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Saving labor

Feature | May 25, 2015 | By:

By Janice Kleinschmidt

“Our philosophy is that installing tents is hard. How can we make it easier for the installer?” posits Kenny Puff, armed with an answer. “Every tent installer should have his own tool kit with the basics so they’re not continually borrowing or waiting for a tool.

“Now you come to the bigger equipment. You have to have some way to drive stakes other than manually,” he continues. “Then how do you remove the stakes?”

Puff approaches these questions as president and owner of Green Monster Mfg. LLC, which makes a hydraulic stake puller, and Party Line Rentals Inc., both of Elmsford, N.Y.

“Labor savings come from the top down,” says Tom Wodetzki, co-owner of tent rental company American Pavilion in Danville, Ill. “If owners, managers or lead installers don’t think ahead so that crews are always on task and working in the most efficient manner possible, then installations and removals will slow down. Even one wasted hour per day not only cuts into the bottom line in additional labor, but also costs more in equipment rental, reduced efficiency in truck usage, etc.”

All Occasions Event Rental of Cincinnati, Ohio, has invested in material-handling equipment such as a tractor-trailer with a piggyback forklift, hydraulic stake pullers and, most recently, a Tent OX™ and roof-panel puller. “One person can do a whole lot more with the addition of these pieces of equipment,” says Tommy Wilson, director of event services.

There’s more to labor saving than equipment, however.

“Probably the best thing we have done is look at our methods to determine if we are operating in the most efficient way we can,” Wilson says. “This includes videotaping a few installations to identify opportunities for improvement, as well as meeting with crews to create a plan prior to arriving at the site. We have found that a little planning goes a long way toward improving site efficiency.”

Main Attractions Inc. of Edison, N.J., employs two key labor-saving techniques. One is in the way items in the warehouse are bundled and racked. “We have a lot of cages and bins,” says Rocky Sconda, president and owner. “That helps with moving equipment to the jobsite and returning it to the tractor-trailer.”

The company’s second method for ensuring efficient operations is site scouting. “You can identify potential problems and have the ability to deal with them before the crew gets there,” Sconda says.
“One of the most overlooked aspects of labor saving is communication,” Puff says. “The other thing we have done is color code a lot of parts. Sometimes it’s not ‘that long pole,’ but ‘that yellow pole.’ Color is instantly recognized.”

Wodetzki considers job costing his company’s best labor-saving strategy.

“Running your costs after every job is a critical tool that shows where you may be underpricing rentals,” he says. “And accountability for crew leaders is paramount. As an owner doing work nationwide, I can’t be at every event. This is where job costing comes in. If there is a statistically significant variance from the norm, then we discuss the job with the crew leader to get a better understanding of what can be improved upon.”

Whether it’s equipment, a tool or a strategy, shaving the time that it takes to get crews on and off jobsites should be a prime consideration for any tent rental company.

“It could be the difference,” Puff says, “between being marginally profitable and very profitable.”

Learning curves

When tent rental companies introduce new equipment and tools into their operations, they think not only about the dollars expended, but also what kind of investment they need to make in training their employees to use them. The good news is that the leap is often not that big.

“Everything has a learning curve,” says Scott Woodruff, co-owner of Tent OX in Shippensburg, Pa. It takes about 30 minutes to become accustomed to driving a loader with articulated steering, he says; and with a stake driver attachment, a novice can drive stakes into the ground. “By about two hours of running, you are near the maximum efficiency. The learning curve is developing the hand-control dexterity.”

Labor-saving equipment and tools are best used when the inventory mix of the company matches the capabilities of the machine, Woodruff says. The greatest benefit of the Tent OX™ system, he notes, is derived when companies install tents 60 feet and wider and put them up on a consistent basis. “The labor savings come as a function of the number of times they use it,” he says.

Tent OX’s most recent development is a material-handling system (Tent Rack) for holding stakes, stake bars, baseplates and cables. “One person drives and another walks alongside and they distribute materials in one trip around the tent, versus a crew of six picking up two stakes in each hand and walking them to points.”

Most customers invest in a suite of four attachments: stake driver, stake puller, center pole raiser and forklift.

“The OX Driver is the attachment that probably has the greatest impact in operations,” Woodruff says. “It has a huge labor-savings component to it—saving on worker fatigue and burnout. The material handler is second and the stake puller third [in impact].”

Kenny Puff, president and co-owner of Green Monster, says his company’s hydraulic stake puller takes about 30 minutes of practice time “to see how the machine works and what it can do.”

The Tentmaster from SKP GmbH of Germany requires no real training or special auxiliary equipment, according to CEO Matthias Segeit.

“The unit is complete. It needs only a 110-volt, single-phase power generator, which most tent companies already use,” he says. “The unit is delivered with pulling ropes and a sliding bar for running over the beam. We have a video of how it works and a manual to get all the details, but the unit is self-explanatory.”

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