The third annual RTO World, hosted by APRO and TRIB Group, recently ended. With many unsure what the virtual event would deliver, the convention and tradeshow left many participants with their expectations exceeded. RTO World surpassed or met its goals with 788 participants and $11.4 million in sales from the Hot Show. While 2020 has not been a kind year for many of our industry events, the rent-to-own industry can reflect on RTO World 2020 Virtual as an event that provided much-needed connection.
“While we would have preferred to be all together in Tampa as originally planned for RTO World 2020, we made the most of it through our virtual convention. The industry showed up for it and made the most of our reality,” said Chris Kale Sr., Co-owner of CPL Group Inc., dba Rent King and APRO President. “After both attendees and vendors had orientation training and a few hours to acclimate to the virtual platform, our industry adapted well to the virtual environment. The overall feedback from dealers and vendors was decidedly positive!”
The RTO World 2020 Virtual Kick-off began from the comfort of participants’ screens on Tuesday, September 8. In the opening, we heard from the Presidents of APRO and TRIB Group, Chris Kale Sr. and Chris Kale Jr., respectively, along with APRO Executive Director Jill McClure, TRIB Group Executive Director Dennis Shields, and Gary Jones from Ashley Furniture Industries, the event sponsor. Kick-off led into the TRIB Group Membership Meeting and then into the Peer Group Meetups.
“We are pleased with the outcome of our industry’s first-ever virtual convention,” said McClure. “While meeting in person is always our preference, the virtual convention provided a way for vendors and dealers to come together for business and camaraderie.”
Peer Group Meetups have traditionally been a favorite way to connect attendees on the first day of the convention. For the meetups this year, participants connected on screens with their counterparts from other companies and engaged in insightful, knowledgeable and relevant conversations to build their network and professional expertise about the current state of the rent-to-own industry as it approaches the 4th-quarter holiday season. Five peer groups had meetups, including Dealers/Owners, Store Managers, Buyers, District Managers and Marketing Professionals.
Attendees enjoyed a lighthearted social time at the Hot Show Cocktail Mixer before jumping into the Hot Show’s presentation, sponsored by Whirlpool Corporation. During the Hot Show Mixer, RTO folks enjoyed friendly conversations in the meeting space and the chat while a slide show of pictures from previous RTO World events played. For this virtual version of the Hot Show, buyers and participants downloaded the TRIB Group app to submit orders. The app replaced paddles typically used in a crowded and bustling Hot Show. Simultaneously, as items transitioned on the app, RTO’s tried-and-true auctioneer, Lyn Leach, presented products and deals live through the RTO World Platform for everyone to watch, ending with his signature, “sold, sold, sold”. Overall, the Hot Show exceeded expectations with an estimated $11.4 million in sales, comparable to the RTO World 2019 results.
“The Hot Show worked out really well, as we had envisioned. Using our app instead of paddles proved to be a positive change, and the app with its functionality will certainly be used for various buying opportunities throughout the year,” said Shields.
The second day of RTO World began with Mike Tissot, owner of Countryside Rentals Inc., dba Rent-2-Own. In his keynote, Navigating the Stormy C’s, Tissot highlighted five elements that businesspeople can leverage to push their organizations into clear blue skies. Shortly after the highly anticipated keynote, the RTO Education Sessions began. Attendees had the option to tailor their experience by choosing sessions from the following tracks: Dealers/Owners, Store Managers, and All Audiences. Wednesday’s Education Session options included Operations Panel: Powering through the Pandemic featuring Trent Agin, SKC Enterprises Inc., dba Rent One; Michael Bennett, Buddy’s Newco LLC, dba Buddy’s Home Furnishings; Todd Wilkins, Fairway Leasing LLC, dba Aaron’s Sales & Lease Ownership; and moderated by Jill McClure. Other Wednesday sessions included Train the Trainer: Deliveries, with Angie Brubaker, SKC Enterprises dba Rent One and Chip Guy, Buddy Mac Holdings LLC, dba Buddy’s Home Furnishings; and Idea Lab: Driving Sales through Social Media, with Jessica Mahon, Countryside Rentals Inc., dba Rent-2-Own.
After a break, the highly anticipated virtual Tradeshow floor opened for the first time during the convention. All exhibitors had the opportunity to engage attendees by customizing their virtual booths. Through the 18,995 booth visits during the three days of tradeshow hours, exhibitors received 1,227 information requests and held hundreds of one-on-one meetings with attendees. While nothing can replace face-to-face interaction many exhibitors and attendees felt these interactions were the next best thing. Some even found additional benefits to the virtual format.
“Since we operate on very remote islands, it is difficult and expensive for the staff to attend APRO events. With a virtual event, all of our managers could attend and see the business side of RTO. The cost of travel would have reached into the tens of thousands of dollars normally. This virtual event made learning affordable,” said Daniel Singh, Chief Executive Officer of Dial Rent To Own, whose stores are based in Aruba, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. “Our managers were able to gain valuable ideas and insight. The management team was motivated to put into practice the ideas they learned. And our managers were able to meet the vendors in person, which helped foster friendship and loyalty. They enjoyed the solidarity of the entire Dial Team being one in this event.”
“RTO World turned out to be a tremendous success for the O’Rourke Sales Company,” said Bill French, Vice President of Rent-to-Own Sales from O’Rourke Sales Company. “The staffs at both APRO and TRIB did a great job of helping us prepare for the unknown.”
“As an exhibitor, we felt the conference was well organized and we still were able to participate in many of the events we would have wanted to attend in person,” said Kim Cardenas, CPA at Rivero, Gordimer & Company P.A. “You could still feel that sense of collaboration throughout those in the industry even though everyone wasn’t able to be together in one room, which is one of the aspects we have enjoyed most about this conference over the years.”
The last event of day two for RTO World was the Emerging Professionals Networking Social, hosted by the APRO Emerging Leaders Council (ELC) and sponsored by Nationwide RentDirect. The up-and-comers to the rent-to-own industry who attended the event had the chance to connect with others, play some fun Zoom games and win prizes.
“The Emerging Professionals Networking Social was a good time. I enjoyed playing games, giving out prizes and getting to know everyone,” said Jessica Mahon, Marketing Director of Countryside Rentals Inc., dba Rent-2-Own, ELC member and event organizer. “We were all able to engage with everyone. No groups, no cliques, we were able to see and talk to everyone.”
With her excellent recall ability, Candace Hill beat everyone at a memory-related game, while Amberlee Maya hustled to located obscure items to beat everyone in a group scavenger hunt. Hill and Maya each won a Visa Gift Card, along with drawing winners Casey Al-Sawalha, Danny Lastra, and Michael Skehan.
“It was great to see some familiar faces, and meet some new ones, at the Emerging Professional Networking Social,” said Owner and Operator of Happy’s Home Center’s Inc., ELC member and event organizer, Adam Stark. “I’m excited about the involvement those that attended will have in our networking events going forward.”
Day three of the convention featured more RTO Education. Lyn Leach and Daniel Singh shared lessons they learned through personal experience for Leadership through Turbulent Times. In Recapture Lost Revenue, Joe Pici discussed how to find and build sales talent for stores. Shirin Kanji and Dan Fisher explored why a leader’s perception needs to remain adaptable in Change Your Altitude: A Leader’s Perspective. Angie Brubaker and Mike Simoncini discussed how to host a Delivery Rodeo in Idea Lab: Delivery Rodeo 101. For Going Live! Reach More Customers with Interactive Video, Brian Eckleberry gave a tour of his video equipment, software and studio setup for video making. In Idea Lab: Being a Community Pillar During COVID-19, Dale Anderson III and Casey Fowler facilitated a conversation with attendees on how RTO can impact the community. Rachel Casey explored the parallel of employee retainment to relationship management with attendees in Idea Lab: Employee Engagement and Retention Promotions. Throughout the day, there were Product Demonstration & Training sessions hosted by Corsicana Mattress Company, O’Rourke Sales Company, Whirlpool Corporation and Ashley Furniture Industries.
The education sessions were carefully curated to provide the most relevant topics and knowledgeable speakers for all attendees. And attendees can even learn from the sessions they missed; all sessions were recorded and available on the RTO World platform for the next year. This gives participants the ability to revisit all the session materials to ensure they can put all they learned into practice.
After RTO Education Sessions, the tradeshow opened for the second time, which allowed attendees to reach out to exhibitors for information, conversation and sales. Following the tradeshow, the APRO Awards Celebration and Business Meeting, sponsored by Benefit Marketing Solutions and O’Rourke Sales Company, followed.
The Annual APRO Awards Celebration and Business Meeting ended Thursday on a positive note. The annual celebration recognizing contribution and achievement in the rent-to-own industry, was emceed by APRO Executive Director Jill McClure, APRO President Chris Kale Sr. and APRO board member Phillip Bumbry. Following the event, the celebration continued in the APRO Winners’ Reception, providing an opportunity for members to interact and congratulate the award winners in an informal environment. The celebration closed the last full day of the virtual convention and tradeshow, which left the following morning as the final opportunity for attendees to reach out to exhibitors and connect with others.
“RTO World proved to convert well to virtual. There was a steep learning curve for our staff teams, attendees and exhibitors, but it seems most people adapted well to it and were able to network, buy product and learn through the virtual event,” said McClure. “We know there are things we might do differently next time, but we’re pleased overall with our first virtual convention endeavor.”