You could make the case that, from an operational perspective, the tent rental business is really a materials handling business.
Consider this: A typical tent and party rental company operates a warehouse of 15,000 to 25,000 square feet with five to 10 trucks and 12 to 40 employees. Of those employees, about five to 10 of them work out of the warehouse moving material, which may include processing a truck returning from a wedding, loading a trailer with a clearspan or pulling all of the inventory items for a large festival. At some companies, tent installers perform the warehouse function in a dual role, while at others the warehouse has dedicated staff.
Loading a delivery truck safely and in a manner that avoids damage as items are in transit is an art form. Every load for a tent job is different. Diverse items including tent parts, stacks of chairs, lighting and dishes must be secured to avoid shifting. With inventory that varies in size, shape, weight and fragility, bad loading causes damage that can make an owner cry.
Safety in hand loading
At companies on the small end of the spectrum, warehouse personnel are likely to hand load materials that are not on pallets. Safety in materials handling for this kind of an operation is all about hand packing a truck.
This is no small challenge given the products that a tented event may require. For a typical wedding for 150 guests with a 40-foot-wide frame tent and a few small tents, loading the truck may take 45 to 60 minutes and look like this:
- First in is the dance floor in the left front corner.
- Behind the dance floor is the tubing, all taking up the left third of the truck.
- Next in goes the sidewall, gutter and lights, taking advantage of the open space around the dance floor components.
- Stage, tables and chairs backfill the right side.
- Tent tops and bins of frame parts, cables and pins fill in the back end of the truck, with stakes on the right rear corner across from the frames.
So what is the real strategy in this load? A combination of safety and balance. First the handlers need to make sure there is plenty of weight up forward so the load is shared by all four tires. Note, however, that the load is intentionally not balanced left to right. The heavier load is on the driver side, so the weight will offset the effect of the crown of a two-lane road designed to shed water. This loading strategy should allow the crew to unload the truck without having any of the product fall and in the general order they will install the job: tent, tables, chairs, stage, dance floor and then finishes such as sidewalls.
Advantages of unit loading
Large jobs represent a different challenge in loading. These events can take between two and five days to install. For these jobs, one or more trucks or flatbed trailers might be dedicated entirely to tenting, while another brings flooring and staging and a third contains the furniture. Companies that install these kinds of jobs put a large portion of their inventory into racks, roll packs, specialized pallets, bins and crates. Warehouse crews for these companies do a lot of unit loading.
In a side-by-side comparison of hand loading vs. unitization, the benefits of unitization are clear. In our small company scenario, the crew likely spent an hour or more loading 15,000 pounds of inventory by hand, carrying 40 to 80 pounds per trip. In the example of the large company, the crew could have easily loaded 45,000 pounds of unitized products with one forklift and a pallet jack in about an hour, including tie-down of the load.
Tying down loose-load trucks is difficult. You have to tie a load against the wall with the next group of materials or inventory leaning against the load being secured. Imagine 30 eight-foot tables leaning, secured, against the right wall. But at the job site, if the terrain is working against you, the tables will fall when unstrapped. You now have a situation where a crew of four needs to stabilize the load so it does not crush someone.
Round tables are their own challenge. An inexperienced crew member could unbuckle the tables and by mistake lean them against their back edge, causing them to spill like a row of dominoes. For this reason, it is wise to use straps every 10 tables, especially with an inexperienced crew.
The advantages of unit loading are clear. When loads are unitized before loading them into a box truck or flatbed, securing the load is usually easier because you are handling one unit instead of 150 individual chairs or 25 individual tables. In addition, with unitization, inventory is only loose from the unit while at the job site.
Let’s consider the path of a specific tent part, such as connectors for a 40-foot-wide, from the end of one job to the beginning of another. At the first job site, the parts are unitized after takedown. The unit will be moved six times before the next setup, all using a forklift. The unit is (1) loaded onto a truck, (2) unloaded from the truck to the warehouse, (3) put up into a pallet rack, (4) taken down from the pallet rack, (5) loaded onto the truck, and (6) unloaded from the truck at the second job site.
So which is easier and safer: loading by hand (20 trips with fittings, cables and hardware packed loose), or one trip with a bin moved by a pallet jack or fork truck? There’s no doubt that unitization promotes safety while saving time and labor.
By Scott Woodruff, owner of Tent Ox™, an integrated system of 10 specialized tools designed for the tent and party rental industry. For more information, visit www.tentox.com.