Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Upgrading to a better canopy - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the many reasons why I decided to upgrade my canopy. The next step in the decision making process was deciding which tent to order, and then which options to order it with.

The field of candidates wasn't very large to begin with. My starting options were
Trimline (by Flourish)
Craft Hut (now owned by Flourish, also)
Light Dome (by Creative Energies)
Finale (also by Creative Energies)
Show Off (by New Venture)


Considerations

There were lots of differences to consider between models, and many of them weren't better vs worse choices, but rather a tradeoff with advantages on each side.


Design

The Light Dome is built with a more or less dome shaped top (thus the name). Every other canopy uses a barrel shaped design.

The Light Dome FAQ explains that the dome shape is better because it offers less wind resistance. However, considering that a closed up tent already has a 10'x7'(or larger) flat surface exposed, I don't believe the tiny extra bit on the end of the barrel canopy adds to that significantly. And as far as when your booth is opened, the dome would seem to act as an umbrella, whereas the barrel shaped canopy all have vents (either standard or as options) to relieve air pressure.

In addition to my intuition, the fact that every other canopy in this comparison uses the barrel shaped design gives me a bit of pause about the possible merits of the dome.


Construction

The Trimline tent uses a steel frame construction. Every other tent uses an aluminum frame. This is one of those areas where there is a definite tradeoff.

Aluminum has the advantage of being easier to work with. It's lighter, thus easier to handle and transport, and easier to lift as you are assembling the frame. This can be especially important for people with injuries, or older/smaller people without much strength.

Steel frame, on the other hand, has the advantage of being more solid. Its added weight is a definite advantage when it comes to standing up to strong winds. It's also more durable...being more resistant to bending. Even with the added weight, I've spoke to other artists using the steel Trimline tents, and even some late 40's, smaller women told me they were able to set it up on their own when necessary.

Being that I'm a relatively young guy in good shape and health, the added weight posed no hindrance to me, thus I saw steel as an advantage.


Available Options & Pricing

Most canopies had roughly the same set of options, but with slight variations in implementation. All have various size awnings. With the exception of the Light Dome, all have vents and skylights (either standard or optional).

Again, in pricing, all of the booths start in roughly the same price range...about the $825 (give or take $25). However, digging a little deeper, I began to see more variation in pricing than was immediately obvious. The Trimline includes an assortment of options in the base price that are extra on most of the others. Roof vents are $70 extra (each?) on the Show Off, and the Finale doesn't list a price. Skylights are also standard, but cost $70 extra on the Show Off, and the Finale (again) doesn't list a price. Awning can zip on any side of a trimline, but require optional zippers to be installed on the other tents.

When it comes to options, again the Trimline seems to have the price advantage. For a trimline, a 2.5 ft awning is $105, and a 4.5 ft is $115. Compared to the Show Off, thats a bargain. Showoff awnings start at $135 for a 2ft and go up to $225 for a 4 foot.


Expandability

In the future, I'll likely want to upgrade to a double wide tent. Most of these tents have a rain gutter option so that you can buy two 10x10 tents, place them side by side, and then connect together with the gutter. The Trimline takes a different approach. Instead, you buy extra parts and a 10x20 canopy top and use that instead of your 10x10 top.

Each way has advantages. The rain gutter option advantages are:
1) Setting up a smaller 10x10 is easier than a 10x20, which can be a bit awkward and is definitely a 2 person job.
2) If you want to use the tents separately you can. For example, if you are a husband/wife team, it would be possible for you to each take 1 tent to different shows one weekend, and then the next weekend put them together to do a 10x20.

The advantages for the Trimlines combined 10x20 are:
1) Fewer parts...there are no redundant legs in the middle. This means less weight to carry, and fewer parts to assemble
2) Slightly faster to assemble than 2 individual canopies.
3) Less chance of leakage in the middle connection (not that I've heard of any cases, but it's one less possibility)
4) More open. Since you don't have the half circle ends in the center, the roof appears more seamless and your booth more open. Supposedly this gives better airflow, too.

On the above matters, its sort of a draw to me. I can see the merits of both systems, and it's difficult to say which I'd prefer.


Taller tents

One option that's been on my list has been to get a tent taller than the standard 7 foot design. This gives the opportunity to have more wall space inside the booth to hang more pictures. The Trimline tent has options for an 8 foot or 9 foot tent. The Light Dome and Finale say they have taller options, but aren't explained in detail on the website. The Show Off does not (as far as I could tell) have any option for taller canopies.


Marketing and Presentation

This is where I really have to give a huge applause to Flourish. The Trimline tent is very thoroughly explained, with each feature and option covered in great details. You can see every option available from the website along with it's price. Everything from extra illumination tops, lighter or darker awning materials, darker side walls, zippered walls, zipper strips to zip up without removing awnings, etc. When I finished reading their website, I felt almost as if I had already assembled one of these tents in person. I knew what the parts were, how they go together.

About the only thing missing from Flourish's site were more detailed prices for when you order the 8 and 9 foot tents. They give you the upgrade price for the base model, but don't mention how much extra the wall zipper options are.

The Light Dome and Finale were on the absolute opposite end of the scale. The website included prices for the base model and absolutely nothing else. I have no idea how much an awning is, or a vent, or a skylight, or extra stakes, or a replacement part, or ANYTHING AT ALL. Certainly I could call them up and get pricing, but thats not the way I work. I like to have a full list, and look over it many times, considering different options and the value of each one. Sometimes I'll be lying in bed and think "you know, what if I went with this...how much extra is that feature". If I need to talk to a salesman to get even a rough estimate of cost, thats a big turn off to me.

As far as descriptions go, the Light Dome and Finale weren't described in much detail. I could get the basic overview, but nothing more than I could have learned from a tri-fold pamphlet.

The Showoff is more in the middle. All of it's options are laid out with prices. However, it had very little in the way of descriptions.

In terms of website design and ease of use, the Trimline website was by far the winner. It was very professional looking and the easiest to navigate in terms of layout. The Light Dome and Finale web site way by far the worst. Horrible to navigate and felt like it was designed by someone who made their first website. Once again, Show Off was somewhere in the middle. While something like this shouldn't really matter when evaluating the canopy, I can't help but think it does tell you something about the company that designed and will service that canopy.


Making a Choice

It's probably obvious by now that I had a lot of really good impressions about the Trimline, and that is indeed the choice I made. However, I'll give a quick summary of each anyway.

The Craft Hut was never much of an option. Although it is still sold and serviced through Flourish, and I'm sure they do an excellent job of supporting it, I can't help but feel they treat it like a second rate canopy. I could foresee a day when they stop supporting it, but the Trimline will likely enjoy a much longer life.

The Show Off was eliminated by it's much costlier options. In addition, it didn't appear to have the taller height options.

The Light Dome was eliminated because it seemed to have fewer options available, and its unique design didn't seem to bring much to the table. In addition, the frame design seems a bit more flimsy to me.

The final decision was between the Trimline and the Finale. In light of all the things discussed previously, I felt the Trimline offered a better deal, and I was more comfortable about knowing how it was designed and what I'd be able to do with it.


Choosing Options

Here is what I decided to go with for my trimline:

10x10 booth with the 9ft tall option
enhanced illumination top
stabar kit (strongly suggested for a normal booth, more so for the 9 foot).
easy riser kit (to make it easier to put up by myself)
1 wall with a middle zipper
1 wall with a 2 zipper universal door wall
3 awnings - a standard 30", a standard 54", and a black out 54"
substitute 3 way connectors instead of L-brackets on 1 awning (so I could use all 3 at once)
4 zipper strips (so I can close up the booth without removing the awnings)
extra pair of spiral stakes

The tent came out to $1660, and then another $130 or so for shipping. I was told it would probably ship Monday unless some parts were not in stock (the 9 foot booths aren't as common, so parts may be less readily available). Being that it's now Tuesday night and my credit card has yet to be billed, I presume something was indeed out of stock. However, I was told that I would definitely have it before my Labor Day Weekend show. I'll post an update sometime in mid to late September to say how I like it.



3 comments:

Vicki said...

Thanks for the in-depth commentary about your decision! I recently went through the same information-gathering and decision-making process, and I also ended up choosing the Trimline as the best. I agree that the website for Trimline was one of the biggest factors-- knowing exactly what I was getting and how much it would cost was reassuring. I wish I'd found your post a few months ago and saved myself the trouble, but it was good to see someone else's thoughts.

Deb said...

Hi my 2 cents :) After speaking with many artists who do shows on a regular basis and my own research, I purchased the showoff and I can make it taller and expand it. I like the ability to set up by myself. In Florida the winds and rain can sneak up on you and the showoff has held up beautifully.

Deb said...

Hi, I chose the showoff for a variety of reasons,
I can set it up myself

It received great reviews from everyone I spoke to who had one

The frame is strong and has withstood some Florida storms

It does expand and has height
making it roomy inside

It looks nice and is professional

Their staff was informative and helpful - which is important to me