On January 11–13, 120 members of the event and tent rental industry gathered in Savannah, Ga., to network, learn from industry experts and, of course, engage in a few friendly competitions for this year’s bragging rights.
“This is always such a great way to start the New Year,” says Steve Belliveau, sales manager at Anchor Industries Inc. and new chair of Advanced Textiles Association’s Tent Rental Division (TRD). “Tent Conference continues to provide an excellent opportunity to spend quality time with industry friends and at the same time initiate new friendships.”
The conference kicked off on a sunny Wednesday morning with a golf tournament at The Club at Savannah Harbor, followed by a trolley tour of the beautiful sights around historic Savannah. Attendees gathered that evening at Moon River Brewing Co. for the opening reception, followed by a ghost tour through several local bars and breweries.
Thursday saw the start of the education sessions, which opened with a presentation by Melissa Furman, Ph.D., on
“Navigating the Future Landscape of
Labor & Talent.” This session was so impactful that attendees talked about it throughout the rest of the conference.
“The education sessions at Tent Conference always provide lots of useful takeaways, but learning about the generational differences was a real eye-opener,” says Julie Couture of Fiesta Tents Ltd. “Understanding and working to bridge the gaps between the generations is so essential to employee retention and morale, and Melissa’s insights into how to do that were incredibly helpful.”
Up next was an in-depth look at the new Non-Engineered Ballasting Tool by Vincent Y. Blouin, Ph.D., associate professor at the School of Architecture, Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University. This tool was developed jointly by the TRD and American Rental Association (ARA). Blouin walked attendees through the science behind the calculations that this new tool can perform for TRD and ARA members, allowing them to determine exactly how much ballast is needed. (For more details or to use TRD ballasting tools, visit tent.textiles.org/resources/trd-ballasting-tools.)
After a quick break, the TRD business meeting began. Alex Renaud of Fiesta Tents was presented with a plaque in recognition for his outstanding volunteer service to the division. Then all the outgoing TRD Steering Committee members were recognized and thanked for their service, and the incoming committee members were welcomed.
- Alex Renaud, Fiesta Tents
- Sarah Crews, Economy Tent International
- Tommy Wilson, All Occasions Event Rental
- Kevin Vasquez, Made in the Shade Tent Rentals
- Kyle Richardson, L&A Tent Rentals
- Brian Stumph, Fred’s Tents & Canopies Inc.
- Julie Couture, Fiesta Tents
Committee Leadership Transition:
- Michael Tharpe, Rainier Industries, moving to immediate past chair
- Steve Belliveau, Anchor Industries Inc., moving from vice chair to chair
- Nick Deninno, B&R Innovations, current director moving to vice chair
The day’s education sessions wrapped up with a presentation by Josh Kohn, CEO of SOHO Event Rentals, and Darren Randle, owner and president of Houston Tents & Events. The two shared their insights and answered audience questions about what apps and technologies they had found to be effective for their companies, either to save money and time or to increase workplace safety and reduce liability.
Then it was time for the annual team-building activity. In this year’s event, the attendees were divided into several teams and sent off on a scavenger hunt around the Savannah historic district. The competition was fierce, the trash talking was tremendous and a great time was had by all. Awards for the best (and worst) teams were presented that evening at the reception and dinner, along with a special gift presentation to outgoing TRD chair Michael Tharpe, in recognition of his many years of service to the TRD and to commemorate his retirement from the industry.
Afterward, attendees were split into two groups—the “NextGens” and the “OGs,” for the division’s first NextGen event (see pg. 8 for more details). Each group began at a different nearby bar, where they could mingle and network within their respective peer groups for an hour. Then the OGs were reunited with the NextGens, giving the two groups the opportunity to build relationships and share their experiences and advice as they enjoyed a final night of revelry and fun in beautiful Savannah.
“I think this first NextGen social event was a great success,” says Belliveau. “TRD recognizes the importance of the next generation to the future of the tent industry, and events like these really help facilitate the passing of the torch from the old guard to the new.”
The final morning began with a panel discussion on “Critical Industry Topics” moderated by Brian Stumph of Fred’s Tents. Panelists for this session were David Darby, special event and tent specialist for Rent-E-Quip Inc.; Warren Darby, founder and owner of Rent-E-Quip; Alex Kouzmanoff, CERP, president and CEO of Aztec Tents; and Tarryn Prosper, vice president of sales–tent division for Peak Event Services. Panelists responded to a range of questions from the moderator and the audience on everything from labor challenges to social media usage by employees.
The last education session at the 2023 Tent Conference was “Prepare Your Business: Company Transitions & Exit Strategies” with a panel of speakers. Kevin Zwierzchowski, owner/consultant for Z Rental Consulting, began with an overview of what a typical company transition process looks like, from the time the owner decides to sell all the way through the review of the financials and company assets, to the final closing of the sale. He offered several helpful tips to business owners on common pitfalls to avoid as well as insight into what banks and investors are looking for when considering a purchase. His presentation was followed by personal accounts from Alex Renaud, international sales manager and part owner of Fiesta Tents; George Smith, vice president of operations for Sunbelt Rentals Inc.; and Mike Holland, president and owner of Chattanooga Tent and Event Solutions. All three of these speakers had either bought or sold a tent rental company in the last few years, and each shared their experiences as well as candid advice on what they would do differently, given the chance.
“Tent Conference 2023 was a huge success,” says Michael Tharpe, immediate past chair of TRD. “From the opening session to the networking, a good mix of OGs and Next Gens were all working together and having fun! Those that attended left with something that they could incorporate into their daily business activities as well as ideas on how to grow this industry in the future.”
Be sure to stay tuned in the coming months for details on the 2024 Tent Expo, scheduled for January 16–18 in Daytona Beach, Fla.!
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