Fabulous tent floors

When choosing the right flooring system for your tent rental business, look beyond the price tag to how the system will fit into your business.

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When you invest in a flooring system for your rental company’s inventory, are you really buying wood, or modular panels, or tiles? None of the above, says rental industry veteran Paul Buckles of HighView Seminars, Westcliffe, Colo. The tent foreman trainer and former flooring salesman says that when a rental company buys flooring, it is really buying time.

“You can buy materials for a plywood, lay-down flooring method and it is very usable, but the finished systems are faster when it comes to leveling and squaring, especially on difficult terrain,” he explains.

Ed Knight of EventQuip, Landsdale, Pa., agrees. His company stocks flooring options across the price spectrum, from high-end products such as Wenger’s STRATA® event staging and tent flooring, to EventDeck’s modular flooring options, to traditional lumber flooring, as well as a variety of floor coverings. Knight says a Wenger system takes about a fifth of the time to set up and install as a traditional stick floor.

“We have many styles to choose from, and during this period of recession it’s a question of meeting a client’s expectations and budget,” he says. “That’s the biggest limitation to flooring.”

Return on investment

Wood is the tried-and-true, economical flooring option for tented events, and when installed over a relatively level, grassy environment, it can be a perfect solution. But many tent rental companies find it profitable to have other options in their inventories. This is especially true for companies that specialize in higher-end events or are regularly faced with installing on uneven terrain.

Mike Holland of Chattanooga Tent Co., Chattanooga, Tenn., says that only about half of his clients opt for a floor, but the company has a variety of systems available in its own inventory and through sub-rental to meet any budget or event need.

“We have the traditional lay-down flooring consisting of ®-inch plywood screwed into 2-by-6 pieces of lumber with an indoor/outdoor turf covering,” he says. “In addition we use HexaDeck®, which are hexagonal-shaped panels that are two inches thick. It costs a lot more, but it is a lot less labor intensive, and it is built for performance. It can withstand the pressure of driving a tractor trailer on it.”

Serving the Los Angeles party scene, AV Party Rentals, Newhall, Calif., specializes in pre-fabricated dance floors, which fit together in sections. Company president Rusty Parr says that when a client comes to him for flooring, he assesses the need and what the client is willing to pay in order to achieve their vision for their event. Then he makes the call on whether or not to add to the company’s inventory or to subcontract from another source.

“We will do a floor occasionally for a client who wants to run their party off their porch and needs a level space, but in the current market, we have been doing less of it, which is to be expected,” he says. “We are not into events where flooring is a big part of the budget. There are companies who build elaborate systems and subfloors and we just don’t come across that. Our dance floors are pretty simple.”

After several years of sub-renting alternate flooring systems when plywood wouldn’t do the job, Regal Tent Productions Ltd., Stoney Creek, Ont., Canada, began to invest in higher-end floors.

“Installing the systems ourselves allows us to control the installation and removal timelines, the quality of the final product and all the other details that went into the floor,” Michelle McCulloch, Regal senior sales consultant, says. “It can be risky to trust someone else to install the flooring system on your behalf, when you consider the potential error or damage that could occur.”

Event solutions

Companies serving markets that do not require a lot of flooring installs may find purchasing a system cost prohibitive. When a client needs flooring for a specific job, Kathy Schaefer of Glawe Tent and Awning Co., Fairborn, Ohio, typically subcontracts from Holland’s company, but recently created a floor of its own.

“We had a big job and Mike suggested we make our own floor from lumber and plywood,” she says. “We did and we were able to rent it several more times since then. If we had subcontracted the job, it would have cost us $6,000. The process was labor intensive and it won’t last forever, but it would cost me just as much to subcontract it and not have anything to show for it. We are being careful to take care of it and to store it properly so we can get as much use out of it as possible.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Regal Tent had the opportunity to work with a ballast-free flooring system at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This integrated flooring system weighs down a clearspan tent so that additional ballasts or stakes are not required. McCulloch says it was the perfect solution to the challenge of installing tents on the side of a mountain while offering the finish expected at a high-profile, international event.

“I think you will start seeing more of that type of flooring used in unique venues around North America, though it can be expensive,” she says.

A little TLC

As with everything in a rental company’s inventory, care and maintenance are key factors in getting a great return on investment. Panels must be cleaned and stored properly, and some systems require special equipment to safely transport them to the job site. Even the high-end performance varieties are not indestructible.

“You can bend or break anything,” Knight says. “Aluminum installs fast but can be banged up easily, and even STRATA flooring, which is very nice, has a certain fragility.”

McCulloch says prolonging a floor’s lifespan begins with recommending to clients the right flooring for the job. Flooring used for an inside event is easy to clean, but outdoor items are susceptible to the elements and can suffer from rust, mold, mildew and other water damage. Flooring components must be cleaned, dried and stored properly so that they will have a long life.

The right flooring system can be a profitable investment for your business, but before you lay out the money, it pays to consider the kinds of events you specialize in, your labor costs, typical install and takedown times, the terrain you usually install over, special requests you hear from regular clients, and your transportation, cleaning and storage capabilities. With the spectrum of choices available in today’s market, you’re bound to find the right fit for your company. And you might buy yourself enough time to put on your dancing shoes.

Julie Young is a freelance writer based in Indiana.

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