Canadian Rental Service

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A good year for tent manufacturers

It was a good year for companies in the tent manufacturing and rental businesses...


May 12, 2008
By Pat Bolen*

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It was a good year for companies in the tent manufacturing and rental businesses in both Canada and the US to the point that in some areas such as Alberta, companies are consulting with their employees as to whether they are able to take on more work.

Canadian Rental Service magazine spoke to representatives from Quebec based Fiesta Tents, Warner Shelter Systems Limited (WSSL) in Calgary, Alberta, and Eureka! Party Tents in Binghamton, New York to find out how 2007 went for them and what is in store for the future.

After starting as a rental operation in 1977, Fiesta Tents has since expanded into manufacturing, says international s

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WSSL Systems supplied Arabesque Theatre Stage Covers for the 100th Anniversary of CEMEX in Mexico. Photo Courtesy Of WSSL.

ales manager Alexandre Renaud, adding that 2007 was a very good year with a 25 percent increase in manufacturing sales. Renaud says both the manufacturing and rental aspects of the business are strong. Three years ago, he says the company, which had sold its products through distribution agreements, started doing this independently. “Since then, sales have just been increasing. It was mostly because we were distributing our products through other manufacturers, which wouldn’t necessarily put more emphasis on our products versus theirs. So it’s easier to push our own products.”

“We got quite a few new customers and numbers were up,” says WSSL sales manager, Peter Joy. With business in Alberta’s oil and gas economy so good, one of the biggest concerns for
employers such as WSSL was finding enough labour. “The limiting factor for us is the labour factor,” says Joy, who adds the company is getting around the problem with all of its employees “chipping in.”

Joy says every company in Alberta is facing the same problem and they understand if delivery and scheduling times get longer. “Someone that wants it next week knows the situation and says ‘we’ll take it in a month’.”

Eureka! marketing communications manager, Carol Cundey says “Sales grew in 2007 and our forecasting and inventory was spot on. In addition, our strategic planning for new product development, sales programs and marketing initiatives continued to help with our sales growth. Eureka! tent products are seen all around the world at social, corporate, sporting and mega-events… and we work with our customers to make sure they have the right tent product for their event, large or small.”

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The Tennis Masters Series in Toronto, Ontario, was one of the high profile events Fiesta has supplied in the past. Photo Courtesy Of Fiesta Tents.

A major factor for Canadian companies in 2007 was the Canadian dollar and Renaud says at the start of the year, the dollar was around the $0.90 mark. “We weren’t expecting it to go to par that fast, so for a least a six or eight month period we were absorbing the difference on the dollar, although at this point it has become impossible to maintain the same plan,” he says. “So what’s happening is not only is my price to the US market going up because I have to compensate for the dollar exchange, but for Canadians, going to purchase tents in the US is becoming less expensive.”

Renaud says he has not been able to put a percentage on his losses because Fiesta was not affected much in 2007 because it maintained its prices. “It affected our profit margins a lot more than anything else. For the year coming, I’m expecting to see no increase in sales and maybe even seeing a five percent reduction.”

The high dollar has not hurt WSSL and Joy says the company just finished a trade show where it did about the same amount of business that it did last year. “It doesn’t appear that it affected us. People are still looking at buying quality even if they have to pay a little bit more. We have a pretty good quality product so they recognize that.”

A trend Renaud says is increasing is more companies going to clearspan products. “Ten years ago, most companies would have typical ‘West Coast’ style frame tents and pole tents. There were a very limited amount of companies making clearspan building type products. More and more, you’ll see smaller rental companies starting to look at clearspan products,” he says. The reason for the change, he says, are code officials and requirements for permits as well as clients that are continually better informed about the quality of tents and the certification they are looking for.

Cundey agrees saying, “For tents, more and more engineering requirements and documentation are required, so we work directly with professional engineers and build any new code requirements right into our new tent designs. The new Evolution Wind Rated tent is a 40 foot wide tension tent that meets the new American National Standards Institute (ANSI) code.”

Renaud adds that a lot of rental companies are seeing the benefits of a more expensive product which offer faster setup times and less calls for maintenance. In 2003, Fiesta introduced its Legacy line which is a hybrid style tent with a mix between a clearspan and a frame tent. “You install it like you would a frame tent,” says Renaud. “We are developing the 40 foot wide in that series. For the people who own that Legacy system, a lot of people are awaiting with anticipation the arrival of the 40 wide because it would be a fully compatible building with what they own. It’s just an expansion of the frame they already own, without having to purchase that much additional equipment to take their 20 or 30 foot wide to a
40 wide.”

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The new Evolution Wind Rated tent by Eureka! Photo Courtesy Of Eureka!

Fiesta is also working on revamping its marketing image with a new logo, letterhead and website. “We should be coming out mid 2008 with a whole new fresher look,” says Renaud. Another major focus for the coming year is Fiesta’s agreements with other North American manufacturers that will allow the company to distribute its products in a wider range. “We are venturing into different markets by associating ourselves with other companies.”

One of the high points of the year for WSSL was having its Arabesque Theatre Stage Covers for the 100th Anniversary of CEMEX Engineering in Mexico, which saw several high-profile dignitaries attend including American president George H. W. Bush and the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon. “It was the shape of a cross, so that was our one really big event this year,” says Joy.

The labour shortage for WSSL and other tent manufacturing was such, says Joy, that they were all cognizant of not over-working their employees. “There is so much work here, that if you made it too difficult for your workers, they’d just find another job… it moved to an employee environment, as opposed to an employer environment. Joy says companies such as WSSL were consulting with their employees before taking on work to ask if it could be done. “It was almost not being told, it was more being asked,” he says.

There is also consolidation going on in the industry, says Joy, especially in the US with smaller rental companies being bought out by larger companies. Markets are also tougher in the US, he adds. “People don’t have as much disposable income to rent big party tents. The corporations in Calgary have a lot of money, so they go full bore with everything.”

Sharing inventory is also something that has increased as the company is sub-renting more tents to local rental houses to help them top up their inventories during peak demands. “We’re in a unique position, as a manufacturer, we sell to the local rental houses so we don’t want to be in competition with them. Instead we help them top it up and this works out better. They may not want to buy five more tents, but they’ll look at sub-renting five just for the event.”

Although weather patterns are increasingly unpredictable, Joy says it has not had a major impact on the tent industry although the season may be a little longer if the weather stays nice into October. “If it stays nicer longer, people might look at having the activity outdoors, as opposed to trying to find a hall.”

Cundey notes, “The weather has always been unpredictable, so we’ve become experts at forecasting, building products and meeting demand. We have such great communication with our
customers, we are able to see and hear directly from the customer how weather and the economy affect their business – and we manage around that accordingly.” -end-

*Pat Bolan is a freelance writer based in Exeter, Ontario.


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