers registered for this special track met for their very own peer group meetup before gearing up for the afternoon of education breakout sessions. These sessions were led by some of the most well-renowned individuals in the industry and boasted rooms full of insight and knowledge from wall-to-wall.

This year’s Hot Show hit $11,446,223 in sales with 26,350 units sold.

Education and professional development are important pillars of RTO World and this year’s roster of presentations sponsored by High Touch Technologies was off the charts. Brian Eckleberry of Ace Rent-to-Own presented his topic explaining that you will never be as good at promoting your business as you think you are compared to a happy customer. In her presentation, Kelly Martin, of SKC Enterprises Inc., dba Rent One, spoke about the importance of retaining a business’ most valuable asset: people. Mike Tissot of Countryside Rentals Inc. shared his trade secrets in his session titled, The Art of Growth: Building Your Customer Base.

For the Owners/Dealers Track sessions, the Kale family presented, Breaking Barriers: 5 Ideas to Create New Revenue Streams and Retain Key Employees. Chris Kale Sr., Rent King, and his sons Chris Kale, Jr. and Jeff Kale of Happy’s Home Centers shared ideas for business diversity and how to keep employees engaged, loyal and committed. The Sutton duo, Larry and Adam of RNR Tire Express, presenting together for the first time, defined generations within the workforce and how to leverage the strengths of every employee. Dan Fisher, Joe Luczak, and Scott Waltman, all from MAJIK Rent-to-Own, discussed their strengths in the company’s culture and   their approach to its finesse. Brian Farrington of Cowles & Thompson provided a wage and hour legal update while APRO’s Ed Winn, III, provided his annual legal update. Michael Helton and Christopher Terrigino of Rivero, Gordimer and Company, P.A., joined Troy Garris of Garris PLLC. They discussed the many topics to take into consideration when an individual is interested in buying or selling an RTO business.

Sponsored by Whirlpool, the Hot Show Welcome Reception and Sale concluded the first day of the convention. Rent-to-own exhibitors and attendees came together to connect and bid on items in a live auction. This year’s Hot Show hit $11,446,223 in sales with 26,350 units sold.

The whole young professionals gang at the Emerging Leaders Networking Social sponsored by Nationwide RentDirect.

Before the day was officially over, the rent-to-own young professionals and industry newcomers were invited to attend the Emerging Leaders Networking Social sponsored by Nationwide RentDirect. Attendees enjoyed networking over some friendly competition challenging each other in games of pool, cornhole and bowling.

Day two of RTO World 2019 opened with the RTO Education Continental Breakfast sponsored by Color Ad, Crosley Corporation, O’Rourke Sales Company, and Progressive Furniture Inc. Store Managers’ registered in the Small Batch Experience also got an exclusive sneak peek of the trade show floor during breakfast. At the Education General Session sponsored by High Touch Technologies that morning, keynote speaker JD Smith, Chief Operations Officer of Aaron’s Inc., spoke on how his experiences growing up shaped him into who he is today. Smith mentioned several pivoting points from childhood to adulthood including when he met retired Cowboys football player, Roger Staubach.

Dennis Shields, Jill McClure, and Dan Fisher had the honor of opening the doors to the trade show floor at the annual Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

Following the Education General Session, attendees raced down to the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held in front of the exhibit hall that opened the doors to the RTO World Trade Show. This year’s tradeshow offered 53,000 square feet of products and services; a networking lunch co-sponsored by Byrider Franchising and Climatic Corp.; snacks and refreshments sponsored by Coaster, Symbol Mattress, and Tempoe; an ice cream break sponsored by Ideal Software Systems, Inc.; and a continental coffee talk breakfast sponsored by Lane/United Furniture Industries, National Coverage/NCTV, Relation Insurance, and Sealy Mattress Company.

There were also a few surprises during the trade show such as the innovative 4,000 square foot RTO Works rent-to-own store courtesy of American Rental and the APRO member lounge. This year’s APRO Member Lounge was a beautiful 10 x 20 shed graciously donated by Andrew Yoder from Russellville Rentals that was auctioned off on the tradeshow floor for $4,500. That wasn’t the only event that raised money on the tradeshow floor. Shots for Scholarships raised $12,000 auctioning shots of whiskey at $1,000 a pop. With the assistance of auctioneer Casey Pristou, APRO raised a total of $16,500 to benefit the APRO Scholarship Fund.

Next, and with a continued focus on education, another group of breakout sessions took place for the second day of the store managers’ Small Batch Experience on Wednesday afternoon. New to this year’s schedule, store managers could attend RTO World as a ‘Small Batch’ registrant. The Small Batch Managers’ Experience included special event invitations, a sneak peek of the trade show expo, and specially designed speaker presentations. Small Batch Experience speakers included Nancy Friedman, Ron Brown, Rachel Casey, Martin “Elvis” Valdez, Adam Sutton, Leonard Alonzo, Kirby Salgado, Jessica Mahon, Owen Pye, and Breanna Ratering.

Shots of whiskey at $1,000 a pop raised a total of $12,000 benefitting the APRO Scholarship Fund.

One of the many informative presenters, Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor Customer Service, spoke at two different sessions this year discussing the do’s and don’ts of customer service. When asked what her experience has been like attending RTO World, Nancy Friedman answered, “On a scale from one to ten, a twelve.”

For the rest of the afternoon, there were a few more meetings as well as attendees trickling in and out of the exhibit hall, getting exposure to all the latest industry products and trends. However, the night was not over yet as the highly-anticipated evening social was about to begin just down the street at Louisville’s premier dining and entertainment destination Fourth Street Live!

The Tavern at Fourth Street Live! was the site of this year’s offsite party sponsored by Ashley Furniture Industries which brought everyone together for an evening to remember. The derby-themed evening was a great time had by all celebrating another exciting convention week of networking, learning and buying. The night included an RTO World 2019 photobooth, billiards and dancing.

Mary, Heather and John, Jr. Cleek got down and Derby at this year’s offsite derby-themed party.

On the final morning of RTO World 2019, a Coffee Talk Continental Breakfast was hosted to give attendees their last chance at coming together for peer bonding and visiting with exhibitors before heading back home.

“The success of this year’s RTO World was made possible by the contribution and efforts of everyone involved,” says APRO Executive Director Jill McClure “Attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, board members and staff all play an essential role that makes this event shine. We can’t wait to do it all again at RTO World 2020 August 17-20 in Tampa, Florida!

Click here to see more photos of the 2019 RTO World sneak peek album and keep an eye out for more exciting coverage and photos soon!