Even if you stock lighting equipment, a relationship with a lighting vendor will help you take advantage of everything fabric has to offer.
By Jon Weingarten
A continuing trend in the tent rental industry is the “one-stop shop” business model in which rental companies offer party rental products and decor services along with tents. It’s a logical strategy, and one that has helped many companies remain competitive.
But does that model extend to the increasingly high-tech and expensive area of fabric decor and lighting design? Highly customized tented events require unique design and raw or fabricated products that rental companies usually do not stock. Furthermore, these events tend to be one-off affairs for which the products and designs may not be used again. This poses an apparent contradiction to the core business philosophy of a rental company, for which profitability is predicated on the service life and turnover of its products.
The solution that many rental companies are discovering is to forge vendor partnerships that provide the creative, fulfillment and technical requirements of their clients while still profitably offering these services without compromising company resources. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of fabrics and lighting.
The ideal design vehicle
The obvious advantages of a tent in protection from the elements, space definition and sound containment also create a blank canvas with thousands of square feet of a plain white surface and a framing system that need to be visually addressed. Because of the diversity of fabric constructions, designs and the ability to graphically alter their appearance, tents make an ideal vehicle for designing themes and environments.
If a tent rental company does not make lighting design and decor a priority, it is not taking advantage of all that fabric has to offer. Many fabrics manufactured for the tent rental and decor markets are specifically designed to work with a broad range of lighting equipment and lighting techniques. Richard Taylor, lighting designer for Dazian Fabric Environments, says that when lighting is applied to fabrics, “it’s like an artist painting on canvas, creating unique visual effects of color, mood, drama, illusion, brand imaging and defining space on both linear and dimensional levels. Unlike hard surfaces, fabrics are relatively inexpensive, can be easily changed or moved, can cover blank walls and ceilings and offer an extraordinary platform for creating visual effects.”
Advances in LED lighting technology have created tremendous excitement in the tent rental industry, with many owners advocating their replacing conventional theatrical lighting. Nevertheless, most lighting equipment companies and lighting designers believe that theatrical and LED lighting can work together to turn a tent structure with its fabric decor into a work of art. Both types of lighting have advantages and disadvantages and should be used in different applications. Together they form a powerful tool for creating many different types of visual effects.
David Smith, president/CEO of ShowPro Inc./Media Bus a production company in Los Angeles, Calif., says that any application that can exploit LED lighting should do so.
“LED has more colors, is more easily programmed, uses less energy and will not burn out compared to conventional theatrical lighting,” he says. “However, there are a couple of applications where LED will not work as well as conventional theatrical lighting. Beam angle is more clearly defined with theatrical lighting, and theatrical lighting tends to be brighter than LED. The conventional arc followspots and gobo projections can’t be duplicated with today’s LEDs.”
What a partner can offer
Even if a tent rental company owns its own lights and has a lighting tech on its staff, a close relationship with a primary lighting company is necessary to provide a wide range of lighting elements for different applications and access to all the new lighting technology. Smith says that lighting companies are more versed at providing technical expertise for the different types of lighting used inside a tent, for example, ambient, stage, decor, table/centerpiece and arrival/exterior lighting.
“Furthermore, a good lighting vendor can work with a tent rental company as to how best to work within a client’s budget yet still provide beautiful effects,” he says.
The role of the lighting vendor is especially important because lighting needs will differ with each event’s scope and purpose, Taylor says.
“Individual lighting designers tend to favor a particular suite of instruments to create their designs,” he says. “Given the high cost of lighting equipment today, this could mean a multimillion dollar investment, a commitment a tent vendor is probably not prepared to make. Secondly there is the issue of maintenance and repair of lighting equipment that requires a high level of technical expertise and equipment.”
As lighting equipment becomes more technical, the need for an experienced lighting tech and lighting designer becomes more important. Working as a team, the pair can optimize the use of gear available and correct any problems on-site. Many lighting companies provide lighting techs and design services as part of their packages.
The role of the lighting designer is to translate the client’s ideas and budget into a finished design that integrates all aspects of the decor and the tent structure. A lighting designer brings together the desired color story, look and theme; the equipment; and the decor in the tent into a single cohesive finished product.
“Lights without a designer are like ingredients without a chef,” Smith says.
The lighting of fabric decor is a relatively new field of lighting design. As fabrics offer a wide range of possibilities for creating visual effects, a lighting designer plays a key role in an event’s decor selection and design. Tent companies and event planners must include the lighting designer in the planning stages of any event so that the designer understands the client’s needs, ideas and budget; the decor that will be used; the type of tent structure; type of lighting equipment available; and the desired visual effects.
The bottom line is that vendor partnerships in the area of lighting and decor services offer tent rental companies the most efficient path to both financial success and customer satisfaction. Very few tent rental companies have the technical expertise, creative orientation and financial resources to offer these services at the level their clients demand, with in-house personnel, products and equipment. Concentrate your resources on your core strengths, and leverage your business growth through partnering and other strategic relationships.