Companies relay their tent-related headaches and how they’ve learned to cope.
By Eileen Engebretson
You’ve seen them before and you’ll see them again—sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid them. Who are those uninvited guests? They are those particularly maddening problems that tent rental companies come across during tent installations or other event setup activities. These repeat problems generally seem to fall into one of three areas: communication, installation and takedown, and weather.
“Oh, boy, do I have stories to tell,” you’re thinking to yourself. Here, several companies relate their stories of common problems—and solutions.
Communication is vital for smooth-running events, but some clients don’t like to share information. Ken Andrew, president of Andrew Tent Company Inc. in Albany, Ga., says that one of his company’s biggest problems is just that. “People will give us a place name, but not an address,” he says. The rental company can’t possibly know the location of every site in its market. Brian Gould, vice president of operations at Christian Party Rental, Hollis, N.H., agrees. “If we don’t get good directions—or any at all—we can’t count on online mapping because of so much new construction.” Use all available options to find your way: internet directions, GPS systems and old-fashioned paper maps.
Gould also suggests close communication with other vendors for the event. “If there isn’t good communication, assumptions can be made, causing delays for everyone. Schedules can be so tight that one delay can impact the next event.”
Mike Holland, operations manager at Chattanooga Tent Co., Chattanooga, Tenn., says effective planning is vital. “Two weeks out, we have a planning meeting. In our busy season, we meet every day.” These meetings make sure everyone on the project is on the same page.
Communication can also educate the client. “People don’t know the difference between a 60-inch table and a 6-foot table,” Andrew says. “Because most of our business is repeat, educating clients makes them better clients.” He adds, “A cool-headed person in the office is needed, someone who will cover things before they happen or get worse.” Another way to educate the client is by including good, solid policies in the contract.
So you get to a site only to find you’re missing parts, tools or other equipment. Bob Binns, operations manager at A Rental Connection in Canoga Park, Calif., shares that the way his company eliminates that problem is by using a load list. “One person supervises the loading of everything on the list and signs the list when it’s done,” Binns says.
Holland has run into another problem: The site isn’t ready for installation or takedown, even though the company has been assured that it is. One way to combat this problem is to include fees for delay of installation and takedown.
When the install does get going, staking headaches can be made worse if clients don’t know where gas lines and sprinkler systems are, Gould says. Even if the clients profess to know, be extremely careful. Also be aware of geography. Gould’s company, in New Hampshire, runs across granite “ledge,” a geographic feature of the area that can make staking difficult. To avoid problems like these, do a site survey with the clients to make them aware of the tent’s intended location and to get information about underground lines. If all else fails, bring concrete weights to replace stakes.
Another problem? High-voltage power lines. If it’s an option, ask the power company to remove the lines for the event (with the cost borne by the client). If that’s not an option, it might be possible to lower the tent height by lowering the legs. What’s never an option is compromising safety for convenience. “Don’t be afraid to say no if the proposed solution isn’t safe,” Binns says. “The whole industry benefits from being ethical.”
Weather brings its own set of problems. If possible, install a day or two early to avoid wind problems, Binns advises. He says his company “purchased tents that allow us to put the frames up and integrate the keder tops into the frame to anchor them.” Another idea to combat high winds is to add extra anchoring.
Gould says that in his area of the country, snow, wind and rain can affect his company’s projects. “There are a lot of sleepless nights at graduation time!” he says. Taking down tents that are wet can lead to mold. If there isn’t time to dry them completely, try to install them as soon as possible at the next location to allow them to dry.
Is there hope?
Is there a way to prevent all of these uninvited guests? Sadly, no. But awareness and preparation can keep the major headaches to a minimum. “We look at situations not as problems, but as opportunities,” Andrew says. Gould adds, “No matter how well we plan our functions, there is always a potential problem waiting at the job site or on your way there. Just try to deal with it to the best of your ability and remember that keeping the customer happy should be the number one goal.”