by Darcy Maulsby
The old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” takes on new meaning in times like the current challenging business environment. When tent rental operators are counting every penny, the need to get the longest possible life out of tents and the equipment used to install them is obvious. But even when the jobs are rolling in, proper tent and equipment maintenance can be the difference between profit and loss. In fact, it’s on the busiest days that it’s most tempting to cut corners.
“It pays to instill good work habits in your team to head off a lot of costly maintenance issues down the road,” says Dan Dunstan, western U.S. sales manager for Rainier Industries Ltd., Tukwila, Wash., which provides a full range of tenting products.
Follow a routine
The following care and maintenance practices should be routine for every installation.
Use tent bags and drop cloths, and handle all components with care. Never drag a tent or the tent bag. “Always have a drop cloth down—no exceptions,” says Kyle Tegner, president and CEO of Special Occasions Parties and Events, a full-service event company in Corvallis, Ore. “Drop cloths will solve half of your maintenance issues.” That includes preventing scratches, burrs and other damage to aluminum parts, which can injure installers’ hands. “Don’t throw tent equipment around,” Dunstan adds. “Metal components aren’t indestructible.” Not only will proper maintenance protect your equipment and help prevent accidents, but it can enhance the image of your company, Dunstan notes. “Scratched, damaged equipment looks unprofessional.”
Stop trouble before it starts. Before heading to the jobsite, don’t forget to tuck a rag in your back pocket. “Then you can easily wipe off any mud that might splash on the tent fabric at the jobsite,” Dunstan says. Also, watch out for nicks in any of the tent’s metal components. “Pull out your metal file and take 30 seconds to file off the nick so it doesn’t cut the fabric,” he says.
Pack the right tools. Bringing the right tools to the jobsite makes repairs faster and easier. If your tents include a keder system, a keder repair tool to open up the metal track can be invaluable. A can of liquid vinyl can help you repair rips of less than 18 inch, while adhesive peel-and-stick patches offer a temporary fix for larger fabric tears. “Time is money, especially with the tight schedules in this business,” Dunstan says. “If you have the right tools on hand, you can avoid the hassle of going back to the shop.”
Keep an eye on tent jacks. Take the time to thread the straps properly on tent jacks. Don’t drag the straps across the ground. Damaged straps can compromise lifting capacity, causing the tent roof to collapse. “Straps tend to fly really quick, since they’re like a rubber band under tension,” Tegner says. “Every time I pull out a tent strap, I give it a quick, visual once-over.” These straps can last a season or two with proper maintenance, Dunstan notes.
Set up a simple maintenance system. Members of Tegner’s installation crews use a simple, inexpensive system of color-coded zip ties after an event is over so warehouse crews can tell at a glance what needs to be done with the equipment before storing it. “We use green zip ties for items that are good to go with no repairs or cleaning needed,” says Tegner, whose family has been in the event business for 35 years. “We use red for items that are dirty and need to go through a complete cleaning cycle, and we use a combination of red and green ties if a tent is wet and needs to be dried before storing.” Crew members in the field also make written notes on the condition of tents being returned to the warehouse if there are any repairs that need to be made. Consider designating a staging area in the warehouse for equipment that requires repairs, Dunstan says.
Dry fabric to prevent mold and mildew. While cleaning is a key preventative maintenance step, never put a tent away wet. “It’s very hard to get rid of mildew once it starts,” Tegner says. “Mildew and leaf stains are our big enemies here in the Pacific Northwest. We never fold up tents with leaves inside, since the leaves can deposit stains on the fabric.”
Teach best practices
Because the tent industry uses a lot of seasonal labor, getting every member of the crew to follow basic preventative maintenance practices is challenging. Tegner recommends designating a leader on every crew to help the team follow best practices. “Look for someone who’s a good communicator,” Tegner says. “Also, look for someone who can get along with others and pays attention to detail in their own work.”
A leader who can explain the “why” behind the “how” is vital. “When our crew members understand that proper equipment maintenance means less money is spent on repairs, they know more money is available in the bonus pool for jobs done right,” Tegner says.
To keep these messages top of mind, the training programs at Special Occasions focus on proper equipment maintenance. Twice a year the company provides “tent school,” which includes hands-on learning through Tenting 101 (fundamentals) and Tenting 110 (best practices). The company has also created online training modules and apps. “These allow our employees to access the information anytime to refresh their memory about specific topics,” Tegner says.
Keep machines running smoothly
Preventative maintenance isn’t limited to tents. Tools that are powered by an engine, from forklifts to post drivers and post pullers, also require regular maintenance. A well-maintained machine will provide years of reliable, safe service. A neglected machine will break down more frequently, require replacement sooner and, most importantly, put the operator at risk.
“A properly maintained post driver drives faster and runs more efficiently,” says Ashley Haffner, marketing manager for Kewanee, Ill.-based Rhino Tool Co., which manufactures hydraulic and gas-powered post drivers and post pullers. “It’s also safer.”
She offers this three-point maintenance checklist for post drivers:
1. Check the oil level and air filter weekly. Tent stakes and post drivers get heavy use during the height of the tent season. A Rhino gas-powered post driver, for example, strikes 1,720 times per minute. “We recommend checking the oil level, air filter and bolts on the Honda engine each week,” Haffner says. “Also, check the crankcase lubricant level and the tightness of the bolts on the post driver.” Rhino post drivers rely on lubrication to drive properly. Not enough lubricant—or too much—can cause performance issues.
2. Clean the air filter monthly. The air filter in a post driver engine should be cleaned monthly, especially in dusty working conditions.
3. Perform routine maintenance at the beginning and end of the tent season. At the beginning of the season, inspect the spark plug to determine if it needs to be replaced. Refill the tool with fresh gasoline. Replace the air filter. Inspect the piston, hammer, anvil and O-rings for wear. “Look for flattening or tears in the O-rings, chips in the metal components and excessive scraping on the sides of the internal metal components,” Haffner says. “Replace worn parts as needed.” Make sure the internal components are put back together in the correct order. Also ensure that bolts on the post driver are tight. “Using the proper torque specifications and applying Loctite® [threaded fastener adhesive] correctly is crucial to keeping the bolts tight,” Haffner says. When storing the post driver at the end of the season, make sure the unit is stored upright, with the topmost handle facing upward.
No matter how busy things get during the tent season, taking time for equipment maintenance pays off. “The time and money spent keeping a tool maintained properly is far less than trying to fix or replace parts on a tool that has not been maintained,” Haffner says.
With timely preventative maintenance, equipment can last for years. Metal components can last indefinitely with proper care, while tents can last a decade or more, Dunstan says. “All these things are simple, easy ways you can protect your equipment investment, keep customers happy and keep business moving along well.”
Darcy Maulsby is a writer and owner of a marketing/communications company based near Lake City, Iowa. Visit her at www.darcymaulsby.com.
SIDEBAR: Clean up your act
How long can a tent stay in service if it’s cleaned and maintained properly? “The cleaner you keep your tents, the longer their lifespan,” says Jenny Cole, operations manager for Charnecke Tents Inc./CCC Washers Inc. in Rosholt, Wis. “Over 80 years of experience have taught us that tents stay looking great for years when they’re cleaned regularly.”
Cole offers the following tips to help you maximize your investment:
- Stop problems before they start. Use a drop cloth every time. “Drop cloths help keep tents clean and help prevent damage,” Cole says.
- Choose the right cleaning equipment. While some people opt for floor scrubbers or floor buffers, tent washing machines are gentler on tents, Cole says. “Our tent washers include light, regular and heavy-duty wash cycles, along with a rinse cycle,” she adds.
- Inspect to protect. After tents are prepped with cleaning solution, washed and rinsed, conduct a final inspection before storing the tents. Look for missing buckles, areas where grommets have been torn off and other areas that need to be repaired.
- Store tents properly. Make sure tents are dry before storing them on racks, and don’t store the tents on concrete. Moisture can wick up from the concrete and encourage mildew to grow on tent fabric.
“When you follow all these steps, your tents can last 10 to 20 years or more,” Cole says.