By Eric Peterson | Sep 29, 2014
Denver Tent Co.’s been sewing canvas for 125 years and for GM Jeff Greene, Made in America and an expanding product line is paying off yet again.
Denver Tent Company got its start in the city's formative years, when newcomers needed a roof over their head as quickly as possible.
"With people moving out west, a lot of towns had canvas tent-making operations," says Greene. "It was the gold rush that gave rise to the tent companies. Every town had one." Miners would live in canvas tents "for extended periods, if not indefinitely."
But very few are still in business today -- Denver Tent is the rare exception to that rule.
And when it comes to making canvas tent, the tried and true manufacturing methods continue to be the best practices today. "Not a lot has changed," says Greene.
But the markets have. Denver Tent Company has three primary areas of business are sportsmen's tents, the custom market, and event tents.
Sportsmen's tents, largely used for hunting and recreation, are branded as Colorado Tent, another turn-of-the-century tent brand acquired by Denver Tent in 2006. (The deal also brought the company the retro Arcticreel fishing bag.)
The product line includes modular tents for groups and a Colorado Range Tent, or cowboy tipi, used by many working ranch hands to this day. "They're easy to pack in and set up," says Greene.
Custom jobs have ranged from commercial awnings to tank covers for gamma ray testing by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to wellhead walls for the oil and gas industry. Vestas has ordered custom tarps to ship windmills, and Denver Tent's tarps are sometimes as large as 80,000 square feet to cover piles of salt for municipalities and hay for farmers.
Consisting of everything from basic party canopies to huge tents that can accommodate hundreds of guests, the company's events line is largely centered on tents for weddings, but there are numerous commercial events that are end users. (Sniagrab has used Denver Tent's products in past years.) "There's quite a few corporate users that just want a tent," adds Greene.
Denver Tent also has a new market in "glamping," which is short for glamorous camping. "We supply a lot of tents for that," says Greene, citing High Lonesome Ranch in Colorado's De Beque Canyon and Blue Sky Sage, horseback outfitters in Wyoming. California's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has used the company's tents for fancy guestrooms as well. "They decked them out," says Greene.
While canvas remains the favored material, that's "Some of our fabrics have changed over the years. He says they use lighter and stronger alternatives to canvas "to accommodate customers who want performance."
Challenges: Overseas production. "Our competitors do it," says Greene. "That's always a challenge. There is a segment out there that's willing to spend a little more because it's American-made. They tend to be faithful."
While high product quality is rarely a challenge, it's both a blessing and a curse for Denver Tent. "The problem is our tents last 20-plus years," says Greene. "They're handed down. It makes sales tough."
Opportunities: Since the previous owner sold the company to new CEO Kevin Womer in summer 2014, there's a renewed push into new markets. "We're excited for opportunities in oil and gas and energy, as well as glamping and those types of opportunities," says Greene.
Needs: Skilled sewers. "I don't want to say sewing is a dying art, but they aren't teaching it in the schools," says Greene. "Jobs are moving back to the states, but there was an 18-year period where those jobs were put aside." Denver Tent employs four full-time sewers, but Greene says the company "would staff more, but experience is key” -- especially experience with canvas. "It's a different animal," he explains.
(Publisher's note: Join apparel and sewn product professionals at the inaugural Colorado Apparel Manufacturing Summit, October 9, 2014, in Denver, Colorado.)