How Much Should a Custom-Printed Pop-Up Canopy Tent Cost?
Hi, and welcome to the black hole of custom canopy tent shopping on the internet, where there are approximately one million options and a whole lot of mystery. Have you been shopping for a custom pop-up tent for a while? Maybe cruising Google, clicking the back button a hundred times, and trying 17 different variations of “how much does a pop-up tent cost?” and “no seriously. HOW MUCH DOES A POP-UP TENT COST?” I’m annoyed just thinking about it.
I’ve been in the custom canopy tent world for a few years now and I get it. There are a lot of options and price is kind of a mystery, mostly because it really depends. Think of it as a house. You probably wouldn’t trust Google to know the answer to “how much is a 2,000 square foot house?” because you know that pretty much anything from $50,000 to $500,000 could be the answer. Things like having a swimming pool in the backyard or it is located on oceanfront property in Hawaii is going to impact the cost. Similarly, maybe the electrical hasn’t been up to code since 1927 or the foundation is crumbling. That’ll swing your price, amiright?! Price is more than the size. Price encompasses a lot of variables when you’re talking about houses, or cars, or tents -- or just about anything.
All jokes aside, there’s a wide range and the details matter, but that doesn’t mean we can’t throw you some honest ranges.
First thing, let’s talk about your priorities. In an industry where there is a spectrum ranging from “eh” to “decent” to “bang-a-rang!” in every category, it makes sense to go in with a clear idea of what you need most out of your tent, as well as what’s going to be a definite deal-breaker. What are your priorities?
What Should Buyers Consider When Determining a Budget for a Custom Canopy?
Durability: estimate how often you’ll be using your tent and the kind of durability you’ll need to be able to depend on. If you’ve got light use in mind and are thinking that a handful of uses per year is all you need, then make a note of it. If you know you’ll be traveling and looking to be able to dependably use your tent for years to come, then it makes sense to start your search focusing on a heavy duty line.
Speed: how quickly do you need it? And if the answer is “really fast,” is hitting the deadline a priority to the point that you would be willing to pay a rush fee or expedited shipping?
Customer Service: do you need help through the ordering process, or do you just need to know where to enter your credit card information?
Factors Affecting the Cost of Canopy Tents
Let's go back to that house analogy. Personally, I went into my house search knowing that I needed a walk-in closet and a nice-ish kitchen. Those were my priorities and I was willing to pay for those things. I didn’t need oceanfront property, so paying the considerable up-charge for it wouldn’t have really made sense for me.
Taking stock of your priorities before you get into the search for a custom canopy is equally important. There are ranges in everything -- speed, quality, durability, custom graphics capabilities, etc. - and some of those are going to make sense to splurge on, while others might not be as important to you. Hammer out what priorities you don’t have any wiggle room on because there are likely the very factors that are going to affect the cost of your event tent.
Durability expectations are a primary cost driver - whether you’re looking for something for the occasional backyard barbeque or planning to put some miles on a tent frame for a summer-long experiential activation, there is a pop-up tent frame that is designed specifically for your variety of usage.
Frame durability naturally plays a role in the cost of the tent package because the quality is directly related to the cost of manufacturing. High-end quality calls for the manufacturer to make decisions that are based not on what is cheapest, but what is most durable. That means higher quality material sourcing, an educated and skilled employee base, and craftsmanship experts all along the way. If durability is not so much a priority, shortcuts can be taken and some cost-cutting measures can be made to produce a frame that is good enough. No judgment here! There are a lot of valid occasions when “good enough” is exactly what you need.
Whether you’re looking for the top-of-the-line type of durability, or keeping it pretty casual and just need something that will give you some shade on a sunny day, it’s going to impact the price. The higher the quality, the higher the cost to the manufacturer that gets passed on to you as the end-user. The lower the grade, the more economical. Your cost is going to reflect whatever the manufacturer has invested in craftsmanship and materials.
When do you need it delivered?
If you’ve got some time to play with before you need to have your canopy delivered, you’re giving yourself a little more power to control your costs in the speed arena. Very often, imported goods take longer to deliver to the United States, but because of economics and the significantly lower cost of manufacturing goods overseas, they come in at a lower price point.
Alternatively, if you need something in a quick hurry, you might be limited to working with manufacturers who can hit speedier timelines, or subject to covering a rush fee. Traditionally, if you are planning to accept delivery in North America, working with an American based manufacturer is going to mean a quicker turnaround based on logistics alone -- there is not as much distance to cover in terms of shipping. American labor certainly costs more and if they are accommodating a seriously short lead time, there might be overtime involved that needs to be covered by the consumer.
How much guidance do you want during the purchase process and quite frankly, if anything goes wrong after?
You will quickly find that there are two varieties of customer service in the tent industry: order takers and advisors. The order-takers are a great help if you know what you want, are savvy enough about design to handle it yourself, and are looking for a quick buying experience. Figure it’s like going to a restaurant, knowing exactly what you want to eat and placing your order efficiently.
The flip side of that coin is the advisor role in customer service. Vendors offering this kind of service are supplying industry experts who can walk you through the myriad of options, discuss how you’re using your setup and offer some guidance to help you make the decision that’s going to serve you best in the long term.
How to Choose the Right Custom Pop-up Frame
Now that we’re on the same page about starting with durability and figuring out what priority you’re trying to hit with that respect, let’s jump into translating that into what kind of tent you’ll be looking for.
What are the most durable tent materials?
Most tent frames are built from steel or aluminum, with aluminum being the industry standard for professional or commercial grade frames. You’ll also find plastic and aluminum connecting elements as component options on frames.
Recognizing the options, this is actually a very quick way to discern baseline durability. Steel is cheap to acquire but very heavy, so it’s not ideal for tents that are designed to be mobile. Very entry-level pop-up frames are built from thinly tubed steel, so while they will be a bargain, they’re not designed for long-term use or durability. When you see steel as the substrate of a tent frame, you can quickly rule that as an entry-level or recreational grade frame. Beaches, backyard BBQs, soccer games - that kind of thing - are the intended use of a steel infrastructure.
Aluminum is considerably lighter weight in comparison to steel, as well as stronger, so aluminum frames are often a much thicker walled structure without becoming dramatically heavier. This makes it a perfect substrate for building canopy tents-- lightweight, transportable, and a greater scale for durability. An aluminum tent frame is a tip-off that you’re entering a heavier-duty quality and you are probably looking at something designed for professional use.
How should you determine your desired durability in a custom-printed event tent frame?
The best way to determine what kind of durability you will need in a tent is to estimate how often you will be using it. Occasional use, just when the sun is a little too hot to stand outside unprotected? An entry-level tent frame is probably perfect. Every weekend? You’re going to want something a little heavier duty.
Similarly, it’s worthwhile to consider the intended use of the tent, or rather, is it personal or professional? With personal use, some of the bells and whistles just aren’t going to be necessary. When your aim is for professional use, you’re going to need a tent that is designed with branding in mind. Things like a crisp fit and finish to nicely display your graphics, as well as a well-made frame to increase the longevity of the printed assets makes quite a bit of sense. Printed graphics are an investment and it hardly makes sense to put them on a throwaway tent frame.
While the quality spectrum is wide, there are three general classifications of tent frames: recreational, professional, and commercial.
What is the difference between recreational grade, professional-grade, and commercial grade?
Recreational Grade Frame:
Full disclosure, if you’re going to be using your tent for annual family reunions, or a handful of backyard BBQs, an entry-level frame is going to serve you well and at a really economical price point. Let’s say you’re crafty and creative so you want something printed, but you’re mostly planning to pop this thing up at the beach or at soccer games. You can get a 10x10 printed with your family’s name or your kiddo’s team logo for about $400-$600.
Recreational grade tents are lightweight, not particularly heavy duty, designed with low cost as a priority and easily accessible in a big box store. The tell-tale signs are a steel tent frame and plastic components. You can expect to get a few uses out of this tent, but it likely won’t stand up to hard rain or winds.
Professional Grade Frame:
Now let’s say you’re a pro and you’ve got a business or organization to represent. You’re probably going to want to get into more of a professional-grade frame. Honestly, they look nicer, last longer, and if you’re investing in branding that needs to be spot on in terms of Pantone color matching and crisp graphics, then it makes sense to protect that investment by putting it on a frame that’s designed to last longer than a season. The mid-grade range is a wide one because reasonably it can be just slightly better than a recreational grade frame up to just a step below heavy duty caliber, so generally speaking, you can find a 10x10 professional grade frame around $800-$2,000.
Professional grade frames are aluminum, yet usually still with the polymer and plastic connecting elements. They will be lightweight and designed for folks who need branding real estate but aren’t traveling hard with their tents. Still, be cautious with poor weather! Professional grade is certainly hardier than the recreational grade, but at the end of the day, it’s still a temporary structure.
Commercial Grade Frame:
Okay, you’re a serious tent user. You’re putting miles on a tent, have probably gone through a series of cheap tents, and the number of disposable tents you’ve sent to a landfill is bumming you out. If this is you, now is probably the time to quit telling yourself that a recreational grade, or even a professional-grade frame, is going to be sufficient. Yes, cheaper tents are, well, cheaper, but if you are truly at the usage point that requires a heavy duty frame, the long-term cost of replacing economy frames every year is going to quickly outweigh the initial cost. That doesn’t even address the time lost (hey, your time has value, right?) spent finding vendors, getting quotes and doing the back and forth of design proofs, as well as the weeks or months that go by where you’re using a tent that doesn’t look awesome to represent your brand. A commercial-grade frame is going to run you between $1,600-$2,800 for a 10x10.
How Much Time Does it Take to Produce and Ship A Custom Canopy?
If you’re sick of hearing us tell you that “it depends,” then prepare yourself because, well, it does. Some manufacturers move faster than others and that’s based on where they’re getting their inventory, how much work they’re producing internally, and how quickly their staff can work. It’s not uncommon to see turnaround times from 3 days to 3 weeks, and even more for seriously custom work.
How does delivery speed affect the price of a custom canopy? Production Time
You know the old adage, fast, cheap, good; you can pick two? Well, that pretty much sums up the tent world. If you need something fast and cheap, it’s probably not going to be great. If you need it good and fast, you can count on it not being cheap.
Take that knowledge and let’s go forth into how production time works. You can assume 3-15 business days for production turnaround on a canopy tent. That just depends on who you work with and how quickly they work. In an ideal world, you’re thinking ahead and not surprised by a last-minute event so that standard turn-time is plenty fast. That's a nice idea, but this is the real world and surprise events and other obstacles happen all the time.
If you need something fast, there’s generally a rush fee, so keep that in mind. Figure that most vendors are filling their capacity every day. A last-minute order means squeezing in a rush project, so they will need to push out someone else’s order. If that’s not feasible, plan B is to keep staff on the clock overtime to accommodate the work. Rush fees vary from a flat fee to, more typically, a percentage of the total sale price.
The other thing to keep in mind in reference to timing is the shipping. Production time is how long it takes your vendor to produce your tent. Shipping time is how long it takes for transit. The most economical way to ship is via standard ground. Both FedEx and UPS offer that service, but when the timing is tight, you have alternatives to still hit your deadline. You can usually upgrade your shipping to 2-day, Overnight (delivered by 3pm), Priority Overnight (delivered by 10am) and Overnight First Priority (delivered by 8:30am). It does cost more to expedite, but let’s say your vendor has a 4-day standard production time and it’s a 3-day ship, but - red alert! - you need your tent in 5-business days. You can order your tent without a rush fee, use overnight shipping and get your tent just in time. It sounds like a win!
How far in advance should you order your custom canopy?
In a perfect world, you would give yourself a month or two to get all the details sorted out on your custom order. Keep in mind that the process is going to include shopping around and getting quotes, which can take a few days. Once you’ve decided on the quote that works best for you, then you’ll begin the creative stage and work through getting a design proof. Depending on how quickly your chosen vendor works, if you have a clear idea of your canopy design, and if your artwork goes through a series of changes before it is perfect, there can be several days wrapped up in the mock-up process. Only once you’ve settled on a design and made a payment, does your tent project head to the printer, which as we’ve discussed, can take up to a couple of weeks, so giving yourself plenty of time is going to save you a lot of stress in the end.
How to Choose The Right Customer Service For You
We’ve all read enough Yelp reviews to know that customer service can make or break the whole experience and there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re just not getting the service that you’re paying for.
How does customer service vary with the price of a customized tent?
Let’s get on the same page about what makes for really great customer service. I think we can agree on a few things: it is prompt. It is friendly and accommodating. It is knowledgeable. It is very reasonable to expect good customer service from both the commodity and premium vendors, but you should also expect that they’ll be servicing their clients in different ways based on different customer priorities.
I’m going to tell you honestly what I’ve seen over the years. There is a decently large market share that can sell a lot of canopy tents and tent accessories, like table covers and flags, by being the cheapest option available. Remember earlier in this article when we discussed order takers and advisors? Well, very often the companies that have orders coming in left and right only have time for their sales representatives to be order takers. When they are orders coming in because they’re the cheapest option on the market, they don’t necessarily need to provide the buyer with a top-quality sales experience because that’s not why the buyer is choosing to work with them. And more frankly, that sales team is still made up of humans, and they might not have the time-bandwidth to be giving a stellar sales experience.
That’s cool, and that’s exactly what a ton of people want and need. Just understand that they’re probably not hugely incentivized to spend time on the phone or email answering questions, and probably less obviously, they might not have the time for it.
If you’re purchasing a higher quality tent package, or just appreciate working one on one with someone who is an industry expert and invested in your project, working with a vendor that focuses on the customer experience is going to be a high producing return on investment. Candidly, this is most often seen from vendors in the higher quality space. They know the intricacies of their products and because they’re an investment, almost certainly want to walk through them so there are no surprises at the end. And sometimes paying for great customer service is worth it. If you’re at an event on a Saturday morning, setting up your tent for the first time and one of the legs just won’t lock into place, what kind of service are you going to wish you’d sprung for? You will probably be grateful for a sales representative that answers their cell phone on the weekends if you find yourself in this situation.
Why is there a direct relationship between the price of a custom-printed canopy tent and the customer service you can expect?
Ultimately, it’s consumer demand. Businesses have an interest in providing what their end-user wants and so they accommodate accordingly.
Consider it like going to a restaurant. Let’s say you go to the local fast food joint. You probably walk up to the counter knowing what you want. It’s simple, it’s straight-forward, and you just need someone to ring you up. You want speed and expedience and that’s exactly what they’re aiming to provide. Restaurants like this thrive on volume, so they naturally want to quickly help as many folks place their order as they can. Still, they’re helpful and will answer questions, but it’s not really a custom experience. Both the buyer and the seller have the same expectations and desires for the transaction; quick and easy.
Not let’s consider a more upscale restaurant. These are places that you go to for the experience. Eating their food is a real treat, and the service is exceptional. There are not as many people milling through, so your server has plenty of time to focus on you. Basically, this kind of restaurant is designed to be an enjoyable evening, not just a quick and tasty meal. Your server will be knowledgeable about the wine selection and you can ask for guidance as to which you might like best. They’ll know their menu offerings well enough to give you advice based on if you prefer dry or sweet, red or white, glass or bottle. They are highly skilled and well trained to know their product and tailor the entire meal to best fit your preferences. Places like this are a delightful indulgence. They’re pricier, but it’s not an in-and-out experience. You will spend your evening here, enjoying it considerably longer than you would a fast-food restaurant.
Both have their place in the market and serve different needs. In fact, you’ll probably find that you have various life occasions that lead you to both, depending on the night. There is a definite difference in service. Figure this: most fast-food restaurants serve functionality. You’re hungry and you want something fast. Most upscale restaurants serve an occasion. You want something special. Commodity offerings best serve buyers who want a quick and easy transaction. They don’t need a personalized buying experience - in fact, it’s probably best if they can get in and out with limited conversation. Alternatively, the high-end provider is going to serve up an advisor with their product. They know their client base is looking to invest, not just a quick fix, so they’ll be keen to learn and understand what they’re purchasing. This requires industry experts who have a specific skill set to serve their customers in a personalized way.
The Skimmer's Synopsis:
If you just skimmed this entire piece, no worries, and no hurt feelings. Here are the major takeaways:
What are the most important things to consider when buying a custom canopy tent?
Priorities. Keep in mind that, like anything made to order, there is a wide range of options depending on what your priorities are and that the price will swing accordingly. So the most important thing to consider when you’re buying canopy tents is what you want and need out of your tent. Take some time to figure out what your deal breakers are with this custom tent and how you will be expecting it to perform. Not only will that save you time as you are searching around the internet, but it will also help you feel confident that you found the vendor to provide the right fit for your needs. If you know you need heavy duty, you can quickly skip past the recreational tents. Likewise, you can cruise right on by those heavy duty vendors when all you are looking for is a little coverage for a potluck or graduation party.
Other priorities to consider: speed and how important hitting your in-hands date is. Customer service and how much guidance you’d like through the purchasing process.
Why is it important to do your research before buying a custom-printed canopy?
It’s really easy to take buzzwords at face value. Just about every tent website calls their tent frame the strongest frame on the market, which obviously cannot be true. The best thing you can do is use your sales representative and your vendor’s website as a resource to become as educated as possible about their offerings. It’s not unusual to see a cheap imported steel frame marketed as a heavy duty canopy tent, but if you start comparing the specs, it doesn’t really add up. Don’t hesitate to ask about what substrates they use to build their tent (steel or aluminum frame? Plastic or metal connecting components? Is the canopy waterproof or water resistant?), where their tents are made, and what kind of printing processes they offer.
What is the price range for a custom printed tent?
Short answer: $300-$5,000+.
What size you need, the durability you’re looking for, how customized the graphics are and what kind of tent accessories are included or available is going to be the primary drivers of the overall cost, but you can safely assume that a custom printed tent will somewhere in that general range.