Giant Nordic Tents

SPONSORED FEATURE: Introducing Tentipi; the product and the concept.

Since the first Tentipi giant Nordic tipi was brought into the UK, the popularity of these beautiful structures has grown and grown. Initially taken up by rental companies offering the tipis for mobile hire, now an increasing number of farms, event venues, pubs and hotels are seeing the business benefits too.

The concept is simple – individual tipis of different sizes that can be linked together; a modular system that can be added to as needed. But it didn’t start out like that. The invention of the giant Nordic tipi is an interesting story – a series of serendipitous events that created an industry.


Bengt’s Story – Invention of the giant Nordic Tipi

Tentipi can trace its origins back to 1979. Bengt Grahn, founder and CEO, was being eaten alive by mosquitos after a day’s canoeing with friends deep in the wilderness of Swedish Lapland. A hasty meal before retreating to their individual tents wasn’t the best end to a great day. He began to consider how to make the perfect tent, a tent that could withstand harsh weather conditions and mosquitos, and provide a homely space to socialise around a fire.

Over the years, Bengt’s desire to make the best possible tent combined with his knowledge of the Sami kåta (the traditional home of the Sami people, indigenous to the area) became fused. A moment of inspiration came in 1989 while he was standing on a chair changing a light bulb, leading to the formation of Tentipi.

Getting started
Armed with a set of cutting plans for a cone-shaped tent purchased from a local businessman (which turned out to be all but useless), and a huge dose of self-confidence, Bengt began teaching himself to sew, turning enormous pieces of cloth into large Nordic tipis.

At first, he did everything himself, from purchasing and sewing to marketing and selling. However, it did not take long before he employed his first worker. The tent production proved to be profitable and new products began to be developed.

The first request for a truly giant Nordic tipi arrived, and Bengt made a deal to sew the canvas, with the poles being provided by someone else. Arriving on site to install the new tent (the day before it was needed), he was dismayed to see the trailer full of poles being driven on to site – they were anything other than straight; it would be quite impossible to use them. So, chainsaw in hand, Bengt went into the woods to find tall, straight trees that would be suitable. He worked through the night, and by 5am had cut and trimmed enough poles to build the frame. The canvas fitted perfectly.

A single Stratus with all sides up
A single Stratus with all sides up

The next step
The next big step forwards came in 1993. Members of a Sami cultural organisation, impressed by the tents they had seen around, approached Bengt and asked him to create a 25m x 50m exhibition space to promote Sami products and culture. That was a huge project to take on at the time, and it occurred to Bengt that he needed a Nordic tipi where the sides could be opened, so visitors could see the displays inside as they walked past. In Stockholm the previous year he had experimented with rolling up the sides of the tipi to achieve the same effect, but that meant losing an area of covered space, reducing the effective size of the tent. So, he considered how he might solve this problem.

The idea of introducing expansion wedges into the lower half of the canvas came in another moment of inspiration; a practical idea to solve a specific problem, but in hindsight, a moment of genius. If the wedges were tightened, the tent could be pitched like a standard tipi, but if they were loosened, the bottom half of the canvas could be raised up and supported on wooden poles to create the shape of a giant witch’s hat. Opening the sides like that created more covered space under the tent, not less, and gave passing visitors an uninterrupted view of the inside of the tent.

The first Giant Hat Nordic tipi (since renamed Stratus) was duly made and used for the event and it went down a storm. Copyright protection has since been granted for the shape of the Stratus, although only for a limited period – it expires 75 years after Bengt’s death!

Making connections
For the next development, we must look outside of Tentipi to an enterprising Sami businessman named Roger Rimpi. Roger had been exhibiting on the Sami exhibition stand and was particularly impressed with the Stratus. He was the first to see the potential of using the way the sides raised up to link the tents together to make a single larger structure. Later in 1993, he linked the first three Stratus tipis together for an event at Stockholm zoo.

However, turning these early efforts into a robust, reliable system was far from simple. Discovering the manufacturing and building techniques that really work out there ‘in the field’ took many years. Tentipi had to develop a bespoke canvas with exceptional water repellent properties because there was no suitable ‘off the shelf’ fabric. Various timbers were used before it was discovered that a particular species of Spruce cut in a narrow band of latitudes in Lapland really worked. Structural calculations to ensure the safety of those building and using the tipis in all possible configurations were needed; they extend to 750 pages of complex formulae and much, much more.

The good news is that all that work is done, enabling today’s customers to benefit from robust, reliable tents, first class training, and excellent pre and post sales support.

The ability to link is what really sets the Stratus apart. It is possible to create all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes, and to make really large covered spaces. The record to date is 34 Stratus linked together to provide a dining venue for 2,000 people.

More countries, more demands
Word spread about the Stratus and how it could be linked to form larger structures, and tents were sold to more and more countries, and used for an ever-expanding variety of events. These ranged from an English country wedding and a Norwegian ski jumping competition to an Australian beach party and a German music festival.

With that increasing usage came increasing demand and Stratus has evolved to cope. The simplicity of the design (“It’s just a few poles and a bit of canvas isn’t it?”) hides a myriad of material and manufacturing innovations.

Not finished yet
So we arrive at today, with a product packed full of features developed as the result of over 20 years’ experience of real world use, on real sites, and in real weather conditions. The journey doesn’t stop here though. There is an active, ongoing product development programme adding new possibilities and extending the range of conditions in which the tents can be used.

Four sizes of Cirrus with roll up panels open
Four sizes of Cirrus with roll up panels open

The UK market
At the beginning of 2005, Jon Parr, the then owner of The Stunning Tents Company, a rental business hiring out different styles of wood and canvas tents, brought the first Tentipi giant Nordic tipi into the UK.

Things moved quickly. As soon as people saw the tipi demand grew rapidly, and Jon began selling as well as hiring. Just over 10 years later there are more than 50 rental companies in the UK that stock Tentipi tents, along with many more at fixed venues.

Jon sold his rental business in 2013 and it continues to thrive. Now, he and his small dedicated sales team focus on sales, training and support for new and existing Tentipi customers. As Jon observes, “Creating the first full-time rental business in the world based on giant Nordic tipis had its challenges for sure, but also served as the perfect training ground to learn the products and the industry. Now, many hundreds of builds in all conceivable site and weather conditions later, it’s great to be able to share that depth of experience with customers, and help them understand what really works, what doesn’t, and how to maximise their return on investment. 11 years on I still think the tipis look fantastic every time I step inside.”

The demand for Tentipi continues to grow, with the wedding market arguably leading the way. The trend for festival / back to nature / woodland weddings fits perfectly with the Tentipi vibe, and the authentic Nordic roots lend credibility and a compelling back-story. All the signs are that this popularity will continue to grow. We expect to continue to see an increase in the number of farms, event venues, pubs and hotels with their own Tentipi tents.

Increasing revenue and profit
Venues use Nordic tipis to create additional event space to rent out, whether explicitly or as part of an overall venue fee. There are multiple possibilities for generating income for the shrewd investor, but the key questions to consider are: how many events will you run each year and how much can you charge for each event? Multiply the two figures together and you are well on your way to understanding how much revenue you can generate. But take care as the figures can vary widely. A farm running woodland weddings might only want to run 10 weddings a year, while a pub might rent a single smaller tipi at lunch times and in the evenings for much of the summer – well over 100 events.

More important is the question, how much profit can I make? Figuring out all the costs you will incur running an event is rather more involved, and that’s where Tentipi’s Investment Planning Pack and unlimited free pre-sales consultancy can help.

One of the key considerations will be whether to rent or buy. If it is for a small number of events per year then hiring in usually makes most sense. But if the events become regular – more than five per year – then it makes financial sense to consider purchase. The practical side of things – building, dismantling and maintaining the tipis – you can either handle yourself or form a relationship with a local rental company experienced in working with Tentipi tents to do it for you.

Product options
For maximum versatility, choose the Stratus Nordic tipi. At over 10 metres in diameter and with the option of raising the sides to increase it to 13 metres across, it can be pitched normal ‘tipi shape’ or like a giant witch’s hat, or something in between.

The Cirrus range is simpler to manage, and cheaper, with a wide roll-up panel instead of the raising sides. Cirrus is available in four sizes from 6.5 metres in diameter to over 10 metres.

Using the LinkFlex system, Stratus can be linked to other Stratus and to the larger Cirrus. All manner of configurations of linked tents are possible. The record to date is 34 linked Stratus at a ski jumping event in Norway, but that’s far in excess of the normal one, two and three tent configurations that are most popular. Cleverly, LinkFlex uses identical components irrespective of the type of links being made, so you don’t need to invest in different equipment to make different links.

Three linked Stratus with WallFlex midfill panel
Three linked Stratus with WallFlex midfill panel

Use of the Stratus can be further extended using the WallFlex system – a series of clear and canvas panels and wooden doors that can be used in numerous ways to enclose the open sides of single and linked Stratus. As with LinkFlex, the WallFlex system allows the same equipment to be used in different ways.

Fireplaces, tables, benches, reindeer skins and catering tents are also available to finish things off.

Hannah Hall, owner and manager at The Wroxeter Hotel, has recently taken delivery of a second Stratus. She comments: “We are always looking for something new to offer our customers to help us stand out. In 2015 we invested in a Tentipi Stratus tipi as a reception area for our outdoor weddings. It quickly attracted a lot of interest and for 2016 we’ve added a second linked Stratus so that the whole day can take place in the tipis. Whilst the team from Tentipi were on site with us installing the second tent, we made a Facebook post about this new addition. Before the team had left site we had already taken two upgrades! Now we need to figure out how we can add a third.”

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