Winter tent installs offer tent rental businesses opportunities to keep inventory and crews active, taking the edge off of what can be a slow time of year for those companies located or working in severe-weather areas. But as attractive as the prospect of staying busy is, winter installs aren’t right for every company. For one thing, conditions are frequently brutal, as Brian Richardson, president of L&A Tent Rentals in Hamilton, N.J. can attest.
It was 1985 and Ronald Reagan was about to be sworn into office. Richardson was working around the U.S. Capitol buildings, setting up magnetometer tents. Every inaugural attendee would pass through these tents for security checks.
“Temperatures never got above 10 degrees during our nighttime setup,” he recalls of the 12-hour installation. “The wind chill temperatures dropped to minus 20. I’ve never been that cold in my life.”
Tom Wodetzki, co-owner of American Pavilion, a Danville, Ill. tent rental business, had a similar experience involving a job site located in South Dakota where a client was building a 120-room hotel. The company installed a 30,000 square-foot clearspan tent, also providing heaters, power distribution, generators and lighting.
“Temperatures hovered in the teens and twenties, with wind chill temperatures below zero,” Wodetzki says. “This project took six days to install with a crew of four experienced tent installers and six men from a local construction company. During the summer it would have taken two days less, a smaller American Pavilion crew and two fewer local laborers.”
For Richardson and Wodetzki, winter installs comprise 10 percent and 20 percent of their business respectively. Wodetzki says this percentage has been creeping upwards, thanks in part to the popularity of the clearspan tents with construction companies. Both have learned a thing or two along the way; education that has helped jobs run more smoothly and more profitably. The latter is especially important since it’s easy to lose money on winter installs unless every contingency is taken into account in the proposal. Some of their survival strategies include:
- Keeping the fabric warm. Fabric becomes stiff and hard to handle, making it prone to damage, complicating installation and tear-down. Store fabric in a heated truck or protected area/warehouse. Some pros recommend using white fabric in the winter since this tolerates cold extremes better than clear vinyl.
- Allowing more time. Jobs can take up to three times longer (or more) during the winter. Make sure clients’ expectations about installation and removal are realistic.
- Emphasizing crew safety; it’s even more of an issue in the winter. American Pavilion preps crews before every installation on standard safety practices as well as running through a winter checklist of safety considerations. Ensure workers are properly outfitted in cold-weather gear.
- Factoring site maintenance—snow and ice removal, etc.—into the proposal. The costs don’t stop once the tents are up.
And don’t hesitate to decline a rental if the numbers don’t work. “The rental has to make fiscal sense and turn a profit or we won’t do it,” says Wodetzki.