Structured to Create Believers

ClearSpan Fabric Structures

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ClearSpan is the brainchild of Barry Goldsher and Charles Clark of Connecticut who founded Engineering Services and Products in 1981 to address the needs of the agricultural community. They established FarmTek shortly later as an agricultural catalog. After that, ClearSpan became a reality and grew in popularity as a solution to livestock and equipment storage.
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What leads to sales is having customers who believe and trust in your product and are advocates for your company because you have made them satisfied consumers. Equally important in a globally competitive arena, is having a unique niche that attracts customers now and into the future. This is the platform from which you will turn skeptics into believers and the hesitant into the decisive. By all indications, ClearSpan Fabric Structures, named one of Fortune 500’s top growing companies and an industry leader in tension fabric truss buildings, is leading the way.

Its more than five hundred employees design, manufacture and distribute tension fabric structures throughout the United States with some international clients in Japan, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom and South America. Although its roots began in agriculture, the company now serves sectors including aviation and aerospace, marine, military, athletic and recreational, wastewater treatment and municipalities.

This is an all-American company with headquarters in South Windsor, Connecticut and a centrally-located state-of-the-art manufacturing and distribution centre in Dyersville, Iowa that enables expedited shipping across the United States and internationally.

The fact that all of its tension fabric structures are made in the United States is important to ClearSpan and is the differentiator that sets the company apart from the rest. “Businesses and customers in America generally like to support American workers when they can,” says Geoff Ching, the company’s sales manager. “All the manufacturing labor is done here in America, in Iowa. We’re proud to manufacture in the USA with American workers.”

Customer specifications for temporary or permanent projects both of any size are compliant with international building codes. ClearSpan has in-house licensed engineers who communicate directly with building officials ensuring that “our structures are in complete total compliance with whatever the relevant building codes are throughout the United States and Canada.”

There are also in-house project managers, sales teams and installation crews who are extensively trained in both procedures and safety standards. “It’s that vertical integration from every step of the process and the tremendous pride that we take as a company in making sure that every project is as meticulously managed from start to finish,” Geoff adds.

A ClearSpan structure is comprised of two components: a frame and cover. The structural Hercules truss arch frame is manufactured from quality U.S. steel resistant to corrosion and warping. “That’s a big deal for us,” says Geoff. “We’re starting with the absolute best raw material.” The welding of the trusses is done in Iowa by the company’s experienced welding personnel. “The processing and the manufacturing is done to our superb level of the highest possible standards done throughout the process.”

Certainly, climatic conditions such as extreme heat or cold throughout the United States and elsewhere play a significant role in construction specifications. ClearSpan can accommodate any project when corrosion is a concern, whether pre-galvanized or Hot-Dipped galvanized is preferred. For such projects, the company will, “do everything that we can do to make sure that the steel is going to withstand the elements, wherever it’s being installed,” Geoff says.

ClearSpan’s most popular tension fabric cover is its woven polyethylene material available with flame and fire retardant. The fabric is imported from Canada because “that’s the highest quality polyethylene fabric that we can find,” adds Geoff. Some projects specify heavier, more expensive vinyl but, “we actually don’t believe that that is superior material long term.”

Using the best materials and processing throughout the manufacturing process, “allows us to have such confidence in the product that we’re installing for our customers for their structures.”

The white fabric cover is recyclable and offers substantial electricity savings. “The user of the structure literally doesn’t have to turn the lights on during daylight hours. That’s really good when you’re concerned about energy conservation and reducing the overall carbon footprint on projects.”

Although its roots are in providing structures for dairy and equine housing, ClearSpan is experiencing a growing list of customers in other areas. Clients see the solution as the most favorable for attributes such as interior spaciousness, rapid installation and substantial savings in foundation costs. Available options include large door openings, ventilation, insulation and lighting accessories.

The company’s use of the innovative helical anchoring system is often a viable alternative to a traditional foundation. Although the company is not the first to employ this system, it is a good option to consider since it is less expensive. Helical anchors are drilled into the ground like giant screws, negating the need for a poured concrete foundation or extensive excavation. The system works just as efficiently as a concrete foundation and allows the structure to be relocated if required. Helical anchors can be removed without any disruption to the environment.

“It’s a great alternative. It’s not what we push to every customer,” says Geoff. “I would say that literally hundreds of customers of ClearSpan, over the past five years, have benefitted from that because it saves customer’s money, is the easiest way to explain it, over a traditional poured concrete foundation.”

Geoff indicates that the industries taking an interest in the company are quite varied. “It’s really so broad, and we continue to see more and newer industries buying into what we do and seeing our solution as overall superior to other structures … We believe that we are the premier provider, manufacturer [and] installer of structures now in North America.”

Tension fabric structures should last for forty years or more. The company has made substantial improvements since its inception in terms of innovation and sustainability. “A customer buying a ClearSpan fabric structure today benefits that much more from all the years of research and development, evolution and improvement of the product line.”

ClearSpan is constantly buying quality materials from its suppliers. The suppliers are an essential component of all of its operations and the company acknowledges such. It has been dealing with its fabric manufacturer in Canada in a “fantastic relationship that goes back twenty-five years,” says Geoff.

The company has multiple American processed steel providers that rigorously adhere to its specifications for pre-galvanization. There is a short-list of providers because some may not have the quantity of steel required for a particular project. These providers are in the Midwest and, “they’re fairly close to Iowa which is good for us.”

Geoff adds that the volume of supplied materials and well-established relationships with suppliers translates into receiving the best savings on material costs that are then passed on to customers.

“One of the big selling points for ClearSpan is the speed of construction.” The short time from when a customer has committed to a project to when the company can complete installation is something in which it takes great pride. “No one can do those sizes faster than we can as a company. One of the reasons for that is those good relationships with the raw materials suppliers.”

In any industry, there are challenges to be met. This is particularly true for ClearSpan where deadlines are a common reality. However, the company will not commit to a project just for the sake of it. “We are careful and to be realistic,” says Geoff. “The last thing we want is a customer that is not completely satisfied.”

He relates that one such challenging project was that of its recently completed fourth horse stall building at Gulf Stream Park near Fort Lauderdale. The project required a fully-engineered, fully-installed, 85-foot by 185-foot barn stall cover to be completed in thirty days. Normally, such a project would require engineering drawings, acquiring building materials, welding trusses, shipping and installation. A project like this could take three to four months.

“To compress that into one month is almost impossible … I say almost because we did it.” In fact, the project was completed one day ahead of its due date in what was thought of as, “the most aggressive schedule possible.”

Such schedules are possible by ClearSpan “understanding how we could to things concurrently.” This is where its vertical integration of the entire process comes into play. The fact that the company controls every step of the process helps achieve a customer’s end goal. Once the company has a financial commitment, the first question asked of the customer is their timeline expectation. “Everything works backward from there … no two projects are exactly the same,” says Geoff.

There are many benefits to a ClearSpan tension fabric structure. Geoff shares that one of the benefits is that customers, “love the natural light environment of the buildings.” Also appreciated are the high peaked ceilings and the feel of the interior. Versatility is another important factor since areas with unique or more difficult dimensions can be covered with ease. “We can vary our designs a lot easier than a lot of structural providers.”

The ClearSpan concept is appealing to a variety of industries, both commercial and agricultural. This diversity prevents the company from, “riding the highs and lows of each industry,” adds Geoff.

He affirms that fabric structures will gain more momentum and market share in the construction industry as there’s every indication that there’s a construction boom is in the midst. “We’re very optimistic about a strong, robust growth in the next few years … We feel that people, once that they have seen a ClearSpan product, they’ll become believers.”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

December 6, 2019, 8:05 AM EST