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Working in challenging environments

Management | October 1, 2011 | By:

Weather, economy challenge tent rental business decisions.

The season is drawing to a close in the Midwest with yet more weather unpredictability.

I’m sure all tent companies experience their own seasons no matter what climate they are in, but this year we have all, at one time or another, been tested by unprecedented weather events. Unfortunately as our clients experience these extremes, plans are being changed and even cancelled. Our policy is for all tent rentals to be paid in advance, except for established accounts. Cancellation less than 10 days prior to the installation may result in retaining 25 percent of the rental price. Although we have this stated clearly in our contracts, there are times when a cancellation is clearly out of the customer’s control and we refund the entire deposit. Managing cash flow and payroll funds is never easy, but with these situations happening every several weeks, this year is especially tenuous.

I find the truly challenging aspects of running a business involve planning both the near and distant futures and managing the employees and finances that will be needed. In past years our company had many yearly events such as festivals, trade shows and corporate functions that we planned for and depended on. Tents were purchased and maintained knowing what the needs would be, and the cash flow from these jobs was predictable. There would always be a certain amount of graduation, wedding, tent sale and party needs that were historically predictable for a season. We constantly upgraded our inventory in the off season and made purchases as needed.

Given the current economic situation I no longer purchase or build tents based on past needs, but wait until a clear need is presented and respond to it. Many tent suppliers have seasonal sales, and in the past I would plan purchases accordingly; however, I now order items based on a definite need. Prior to 2008 we kept a group of core installation employees throughout the winter to wash tents and maintain equipment. Now only a few people do this, and I hire more students in the spring to finish what is not completed. Our unemployment rates have gone up, but this is preferable to having a large payroll in the winter months.

I am often amused by people who remind me that owning and operating a business is the American Dream. This is true in so many respects, because self motivation and hard work are generally rewarded by success, and in many cases the business and your personal life are the beneficiaries of this effort. I am grateful and appreciative of this opportunity, yet the daily stress and necessary 24/7 involvement can, at times, be quite a challenge. As I said in my August column, having the right employees is critical not only to a business’s success but also to one’s own well being. I do my own bookkeeping and payroll, supervise billing and payables and still am actively involved in the daily scheduling and installations. This is not unusual for our industry, and most of us would not have it any other way. The challenge is remembering the good times during the bad times.

The fourth of five installments by Kathy Schaefer, owner of Glawe Awnings and Tents, Fairborn, Ohio, reflecting on the 2011 rental season.

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