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The cost of doing business

News | June 1, 2011 | By:

Rain, fuel, payroll and a new website factor into spring’s profits.

The Midwest tent season is underway with more challenges than expected. All of us in the business know that weather is an issue; however, the relentless rain this spring has been particularly challenging. For Glawe, events such as annual soccer tournaments have been canceled or postponed due to high water on the site. Rentals that do occur require the crew to cart everything and add additional staking to compensate for wet soil conditions. This extra labor, along with surging gas prices, raises the cost of doing business.

We determine our pricing structure based on previous years’ data and the local economy. Rather than raise prices to compensate for higher fuel costs, we add a gas surcharge based on location. While corporate rentals are down, graduation party and wedding rentals have already surpassed last year’s sales. In addition, Glawe launched a new website this year that has been a boost to sales in both our tent and awning divisions.

I recently visited a colleague at Tacoma Tent and Awning, Tacoma, Wash., and learned that despite the geographic distance, this company is run logistically much as ours is. Our crews are trained in both the tent and awning areas and are interchanged as needed. The fact that we build custom fabric products for the awning side of the business allows us to fabricate special items on the tent side such as gutters and canopies, which is an asset on special jobs. The cash flow from tent rental is steady and consistent, whereas awning jobs have large deposits and payoffs but aren’t on a reliable schedule for weekly bills and payroll. All of our tent rentals require at least a 50 percent deposit to secure the rental with the balance payable at or before install. This policy ensures the rental and maintains a constant cash flow. I have rehired all of the seasonal employees now, so planning for a payroll that has gone from 6 to 20 is mandatory.

Our first big installation of the season was in April for an International Color Guard competition. The program has evolved from several smaller pole tents 10 years ago to more than 15,000 square feet of 8- to 20-meter clearspan. The 20-meter structure is multifunctional over several weekends and requires a curbing to be poured inside the tent by the base plates to ensure a completely dry surface. We also provide climate control and lighting as needed. This job requires working with several subcontractors, and timing all of the crews in adverse weather requires constant communication and many late evenings.

For smaller companies such as ours, hands-on involvement by the owner is essential, along with good cell phone communication, wireless internet and remote access of office computers. I can be on a job site yet still access our database if needed. Clients really appreciate an owner’s presence at a larger job, and that personal interaction is vital for a continuing relationship. Most of my crew have been with our company for 10 to 15 years, and that experience enables me to do many larger jobs for tents and awnings concurrently. We can’t always have good weather, but thank goodness we have great employees.

The second of five installments by Kathy Schaefer, owner of Glawe Awnings and Tents, Fairborn, Ohio, reflecting on the 2011 rental season.
Glawe was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, by an old world sailmaker, Charles Glawe. Horse blankets, wagon covers and heavy duck canvas were hot products for the company in the late 1800s.

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