Every tent rental company needs equipment, tools and strategies that help it get maximum efficiency from its crews.
By Janice Kleinschmidt
Our philosophy is that installing tents is hard. How can we make it easier for the installer?” posits Kenny Puff, president and owner of Green Monster Mfg. LLC, which makes a hydraulic stake puller, and Party Line Rentals Inc., both of Elmsford, N.Y. “Every tent installer should have his own tool kit with the basics so they’re not continually borrowing or waiting for a tool.”
Scott Woodruff, formerly president of Event Central Rental & Sales in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and now co-owner of Tent OX™ in Shippensburg, Pa., believes that tent rental companies are “numbed” into thinking they just need more people to get a job done.
“Tent rental companies won’t step back from day-to-day installations and look at job costing in terms of labor hours—the number of man hours to do a task manually versus doing it by machine,” he says. Tent OX has developed a suite of nine attachments for loaders that Woodruff says can reduce a tent rental company’s labor costs by 20 to 40 percent.
SKP GmbH’s Tentmaster was invented in 2011 to automatically pull fabrics on an A-frame tent continuously and controlled on both sides.
“The Tentmaster is very handy when pulling fabric without a lot of people,” says Matthias Segeit, CEO of the company in Mühlacker-Lienzingen, Germany. “One operator uses a remote control for the motors. He can stay underneath the fabric checking its movement while other guys are working on the next beam.”
Greasing the wheel
“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.”
According to Wodetzki, American Pavilion’s biggest time saver came about 15 years ago with regard to clearspan tents.
“The tent parts were simply too large to move by hand,” he says. “We began using large, extendable forklifts.”
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. The company’s best labor-saving tool, he adds, is the truck-mounted forklift. “It has changed our life as far as material handing is concerned. Things we moved by hand we can move with the machine. We’ve found lots of other uses for it that we hadn’t anticipated, such as pulling stakes and raising small Losberger structure arches.”
According to Puff, the hand truck is a most overlooked workhorse in the industry. “People say, ‘I am not going to buy [my crew] another hand truck,’” he says. “One hour of overtime a day for a crew of four will more than likely pay for the hand truck. Loading the truck and moving equipment around should not be the hard part. Finding a tool definitely should not be a hard part.”
Puff further notes that tent rental companies need to consider what makes jobs easier, including automated equipment and tools.
“You can make a fire by rubbing two sticks together, but using a blowtorch is faster,” he says. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you should grease it.”
Rocky Sconda, president and owner of Main Attractions Inc. in Edison, N.J., says his company’s best labor-saving tool is “anything that falls into the material-handling equipment” category, and that his crews use electric and battery-operated tools.
Not every labor-saving solution requires an investment in automated tools and equipment.
“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.”
Main Attractions employs two key labor-saving techniques. One is in the way items are bundled and racked in the warehouse. “We have a lot of cages and bins,” Sconda says. “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. “We have a crew that meets before they’re on the jobsite, and they’re our fastest crew. They’ll size up a job before unloading. We try to go with the OHIO method: Only Handle It Once. That starts in the warehouse.
“The other thing we have done,” Puff continues, “is color code a lot of parts. 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.”
Janice Kleinschmidt is an editor and freelance writer based in southern California.
Many aspects of our lives are made easier through automated technology. The tent rental industry is no exception. Sean Konys, customer support services for Point-of-Rental Software Inc. in Grand Prairie, Texas, notes the following areas in which rental-management software can help monitor and decrease labor costs.
Dynamic quantity: Automatic inventory keeps companies informed of on-hand tent components.
Preparation and loading: When a contract is created, the software automatically creates an inventory and prep list, giving staff the lead time necessary to ensure tent tops are clean and ready to go. Load lists streamline the process.
Records: Detailed specs, manuals and photos of inventory integrate with service and maintenance reports to show the history of specific items. Customer information, including order history and call logs, is stored securely.
Deliveries and pickups: With GPS integration, dispatch software aids in the scheduling of deliveries and pickups, determines the most efficient route and provides real-time information that can be used to alert customers of delivery time.
Schedules: A day-at-a-glance dashboard provides easy access to data in a real-time environment and shows hour-by-hour tasks that need to be accomplished.
Mobile workforce: A mobile workforce application allows field sales staff to update customers of their arrival time, add customer notes, mark deliveries in real time and link installation site photos to contracts. The photo upload feature also can be used to document installations on site by linking photos in the field to contracts in the system.
The source of ideas
All Occasions Event Rental gets labor-saving ideas from employees, at IFAI Tent Expo and by networking with people from other tent rental companies. “This is a great industry and most people are willing to share ideas,” says Tommy Wilson, director of event services. “How is the guy doing twice your volume doing it?”
While he acknowledges that initial costs in labor-saving equipment can be high, Wilson views such purchases as long-term investments that save not only time, but also “add longevity to some of our long-term team members.”
“Equipment like trucks, trailers and our Tent OX™ have resale value,” he points out. “I am not afraid to try anything if I think we can get some of our money back if it doesn’t work out.”
But Wilson cautions, “Don’t just buy [equipment or tools] because, as an owner or manager, you think it’s cool. Talk to the guys in the trenches to see if it’s a good fit. It is important to get buy-in from your crews up front.”
Kenny Puff, president and owner of Green Monster Mfg. and Party Line Rentals, agrees, calling tent rental companies’ “most important assets” their installers. “You need to listen to them,” he says.