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Using perfect timing and flawless communication to create successful events

Event Production, Features | August 1, 2009 | By:

Successful tented events require that rental companies, event planners, crews and vendor-partners communicate and work according to a shared timeline.

At Made In The Shade Tent Rentals in West Sacramento, Calif., breakdowns in timelines and communication are rare. But when they do happen, the company nips the problem in the bud. Case in point: At a food and wine event this past spring, a vendor’s spider boxes went missing. “We determined there was a breakdown in paperwork,” explains Donny Vasquez, vice president of sales and marketing. “When things were being delivered, it wasn’t getting signed off properly. It put a magnifying glass on how our crews deal with vendors on-site.”

His solution? “It’s now our policy that a vendor takes their delivery slip directly to the crew leaders, who verify that everything is accounted for and sign off on it, and then the vendor is free to go,” Vasquez says, adding that the same goes for retrieval of items after the event.

It’s a familiar scenario. Despite everyone’s best efforts, details occasionally fall through the cracks. But by putting into place solid communication strategies and developing realistic timelines, tent renters and event planners can minimize potential problems.

Everyone in the loop

When establishing best practices in communication and timelines, tent rental owners and managers must consider the client, the installation crew and other vendors who will contribute to the event. Vasquez takes a hands-on approach to ensure that every component of an event is attended to. “I go to the site with my measuring stick and walk the job with the client,” he says. “I take fairly detailed notes and make rough sketches of the area they want tented, and I return to the site on my own and at the time of delivery to ensure proper installation.”

Event planners take a similar approach. “Prior to installation, we visit the site, provide a layout to the installers and sometimes a scale drawing as well,” says Melynda Norman-Lee, general manager of J J L Events Inc., Toronto, Ont.

Experienced event specialists involve the tent rental company from the start. “I look to the tent rental company for expert advice on all the tenting possibilities, especially keeping in mind the footprint of the property, the slope of the terrain, any wind and weather patterns and, above all, safety,” says Allison Jackson, owner of Pineapple Productions, Washington, D.C.

Event planners shoulder the responsibility of developing timelines for the tent rental company and other vendors. “Most crucial is establishing an effective installation schedule as early as possible in the planning process because so much rides on it,” Jackson says. “As a planner, I have to rely on the tent company for information regarding the amount of time to install various aspects of the tent. My role is to make sure the tent company gets that time requested, and I do my best to budget for extra time in the event of bad weather on the event week.”

For the tent rental company, thorough communication with the installation crew is paramount. Each May, Made In The Shade provides more than 60 tents and structures for the ZinFest wine festival in Lodi, Calif. After multiple visits with the event’s organizer at the site for this year’s festival, Vasquez communicated the plan to his crews. “Even though they have done this job many times and know the location, we send them out with a packet of maps, diagrams of the layout, directions for timing, placement of walls and safety packages,” he says.

For American Pavilion, Danville, Ill., detailed communication with crews is particularly important because the company specializes in installing clearspan structures nationwide. A meeting with crew chiefs before they leave town involves a review of tent sizes and requirements, the terrain, equipment needed to complete the install, and where they will go on their next jobs, says co-owner Tom Wodetzki. In addition, the crews receive a packet of forms outlining this information.

One particular area of emphasis for American Pavilion is a properly loaded truck. “The number one thing we stress here is accountability,” Wodetzki says. “The person who loads the truck has to make sure all the pieces are on it according to the custom-written load list we use. A single piece of equipment can be 34-feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds. If you forget to load it, you can’t just throw it on a UPS plane and overnight it.”

Event planners also need systems in place to prevent typical communication breakdowns such as scheduling mishaps or missing/forgotten equipment. “After signing the contract with our suppliers, we double-check the details, follow up a day or so before the installation and ask for confirmation of any changes along the way,” says Norman-Lee.

Best laid plans

Even the best laid plans can’t always prevent surprises—but they can certainly lessen their impact. For a March 2008 event in Ohio, American Pavilion sent a crew of eight to the site to install a 100-by-424-foot tent complete with flooring, glass doors and heat. Unfortunately, two of the crew chiefs came down with the flu—one landing in the emergency room twice.

Wodetzki immediately drove to Ohio. After bringing the crew leader back to his hotel room from the hospital, Wodetzki saw a weather report that a major snowstorm was heading for the area. He called an emergency meeting the next morning with the crews and client, asking that all the fabric be taken off the tent because the forecasted snow would cause the structure to collapse. Wodetzki also worked with the client to arrange maintenance crews to clear the snow from under and around the tent. The only problem? When Wodetzki made the call, there wasn’t a snowflake in sight. “I think the crew thought I was a little nuts because it takes a day or two to pull all that fabric on, and at that point, the weather didn’t look too horrible,” he recalls.

Wodetzki’s decision was the right one. More than a foot of snow hit the area. And though they lost two days of installation (and the two crew chiefs, whom Wodetzki drove home), American Pavilion pulled off the event seamlessly—on time and budget.

Most tent rental companies have found that when it comes to encountering obstacles, teamwork can successfully bring an event together. From the planning stages to the event itself, teamwork keeps timelines flowing smoothly. As Norman-Lee puts it, “In the event of a problem, communication is the key, and compromise is usually the solution.”

Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Pine City, Minn.

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