The man who first introduced the giant event tipi to the UK on his passion for professionalising the marquee industry
Favourite tipple: Tea – best drink of the day
Last holiday destination: Pyrenees – cycling some cols and understanding a bit of the pain those Tour de France guys experience
Cats or dogs? Dogs – cats won’t go for help when you’ve fallen in the river (remember Lassie?)
Current boxset / TV must watch: Better Call Saul – hoping it matches up to Breaking Bad
Something people may not know about me: Mad keen on green woodworking – felling trees in the woods and turning them into beautiful chairs using just muscles, sharp tools and good old-fashioned techniques and wisdom. Teaches patience, craftsmanship, and working with nature.
How did you get started in the business?
Left an international career in a large IT consultancy after becoming fed up with corporate life – being expected to put profit ahead of doing the right thing for customers. Wound up in a field in Dartmoor at a story-telling festival, listening to stories being told in yurts – a type of tent I’d never seen before. Perhaps if I bought one, along with a few other ‘canvas and timber’ tents I could start a rental business with a difference…
What is the history of Tentipi and your involvement with the business?
Tentipi was established as a one person business in 1989 in Moskosel, a tiny village in the far north of Sweden. It has grown steadily over the years, driven by many breakthrough inventions such as the ability to link giant tipis by raising the brim (seems so obvious now!). We now produce Nordic Tipis in three locations worldwide, including that original site in Moskosel, and sell into over 15 countries.
My first involvement with Tentipi was bringing the first giant Nordic Tipi to the UK at the beginning of 2005 and founding The Stunning Tents Company, the world’s first full time rental business based on this style of tent. As the business grew I quickly became Tentipi’s largest customer. Within a year I’d become the distributor in the UK, and subsequently have taken the rights to distribution in other English speaking countries.
Having sold the rental business several years ago, I’m now full time in developing Tentipi’s products and services, selling Tentipi tents and advising and training customers. I manage all the structural calculations, write all the training manuals, lead many of the developments of new products and services, and am responsible for our digital marketing. After 12 years, it’s still interesting every day and I never tire of being inside the tents.
What is the appeal of Tentipi products to venue owners?
Coupled with a beautiful venue, beautiful tents make a powerful business case. Tentipi and its tents are tried and tested, having been around for nearly 30 years, which helps de-risk a decision to invest. There’s a wide network of rental companies around the country using our tents and, more and more, they are teaming up with venues to handle the logistical side of managing tipis they have purchased.
What is the appeal of Tentipi products to end users?
A beautiful atmospheric structure that can be dressed up or down to suit the wishes of the customer. I’ve seen everything from a few bales of straw inside an empty tent, to lavish productions with statues, antiques, exquisite floristry, sumptuous furnishings and dazzling lighting.
The solid timber poles and natural-looking canvas are very appealing in a world of mass-produced disposable products.
How would you describe the state of play in the outdoor hospitality market?
We see a continuing drive towards natural-looking structures, ever higher levels of sophistication inside the structures, and the desire to be different. The most successful customers have an ‘angle’ to help them stand out from the crowd. The most important thing, though, is the quality of the venue.
How have you personally impacted the industry?
Back in 2005 I took a risk and brought the first giant Nordic Tipi into the UK and started hiring it out. That started the market in the UK. It would be interesting to know if/how the market would have developed if I hadn’t done that.
It was immediately clear that the requirements for UK events were very different to those that had been taking place in Scandinavia: a much higher level of finish; a real focus on safety; and an expectation that tents would not leak or pond. My work in those early years professionalised the building and linking techniques for the Nordic Tipis, and created the stable, reliable methods we use today.
I’ve been on the Executive Committee of MUTA for nearly eight years, the last three years as President. MUTA is the trade body for marquees, tents and structures in the UK, and all of us on the Executive Committee are unpaid volunteers giving our time to help the industry more widely. Being involved in the heart of the industry always seemed important to me, for Nordic Tipis to be seen at the centre of things, not as some weird offshoot. I think it’s fair to say that Nordic Tipis are seen as part of the event industry landscape today. MUTA’s mission to drive up standards in the industry fits very well with Tentipi – we want to “do things properly” and with integrity – being involved with MUTA is a constant motivation to continue in that vein.
What are the major achievements of Tentipi as a business?
Inventing giant linkable Nordic Tipis has to be top of the list. Tipis had been around for thousands of years and yet no-one had made that leap. That single invention – by Bengt Grahn, founder and CEO of Tentipi – has created an industry which has now spread around the world.
Alongside that, having been a stable, reliable supplier of Nordic Tipis for nearly 30 years now is something we feel proud about. We’re in this for the long term, not here today and gone tomorrow, and that deeply affects our behaviour as a business.
What plans do you have for the future?
There’s a lot in the pipeline. We’re continuing to develop products following our FieldReady™ Design principles – products that really work out there in the field. We have some innovative new service developments that will present new opportunities for our customers in their businesses. And we’re increasing the level of charitable support that we’ve quietly been doing for many years.