The Great Cover Up: Maintaining and Providing the Right Tents for Customer Events

People love to bring the indoors to the great outdoors.  After all, it’s the best of all worlds.  Fortunately, today’s variety of tents enable them to do just that.  From business functions to social events, here’s how tent rental operations maintain and install the right covering for their clients.
“Basically it’s like a game of 20 questions when we talk to clients,” said George Szondy, owner of Abbey Tent & Party Rentals located in Fairfield, Conn.  “These questions include:  What is the type of event?  How many guests?  Will everyone be seated?  Do you plan to have a dance floor under the tent?  Will there be a band?  Will there be a bar?  Or, do you want the bar in a separate tent.  Or, will cocktail hour be on the patio?  Is there a head table?  Do you want tables of eight or 10?  Will it be a buffet or a sit-down dinner?  Is your event day or night time?  You start with these generic questions to determine the type and size of tent. Depending on the season and time, they might need walls, heat and lights.”  
According to Szondy, Abbey rents over 1,000 tents a year from basic little 10-by-10-square-foot tents to coverings that are 80 by 30 square feet.  
Danielle Sweet, dispatcher and a long-time employee of Durants Party Rentals in Wappingers, N.Y., added, “You also need to factor in things like will it be on grass or pavement.  In addition, sometimes it’s not just determining the right size to accommodate the type and size of an event, but the physical location and layout of the land can impact what size tent is used.  If the right sized tent doesn’t fit, then we need to think about other options.”  Depending on how busy the season is, the company rents between 200 and 400 tents a year.
“Our season typically runs from May to October,” said Sarah Pineault, who along with her husband, David, owns All Seasons Party Rentals in Stamford, Conn.  “We rent hundreds of tents a year for both corporate and private events such as weddings.”  She also noted, “The technology has really evolved over the last 10 years or so.  Some of the tents they are selling now are structures, so they are literally built to look like a banquet hall” or other buildings.
All of this requires skilled labor to perform everything from installation and take down to cleaning and storage.  Most of the experts noted, though, that formal training is not common.  As Doug Hick, owner of Mr. Tent in Cheshire, Conn., said, “We don’t really provide any special training.  Our employees are trained by myself and other experienced crew.”
Most of the party rental operations that feature tents segment their client base into two broad categories.  “We take care of both business and social events,” said Todd Meyers, assistant manager for RSVP Party Rentals in Las Vegas, Nev.  In a city known for its entertainment industry, RSVP, like most party companies, offers a full line of items needed to host almost any type of affair.
The land of the big sky also offers a great place to move outdoors.  “Montana is the perfect place for things like outdoor weddings because in the summer it is not too hot or too cold,” said Matt Clegg, owner of Eastgate Rental & Party Center in Missoula, Mont.  But he noted, “We are different than a lot of places because you only have about from May through September due to the weather.  As result, you can’t have everything because you are only getting a season of use that is half a year long at most.”  But he noted, “It’s picked up in recent years as the population has increased.  And, we do a few cold weather events because we can put walls on tents and heat them.  So, while it’s not that common, you can do an outdoor party in the winter.”
Anyone who has ever gone camping knows that keeping tents fresh and looking new is a science in itself.  It starts with keeping them clean.  “As the tents come down from a big event, the crew marks it to show how dirty it is and to identify any spots that need to be cleaned,” Szondy said.
Pineault noted, “Sometimes we send them out to another company that has a super-sized washing machine that you can put tent tops in.  During the season, though, as soon as we get them back we lay them out and wash them.  You have to dry them thoroughly or else when you put them back in the bag they will develop mold.  Most important is to dry them as quickly as you can when they come back.”
Clegg added, “We use a tent cleaner designed to specifically help eliminate mildew and things like that.  We actually use pool brushes on broom handles to scrub them.”
At Abbey, Szondy said, “There are rotary brushes you can use and a light power wash, because a strong wash would eat through the vinyl.”
Most companies store their tents in warehouses because of space considerations and to better control the climate to make them last.   Some tents, though, don’t come back.  Clegg explained, “We get quite a few requests from customers to sell them tents and we occasionally do.  We have an inventory of old tents and when there are forest fires they have fire camps and they need things like mess tents and we save our old tents for that.  So quite often if someone really wants to buy one, we can sell them one from that inventory.  They get old and they don’t look like a wedding tent anymore, but typically that is not what people are looking for.”
Not surprisingly, when it comes to companies buying tents to rent out, the experts agree that they purchase based on their experience and knowledge of what their customers typically require. –

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