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Equipped for efficiency

June 1st, 2013 / By: / Event Production, Feature, Tools & Equipment

Equipment Matters Part 1: Tent rental companies look to equipment purchases to offset other costs and promote health and safety.

Inc. magazine’s top six apps for businesses to boost efficiency will help you track hours worked on projects, accept credit card payments through your smartphone, invoice clients, monitor your traveling expenses, collaborate with people on a project and keep track of your LinkedIn® contacts—all on the go.

Thanks, 15-year-olds, we appreciate you stepping away from video games long enough to think about business needs. But what tent rental companies need more than apps is equipment—often many, many times larger and heavier than a handheld device. Listen to Kathy Schaefer, owner of Glawe Awnings and Tents in Fairborn, Ohio, which installs pole, frame and clearspan tents.

“Some of the bigger tents require heavy-duty equipment, both to
put things up and handle things
in the warehouse,” she says. “[Tents] are getting bigger, and time is more important, so you use equipment.”

Schaefer points to a 60-foot-wide tent as an example.

“You can do it without a Bobcat®, but it just takes more time,” she says. She has purchased a Bobcat, especially for rough terrain, and a couple of forklifts. But they require even more equipment.

“I have had to buy transportation equipment, like trailers, so we can off-load with a forklift,” she says. The equipment that has made the
largest impact on her crew are stake pounders and pullers.

“The less time my crew has to waste on mundane tasks that can be done with equipment, the more time they can spend doing layout and other skilled tasks,” Schaefer says. “And they’re very good at taking care of equipment. They realize I basically did it for them. I think that’s real key: having people who essentially ‘own it’ and are going to look out for it.”

Save time, ease load

Chattanooga Tent Co. of Chattanooga, Tenn., has embraced high-tech equipment: a radio-frequency identification (RFID) system to help locate items in its inventory.

“The change in price of RFID allowed us to jump into that as a locator and load check,” says Chattanooga Tent president Mike Holland. “It cuts down on errors. And simply looking for inventory that you spent hours looking for, you can now find in five minutes.”

Chattanooga also has invested in stake drivers and pullers and a Little Giant® expandable ladder, all of which make tent installation and takedown safer and more efficient.

“There’s one piece of equipment that has been a big help, and that is a fabric puller,” Holland adds. “When installing a large tent, 40 meters, we might use eight men to pull that top manually. With this piece of equipment, really two guys could do it—or you might use three, so that frees up the other five men to go do something else.”

Scott Woodruff, president of Event Central Rental & Sales in Mechanicsburg, Pa., is particularly happy with his articulated Gehl® mini loader with three attachments: stake driver, stake puller and center pole push.

“I get the staff enjoying the job more because they’re out there not doing something as physically exhausting,” he says. “We reduce our number of people on the job as a result of power equipment. To do a 60-foot-wide tent, I would need a minimum of six people without automation. And I can do that same job with four people [with equipment].”

Made in the Shade Inc. of West Sacramento, Calif., purchased a motorized stake puller last year at a trade show.

“It was on display, which gave us the opportunity to really look at it and discuss if it would be worth it financially,” Made in the Shade president Nancy Vasquez says. “The other thing to consider is whether seasoned employees would accept it and use it.”

Kevin Vasquez, Made in the Shade safety and field service manager, says the stake puller has “saved us so much time
getting stakes out, not bending them, not breaking the head. It has saved us a lot of money and backaches.” He notes that air compressors with a jackhammer and a roto hammer for predrilling holes speed tent setup. “The disadvantages to purchasing our own equipment are maintenance and repairs. We always have to take it to a local repair shop.”

JK Rentals Inc. of Kewaskum, Wis., has invested in forklifts, tent washers and vinyl pullers.

“We started pulling vinyl by hand, then using a forklift,” JK Rentals president Kurt Goeman says. “There are some vinyl pullers on the market that are a little faster, smaller and less tedious. We just have to make sure we can use it on the jobsite. It has to attach to something that’s almost immovable.”

Goeman finds himself renting extendable-boom forklifts on a weekly basis. Although JK Rentals could buy one, “One is not going to be enough, because we have multiple locations we need to be at,” he says. “With hauling and maintenance, it might not be cost effective to own one.”

Motivated to purchase

Safety, including building codes, combined with efficiency creates a powerful motivator for investing in equipment.

“The codes force us to buy engineered tents,” Goeman says. “We need different trucks to haul them. We need different forklifts to lift them.”

“The biggest force for me, using large pole tents, is the need to physically get the tent up without unnecessarily exhausting employees,” Woodruff says, noting that he subcontracted 60-foot-wide tents until he had equipment to drive stakes with automation. “If we don’t bring automation to a company, we
burn people out, and then you
have turnover. Giving employees tools to get the job done increases [employment] longevity.”

Marlene Leonard, owner of Big Top Tents & Party Rentals of Waukegan, Ill., says that the devices that have most benefited her crews are a gas-powered wacker/driver, an electric stake driver and a concrete drill that cuts installation time and crew size in half.

Glawe Awnings and Tents recently purchased the Block and Roll™ ballasting system.

“Technology is important, and safety is important,” Schaefer says. “I used to send a guy up on an extension ladder. Then I bought a scissor lift. It’s easier, faster and safer to use equipment that’s available than trying to do it the old-fashioned way.”

For Tents Unlimited Inc. of Marietta, Ga., competition motivates the company to examine every aspect of the business.

“Typically, labor is the most expensive input that we have,” says Sam Wodetzki, Tents Unlimited managing partner. “The ability to replace temporary labor with equipment such as skid steers and telehandlers gives us better control over the jobsite.”

“The value [in equipment] is how much time we are going to save on labor hours and prevent injuries to employees,” says Sergio Guevara, warehouse operation manager for Made in the Shade.

“You have so many rules to follow,” Leonard says. “City ordinances have changed dramatically in the past decade. It’s safety along with efficiency.”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer based in Palm Springs, Calif.

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