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Work smarter

Markets, Tents | August 1, 2015 | By:

Tools and strategies to help tent rental companies get maximum efficiency from their crews.

“Our philosophy is that installing tents is hard. How can we make it easier for the installer?” posits Kenny Puff, armed with an answer. “Every tent installer should have his own toolkit with the basics so they’re not continually borrowing or waiting for a tool.

“Now you come to the bigger equipment. You have to have some way to drive stakes other than manually,” he continues. “Then, how do you remove the stakes?”

Puff approaches these questions as president and owner of Green Monster, which makes a hydraulic stake puller, and Party Line Rentals, both of Elmsford, N.Y.

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 when the company began installing 120mm-by-300mm 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 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.

Strategic thinking

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. You should communicate with crews so they know your expectations, particularly related to how long certain parts of the installation should take. We have found that a little planning goes a long way toward improving site efficiency.”

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 job site, 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. Sometimes it’s not ‘that long pole,’ but ‘that yellow pole.’ 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 job sites 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 a freelance writer and editor based in San Diego, Calif.

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