Tentsile is disrupting the camping industry with their award-winning tents and hammocks that are suspended above the ground. Using a three-point anchor system, these tensioned floating shelters will give you the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had in the great outdoors! We chatted to Founder Alex Shirley-Smith and Marketing Director Jessica Reading about their off-the-ground business journey.
Rooted in a concern for the environment
It all started for Alex as a young boy watching Newsround. He was alarmed by a story about deforestation in the Amazon. About six months later he went to see Return of the Jedi and was struck by the Ewok village in the trees. “I realised I could save the trees by putting people in them. And I spent the rest of my childhood designing treehouses” he recalls.
After studying architecture, where he specialised in eco-living and sustainable building methods, Alex went to work designing and building luxury treehouses.
“After the 2008 crash, luxury treehouses were no longer in demand, but I still had the dream of getting people into the trees. This was when I came up with the idea of creating tree tents that you could put up in the back garden or take with you camping, and store them away easily when you were done,” he explains.
And so the ideas for Tentsile were born.
Starting from a garden shed in London, Alex teamed up with a product designer to finesse his designs. “We sold our first Stingray in 2012 and today we have 10 different models of tree tents for different uses and different markets,” says Jess.
Growing in leaps and bounds
The business started out slow and steady, taking the profits from the first five sold to invest in producing the next ten, and so on. The first year saw 50 sales, with sales increasing tenfold in both year two and again in year three. The following year, after a post by social media influencer David Wolfe, sales rocketed to 17000. Jess recollects: “We sold out globally in four days! But because of the kinds of challenges that all businesses manufacturing their own products face, it then took us five months to catch up.”
The production cycle is a lengthy one – from sourcing materials for manufacture to delivering a final product for payment. “This whole process is lengthened by our choice to use sea freight for delivery. But it’s aligned to our company values about impact on the environment, so we just build it in to planning process,” explains Jess. “It does mean, though, that there is quite a lag between spending money to make the product and eventually getting paid for what we produce.”
Filling the cash flow gap
Tentsile was launched with no capital loans or investment. But after a long, cold winter last year when fewer tents were sold than the previous year they were facing a cash flow problem. They needed working capital to make sure their production was going to be ready for the 2019 season.
“We approached our Barclays Relationship Manager, and he suggested invoice finance from MarketFinance as a way of releasing working capital from invoices that have been issued but have long payment terms,” explains Alex.
With 60- or 90-day payment terms from their retailers, they needed to bridge the cash gap in order to produce their orders. Through the Barclays/MarketFinance partnership, Tentsile was able to get the right solution to help them do just that.
Eight years on from selling their first Stingray, Tentsile’s range of tree tents and hammocks are being sold in 172 countries. This has been achieved by serious hard work and tent-loads of passion!
“We took full control of the production process early on by buying our own factory in China in 2014 where we employ 17 highly skilled workers. Cancelling the outsourcing of our production meant that we could create a sustainable production model,” says Alex. “We also opened two shops in America and chose Sheffield for our head office.”
But the reason behind why this enterprise began is always at the core of everything they do. From sea shipping to minimising their use of paper and cardboard and recycling, the focus is always on the environment. Jess points out that for every tree tent sold, 20 trees are planted to help the fight against deforestation.
Planting the seeds of future growth
The coming year will see Tentsile introducing updates to the whole range, including many of the design features their customers have asked for.
“We have a very photogenic product,” says Jess. “You can tell people about tree tents, but when they see the pictures it’s a real wow moment. Even so, you just can’t beat people seeing it in the flesh. So, we’ll be hitting the road on both sides of the Atlantic and turning up at events where people can experience the tents for themselves.
“And now that a solution is in place that takes care of our cash flow, we can concentrate on the next step of our future growth plans.”