Duncan Moore investigates when it is a good investment for a venue to purchase a marquee.
For any venue that needs to provide covered space for a function, from a simple beer tent to a wedding reception with a dance floor, marquees are an ideal option. Marquees, also known as poles tents or soft tops, and referred to within the marquee industry as temporary demountable structures (TDS), can be quickly erected and then taken down when an event has finished. With the modular nature of many TDS, size can be easily varied to suit the occasion too.
Choosing to use a marquee to host functions can also prove to be cost effective compared to a permanent structure, but at what point does it make sense to purchase a marquee outright rather than to continue to use the services of a dedicated hire business?
The decision is primarily a financial one; which choice represents the best value? If a marquee is only needed once or twice a year then hiring is ultimately the best option. The hire fees for just a few events will be significantly less than the cost of buying outright.
Daniel Gill, the founder of Dine, a catering and event management company with a portfolio of exclusive venues, including marquee sites located across the UK, says: “For smaller venues that host around six events a year, I would suggest teaming up with a local marquee company. This can be more cost effective and you will also benefit from their expert knowledge, particularly when it comes to what can be done on your land.”
However, he feels that if a marquee is regularly needed at the same venue, then the cost benefits soon shift towards purchase. “For a longer term business plan, buying a marquee may be more beneficial,” says Gill. “The most important factor to consider is whether you have planning permission. Don’t buy a marquee without this. However, if you do buy a marquee it will allow you to charge a lower hire fee to the client compared to the price they would pay to hire one independently.
“The total cost of hiring a marquee with everything included starts at around £8,000. Owning a marquee will, therefore, allow you to be more competitive on price, thereby attracting people to your venue. An increase in the number of events held at your venue would inevitably make owning a marquee more economical.
“Whether buying or renting, my advice is to do your research. There is a lot to consider for marquee events, from how the structure will be positioned to take full advantage of the location, to where the services will go, including service vehicle parking, waste and water drainage and more besides,” he adds.
Susie Cursons of Attwoolls Marquees, which claims to be one of Europe’s largest and longest established suppliers of temporary structures, is of the opinion that, “For clients requiring long term hire over six months or for clients needing multiple hires throughout the year, for example, a venue that generates business through wedding marquee hire, it is more economical to buy a marquee rather than to continue renting.
“One of the advantages of buying a tent is that the initial outlay can be redeemed over a period of time if it is hired out frequently and also the marquee can be used for a variety of functions as well as a storage facility in quieter months.
“However, there are also disadvantages, which include the upkeep. This alone can incur additional costs, such as repairs and cleaning. Of course, if it is not hired out enough times buying will work out to be more expensive than hiring. One point that people may overlook is the issue of planning permission. If that is not given then the additional costs for taking down/re-erecting and also storage when not in use has to be taken into account, too,” she continues.
“The primary advantage of hiring is that the responsibility for the structure is with the contractor so if there are any issues, for example, leakages, lighting problems, floor levels, etc, this is quickly resolved and therefore less stressful. It is definitely a cheaper option if hire periods are minimal or storage is short term. There is also the option of insurance being taken out with the contractor, which can cover a lot of potential problems.”
Jon Parr, managing director of Tentipi (UK and Ireland) Ltd and President of MUTA (the trade body for marquee businesses in the UK), suggests that there are two questions people need to ask themselves before deciding whether to hire a marquee continuously or to buy outright.
“Venue owners need to ask themselves, ‘Am I prepared to be responsible for the safety and maintenance of the structure?’ If someone owns a structure they’ll be responsible for erecting and dismantling it safely, and maintaining it while it is built. That means trained crew, tools, keeping an eye on the weather forecast and taking preventive action if necessary. Venues can establish a relationship with a local rental company who are expert in the type of structure they select or have their own crew trained.
“The second question to be considered is, ‘How many events do they expect to hold?’ There’s a rule of thumb in the tent rental industry that if you earn 10% of the cost of a tent when you hire it out for a weekend then you should be able to make a decent business. So, for an outdoor venue operator, the cost of hiring in 10 times could be similar to the cost of buying outright. Assuming a tent will give you five years’ service, if you hold more than a couple of events per year it starts to become worth thinking about buying.”
If you decide to go with a hire company as your TDS provider, you could gain benefits that would not be available with an outright purchase. For example, if you buy a marquee you then have to think about buying or hiring flooring, arranging an electrical supply, and possibly WCs too. However, a good marquee hire business will be able to bundle all of these facilities into a single package, which could benefit from a significant discount compared to sourcing them all from a range of contractors.
That is not to say that hiring a tent is without potential pitfalls. “It’s easy to focus just on the tent itself and its interior (flooring, stage, dance floor, lighting, tables, benches, chairs, bar etc) when you first decide to hire a structure, but there are other things to consider,” explains Parr. “How much power do you need and where is it going to come from? What about loos? Do you need a catering tent? What about a water supply? Where will guests park? Good hirers of tents and good manufacturers of tents will understand all these things and be able to advise accordingly.
“Also, take safety seriously. Ask to see structural calculations and wind loading figures for the particular tent/tent configuration you are interested in. Ask to see ‘pull out forces’ for each stake position in the structure, and ask how the business will ensure these forces are achieved. Make sure the structure is flame retardant, that there are sufficient exits and that the interior is laid out to comply with fire regulations. Again, good hirers and manufacturers will know this stuff inside out, know the various standards that apply, and be able to advise accordingly.”
If you have made the decision to buy a marquee, the costs you have to consider do not stop with the initial purchase price. As mentioned previously, there are a great many other overheads that have to be factored into the purchase price. Do you have the necessary manpower and skills to be able to safely erect and dismantle the marquee each time it is needed, or will you need to buy in these services each time?
When the marquee is not being used, where do you keep it? Do you have adequate storage space on-site or will you need to hire storage? If the latter is the case then transport to and from the storage venue also has to be considered. What happens to the marquee after use? Who will take care of the cleaning and any necessary repairs?
The additional costs do not stop there either. You will need to contact your insurer to confirm that your public liability insurance covers the use of your own marquee. Similarly, do you have insurance coverage for your staff if they are responsible for erecting the marquee, carrying out any necessary maintenance, and so on?
Talking about costs that people may fail to consider when buying a marquee for the first time, Gill has this to say, “People can be unaware of the costs involved in purchasing a marquee. It is important to make provisions for power; you will need at least a 60kVA generator with a backup of the same size. Generators are very expensive to maintain because they need regular servicing, to be super silenced and kept in a secure location. Then there’s heating options, toilet facilities and flooring, which are also all crucial factors to consider when buying a marquee. You will need to decide whether to hire these elements for each event or provide them yourself.”
Gill continues: “I would strongly advise venues to take out a maintenance contract with a marquee company, or at least have a dedicated groundsman who is responsible for regularly checking the structure. A marquee can look fine from the outside but weather conditions can easily loosen the structure, making it weak. The tensioning cables and pegs need regular checks to ensure this doesn’t happen.”
Parr is also able to offer advice on the subject of unforeseen costs, as it is a subject MUTA often has to consider. “The purchase price can vary greatly for a tent of a fixed size because of numerous outside factors. It is not just the size and type of structure that affect the purchase price, the specifics of the site itself (eg Does it have power already? Are there loos nearby?) must also be taken into account. Additionally, you have to consider how many people you want to seat and what other space you need inside the tent as the starting point when figuring out costings and getting quotes from suppliers.
“If purchasing, in my experience the tent itself is typically less than 50% of the investment that a venue will make to get a site up and running, so the cost of all those other things becomes even more important than the cost of the tent. This is something good manufacturers can help with – Tentipi, for example, runs one-on-one investment planning sessions with customers to help them think through all the costs associated with investing in a Nordic Tipi.
“If maintenance is happening using on-site staff, the costs will be pretty low. If you are using a local rental company the costs will be a good bit higher.”
Parr is also able to share knowledge on the usability of various marquee designs including their suitability for different occasions and how much flexibility they offer. “There are various types of tent on the market, most of which are modular so can be added to as needed. I have been asked in the past if buyers should consider whether the design they are buying will look out of date quickly? However, I don’t think this is an issue, whatever is chosen. When I first brought Nordic Tipis into the UK in early 2005, I was concerned that they would be a fad and in a couple of years everyone would have seen them and not be interested any more. I was completely wrong to worry about that.
“The other key point when it comes to buying is that you can’t expect a tent to last forever… not if you want to keep it looking fresh for your customers. If you depreciate it over five years in your business plan, you could always choose a different structure in five years’ time.
The final word on whether to buy or regularly hire a TDS is from Gill: “I would suggest renting a marquee for smaller venues, which enables you to keep costs down. Build a relationship with a local supplier and tap into their expertise. For larger venues that are hosting events on a weekly basis, buying may be a better option.”
Further advice on both hiring and buying marquees and all related subjects can be found by contacting MUTA, the UK’s only trade association dedicated to marquees, tents and structures.