Take the long view

By Rich Maas

When selecting portable room dividers, which components will deliver lasting, durable performance?


STEWARDS OF SPACE NL ICONPortable room dividers are essential equipment for any church – especially growing churches. They’re forever useful, as a church’s ministry offerings — and physical campus — expand. So, they should last a long, long time.

That kind of longevity doesn’t come cheap … or without careful, considered selection.

Many church leaders have never purchased portable room dividers. To that end, they’re not always sure what kind of investment these valuable ministry tools represent.

To provide a framework, we’ll use our company’s three different room dividers lines — all made in America — as examples: lightweight, all-purpose, and heavy-duty.

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While heavy-duty dividers are beyond what the majority of churches require, all-purpose dividers are extremely popular among church clients. We offer 36 sizes in this line, from 4 feet high and almost 6 feet long up to 8 feet high and just over 24 feet long. After customary discounts are applied, investments begin at roughly $500 for our smallest all-purpose divider. Our most popular sizes are 6 feet high and approximately 17 feet and 20 feet in length. After discounts, these range from $1,200 to $1,400 apiece.

Light-duty dividers (as their name implies) have fewer bells and whistles, and not as many fabric choices. These start at $400 each at 6-feet-5-inches high x approximately 6 feet long.

So, as you can see, portable room dividers aren’t a small investment — but, a properly built divider is intended to last a lifetime. To this end — and in the interest of the best possible stewardship — longevity should be No. 1 on the list of selection criteria.

To ensure you are getting not only the quality, but also the correct dividers you need, we offer a complete — and free —planning service. Simply tell us the size of the room you will be using the dividers in most of the time, and what you want to accomplish. We will send you a plan in both 2-D and 3-D which you can review with your committee members.

OK — but, what does a long-lasting portable room divider look like?

To answer that, let’s start with what they don’t look like.

Many years ago — when my brother was in the church design and construction business — he was visiting a client in Wisconsin. They invested in T-leg panels (common in offices) because “the price was right.” He noticed that four or five were leaning up against the wall after their “feet” broke off; they were awaiting repair by a local welder.

Suddenly, the price looked a lot less … “right.”

And really, this is the most common mistake church leaders make when investing in portable room dividers: buying cheap. It’s no different than buying a car or a house. To make the best long-term investment, you do your homework, you check out the products, and you — ultimately — realize that quality will cost you a few more bucks. In return, you will get more value for your church’s dollars.

Interesting … but I still need to know what to look for in a long-lasting portable divider!

Good point. When vetting divider options, pay special attention to a handful of critical structural components:

sf-hinges

Connections, connections, connections. The longer a divider’s hinges between the panels, and the more screws used to connect that hinge to each panel, the stronger it will be in the long term. For our most popular-height divider — 6 feet — we use 34 screws and a full-length hinge to connect two panels together. (Yes: 34!)

In contrast, less expensive dividers feature only one geared connection at the top and bottom of each panel pair.

comparison_position_controllers_circle

Position controller. As depicted (right), this rounded device helps keep the divider locked firmly in place at any angle. It also “locks” in place at common 90- and 180-degree settings. You’ll see we use four screws to keep that position controller firmly affixed to the panels. The hinges mentioned above and the position controllers work in conjunction with each other. We make these components ridiculously strong because it’s this spot where dividers most commonly wear out. (People aren’t always gentle with things.)

comparison_end_frame_circle

End frame connectors. In the image above, you’ll see the black, sleekly curved end frame which not only gives the divider much of its stability but also is used as a very convenient handle to move the divider. The means by which the end frame is connected to the panel set is critical, since this connection must absorb the twisting, turning, grabbing and pulling as the divider is moved within the church, over thresholds and so on.

Accordingly, a well-built, long-lasting divider will have all three of these connections: 1) The panel will actually be inserted into the end frame; 2) This panel / end frame combination will be screwed together from both sides for superior strength; and 3) A gusset plate will be added at the bottom, connecting the two members yet a third way.

Do you want your new dividers to serve you for years and years? Make sure any portable dividers you invest in are connected in this fashion.

comparison_self_leveling_casters_circle

Self-leveling casters. For enhanced stability, our panels feature self-leveling casters. Have you ever sat at a wobbly table because one leg wasn’t touching the ground? This happens on room dividers that have fixed-height casters. Our dividers are never wobbly or unstable, because every wheel makes full contact with the floor.

The proof is in the purchase order

We believe that repeat business is the biggest indicator that our quality design approach is working, long-term. Many church and school clients — or, as is often the case, a combination of both — order additional room dividers from us as their ministries and facilities expand.

Taking Phoenix as an example, we have many customers that fit this description. Several have bought twice. Another customer bought in 2007, 2010 and 2015. Another church has re-ordered five times.

In the same city, one school district has bought from us on eight different occasions since 1999, and another has bought on 10 different occasions. If you’d like the list — or a list for your local area — let me know. We are proud of our loyal customer base.

To us, this is the biggest testament to our products’ longevity. After all, would you order more of something that didn’t work the first time?


Rich Maas is vice president at Screenflex Portable Room Dividers in Lake Zurich, IL.

 

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