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Breaking into the custom printed tent market

June 1st, 2007 / By: / Feature, Marketing

Providing custom printing options and sideline services can enhance your bottom line.

At any given event, a sea of white tents can be a little baffling to navigate. And with companies constantly looking for ways to stand out from the competition, a custom-printed tent may be the answer. For tent manufacturers who specialize in printed materials, this is good news as they are eager to supply the demand. But it is also good news for tent rental companies, who can act as liaisons between manufacturers and end clients to provide services beyond the purchase of a printed tent.

Shelly Lapping of Economy Tent International in Miami, Fla., says that tent rental companies have a great opportunity to build a whole new relationship with their clients, showing them how they can save money over time with their own custom tent. Clients could pay only for the installation and tear-down of the structure, along with any tables, chairs and other accessory items that come along with the job.

“It is very important for the rental company and tent manufacturer to have a good, trusting and reliable relationship,” Lapping says, “because usually the purchaser, whether it is the rental company or the purchaser of the custom tent, has an upcoming event for which the tent has to be in hand.” She notes that this can put the rental company in a precarious situation if the tent manufacturer cannot meet the deadline.

Of course, when it does work out, this kind of relationship can be very profitable for all parties concerned. For example, Nelson’s Tents and Events in Apopka, Fla. acquired a contract with Bruce Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson and has purchased several custom tents from Economy over the past few years for “Bike Week” in Daytona Beach. Nelson’s sets up the tents and then handles all of the other rental needs for the hundreds of thousands of people who attend the event.

“The custom logo tents are becoming more popular everyday,” says Lapping. “It is a great way for companies to catch the consumer’s eye by simply advertising their logos. The exposure of custom covers has generated more business for us as well as Nelson’s.”

Breaking into the business

There are many ways for a tent rental company to break into the custom tent business. Some companies can start as easily as contacting their local sign and banner shop to find out if they can create a sticker decal that will adhere to vinyl and can be removed at the end of the event. According to Alex Kouzmanoff of Aztec Tents in Torrance, Calif., creating a corporate logo for one-time use can be an easy way to break into this market, especially if you are a small business who wants to start attracting bigger clients.

“It’s not very complicated to get the logo file from the customer, give it to the sign shop and have it made into a sticker that is flexible with the tent,” Kouzmanoff says. “There are some companies that can do the applications on site. This is an ideal temporary solution to creating custom artwork on tents. The important thing is to have graphics that can go on and then come off.”

Anchor Industries Inc. in Evansville, Ind. recently purchased its own printer to do custom printing on fabric. Anchor’s Jay Hoesli says the company can print vinyl sticker decals as well as print on the vinyl itself. By working with the client to produce a CAD rendering, the company can shape the size and measurements before the final printout.

“It definitely makes the tent into a work of art and livens up the basic white tent, which is really just an open canvas,” Hoesli says.

As printing capabilities improve and change, more and more options become possible for rental companies who want to offer this service to their clients. Typically, there are three techniques used to place custom graphics onto the fabric. Decals are convenient but can be difficult to remove without hurting the PVC, which is susceptible to permanent creases when the fabric is folded. Silk screening is another option, but colors must be separated so that they do not run together. This method is often best used on logos that are one color and complemented by white.

Digital printing is the cutting-edge technology when it comes to custom graphics on tents. For digital printing, usually the client sends over the artwork in a digital format, Lapping says, allowing the manufacturer to enlarge the graphic dimensionally to fit the size of the panel. She says digital printing is the best option for complex logos.

“Digital printing is so precise and detailed that the logo or picture that the customer wants on the tent cover looks spectacular,” she says.

Whether a company has a digital printer capable of printing logo stickers for their clients or heavy machinery capable of running large bolts of vinyl through in order to print an entire panel, the cost of the product will largely be based on what is customized and how long it takes to produce. David MacArthur of Losberger U.S., Frederick, Md., says that one way a client can save money is to purchase one custom panel for a standard tent to be used over and over again.

“For about $1,500 they can have a decent resolution logo on a panel with a two to three-year guarantee, which can be a lot better than the peel-off kind,” MacArthur says. “Sometimes a customer will come in and ask just for roof panels. It is a nice way to customize a tent and give the end user some identity. Main Attractions in New Jersey has done this kind of thing very effectively and they are very good at providing the customer with the panels that they need.”

Best bets for clients

Finding clients who are natural fits for custom tents may not be as difficult as it sounds. In many cities across the nation, sporting events draw corporate sponsors from around the world. What better way to accommodate them than by having custom tents ready for use? Alexandre Renaud with Fiesta Tents Ltd. in Montreal says venues that host national events are good candidates for customized tents, because they can save money per rental by paying only for installation and setup, in addition to any other rental needs they may have.

“With the way we work it out in the rental end of our business,” Renaud says, “we can help reduce the cost to our corporate client by allowing them to simply buy the custom fabric and using our frames that we have on hand, which also ties them to us and locks in our relationship with them.”

Renaud says that corporate clients are also responsive to the idea that the rental company will clean the tent and, in many cases, store it for them when they are not using it. This is another big advantage to both the consumer and the tent rental company, who can charge a fee to handle the maintenance of a tent.

“Those who are not in the industry have no idea what all goes into washing and storing a tent or what kind of soap to use,” Renaud says. “When a company offers a cleaning and storage service, there are plenty of clients who are willing to let them take care of it.”

Lapping says she was surprised to learn that there is a whole market for custom tents from corporate clients. When Allure magazine contacted Economy and requested custom logo tents for an event they do twice a year, it offered possibilities across the supply chain.

“This was a perfect example of a large corporation that purchased several tents and then needed to hire a company for installation in different states,” Lapping says. “We assisted Allure with a few names of rental companies in the surrounding areas and their event turned out to be very successful.”

Reaping the benefits

Dave Caruso at Nelson’s Tents and Events says that acting as a facilitator between the manufacturer and the client has worked out well for his company. He now offers a variety of services to customers who want a custom tent rather than referring them on to a manufacturer, which has created a whole new marketing tool for his business. He does caution businesses that would like to offer these services not to bite off more than they can chew.

“You could end up with a warehouse full of stuff you don’t ever use,” Caruso says. “But for your bigger clients who are going to need your services on a regular basis, it can work out well. The client has a chance to have something custom made without worrying about how to set it up, keep it stored or get it cleaned. It definitely worked out for us.”

Julie Young is a freelance author based in Indianapolis, Ind.

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