Hargrove Inc., a trade show and event company, has contributed to 16 consecutive inaugurations and counting.

This year the company built an impressive 24-foot-tall, 60-foot-long American flag float, created the settings for 10 inaugural balls and handled more than 40 official and private events in more than 30 venues over a six-day period.

Organized chaos

"In a typical Presidential inaugural, float design and Inaugural Ball decor is not approved until after Christmas," says Fred Strickland, director of production at Hargrove Inc.

"Production is confined to a very short time period. During the 2009 inaugural, we worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week beginning January 2."

Hargrove's normal workforce is around 200. During the Presidential Inaugural, additional contractors and union day labor at installation sites swells the payroll to 500 to 600.

Tight security is another variable Hargrove must include into shortened production timeframes.

"The secret service checks out the floats during construction and again before they are fully re-assembled on the parade line," says Strickland.

"Security sweeps at the ball and other event sites mean materials cannot be unloaded until dogs sniff the trucks, and lockdowns require all materials to be in place far earlier than for normal jobs."

Fast-paced production

Most floats are wooden superstructures that provide a basic shape, form and support. They are then covered in fabric, paint, petal paper, fringe, Styrofoam, carpet and other decorative items including flowers and grasses. Frequently, decorative moulding/railing is incorporated to keep riders inside a safe area.

While all eyes were on inauguration activities, behind the scenes Hargrove used 45,000 board feet of lumber; 3,000 sheets of plywood; 500 gallons of paint; 400 rolls of carpet; 100,000 yards of fabric; and 100,000 square feet of signs, seals, banners, and other graphics to help create the décor. To help save resources, the company always tries to reuse materials as much as it can.

Building floats is a complex process and the magic starts in Hargrove's 400,000-square-foot headquarters in Landham, Md. A computerized workflow connects sales, account managers, designers, production and the warehouse/transportation to keep the team in the loop and help manage tight timeframes.

"Clients are part of the process through our client portal, which allows for faster approvals and modifications," says Strickland.

To build stages, stage sets, stairs, custom exhibits and 3-D seals and headers, Hargrove's production team relies on key pieces of woodworking equipment.

"We use a SCMI SI320, SCMI Hydro 3200, four  Powermatic table saws , SCMI SC-900 bandsaw, drills, screw guns, various hand tools, foam cutters and nail guns," says Strickland.

The team uses a large  Binks  spray booth and water-based finishes for a majority of its projects.

"Special attention is paid to the products because of strict fire retardant standards required by most venues," says Strickland.

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