Focusing on internal processes has helped Made in the Shade create a better experience for both clients and employees.
From elegant peaks and dazzling light displays to generators and ballasts, the success of a tented event is often measured by its visible result. But before the poles hit the ground, what happens within company walls has the potential to make or break not only an individual job’s outcome but a company’s reputation and future business success as well.
Donny Vasquez, vice president of marketing and special projects for Made in the Shade Tent Rentals, West Sacramento, Calif., and his team have made an effort to be more conscious of this. Read on to learn about how the company’s focus on internal efficiencies has resulted in better execution of projects and a more empowered culture for employees.
A welcome challenge
Because of its efficiencies, Made in the Shade was confident in its ability to take on a large, high-profile job with short notice—the inauguration of California’s new governor. Held Jan. 7 outside the state capitol in downtown Sacramento, the inauguration required collaboration with 10 different entities, including the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of General Services and the Sacramento Police Department, as well as production, table, chair, flooring and crane rental companies.
The gubernatorial planning committee contacted Made in the Shade’s political event planning partner a few weeks after the election and one month before the event. Within hours, they scheduled a site visit. Within five days, Vasquez designed the diagram and put together the order; it was accepted hours later and a deposit check was delivered the same day.
Not all jobs come together this quickly, but fine-tuned processes provide a stable foundation for even the most complicated requests.
“The amount of research and information sourcing regarding each individual job can be overwhelming to gather and keep organized,” Vasquez says. “From the time a client contacts our office and begins the booking process for an upcoming event to when the job has been delivered and picked up entails a tremendous amount of information that will guide each of our departments to execute the job in the most correct, on-time and safest way.”
Booking periods vary, he says, but most customers plan well in advance. At the beginning of the year, the company sends a date-hold request to clients with annual events, a tactic implemented in 2018 that has been well-received.
Made in the Shade’s scheduling and contracts coordinator adds jobs to the company’s schedule. While keeping quote requests on its radar, the company asks customers upfront how flexible their dates are and uses that as a guideline when planning projects.
During a weekly planning meeting, jobs are stacked based on times requested from the customer. Though exceptions are made for larger events, crews find out where they’ll be scheduled a day in advance.
“Internal communication is key to ensure a smooth process and provide the best service we can for our customers,” Vasquez says, “whether it be from the receptionist or sales team taking down information for a specific job, to me creating the job diagram or job quote, to the warehouse team making sure they have everything that’s required for the project ready to go on the project date.”
Site to sight
Once a date is confirmed, a site visit kicks off the planning process. The day of the inauguration site visit, “we were having a downpour, which put everyone into a tizzy because we had to right away consider what would happen if it rained the day of the event,” Vasquez says. “We knew tents were needed regardless, so then it became more involved as I began plotting out how we could cover 3,000 people in an area that could only accommodate about 600.”
Vasquez often uses drones to capture a location’s layout, but they are banned over the capitol. In situations like this, Google Earth™ is a helpful tool in addition to photos captured on-site.
“We exchanged about 10 to 15 different versions of the layout,” Vasquez says. “Because everyone was in different cities, email was the best route. By the time we locked a plan in, the event was only five days away.” Planners decided on a full rain plan with enclosed tents—a good decision, as a storm hit Sacramento the day before the inauguration.
After a client approves the diagram, Vasquez enters it into IntelliEvent Lightning, the cloud-based inventory management software system the company uses to document all equipment, deliveries, weights and safety packages per tent. “I find it best to do the diagram first so you can visualize how it will be laid out. Then, when you enter the equipment, you can track your steps and make sure everything is covered,” Vasquez says. “In the case of the inauguration, I created the layout based on their needs and generated a quote that would give them every possible piece of equipment.”
Moving to the cloud has given the company more flexibility and saved time and paper. With the ability to upload images, contracts and diagrams directly to jobs, Made in the Shade is transitioning to being mostly paper-free. One of the first steps has been iPad® use on site visits, a useful tool for comparing notes with other event partners.
“Given the size of this job and its many moving parts, why would you write it all down on paper?” Vasquez asks. “The chances of you misplacing it are so much higher. Using features like voice recording helps ensure things aren’t missed and allows us to collect information in a much broader sense.”
Delivering on details
As soon as a layout is nailed down, permits are considered. To reduce time spent researching requirements for various cities and counties, Vasquez and his team developed a database that houses applications, fees and process details.
“Getting the customer to get a deposit in and sign off on the diagrams can be challenging, but it is something we are really working on because we want to be compliant with the law,” Vasquez says. “Ideally, what is submitted to the fire department must match what is delivered to the job. That can be challenging when you have a customer who likes to make changes constantly.”
A necessary step many companies overlook is consulting their operations team to determine what it will take to deliver the best equipment for the job on time, he says. “It is a step that Made in the Shade sees as a fundamental aspect of the bigger picture when it comes to getting the equipment from our warehouse to the jobsite. We explore variable outcomes that could potentially affect the bottom line and we do our best to make cost-effective decisions. Knowing the talents of the employees working within the company is also important to ensure the designated projects can be completed.”
Because staking is not allowed on capitol grounds, Made in the Shade delivered its own cement blocks to the inauguration site. “We worked around the clock three years ago to produce over 400 cement blocks, so we can carry a huge inventory of them and avoid the hassle of dealing with the Department of Transportation when trying to get them trucked in from somewhere else,” he says.
The rental is solidified once the client signs the contract, which explains the full process necessary to successfully execute the event. “We do not mark a job as active until they have made a deposit and turned in their contracts,” Vasquez says. “Contracts are an ever-evolving product. Our current ones have been developed for close to a year and a half. We use technology, innovation, collaboration and customer input to help us devise a better plan for collecting the necessary information.” An Event and Site Profile section helps to capture this; the client completes a series of questions that cover potential problem areas to address before the install.
From there, communication depends on the clients’ needs. Newer ones require more conversation. For longtime clients, conversations are shorter and occur closer to the event date to finalize details.
Communication usually occurs over email and phone calls, but Made in the Shade is exploring new technologies and services, such as Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and Slack, that allow for more organized, efficient collaboration with clients.
“At the end of the project, we’ll go over what didn’t work with delivery crews and request the customer’s input,” Vasquez says. “Currently, we don’t have a post-rental survey, but we will be working on that in the year to come. It is important for us to gauge our clients’ satisfaction in order to make sure we are doing the best we can to please our customers.”
Holly Eamon is an editor and writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.
Made in the Shade used to be a one-stop event shop, but company leaders decided in 2015 to focus on tents while partnering with companies that offer other services and event rental inventory. The nature of the project and the customer help determine which items are covered by Made in the Shade. The company will manage the logistical aspects of a job, while subcontractors fulfill needs such as flooring, lighting, HVAC and generators. “Vendors that we would send directly to the client would be more specialized services such as seating, staging, audio, decor, etc.,” Vasquez says. “As such, we would not deal with those subcontractors on a direct business-to-business level.”
Taking the time to improve hiring and training practices has helped Made in the Shade propel its path to a digital work environment and increase employee engagement, resulting in more efficient operations. “We are hiring more younger people entering the industry who have a technology background and have always had it as a part of their lives,” says Donny Vasquez, vice president of marketing and special projects. Last August, the company followed the advice of its financial planners to hire a business coach to help with the succession process. As Vasquez’s parents, the company’s founders, transitioned more responsibility, they realized the company lacked business knowledge documentation. “Everything was in their heads and then it was just in my head,” Vasquez says. “Nothing has been written down, so we had this coach help us make these moves, and it has changed how we do it all. He was able to point out where we were failing our employees and ourselves.” For example, the company’s previous approach to new hires was to “throw them to the wolves. After that, they were either scared away or we’d retain them for a little while; we never found a good groove,” Vasquez says. “Employees didn’t know what we expected of them or that they could advance.” Employees were asked to record their day-to-day responsibilities so the company could hire appropriately to fill gaps. Now, all processes are documented and employee satisfaction and retainment are up. “The average employee can see their work as a career instead of just a job. Within the last few months, people are performing where they should be and above what we’ve expected.”