Demands increase for truck covers and tarps that offer weather protection and driver convenience.
With millions of trucks being utilized across a wealth of industries, tarps and truck covers are big business for manufacturers and specialty fabric suppliers. As the industry continues to grow, some companies have increased their efforts to gain market share within the trucking industry while others have diversified into new markets.
According to David Callahan, president of Granite State Cover & Canvas Inc., East Kingston, N.H., the tarps and truck covers market is growing with a lot of new equipment coming in over the last 18 months. His company handles the covers for flatbed trailers, dump trucks and other vehicles that need covers.
“We do a lot of fencing, windscreens and covers for just about anything from Quonset huts, boat storage covers and equipment covers,” Callahan says. In addition, Granite State provides customers with “simple” tarps and covers, which Callahan sees as a shrinking market. Granite State also provides customers with complete cover systems, which is a growing market.
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Sharp’s Tarps’s truck cover market has increased an average of 2–3 percent each year for the last five years, according to owner Jeff Sharp. Some of this is due to increased sales efforts on the company’s part, and some of it is due to business growth of current and new customers entering the market in their geographical area.
“Also, enforcement of tarping laws has contributed to our sales growth,” Sharp says. Sharp’s Tarps offers covers and tarps for flatbed trailers, dump trucks, side dump tarps, commodity trailers, farm beds, soft side curtain trailers and trash haulers. Sharp’s Tarps also provides covers and tarps for “non-truck” products in the dirt, lumber and agricultural arenas.
“We also provide miscellaneous storage covers, interior divider curtains and weather protection curtains for a variety of applications,” Sharp says. “And we also make covers for the aerospace industry.”
Tarp systems take hold
Verduyn Tarps Inc., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has experienced a consistently growing market for its Eagle Retractable Tarp System. There
has been a significant increase in companies now requiring these tarp systems when they have trailers come in and load on their property. Larry Labelle, regional sales manager at Verduyn Tarps, explains, “They are much safer and faster than traditional tarping.”
Verduyn Tarps predominantly covers flatbed trailers, but the company also offers tarp systems for open top trailers as well.
“There are quite a few different versions of flatbed trailers available. You can have a standard flatbed, single drop trailer, double drop trailer, gooseneck trailer or a straight truck,” Labelle says. “We can put an Eagle Retractable Tarp System on any type of flatbed.”
In addition, Verduyn’s customers have used tarps for several non-trucking applications; these include covering glass, woodpiles, pools and barbeques. They are also used as room dividers in industrial settings.
While Verduyn’s most popular product is 18- and 20-ounce vinyl, they also offer mesh and canvas. “We use seatbelt webbing to fold the tarp over, which creates the border at the edge of the tarp,” Labelle says. “We also use stainless steel D-rings and brass grommets.”
In addition to vinyl in a variety of ounce weights, Sharp’s Tarps products are made of various mesh types, treated and untreated canvas, polyethylene, nylon, polyester and acrylic woven fabrics. However, reinforced vinyl is by far the most used product of Sharp’s Tarps.
Water repellency and durability
Seaman Corp. in Wooster, Ohio, provides end product manufacturers of tarps and covers with polyvinylchloride, ethylene interpolymer alloy and polyurethane type fabrics; these fabrics are utilized in the tarpaulin (Shelter Rite), geomembrane (XR-5), architectural, recreational and roofing (FTR) markets.
According to Sue Uhler, IFD technical marketing manager at Seaman, these products are coated mesh with weights ranging from 7 to 60+ oz/yd2. “Seaman has a standard product offering in the tarpaulin market and will accommodate special requests for custom colors, roll put-ups, [and] product development to meet the customer’s needs,” Uhler says.
As Uhler explains, any application that has the requirement to be completely protected from the environment will utilize a coated fabric to shield against inclement weather and environmental conditions. These applications rely on the water repellency and durability of a coated fabric.
“There [is] a wide variety of coated tarpaulin materials in the market and they do not all perform the same,” Uhler says. “It is best to research the available products and determine the best performing material to meet your application.”
Applications such as snow, wind and shade fences rely on the openness of the mesh material to disrupt the sun and weather conditions. These products are typically made of lightweight products such as woven extrusion-coated yarns, PVC-coated yarns or woven polyethylene. In most cases, these products are installed and left in place over a period of time.
The construction market continues to gain momentum. However, other markets, including the military market and the agricultural market, have been affected by low commodity prices, causing a downward trend in the purchase of new tarps.
“With the recovering economy, total construction activity is on track for record gains in 2016 and is expected to continue on an upward tick,” says Michael Lindsey, president of CI Fabrics, San Diego, Calif., a tarpaulin manufacturer that serves a number of industries, including nursery and agricultural shade, general purpose tarps and scaffold netting. “For the trucking industry we offer a range of fabrics including heavy-duty woven mesh, vinyl-coated solid, vinyl-coated mesh and knitted HDPE-polyethylene. Each one is available in a range of weights, and selecting the right textiles can enhance the life expectancy.”
Shane Cossette, chief operating office at T.R.S. Industries, Fargo, N.D., explains that T.R.S. builds tarps that are mostly used to replace tarps that are installed on trailers at the factory.
“All tarps wear out eventually,” Cossette says. “We offer a pretty unique service here with six drive-through bays. We are able to replace most tarps that are in stock within one to two hours.”
The biggest struggle for T.R.S. Industries is consistency, in that it’s not easy to get tarp sales when you expect them.
“Tarp owners don’t typically replace their tarps until they start to leak,” Cossette says. “We have had dry weather during harvest in the past few years, and then they don’t need to worry about their tarps as much.”
Weather conditions rule
Weather conditions and cost also are paramount in tarp customers’ choice of tarp style and construction. Keeping loads dry, for example, is a big concern for most customers, as rain or water adds weight to the cover. However, most types of tarps are chosen for what the customer hauls.
“As far as the truck cover market, it is definitely moisture, including rain and snow,” Sharp says. “However, some of the truck covers are simply for load or product containment. As far as our other products, many are for moisture and cold weather protection, and many are for shade in warm weather conditions.”
As Cossette explains, living in colder climates has an impact on the type of fabric used in tarps. “We have four seasons here in Fargo, N.D. Winter can get 20–30 degrees below zero, which has our customers asking for more flexible vinyls like nylon-based Shelter-Rite that has a 60-below-zero cold crack,” Cossette says. “We build more lighter weight and nylon-based lumber tarps in the colder months also.”
Larry Labelle, at Verduyn, says cost is always important to their customers but he finds, in most situations, quality matters too. “Something I hear a lot from our customers is that when they have had our product and need another, they come directly back to us,” Labelle says. “When they have not had our product and need another, they are shopping around to see what else is available. Some of our tarps are used to cover very expensive loads, and the cost of damaged loads far outweighs the price difference in getting quality products.”
Although life expectancy is important to tarp and truck cover customers, most of these covers simply don’t reach their full life expectancy due to a myriad of reasons.
“They usually get hit by either a loader, operator error or bad judgment and damaged at some point,” Callahan says. “We do offer a 100 percent guarantee on our products and installation. And because of the harsh nature of our customers’ day-to-day operation, repairs do add up to be a significant percentage of our business.”
Verduyn Tarps states that their Eagle Retractable Tarp System should last at least 10 years, and they recommend getting a new tarp replacement at the five-year mark.
“We do have a full-service department that can handle all repairs for our tarp systems as well as any competitor’s system,” Labelle says. “We also offer a full front-to-back two-year warranty as well as a limited five-year warranty.”
Sharp stresses that it is difficult to put a life expectancy on truck covers because of the various applications, uses, weather exposure and operator experience.
“We do offer a full repair service on all types of fabrics,” Sharp says. “We warranty the workmanship of our tarps 100 percent. Vinyl manufacturers do not offer a specific warranty life on their fabric, and neither do we. Again, that is due to conditions listed above relating to life expectancy.”
CI Fabrics’s truck tarps are designed and manufactured to meet the demanding requirements of long-haul or OTR (over the road) trucks. “There are many aspects that determine longevity or service life of the product, including materials, design, fabrication, as well as care and maintenance,” Lindsey says. “Using high-quality UV- and weather-resistant textiles helps to ensure a long service life. Currently, we do not offer repairs. Our products have a 90-day limited warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.”
Cossette’s grandparents started T.R.S. Industries and repairing tarps in 1983 in their garage, and they have never given up on that part of their company.
“Repairing tarps has given us vital information about how tarps wear so we can build a better tarp,” Cossette says. “We build covers with a life expectancy from three to 20 years. Our most common tarp system is our Supreme Roll Tarp, and that has the best warranty in the business. We warranty those tarps for 36 months, because we use the best American-made fabric and have not diminished our quality on those tarps since we started building them 25 years ago. We expect these tarps to last five years or more, so we don’t have any issues offering a 36-month warranty.
Callahan says the tarp and truck cover industry is growing as customers appreciate the product offerings.
“We do a great job of keeping up with and try to stay ahead of automation. Just five years ago people were climbing on top of loads and laying out hand tarps, but then they started upgrading to rudimentary manual systems, and now they are moving towards more automated mechanical systems that can be operated with remote controls from anywhere,” Callahan says. “We don’t see a tremendous need to diversify for growth, but we do expect to broaden our product line to include complementary items that conform well to our core production capabilities.”
Labelle says he also expects the industry to keep growing, as they continue to see more businesses requiring tarp systems when loading their product.
Labelle says, “We also see a lot of different industries that typically wouldn’t be the norm getting into these, such as glass, construction and building supplies … businesses are more safety conscious than ever. We designed the Eagle Retractable Tarp System to be completely operational from the ground, saving many trucking companies compensation claims for their drivers.”
Sharp says diversification into other markets and product applications has been a huge factor in his company’s success over the past 10 years. “It has helped us to remain strong in times that the truck cover market was down,” he says. “We also can stay busy year-round and not be so dependent on any one season.”
Because trucking is one of the backbones of the American economy, Lindsey says he is optimistic about the next several years. “Given it is a cyclical industry,” Lindsey says, “management is always focused on growing and diversifying into new products.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer from Plymouth, Minn.
Color selection of today’s tarp and truck colors plays
a role in customer’s selection process.
At Granite State Cover & Canvas, black is the most popular color, but David Callahan, president, and his team are constantly amazed by how some of their truck-driving customers get hung up on a particular color for their truck tarp.
“In order of what sells, we see black, red, blue, green and 10 other less popular colors,” Callahan says.
For most applications, Verduyn Tarps uses black as the key color, because they find it has the most UV protection and holds up best against the sun and other elements. “A 20-ounce black vinyl tarp should last a minimum of five years,” Larry Labelle, regional sales manager at Verduyn, says. “After black, there are several shades of blue that a lot of customers go with, and from there you would be looking at red, green and orange.”
“The aging workforce of the trucking industry has supported the development of Shelter Rite Lite,” explains Sue Uhler, IFD technical marketing manager at Seaman Corp., Wooster, Ohio. Seaman’s Shelter Rite Lite offers the performance of an 18-ounce product at a 28 percent lighter weight. It was developed to perform specifically in low-temperature applications where flexibility and ease of handling is crucial.
“This product offers lower long-term costs and fewer repairs,” Uhler says. “With the aging of the trucking workforce, this product is ideal for applications that require tarping loads by hand. Some use an 18-ounce tarpaulin with 10-ounce sides. With the Shelter Rite Lite you have the same performance across the tarp no matter where it touches the load.”
Verduyn Tarps Inc., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has experienced a consistently growing market for its Eagle Retractable Tarp System. There has been a significant increase in companies now requiring these tarp systems when they have trailers come in and load on their property.
Larry Labelle, regional sales manager at Verduyn Tarps, explains that the retractable systems are safer and faster than traditional tarping. He adds, “The industry is getting older, and there is a big driver shortage problem. People are getting the tarp systems to help retain drivers as well as keeping them on the road longer.”