TopTec Event Tents focuses on quality, customer service
TopTec Event Tents, Moore, S.C., might be just a little different from other tent manufacturers in that the company has almost exclusively targeted the party and equipment rental industry ever since it was founded in 1986.
“Right now, probably 98 percent of our business is to rental stores,” says Michael Tharpe, TopTec’s director of sales. “The company first offered a standard frame deluxe tent, which was a sectional tent people could put in the back of cars and take to parties. That started it all and then as the rental stores themselves demanded more products, we rose to the need to do that.”
TopTec now offers tents from 10 ft. by 10 ft. up to a structure tent that is 82 ft. wide. Push pole style tents are available from 15 ft. by 15 ft. up to 80 ft. wide. The company can make custom tents as well as provide stock tents including frame tents, push pole tents, tension tents and Clearspan tent structures.
“There’s not a lot of a variation of tent styles and sizes out there. Each tent company has its own flair and style. At TopTec, we like to feel we have the best customer service and treat customers as our partners in business,” Tharpe says.
When a customer orders a new tent style, TopTec’s certified factory-trained representatives are available to train the customer’s setup crew on how to install the new product. Satisfaction is guaranteed or the rental store will receive its money back with the return of the tent.
“We are a full-service company and when a customer calls, we answer their question. We can sell them products and we can teach them how to set it up properly. We can repair the product and do custom applications as well. Tent rental companies can have customers who have a specific site and you may have to change the size of the tent or make it go around a tree. We have the capabilities of doing that. We service what we sell and we back it up,” he says.
In 2006, TopTec became part of Meyco Products, a long-time manufacturer of custom pool covers. Meyco is based in New York, but had manufacturing in South Carolina when it came across TopTec in 2006.
“We felt TopTec would be a good supplement to our business,” says John Ciniglio, Meyco Products president. “Since tent manufacturing was somewhat seasonal and pool cover manufacturing is extremely seasonal, we thought there was an opportunity there to make both companies stronger in handling the seasonality of our business. There also were ways we felt we could reduce the shipping dates by sharing resources of the two companies.”
Also in 2006, TopTec received its ISO 9001-20000 certification by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a quality standard manufacturer. The company moved to its present facility in Moore at the end of the year in 2010 and started manufacturing products there in mid-January 2011.
The new facility is 148,000 sq. ft., compared to the company’s previous 35,000-sq.-ft. building.
“The move allowed us to better utilize space and arrange manufacturing in a way that we were not working over each other,” Tharpe says.
TopTec has different vinyl suppliers, but all tents, frames, welding and finishing is completed in the Moore facility. The company has electronic cutting machines to maintain control and usage of vinyl. As vinyl comes off the line, it is passed over a light table to find any imperfections. Most everything else, however, is done by hand to ensure quality.
“Philosophically, it goes beyond how we interact with customers. We believe we need to be a partner to them,” Ciniglio says. “In a lot of instances, the tent is the most expensive and valuable part of a rental store’s inventory. We are offering more than service and technical support — those are very important — but we can also teach them how to get the tent up quicker, how to take better care of their tents and how to get a higher return on investment.”
Perhaps the biggest change or trend in the tent industry that Tharpe has noticed is a change in buying habits.
“They want it now. It’s difficult in the spring when people get their inventory out of storage and start the rental process only to find out they forgot something. That’s when everybody wants everything right now. Like any other manufacturer, it can create a little bit of a lead time, but no one wants to wait. We strive to meet that demand. We’ve developed a minimum stocking level and an extended work schedule, including multiple shifts, to keep lead times down to a minimum,” Tharpe says.
If something is not on the shelf, TopTec usually can have a product made, starting from scratch, within two weeks.
“Pre-recession, in 2006 and before, that process would have taken 14 or 15 weeks. At that time, customers would say, ‘OK.’ If we said 14 or 15 or even three weeks now, they say they can’t wait. The recession taught people how important it is to manage cash. They have minimized inventory. Before, when they got a job, they could plan 14 or 15 weeks out, too. Now they are getting last-minute jobs. They have to react and we need to react on their behalf. Several years ago when we moved delivery from 14 weeks to two weeks, we thought we accomplished something. That’s not relevant today. Customers want it now,” Ciniglio says.
That’s where the importance of partnerships with customers comes into play, Tharpe says.
“With the market as volatile as it is, you can’t always plan on how much of an increase in sales you’re going to have without both a strong partnership and the ability to talk to customers to see what their needs are, so that we can include that in our planning process. This now takes place year-round versus one time a year,” he says.
To reduce the lead time, Ciniglio says the company built up its inventory, changed production procedures and introduced lean concepts into the manufacturing process. “Then there are multiple shifts and a variety of overtime to prepare for the season. That’s how we can reduce the lead time,” he says.
Once a year, TopTec brings in up to 125 people — including salespeople from rental stores, tent installers, laborers and supervisors — for periodic installation and safety training called “Tent School.” The copany says it is the longest running training event of its kind in the industry. The company also focuses on making tent installation easier so that customers can save time and labor.
“In the design process, we look to do things that are easy to install. Rental companies can’t control the price of the product, but if you reduce their labor costs through ease of installation, that money goes straight to the bottom line to allow them a better return on investment,” Tharpe says.
“We took a good, hard look at how a frame works and how tents go together. Some people may take a look at a bracket, weld it and throw it on a truck. We clean up and finish that bracket, so it doesn’t have any edges to catch. That way the rental store doesn’t have to adjust in the field. We take care of the little things first, so they don’t become big things in the field. We fine tune times and fine tune procedures in manufacturing. Even a simple thing like lacing a tent together, we make that part easier, so they don’t have to do pulls and strain to align the tent,” Tharpe says.