Creating a function—and personable—space for increasingly demanding customers is taking the tent-rental industry in some new directions.
Poodle skirts and love beads, glam rock and disco, mood rings and pet rocks. There’s no denying that some trends end up being fads that fade. Occasionally, a trend—typically something with a reason to its rhyme—grabs a solid foothold.
A prime example is the trend toward engineered tents. If using a graph, the general manager of Losberger US in Frederick, Md., would start the uphill climb of engineered tents at a point 15 years ago.
“It has become more of a standard now, rather than a trend,” Pat Moughan says. “What’s more of a trend with engineered products is in smaller buildings, something 20 feet wide, that needs to have an engineered stamp on it.”
“Most of the sites we work on require site-specific engineering, not just stamped engineering,” notes George Smith, vice president and managing partner of Mahaffey Fabric Structures of Memphis, Tenn. “Local officials don’t understand tents, and [requiring engineered products] shifts the liability off the town.”
“Municipalities and other governing bodies are requiring more and more accountability and responsibility from tent-rental companies,” confirms Keith Krzeminski, vice president of strategic accounts for Classic Event & Tent Rentals of Inglewood, Calif. “In response, equipment manufacturers and industry associations are providing engineering and the tools to allow tent-rental companies to respond. Safety is everyone’s biggest concern.”
Demand and supply
“We see a shift in different market segments looking to use our product for long-term usage,” says John Fuchs, general manager, special events, for Anchor Industries Inc. in Evansville, Ind. “This typically requires engineering to meet permanent-building codes, which is usage greater than 180 days.
“There is still a market for non-engineered tents,” he adds, pointing out that, in addition to tents bearing engineering stamps, there are tents certified to certain parameters.
“Unfortunately,” he continues, “some of the rates that tent-rental companies charge don’t support an engineered or certifiable tent, which requires a larger beam size extrusion, more reinforcement, and fabric constructed to meet engineering requirements. Tent-rental companies try to make their money back [on a tent purchase] in 10 to 12 rentals. With an engineered tent, you have to charge a rate that is probably not going to be doable in certain areas or with certain customers.”
While increased regulation results in demand for products that meet building codes, Alex Kouzmanoff says, “Products that were available 20 to 30 years ago aren’t cutting it.”
“We still manufacture replacement parts for older-vintage products,” adds Kouzmanoff, vice president of Aztec Tents in Torrance, Calif. “There are people still using tent-frame components they purchased 20 years ago. If a product lasts 10 to 20 years in your inventory and you build up that inventory, it becomes very difficult to change directions. But the demand for products made 30 years ago is going down. In terms of cost savings, we are seeing people upgrade to newer designs, newer technology, newer attributes. There’s just so much to offer.”
Tent-rental companies like All Occasions Event Rental aren’t taking chances. “Any new product we purchase or consider purchasing must meet all existing code requirements,” says Tommy Wilson, director of special events for the Cincinnati, Ohio-based company. “We are not buying any non-engineered inventory these days.”
Making an appearance
Amid all the attention to tents that are engineered like buildings, there’s a concurrent trend toward tents that look like buildings.
As events get bigger and more sophisticated, end users want to create “an experience where people don’t feel they are in a tent,” Moughan says. “That’s evidenced by the amount of glass used to take it out of the all-vinyl world.”
“It seems like all the venues and high-end events want a lot of glass with very few supporting pieces. They also want a more contemporary style,” Smith says. Customers of Mahaffey are requesting higher sides, flatter roofs, covered framework and “way more window space” offering uninterrupted views.
“Bigger-production companies on the forefront of marketing want new and different, and they’re willing to pay for it,” Smith adds. “Before, you would show them designs and give them a price, and they would say they didn’t have the budget. Now we show them new things and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want.’”
“Clients want events that reflect their personalities and tastes,” Wilson says, noting that his company is doing more custom fabric treatments and specialty flooring.
All this is fueling an increase in budgets for temporary structures, and Condit, an event design and fabrication company based in Denver, Colo., is one of the companies benefiting. For the July-through-September America’s Cup in San Francisco, Condit provided four custom VIP structures.
“America’s Cup Event Authority wanted to elevate their brand and ended up going with a structure that had very high-end glass panels and two stories with decks on both sides,” says Sky Curl, Condit’s international business director. “They spent more than they would have on a standard tent, but they wanted a building they didn’t have to decorate.”
While planning for the 2017 America’s Cup, Curl says, “The No. 1 thing that came out of our meetings was that this is not about cost. This is about presence.”
Classic Event & Tent Rentals also works in the deluxe marketplace, such as with the nationally renowned Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
“In the beginning, the displays were primarily standard tent inventory with cars outside,” Krzeminski says. “They transitioned into tents that are, from a design perspective, more creative and architecturally intriguing. Tents are now outfitted with accessories such as glass, doors and hard walls. The insides are finished with high-end liners, custom display elements and hardwood floors or customized floor coverings in the colors of the automobile company or with their logos. It’s a luxury feel from the outside plants to the glass walls to custom graphics.
“I believe each year [automobile companies] try to outdo each other,” he continues. “They want to be the star of the show. They come up with different designs or elements that make them stand out from their competition.”
Kouzmanoff says the demand for something different in the marketing-centric arena has always been there. But, he says, “Budgets have loosened up, so there’s probably more one-off types of installations. It’s more a factor of the economy and business in general. Five years ago, our clients couldn’t even think about socially coming out with something crazy, but now it’s a different time.
“The customer is demanding more from tent vendors,” he continues. “It comes from products becoming more readily available in the marketplace, which allows them to get used for other activities in places that before wouldn’t be considered.”
“The auto industry seems to be a big driver,” Moughan says. “They have more regular events, because they’re always launching a car of the year. When Audi rolls out a car, they don’t want the same look as when they rolled out last year’s car.
“There are high-end events that go around the world, big trade shows every three or four years; and that means a swell of outdoor exhibitions and people thinking what can be done new so they don’t look like they did the last time,” he adds. “That’s what pushes the envelope with tent manufacturers like Losberger.”
High-profile, high-dollar sporting events such as PGA tournaments also drive the move toward more elaborate setups. With clearspan structures, Fuchs says, “there are so many things you can do, like add porticos and cantilevered tops. You can have an area outside the tent with a covering and more structure behind glass. You can’t do that very well with a [traditional] tent.”
“Tents are never going to go away, because they create a functional space. You can put them up very quickly, and they’re inexpensive,” Curl says. “I think the U.S. tent market will continue moving forward. I just think there is a clientele that wants to create an image to go along with that functional space. They’re going to create a space specific to them.”
Change in the wind
According to Fuchs, when Martha Stewart showcased sailcloth tents for weddings in her magazine, they “caught on like wildfire.”
“Our customers have been telling us for the past year that they’re quickly becoming a favorite for weddings,” he says. “Translucence is in demand because of the nighttime glow effect you get. You can do very dramatic things.” Part of the drama, he adds, comes from the ability to vary peak heights.
“Sailcloth tents have brought back an aesthetic of the form of the tent and the natural beauty of light,” Kouzmanoff says. Aztec’s Tidewater® sailcloth tent website lists a network of 120 rental companies across the United States and five overseas.
“What started out as five or six rental companies eight years ago has exploded in all different types of markets, from rural environments to metropolitan areas,” he says. “Go on Pinterest and search under ‘wedding tent ideas’ and you will see amazing images that brides look at and say, ‘I want that for my wedding.’”
While primarily focused on the wedding market, sailcloth tents also constitute “a very important product in social events such as wine tastings, food events and festivals,” Kouzmanoff says. “It’s not a state fair tent and not very ‘commercial.’ It’s definitely a niche.”
“It might be a fad. It might stick around another 10 years,” he suggests. “But it’s certainly an important piece of the industry that wasn’t there five to eight years ago.”
All Occasions Event Rental bought one sailcloth tent in 2013 and now has three.
“We have seen a steady increase in demand as they have become more popular on Pinterest,” Wilson says. “We still do a lot of high-peak tension tents, which is a somewhat similar style, but the sailcloth is unique in that it has a translucent top, round ends, and wood or wood-finish poles. It’s just a softer, more romantic feel.
“There are more people making sailcloth tents now,” he adds. “It’s not cost prohibitive to get into. A small company can buy one and do very well.”
“Technology has had an impact on their proliferation,” Krzeminski says, noting an easier process of powder-coating aluminum to mimic the look of wood and improvements in sailcloth fabric.
“Tent manufacturers are offering products that have the longevity and strength to meet and exceed building code requirements,” he says. “Technology has had a positive impact on the tent rental industry, creating safer products and more creative designs. Sailcloth fabric is being used in every style of tent on the market.”
Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer and magazine editor based in San Diego, Calif.
As demand grows for event structures that disguise their temporary nature and add panache, companies with limited resources in employees, equipment, space and money may wonder where they fit in.
Although small operations may not have Fortune 500 companies knocking on their doors, “The size of your company has no relevance in terms of being able to provide something to a client who is willing to pay for it,” says Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president of Aztec Tents, Torrance, Calif. “There’s nothing to say a company with five employees could not execute a major, never-seen-before tent concept for a client.”
Pat Moughan, general manager of Losberger US in Frederick, Md., echoes the size-doesn’t-matter concept.
“[Tent-rental companies] have to move with the times,” he says. “You don’t have to do it on a large scale. There are accessories that can make your tent look different.” These accessories can help create a high-end look on a smaller scale, in an off-the-shelf product, like two of Condit’s customers did. Condit is an event design and fabrication company based in Denver, Colo.
“They took the same 25,000-square-foot structure we did for America’s Cup in 2013 and did it in 250 square feet,” says Sky Curl, Condit’s international business director.
“It costs more to do sophisticated things, and a small guy will take a smaller bite of the jump to something,” Moughan says. “But they can’t be afraid to do it.”