Intense about tents
One of SA’s biggest eventing companies controls its environment
WHEN BRUCE VAN HALDEREN dropped out of university, where he was studying construction engineering, to give full attention to the bar business at which he was moonlighting, his parents were horrified. “Do you want to be a glorified barman all your life?” his anguished mum asked.
Today, 13 years later, the business has grown into one of the biggest event management companies in South Africa, turning over R36m/year from clients in SA and overseas. And growing. January turnover was five times bigger than last year’s.
Loudfire is strongly identified with the distinctive Bedouin-style “FreeStyle” tents it designs and manufactures, but it’s more than a renter of tents. It’s a designer entertainment company, specialising in functions requiring food and bar experiential, as well as a trendsetter in event architecture.
“Our biggest competitors are trendy boutique hotels and stylish restaurants,” says Van Halderen. “But the use of our tents gives us control over unusual and dynamic venues and the flexibility to be creative with the experiences we can offer. Corporate head offices can use their own space, such as car parks and fields, and public spaces become designer environments. You can even easily erect our tents on a beach, unlike a marquee.”
The tents offer size, flexibility and speed of erection. “For a function in Sun City’s Valley of the Waves, we had to wait until the end of the day before setting up. Then we set up the tents, custom dining area, sound, lighting, stage and cocktail bars in under two-and-a-half hours.”
In a fairly typical recent week, Loudfire managed 20 events, including a cocktail reception on a boat for delegates of the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, a dinner for 800 dignitaries for the opening of Parliament, a 1 000-guest dinner for a major international mining company at Vergelegen Wine Estate, a dinner for foreign guests at the President’s residence, Groote Schuur, an awards evening for 500 staff of a major bank at Atlas Studios, as well as an all-day outdoor exclusive VIP event at the Pakistan versus Proteas cricket match.
The tents are designed and manufactured in Cape Town by Loudfire’s manufacturing company Tentra using sophisticated stretch fabric, with imported yarn from Germany.
“We started the business using conventional marquees. Then we discovered the small stretch freestyle tents, which led us to develop versions capable of withstanding gale-force winds. With patented waterproofing and King Pole systems we’ve developed gigantic tents up to 10m high.”
Loudfire has a stock of well over 150 tents, ranging from 3m x 3m to 20m x 50m. In production is a monster almost the size of a rugby field capable of accommodating 3 000 people for dinner and 4 500 standing.
It all started for Van Halderen at UCT, when he used to run a bar service for student functions and 21st birthdays.
“Then I realised I could make money out of this. I set up a business called Bar Corp. Our first tablecloths were bedsheets. We were a bunch of ruffians. It was a major innovation to have flowers on the table.”
The use of tents gives us control over unusual and dynamic venues. Bruce van Halderen