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Reflecting on the tenting season

Management | December 1, 2011 | By:

A challenging season evokes reflections on tent rental past and future.

The year 2011 is almost over and, like most rental business owners, I am planning for winter and the ensuing slow cash flow. It is also time to think ahead to next year’s tenting season, evaluate equipment and assess future needs. Many of the supplier tent companies are offering purchasing programs and have had fall exhibit shows and training that have helped with this planning. In previous years we would keep our core installers throughout the winter to wash and repair tents; however, due to the economy of the last several years, they have gone on unemployment from Christmas until early March. Our awning business is year round, so we have a limited number of employees available to handle off-season rental business.

In the April issue of InTents I wrote of the upcoming season, “I can only hope for high sales volume, low gas prices, conscientious and efficient employees and good tent weather.” As the season progressed I am happy to report that the sales volume was more than prior years, and the employees have done a great job. Gas prices have remained high and the weather this season has been more difficult than most years. I spoke with colleagues at a recent tent trade show and most if not all of them have had similar situations. We have noticed that the economy has forced smaller companies out of business, and that client loyalty is not as much of a factor as price point. Having repeat jobs can no longer be taken for granted; pricing is more competitive, yet project results and customer service are expected to be flawless.

An event I had worked with for nearly 10 years received competitive pricing this year and asked me to match the prices of a company I was not familiar with. I had not raised my prices to this client in years and I was already below my regular pricing. I would not reduce what I thought was fair pricing and consequently lost the job. When I attended the event, I observed older canvas tents with pinholes and inadequate staking. I spoke with my client who advised me that they could no longer worry about appearances or details—they needed to save money. Other renters have experienced this as well, and we all believe this attitude will be prevalent as long as the economy is struggling.

My father, Vern, has been involved with our family business since he was 17. With the wisdom of an 80-year-old, he tells me that the key to longevity in the tent rental industry is to be adaptable and progressive and never sacrifice quality and service.

Glawe has weathered many storms in our 135 years, both literally and figuratively. The financial challenges of the Great Depression and the various recessions led us to develop new product lines, time-saving techniques and lean management. Our challenge will be to continue to be diligent with safe and efficient operations while seeking new avenues for growth and financial stability.

The fifth of five installments by Kathy Schaefer, owner of Glawe Awnings and Tents, Fairborn, Ohio, reflecting on the 2011 rental season.
Vernon Schaefer began working at Glawe as a teenager after school and during summers. With the exception of serving in the army in the Korean conflict, Vernon has been with Glawe since that time, now at the helm of the company along with a new generation of family members.

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