In 2022, we spoke with several of our “Leaders under 40” to find out how they viewed the industry and what attracted them to get involved with it. This year, we wanted to talk to some of our industry veterans and we asked readers to nominate individuals they felt should be recognized for their decades in this business.
Their stories are all unique, but there were two unifying themes. The first is the idea that this industry “gets in your blood” and just becomes part of your life (some would say it becomes your entire life). Some are second, third or even fourth generation owners and have spent their whole lives coordinating and/or setting up tented events. Others stumbled into a job that became a career they are passionate about to this day, which might explain the second similarity: Despite having as many as 64 years in this industry, no one is planning to retire soon.
As you would expect from people with decades of experience, they had a lot to share about how they got involved in the industry, what they’ve seen change and what challenges they see on the horizon. Unfortunately, we don’t have room to include their entire interviews here, but they are available online, and we would encourage everyone to read the full article at InTentsMag.com.
Carol Lee Cundey, InTENTional Systems (formerly Eureka!)
30+ years in the industry
Number of years the industry: 30+ (I started in the special event industry in 1989)
How did you get involved? My first job out of college was as an event coordinator with a small non-profit, and quickly realized how unique and special the industry was – and moved into larger scale event production, working hand-in-hand with tent & event rental companies. When I moved to Northeast Penn. NEPA, I began working at Eureka! (1998) and now head up the commercial side our new company InTENTional Systems.
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? The people. Anyone you meet in the event rental industry – rental company, manufacturer, wedding planner, other vendors – the one thing that resonates is a work hard, play hard mentality. Everyone is passionate about what they do. I have yet to find anyone in this industry who isn’t. They are passionate about what they do and how they can impact the industry. You see it when you go to trade shows or are at events. From the minute the product gets on the truck to the crew setting up, décor, product, everyone is just passionate. That’s very exciting for anyone in the industry b/c you’re working people who are just as passionate as you are about what they’re doing.
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? I’m too young to retire, but seriously no.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? Safety and modernization. How people are using modern technology to come into the industry and either making things safe efficient and effective. I remember when I started, people would go out in flip flops and cut off shorts smoking a cigarette and putting up a big tent. They didn’t measure things out, we didn’t have hard hats and steel toed boots and hearing protection. If you go out now and look at job sites, you’re seeing PPE. You never saw a safety vest 25 years ago. We as manufacturers have been working with associations to promote that and to see if put in use as a common business practice is just fantastic. The use of technology – internet advertising, keyword searches – embracing what a lot of modern tech has brought to us. The ability to have that immediate connection when a customer has an awesome event going up, I’ll get a text on a Saturday night over the weekend and I’ll set a beauty shot showing me what they did with our tent. People are passionate about it to the point that they will send it to me over the weekend and we’re getting it up on social media. The immediacy of it is amazing and it allows you to take pride of ownership. Anytime we get new people here or we have plant meetings here, that’s one of the themes that always comes out and resonates.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? Labor, spending/consumer confidence and retirement of people with wealth of knowledge. For rental companies years ago, you would get summer help with high school and college students looking for work and some would turn out to be fantastic long-term employees. But now just getting people is challenging. The whole landscape has changed with the demographics as well with COVID. I hope we will see things even out and get back to where labor isn’t our number one challenge.
What advice were you given that you’ve found helpful AND/OR What advice do you have for the next generation? Relationships are important. Treat all customers/prospects as if you were in their shoes. This industry allows you to have a conversation with your competitor without it being contentious. You can talk to rental companies who may not buy tents from us, but if we meet them at a show, they will talk to us. Everyone is willing to talk to everyone because it creates a much better industry in the long run.
For the next generation….NETWORK!!! Getting to know others in the industry will go a long way to maintaining and building a strong industry. Also, mentor others so they can thrive.
Mike Holland, Chattanooga Tent Company
45 years in the industry
Number of years the industry? “I began working at the company in the summer of 1976 and become full time after graduating high school in 1978. If my math is correct, it will be 45 full-time years in May of 2023.”
How did you get involved? “My Grandfather, Joe Nolan, founded our business in 1934. I wanted to work during the summers and this job made sense. My plans were to go to college and become a marine biologist, but the event business got in my blood.”
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? “There are a lot of good things in this industry that will keep you going, like relationships. I would say the number one thing has been the feeling you get when see the event come together and the joy it brings to our customers. Our industry is unique in the fact that we always have deadline to meet. And there is an enormous amount of satisfaction in knowing your team and other vendors pulled it off.”
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? “Defining ‘near future’ is difficult. There are aspects of the day-to-day that begin to weight on you, but then again, just as quickly, they can invigorate you when there is a challenge. This industry gets in your blood and it’s difficult to let go. The feeling you get from successful work and the many close friends I have made in this industry would be difficult to just walk away from.”
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? “I have a few. The transition from canvas to vinyl tents. We manufacture our tops, so we had switch from sewing tents to welding vinyl, but now could wash them to achieve a longer life on the fabric. Clearspan structures were added to our inventory in 1985, and we haven’t looked back. Using rachet straps for tent tie downs is another. Many used ropes to secure their tents and we used chain. The ratchet took a lot of guesswork away. And lastly, flooring systems made specifically for tents. This has allowed us to tent almost anywhere someone wants a tent.”
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? “Number one on everyone’s mind is staffing! What we do is not easy and is not for everyone. We just need to be very creative and adapt to the changing needs of today’s workforce. I do believe our industry is a great group of problem solvers and we will figure it out. It also may come from additional tools or design in structures that require fewer staff.”
What advice do you have for the next generation? “Watch and listen to how others handle things. It might be a mixture of what you learn and what you have that gives you an edge. Our industry is full of many good people. Ask questions and share your knowledge with others. It will only make our industry stronger.
The best advice I was given is that ‘Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Have it. Own it.’”
Chad Struthers, Warner Shelter Systems Ltd.
26 years in the industry
How did you get involved? I answered an ad in the newspaper.
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? I enjoy the variety, helping to solve problems and creating unique events.
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? No, I’m still young.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? Manpower and raw material sourcing. We have been blessed with very low turnover and our summer students seem to return for three to four years, so we are a fortunate company.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? Rising costs of everything and finding manpower. You find a way. There is always a way. We, like everyone, have had to raise our prices to reflect the new world, but at the moment it hasn’t seemed to hamper our business.
What advice were you given that you’ve found helpful AND/OR What advice do you have for the next generation? You have to put in the work. Like anything in life, if you don’t do the work, you don’t reap the rewards. There are no shortcuts.”
Brian A. Richardson, L & A Tent Rentals Inc.
43 years in the industry
How did you get involved? I put up my first tent while I was in high school in Maine, I would get called when a local tent rental company needed some extra hands. In 1980, I started full-time traveling up and down the East Coast setting up tents for fairs and festivals. In 1986, I relocated to New Jersey and opened L & A Tent Rentals.
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? I’m having more fun in the last five years than I did in the first 42. The job is getting easier than it was back in the old days. We have a great young team here, and it’s wonderful to see how they are taking the business to a new level.
Do you see yourself retiring soon? I think I’ll stick around a few more years, even if it’s only delivering generators or restroom trailers. I have a few clients who have been with me from the beginning who I still like to interact with. I’m not sure what I would do with myself if I was fully retired.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? The mechanization of our industry. The use of articulated equipment such as Tent OX has made a huge difference. Installing RFID tags that work with our software allows us to track our inventory and make sure we are getting proper utilization of our equipment. Vehicle tracking allows us to track delivery times.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? Labor, labor, labor. This work is hard and finding people who are willing do it is going to be more and more challenging.
What advice were you given that you’ve found helpful AND/OR What advice do you have for the next generation? I used to believe that bigger was better and you should take all projects regardless of how much work you already had booked. Over the years I missed out on a lot of family events, especially my kid’s birthdays and school events because I was always working. This new generation of tent professionals, in my opinion, understands much better than I did that there needs to be a work/life balance.
My advice to the next generation is to volunteer. Whether it’s in your church, local community or one of the great industry trade associations that support our industry, get involved. I have made lifelong industry friendships thanks to my involvement with some terrific organizations.
I have a sign hanging in my office that reads: ‘Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.’”
Kathy E. Schaefer, IFM, Glawe Tent & Awning Co.
“I was essentially born into the tent business.”
I was essentially born into the tent business. My earliest memories are of being allowed to work the lift gate to load and unload tents for the crew.
As I got older, I went to work with my Dad in the summer and helped lay out stakes and lace the pieces together. The tents were blue and khaki canvas I thought Khaki was my name until I got older. I am the fourth generation running the business. Our first relative, great Uncle Billy, worked for Mr. Glawe and purchased the business from him. Then my Grandfather and my father an uncle and now me.
I went to Bowling Green State University and received a Master’s degree in psychology and counseling. When asked by Dad if I ever wanted to work in the business I responded with a decisive No way ever!! I had a job promised until the Carter administration put a freeze on hiring at State and Federal institutions, back during the era of long gas lines.
I came back to Dayton and temporarily worked at Glawe and computerized the tent portion of the business. We had a program way before it’s time on a Commodore Computer!
I had still planned on working elsewhere but my Father became ill and I was working with the crew. We had an enormous storm at the Farm Science review in Columbus, Ohio. Our Hoecker clearspan was one among several, and we had several dozen regular tents up. The show had ended so I went with them to get our tents down quickly. We just got the sides closed on the clearspan when the storm hit. Every other structure and tent came down. I had never seen anything like that but I was hooked. We never looked back and I learned everything about tents from the crew and Dad.
I have stayed in the industry because I enjoy the diversity of it, working with people and crew, and the beloved guys in the tent division and IFAI. J.D. from Anchor also taught me many things and was the only person that acknowledged me back in the day. It was unheard of for a woman to be in the business and understand how to install tents (and could swing a 16 pound sledgehammer overhand).
It wasn’t until Jan Schieffer got involved as division leader that I was nominated to the STEERING COMMITTEE. It really was a big deal back then to have a woman on the Board. My first Board meeting saw the likes of Jerry O’Connell, Harry Oppenheimer, JD, and others who wouldn’t talk to me. Jim Reyen came on at the same time and we took it from there. Now there are so many women at the shows I am happy to say. Carol Cundey, Jan and I were the only ones.
I am 66, and cannot really retire, we still do so many events and there is no one behind me to take over so I will stay. Up until recently I could still do the physical activity. Now, not so much.
The biggest change I have seen was when covid hit and I could no longer get workers. A brilliant person invented the tent ox and we jumped on it!! In the 60’s my Dad and Uncle modified a bobcat with a pneumatic stake puller similar to the ox, and mounted our Pionjar pounder to the bobcat arms. My Dad, 90 years old, was the first one to drive our OX and he was so impressed. It has literally been the best change I have ever seen that has literally been a game changer. I think our industry will continue to be challenged to find help. It has truly been a daily problem since covid. The other issue was safety. Under the Chairmanship of TRD during my tenure and Jim Reyen’s we started Training for the Tent Installer and took it on the road. Ken Keberle and Michael Tharp also helped out.
Jim started implementing safety protocol at Tent Expo and it continues to this day.
Jane Case Frost, Stamford Tent & Event Services
36 years in the industry
Number of years the industry? I have worked for STES for 36 years. Prior to that, I worked for caterers and in the hospitality business.
How did you get involved? While working for a catering company in New York, I was doing events under tents, and I really liked it. The challenges are endless, and every event is completely different.
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? What initially started out as a five-year plan, turned into a 36 year plan. I just really enjoy planning and strategizing to make an event special and different. It kind of gets into your blood.
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? I see myself taking fewer events, but not retiring too soon. Like I said, it gets in your blood.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? The more advanced tent technology. Starting with pole tents to structures with glass walls has given the industry so much more to work with.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? Mainly the permit system that is good for our industry and also a hinderance. So many new rules and regulations. I could say the weather, but that goes with the job.
What advice do you have for the next generation? Keep your head up and press on.
Steve Frost, Stamford Tent & Event Services
56 years in the industry
How did you get involved? It’s a family business. I started working weekends and summers as a teenager
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenges of running a business and being able to use my creative problem-solving skills to work with customers. I’m a people person. I love working with our customers.
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? Not retiring, but I have been cutting back. I work from home more and don’t take on new retail clients. I leave that to our sales team.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? The inability to find good, responsible installers that want to do the work and put in the time to become foremen and supervisors. Today’s generation wants to sit behind a computer. We’re still adapting, but it’s our biggest challenge.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? See above
What advice were you given that you’ve found helpful AND/OR What advice do you have for the next generation? Do the right thing. Be accountable – take responsibility for your actions. Put people before profits.
Heinz Röder, HR-Structures GmbH
64 years in the industry
Number of years the industry? “I’ve been in the industry full time since 1976, but began part time in 1959 in the company of my father who had a big local tent rental company.”
How did you get involved? “In 1976, the former Roeder company, consisting of my brother and me as shareholders, developed and produced temporary structures with aluminum frames. At this time, everyone made frames out of steel or wood, which were very heavy. This was a big success for our company, and we very quickly became one of the leaders in the industry with an international expansion.”
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? “I always had fun with what I was doing. I like very much beautiful designs, improvements of the materials and economic improvements in the way of producing.”
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? “Why should I? I like very much what I am doing.”
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? “The biggest progress in our industry was the change of the structures from push – pole tents or steel – structures to aluminum frames.”
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? “The main focus has to be the creation of nice designs and progress in architecture. To use carbon fiber or something like that which would make the frames even more light than aluminum. The weight is very important for setting up, taking down, loading and so on. To have a very light material would be a huge advantage, but at the moment, costs are too high. The other important point is what does it look like. The demands for quality get higher and higher. When you have high-level events like car races or golf tournaments, people want to have something extra that looks nicer than other structures, so we must find ways to meet this demand for higher quality and nicer-looking products.”
What advice do you have for the next generation? “You have to like what you are doing. When you have satisfaction and fun in your business, you will always have success.”
Brian Kordek, Kordek Consulting & Project Management
38 years in the industry
How did you get involved? Van Tent’s Inc. in Philadelphia installed a 100’x200’ canvas, orange and white, pole tent in front of the Student Center at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences (now Philadelphia University) the last day of exams before summer break. When I came out after my last exam, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I was amazed that this group of about 10 guys put this tent there in five and a half hours. After watching one of the guys who was tying a rope to the side poles, I got the nerve to ask him what they were doing. He said, “putting up the graduation tent.” I said, “really, you do this for a living?” and without missing a beat he said “yeah, want a job?”. His arm shot up and he pointed to his boss and said, “go talk to Steve, tell him Mike sent you”. I walked to the other side of the tent and found Steve tying a canvas top onto a canopy frame, which I later found out was a 9’x70’, leading from the building to the tent for the graduate’s entrance. Steve stopped what he was doing and greeted me. I told him I was out for the summer and that Mike said there might be some work. He said they loved having college helpers and pretty much hired me on the spot. I remember walking away after getting the address and turning back to ask what I should bring with me. He said, “boots and a lunch!” I left thinking, wow, I got a job… I showed up the next day in a steady drizzle of rain at 7am to a graffiti covered cinderblock building. There was razor wire around the roof and fenced-in cinder lot, and I wondered what I was getting myself into.
It was a hectic that morning with stake body trucks getting loaded outside and people moving every which way inside. I must have filled out an application at some point but only remember Steve greeting me with a smile and saying “great, you made it, you’re with Jim”. That was the last I saw of Steve that day.
I found out pretty quickly that Jim didn’t like college kids and told me to help his first man load the truck. After about 45minutes of putting a bunch of “stuff” (tent section, sidewalls, drop cloth, side poles, stakes, block and tackle, sledgehammers, and tools) on the truck, the first man took me to the “tent bag room” where he grabbed a canvas bag for a 60-foot-wide tent section and tossed it to me. I asked him what the bag was for, and he said, “you don’t want to get wet on the ride down, do you?!” I followed him to the side of the 24-foot Mac stake truck and watched the other five guys climb up over the side and get comfortable on the soft stuff. The “new guy” leveled out the side poles, climbed into my tent bag and settled in for the hour ride to Greenville, Del., to the E.I. du Pont Estate.
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? Growing through the ranks with Van Tents showed me that this job could be a career. I went from riding in the back of the truck in the rain to being a field supervisor overseeing multiple projects within a few years. Then my mentors Steve Belliveau and Tom Burns thought I was ready to step into a sales role. It was a big transition and a great opportunity. But I think my fate was sealed that first day. I had never experienced anything like it, from beginning to end. I saw what a hardworking crew could accomplish in a day on an amazing property that up until then I’d only ever seen on TV — I was hooked! I wanted to be good at this job because I really liked what we were doing. I also felt like I had something to prove to Jim, the foreman, and myself—that I was good enough. Before we showed up to jobsites, there was nothing there. And at the end of the day, we could look over our shoulders and take pride in what we were able to accomplish. It was the hard work and band of brothers and sisters I’ve had the privilege to work with through the years that is the glue that kept me here. This, along with the challenges we face that are very different from other industries. We routinely face unrealistic production & construction timelines, including one-of-a-kind builds for once in a lifetime events. That really ramps up the pressure – we’ve gotta get it done on time and it has to be right! Ultimately, I think it is the passion I share with my friends and colleagues who understand that failure is not an option. That adrenaline rush is what keeps me going!
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? Not in the near future. There are new opportunities I’m looking forward to exploring and I still love what I do.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry and how did you adapt? The biggest change is with our workforce and a fundamental shift in employee expectations.
The idea that work comes second is a foreign concept for someone who was taught to always try to do your best: be there early, willing to stay late and do whatever it takes to get the job done! I feel very fortunate to have benefited from good role models who showed me the value of hard work.
Many of us have passed that on through our example. But we are faced with a real dilemma as our experienced leads, who are used to the hard work, begin to pull back from fieldwork for various reasons. Not the least of which is that “the grind” of daily hard work has caught up to them. Younger, capable people interested in taking their place are increasingly hard to find. Many younger workers are seeking easier jobs that pay more or offer a better work/life balance. As a result, companies are lowering expectations of their workforce to have bodies to fill positions and the ripple effect continues to widen.
I try to make an impact with new employees by showing them that our hard work is needed to drive good project results which mean we are doing the right thing for our customers. Getting their buy-in can be difficult though. It’s surprising the number of people in the group that are happy to watch others on the team do more than their share. We are all still adapting to this labor change and it’s a work in progress for me.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years?
*Ongoing staffing shortages / underqualified applicants.
*Supply chain unreliability
*More stringent permitting and code compliance requirements.
What advice were you given that you’ve found helpful AND/OR What advice do you have for the next generation? After several years as a knuckle dragging floor and tent builder at Van Tents in Philly, I was asked to move into a sales role. Before my first customer meeting, I asked our senior salesman Tom Burns for advice. Tom told me that he knew I was ready since I was able to install all of his toughest projects over the years and that customers liked working with me. His advice was, “Say what you mean and mean what you say!” That helped me focus on the important things during that first customer meeting.
My career advice for the next generation – try different positions until you find something you really enjoy doing. If you are passionate about your work and surrounded by others who feel the same way, the journey is much nicer.
John Creedon Sr., Creedon and Co. Inc.
38 years in the industry
How did you get involved? I started out in the local pizza store at 12 years old washing dishes. I worked there for 18 years all through the ranks. I realized I could get no further in the small pizza company so I went on my own and bought a breakfast and lunch small restaurant and catered as a side hustle.
3 years later, I moved the catering company to a 3,000 square foot building. I had a call for a wedding, and the bride asked if I could get a tent for the event. Here at Creedon and Co., the answer is always “yes.” I made numerous calls and was told you have to order a tent that size way ahead. I finally found a company to help me. That is when I decided I would take the leap. I bought 7 tents. (2) 20x20s, (1) 20×30, (1) 20×40 and (3) 30x60s. The first event we did with tents included the complete inventory and food for 2500 people for a company’s 60th Anniversary.
5 days later, we set up all 7 tents at various locations and again BBQ’s for all. Off we go. 38 years later, we have a staff during peak season of 150 employees. We have people that have been with us for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years. We offer benefits including a 401k program with company matches.
What has kept you working in the industry for so many years? I have a son and daughter in the company. I also have 5 grandsons that can’t quite reach the dish sink yet. I still love to get up and go to work. We have a great crew. We also feed our employees lunch every day.
Do you see yourself retiring in the near future? I keep telling my troops I only need 10 more years. My 2 kids tell me I have been saying that for at least 15 years. So maybe I am getting closer. I am practicing taking time off in the winter.
What challenges do you see facing the industry in the next few years? The biggest challenge I am seeing now is the economy and interest rates. Younger people in the business are not used to normal interest rates (5, 6, 7 8%). This is when you have to be on top of your game and price accordingly.
What advice were you given that you’ve found helpful AND/OR What advice do you have for the next generation? I have been extremely lucky and have had several mentors throughout the years. In the early years, one of the best quotes I received was “if you give up, you will never know how close you were to making it.”
I have heard over the years “Creedon, you have made it.” My response was it is still too fragile and someone could take it away.
Last was a very successful businessman said, “John, it is not about me anymore, it’s about the 500 employees I have that count on paychecks every week for their families.” I now know what that is like!
All I need is 10 more years with a few more days off in the winter. After 38 years, we are still growing.