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Bigger, better, different

Features, Trend Watch | October 1, 2014 | By:

Heeding the call for unique event experiences, manufacturers of tents and fabric structures offer tent rental companies plenty of options to satisfy customers.

It’s a request event planners and tent rental companies hear a lot. Although it’s always been preferable for tents to make a good first impression, their primary job was to provide shelter in a safe manner. These days, planners and clients want tents that do more.

“Tents are beginning to help fill the decor void in many events,” says Dan Nolan, CEO and managing partner of Tents Unlimited Inc. Along with several sister companies, Tents Unlimited, headquartered
in Atlanta, Ga., provides full-service party and large-scale rental
support nationwide.

“For example, in the outdoor festival segment, we’re seeing the trends go to colorful designs, not just traditional stripes,” Nolan says. “In the wedding market, we’re seeing sailcloth tents become part of the decor because of the ambiance they provide. We’re also seeing more custom tent liners that aren’t just draped fabric.”

The demand for something different and the role tents increasingly play in the event experience have prompted tent manufacturers to develop a diverse range of options. Headquartered in Büdingen, Germany, RöDER Group manufactures mobile and modular space solutions for events and other uses, such as logistics and production.

“We notice that customers want extraordinary events, and this should be reflected in the whole scenery,” says Jens Brüggemann, board member of the RöDER Group. “They wish spectacular space solutions, which do not look like conventional tents, with glass walls and transparent roof tarps or fully cladded facades in the individual design of their tent.”

Two-story VIP hospitality tent systems are in high demand, Brüggemann says, especially for sporting events, because they afford sponsors and celebrities a good view of the action. Chad Struthers, vice president of Warner Shelter Systems Ltd., says he’s seeing widespread adoption of two-story tents. Located in Calgary, Alb., Canada, the company manufactures engineered party tents and fabric-clad structures. Struthers also notes that demand for clear walls and tops, which became more prevalent three or four years ago, has picked up.

“When it comes to tented structures for events, clients are always looking for something bigger, better and different,” Struthers says. For example, this year Warner manufactured an L-shaped tent of staggered height for a company displaying
at the Global Petroleum Show
in Calgary.

“For the previous three years, this company had covered their booth space with a very large tent, and the equipment was situated out in front of that structure,” he says. “For this year’s show, about 65 percent of the equipment was outside; the foyer and the greeting areas were inside the tent, which also had clear walls in the front.” This illustrates the trend toward customization, Struthers adds, mentioning that Warner receives about two or three calls a week for custom work.

What’s trending now

Spencer Etzel, tent division director for Rainier Industries, a Tukwila, Wash.-based tent and branded-environments design, engineering and fabrication company, mentions several key trends including:

  • The introduction of coated PVC fabrics with top-coated surfaces. “These could effectively double the life of tent top vinyl,” Etzel says. “This new generation of coated PVC fabrics provides a greater value to rental companies of any size [willing to invest] a few more dollars in better equipment.”
  • A demand for sound-deadening or thermally insulated tent panels.
  • Carbon fiber internal support, introduced by some manufacturers to add strength to structural beams while weighing less. “However, we feel this won’t have an impact for some time in the short-term rental market due to the extremely high costs,” he says.
  • More engineered fabric structures used as event facilities because of the adoption of more demanding codes. “These are driving much of the change to engineered, stronger tent systems,” Etzel says. Although medium- to large-sized rental businesses will initially be more affected by the changing requirements because larger tents typically undergo more scrutiny, standards are being developed that could impact smaller tents, so rental companies of all sizes should be aware.
  • Curved and rounded roofs, some with overhangs, are showing up as well, Etzel says.

Other manufacturers note additional trends. Gordon Myers, vice president of global sales and marketing for Creative Tent International Inc., says the company is continuing to experience increased interest in U.S.-made products. Located in Henderson, Nev., the company manufactures engineered tension fabric structures for commercial, industrial and military markets worldwide.

Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president of Aztec Tents, says that although the sailcloth tent has been around for years, demand is reaching an all-time high. Located in Torrance, Calif., Aztec produces tents and structures for a variety of end users, including event rental companies.

As for rope and pole tents with quarter poles, they seem to be on their way out, says Nolan. “They’re serving the lower end of the market, but as more and more companies add newer, modern type of tents, they’re less and less in demand.”

Beyond events

Kouzmanoff notes an increase in the use of fabric-clad building solutions for permanent and seasonal uses. He explains that technological improvements, particularly concerning clearspan structures, glazing systems and specialty facades have “blurred the distinction between temporary, event-driven solutions and permanent construction.”

Etzel notices the same, mentioning the demand for custom-shaped or custom-configured tents for permanent or semi-permanent installations. “These projects are typically subject to more than the typical oversight, and require significant project management, but can result in a lower-cost, great-performing facility,” he says.

More applications are emerging and will continue to do so, Brüggemann says. For example,
in addition to its event and industrial business, the RöDER Group offers solutions for airplane and helicopter hangers; manufactures, sells and rents lunging halls and riding areas for equestrian sports; and provides environmentally friendly waste disposal halls—a good choice for soil remediation, green waste disposal and composting on any surface, he says.

Tents can help companies meet sustainability concerns, often an issue when it comes to semipermanent or permanent structures, says Struthers. “For example, if an oil company is using a clearspan tent, this enables them to more easily return the land to what it was when they’re finished since tents have very little to no impact on the ground.”

And where space restrictions exist, fabric structures are standing in for grocery stores, schools, municipal buildings and even prisons, Nolan says. “I believe sustainable energy needs and real estate portability will drive the opportunities we have for fabric structures to emerge into other innovative uses.

“We will see some big things coming in the next few years,” he continues. “I look forward to being a part of the industry during this time and as long as we can sustain the improving economic conditions, we will continue to progress.”

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.

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