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Expert advice on snagging large-event clients

Features, Management | December 1, 2010 | By:

Event architect Karen Koppel answers questions about what large-event clients need from your tent rental company.

As a tent rental company bidding on portions of large events, are you aware of what might make or break the bid for you? Or what will ensure that your company will be sought out for future events? Karen Koppel, an event architect with 15 years of experience in the event industry, was responsible for the design and temporary infrastructure build-out of the city competition and noncompetition venues and support facilities for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, and will be presenting at Tent Expo 2011. Here, Koppel answers a few questions about what the client needs from tent rental companies—from bid to implementation.

[Q] What are the most common mistakes companies make when writing proposals?

The biggest issue is whether a company researched and understood the project. You can tell if a company has done due diligence or if they’re just cranking out proposals in a hurried fashion. Sometimes we’ll get a response to a question in the request for proposal (RFP) that states: “Yes, we can do that.” However, they don’t explain how they can do it. I’ll give you an example: If we’ve asked for an implementation schedule, we’re asking for not just how they’ll install the product but for the entire schedule from the moment they are awarded the contract. The more they understand the project, the more detail will be in the schedule. This is one of the criteria we use to evaluate a bid.

[Q] What role do images play in your selection process?

Images are a standard part of most proposals but quality counts. Good images of past installations are extremely helpful to us so we see what the vendor can do. Good images of innovative applications stand out to us, and even if we don’t end up using that vendor for a particular event, we remember them for future events. One case of that was when we received an image of a double-decker tent. You don’t see a lot of double-decker tents, and for an event when you’re short of space that is a viable option.

[Q] Are there any other things that companies can do to make their bid more appealing to the client?

As a part of the RFP we ask vendors how they’ll be able to work with the event’s VIK (value in kind) from our sponsors. The more flexible and cooperative they are for using the event’s VIK, the more appealing they are as a preferred vendor. It’s not difficult to do a little homework on this so that you can make specific suggestions. For the Olympics, the sponsors were listed on our website. One of the sponsors was McDonald’s, so we had a vendor who proposed feeding their crew McDonald’s food for lunch. Another sponsor was Rona, a Canadian distributor and retailer of hardware, home renovation and gardening products. Vendors proposed specific ways that they would use the retailer for related installation materials. Paying attention to the VIK is a great tip for vendors because it helps the client use their sponsorship dollars to balance the budget. It’s not just for large events; many smaller events have sponsorships too.

[Q] What do you require from vendors regarding administration and progress tracking?

One of the bigger problems I’ve found when working with vendors is whether or not they have the capacity for the administration that participating in a larger event requires—all the progress tracking, recording and documentation. For the Olympics we asked for Fit-Out schedules for every venue’s overall progress tracking. We needed to know where the tents were at any given moment: Are they on a truck? Are they on a train? Are they here in the area or at the venue and ready to be installed? Knowing the status of the vendor’s progress assures the client that the vendor will make the deadlines for installation.

[Q] In past projects, if you had a concern that a deadline wasn’t going to be met in time, how did you expect vendors to address that concern?

Usually what we would do at that point is say, “OK, it doesn’t look to us like you’re going to make that goal so we need a plan B. How are you going to address this?” We put it back on the vendor to find solutions. One example from the Olympics was that there was a venue that was behind schedule because of snow and access issues. The vendor’s solution was to move resources to a different venue to implement the buildout on that site first. Another example was when there was a problem with one of the bigger tents; the vendor suggested installing 20 smaller tents first so they could stay on schedule. It’s a conversation back and forth—it’s a time when staying in close communication is key.

[Q] What do you require from vendors regarding permitting?

If it’s a smaller event, a lot of times we’ll have the vendor pull the permits. For the Olympics, we had the vendors submit structural drawings to our permitting consultant and he acted in the role of a certified professional to make sure the drawings were accurate and met the requirements for permitting. For U.S. companies, they hired a local structural engineer to do the drawings for them and then those drawings were submitted to the certified professional.

[Q] After completion of a project, what should vendors ask the client so they can evaluate their performance?

Other than the general question of overall satisfaction, it’s a good idea to be specific:

  1. Was the paperwork done to your satisfaction?
  2. If there was a request for information, did we get it back to you in a timely manner? For something like pricing, I need to know the cost of adding another 10-by-30-foot tent quickly so that I can decide whether it will be included in the project.
  3. What issues did you have regarding this project?
  4. Did you like the quality of the tent?
  5. Did you like the manner in which they were installed?
  6. Did we keep our sites cleaned to your satisfaction?

[Q] Do you have any suggestions for smaller companies that may not have enough product to participate in a larger event?

One of the options is whether there are any other projects that are related to the big event. For example, in the Olympics there were a lot of related events, owned and managed by others. The City and Province had “Live Sites.” These events happened at the same time and smaller companies were able to participate by providing tenting and other commodities for those events.

Karen Koppel recently worked as the as the Director of Overlay—City Venues for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. She will be presenting at Tent Expo 2011. For more information on Tent Expo, visit

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