We asked our readers for nominations of individuals who they feel are showing leadership and actively working to improve the industry. As you’ll see on the next several pages, the results were truly impressive! Despite their age, many of the nominees have several decades of experience already, having grown up as the second or even third generation to run the family business. With so many great leaders emerging in this industry, the future looks bright indeed!

Name: Brandon Sayre Age: 30 Title: President/CEO Number of years in the industry: 21

Name: Joey Jewell Age: 27 Title: COO Number of years in the industry: 19

Name: Briar Sayre Age: 26 Title: Vice president/CFO Number of years in the industry: 17

Company: ACC Party Rental Inc., Columbus, Ohio

What is your earliest memory of working in the industry?

Joey Jewell: We used to work summers as kids, and I remember being out on the driveway every summer cleaning side curtains and not having any sunglasses and the agony of staring at those bright white curtains for hours.

Did you have anyone you considered to be a mentor?

Brandon Sayre: My grandpa Raymond Sayre started the business renting tables and chairs in 1997, and he was kind of always our mentor. He gave us so much freedom to do whatever we wanted, even though we were kids. I remember being in middle school and we didn’t have a website at the time. I asked if I could build one and he said sure! It didn’t matter if whatever it was would make us money, he was willing to let us try and have the freedom to experiment and learn and even fail. Most people don’t get that opportunity, but I think it’s really important.

What do you enjoy most about this industry?

Joey: First and foremost is being part of someone’s once-in-a-lifetime event—weddings, graduations, whatever it is. I didn’t always have this point of view, but two years ago I showed up to a site and the tent would not fit in their yard. I tried everything and was out there till 7 or 8 at night trying to figure it out with them, thinking of everything I could of until I finally found a solution. I was the only person who could make their event happen and make it how they wanted. Now I take that attitude to every event I work on. 

I also feel like there’s no ceiling on where this industry can go. You can start with tables and chairs and get into lighting and staging and linens. It covers all the basics of running a business—you buy, load, clean, rent—the whole supply chain. I’m taking on more roles and responsibilities, so I’m growing as a person apart from the industry as well.

What do things look like for your company now versus in 2019?

Briar Sayre: All the big festivals are coming back finally. Things are going back to normal. You still get some sprinkles of COVID work and extended rentals, but it’s mainly back to what it was. Now the problem of course is finding that labor to get everything finished. We’ve increased our pay rate, which has helped, and added benefits like health insurance and 401(k) matching. We’re also trying to make everything more efficient and buying more tools like a stake puller or Tent OX™. We’re buying more tools instead of hiring staff. 

What do you see as the next big challenge for the industry?  

Brandon: I feel like the industry is in a transition period. There’s a lot of companies growing and a lot of owners that are retiring. Lots are selling. It’s a weird transition period. We just bought our business from John Reese, who wanted to take a step back into a less stressful role to have more personal time. And I think that’s what the industry is going through as well. COVID accelerated a lot of that, so suddenly lots of people are ready to move on to their next chapter.It’s creating tons of opportunities for those who can take advantage of them. 

Any words of wisdom that you were given and found helpful or advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry? 

Briar: One that sticks with me is “There’s never problems, only solutions” from Brian Stumph with Fred’s Tents. I say that one to myself all the time. I don’t know where he got it from, but that’s where I got it.

Joey: Don’t be afraid to take chances. Everything we have done has required taking a chance. Whether it succeeds or not, you’ll learn something. Don’t be afraid to change and try new things. 

Brandon: Let your employees take chances. Be willing to give them new opportunities to grow in your company and for themselves.

Name: Cory Stoken

Age: 31

Company: FloorEXP Inc. and Mod-Fence Systems LLC, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

Title: Co-owner and COO

Number of years in the industry: 10

How did you get involved with this industry and at what age?

Around 2012, shortly after graduating from college I was introduced to Gauro Coen, who has over 20-plus years working and operating within the tent, event, custom and portable flooring industry. Gauro hired me at age 21 as his administrative assistant at American Turf and Carpet, and after a few weeks I fell in love with the industry and company. The company was involved in producing premium custom-designed projects for all types of clients, including tent and event companies.

Within the first six months of working there, I saw an opportunity to advance and streamline the manufacturing of our custom carpeting and logo-branded rugs, which would allow us to produce triple the amount of product for clients in half the time. With my own graphic design knowledge, I started designing the custom flooring in Illustrator® for clients. Using a wide format printer, I could print the templates out to any scale. Within one year, we tripled our custom flooring business and continued to grow from there.

In 2016, I left American Turf and Carpet and started FloorEXP to continue growing custom and branded flooring projects. I stayed close with Gauro, and in 2020 we began a partnership with the custom event flooring business and also introduced Mod-Fence as a complementary event fencing division. We saw an opportunity for event planners, event coordinators and rental companies to choose from our selections of flooring and fencing when designing and building out their events.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I love what I do. My goals are to continue to add different products to service the events industry, to innovate with new products that will make our clients’ business grow, and continue advancing to modernize the old flooring and fencing industry. We want to change the way that people shop for these products and services. We have huge plans for bringing these new products and advancements to the marketplace and are excited for the future. I see myself staying in the industry and I just want to keep innovating for it.

Any words of wisdom that you were given and found helpful?

The best piece of advice I’ve received came from Gauro: “It’s about progress, not perfection.” I personally am a bit of a perfectionist and when it comes to growing a company, that’s not always the best approach. What I’ve learned is to keep trying to build on progress and get 1% better every day. Just keep building incrementally on a personal and professional level, and all goals can be attained.

Name: David Cesar

Age: 36

Company: Blue Peak Tents Inc., Batavia, Ill.

Title: President

Number of years in the industry: 17

How did you get involved with this industry and at what age?

I started in the industry when I was 19 years old after my freshman year of college. I worked for a very small, local tent rental company as one of only two installers that they had. The party rental company wanted to stay small and focus locally. I had much grander visions and decided to start my own company the following year.

What do things look like now versus in 2019?

On the top line, we have been very lucky over the last three years to participate in great projects, which has grown our business substantially. On the bottom line, the increased cost of quality labor and increased cost of capital goods has been extremely challenging to overcome. 

What do you think the next big challenge for the industry might be?

By far the biggest challenge facing our industry is labor. Finding hardworking individuals, regardless of pay, to work manual labor in all weather conditions, on an ever-changing schedule, is very difficult and seems to get more difficult every year. I think the companies that can retain the best people in the years to come will grow leaps and bounds in comparison to their peers. 

Rising prices, both in labor and equipment, has been a problem as of recent. It’s becoming harder and harder for new companies to enter the industry due to the sheer amount of capital needed to invest in the right people and buy the right equipment.

Any words of wisdom that you were given and found helpful?

“Buy nice or buy twice” has always stuck with me. I know there are other industry peers that live by that motto as well—both personally and professionally. Investing in cheap products will always cost you more in the long run, in all aspects. 

Also, “It’s OK to say no.” You don’t have to take on every project, and the projects you do take on you need to price accordingly. When a client says yes to a proposal, your first knee-jerk response should never be of dread. If you’re not excited about the event, then you probably priced it too low.

Name: Eric Labelle

Age: 38

Company: Labelle Tents Inc., St. Albert, Ont., Canada & Fiesta Tents, Saint Laurent, Que., Canada

Title: President of Labelle Tents and VP of Fiesta Tents

Number of years in the industry: 23

How did you get involved with this industry? 

I started working at 15 years old when a friend of mine called and asked me to join the tent company he was working for. So I did and it grew on me. I enjoyed doing the tent construction and so that stuck with me. Afterwards in college, I studied civil engineering, and when I graduated, I started working in the construction industry. A few years passed and the tent company I started working for at 15 years old contacted me to work for them again. I said I would come back, but I was buying the tent business. Therefore, I did and bought all the equipment and took over the tent rental company under Labelle Tents Inc. Over the past 15 years of being in the tent industry, I’ve bought three tent companies and recently bought into Fiesta Tents in Montreal, Que.

What do you enjoy most about this industry? 

I like to work; I like what I do and that’s why I do it. There’s no other reason to put up with the hours and the elements. 

For me, it’s all about teamwork. The guys who work for me are like family. They’re not my blood family, but I see them every day and we really have a tight bond. I have three young boys who are already working in the industry, even though they’re six, eight and 10. My middle boy is my replica. Always up for a challenge/work since he was three years old. Since my kids could walk, they were raised in and around the shop; the guys here are like their uncles.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

I envision myself doing the same thing but with new challenges. I would love to have at least one or two, hopefully all three of my kids involved and working with me at Labelle Tents Inc. Optimistically, I would like to have some of the same crew I have now.

When I started Labelle Tents Inc., I was 24 years old. We were a younger crew. Now we’re getting older and when I look at the Fiesta crew, they were all in their 20s when they started. Now they’re in the 40s–50s, so I know it’s possible for me to do the same with Labelle Tents. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you.

Any advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry? 

Never be afraid of going into something new. The key is to see a problem and readjust and find a solution. The solution is sometimes hard, but there’s always a way to do it. You just have to try. If you don’t try, you will never do anything.

Name: Jacob Visoky

Age: 28

Company: Liba Fabrics Corp., New York, N.Y.

Title: Vice president

Number of years in the industry: Four

How did you get involved with this industry and at what age?

My grandfather started Liba in 1962, so I was around the business from a very early age. Throughout high school and college, I came in during winter and summer breaks to work in our warehouse fulfilling orders. After I graduated, I worked for a tech company and then joined the family business after two years.

What do you enjoy most about this industry?

I love how trends are always changing in the event world, so we have to come out with new products, fabrics and colors to keep up. It keeps things from getting too stale.

What do things look like for your company now versus in 2019?

During COVID, we actually made a few strategic hires that allowed us to start offering new services such as digital printing. In 2019, the majority of what we did as a company was sell fabric by the roll. In 2022 we’re seeing a ton of growth in our services division such as custom fabrication and digital printing.

Any advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry?

As you grow, the more successful you are, the more problems you will have. Unfortunately, problems are a part of success. There is always going to be a new challenge, obstacle or issue to get over. The sooner you realize that, the happier you will be as your problems will be less about being upset or disappointed, and more about trying to find a solution.

Name: Kyle Gagnier

Age: 35

Company: Fosters’ Tent Rental Co., West Chazy, N.Y.

Title: General manager

Number of years in the industry: 21

How did you get involved with this industry and at what age? 

My friend’s family owned Fosters’ Tent Rentals and I was lucky enough to be hired there for summer work at age 14 and I am still here at 35! 

Do you have anyone you consider to be a mentor? 

Well, I am lucky enough to have exceptional parents, so it would be remiss of me to not count them. Within our business, Scott Foster, one of the owners of Fosters’ Tent Rentals, has also been a direct mentor. He showed me what it takes to be successful in this industry.

What do you enjoy most about this industry?

I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one thing. I do thoroughly enjoy working with our team when we are pushing through the busy season and all of the problem solving that comes with meeting our goals and desired outcomes.  

Any advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry?

Yes, I would say that you can certainly make a career within this industry. I think a lot of young people come into our industry and see this as a temporary job until they get a “real” job. I also had that mentality while I was in high school and college, and then this turned into my career.

Any additional words of appreciation for anyone?

I am very grateful to all of the business professionals that I have spent time with and gotten to know through this industry. It is filled with gracious people who are willing to share their time and wisdom to help one another.   

Name: Kyle Richardson

Age: 26

Company: L&A Tents, Hamilton Township, N.J.

Title: Operations manager

Number of years in the industry:

My father’s my boss so, my whole life. I remember as a child riding around with my dad in box trucks, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. There are pictures of me as a really small baby, being carried around on jobsites.

What do you enjoy most about this industry?

I enjoy seeing the finished product. Every day we start with a blank canvas and turn it into something. Every day is different—different problems, challenges, jobsite. It definitely keeps you on your toes.

What do you think the next big challenge for the industry might be?

It is going to be the workforce and developing a way to make people see this as a career and not just a part-time or seasonal job. We have instituted different bonus structures and benefits for employees. We think they’re working. We’ve been pretty successful getting employees this year, but we’re always looking for the next best thing to keep people walking in the door.

Any advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry?

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK! Some of my greatest friends are people who I’ve met at industry events. I talk to people from all over the country. You can learn a lot from the elders in the industry. They are all full of knowledge and more than willing to share it.

Name: Mark Farrell 

Age: 38

Company: Big Top Rentals, Anaheim, Calif.

Title: Manager

Number of years in the industry:

I’ve literally been on the road since I was 11 years old, but since I was 18. My parents have had the business for 38 years and both are still involved.

Do you have anyone you consider to be a mentor?

I would say both of my parents. They make an interesting team. My father was very good at being on the road and getting crews where they needed to be and pushing them to perform. My mom handles all of the orders and the sales person, the accountant—she wears a lot of hats.

What do you think the next big challenge for the industry might be?

Manpower, for sure. When we hit COVID, I had like five guys who were full time, and maybe three or four who were seasonal. This year is hairy. I’m down to six staff, and me and my father are two of them. We have events nonstop. We’re starting general laborers at $18 an hour, which puts us higher than others in the area and we’re still struggling.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Ideally, still involved but I would love to see the company transformed so I’m not on the road every day. I have two guys who have been with me for a while and I know one of them would happily take my position, but it really all depends on labor. There’s a company near us that I would buy in heartbeat, but I also think about how I can’t staff one company, let alone two.

Any advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry?

Focus on your own company and yourself. I had to learn that one. I used to watch every company around me to see what jobs are they getting? What are they doing? I’d get mad when I saw a tent up and it wasn’t mine. But as I get older, I realize that I don’t want all those jobs. Now I’m focused on where do we need to be and want to do. What new products do we want to offer?

Name: Marty Haas

Age: 29 

Company: Milestone Event Rental, Farmington, Minn.

Title: Owner/operator 

Number of years in the industry: 20

How did you get involved with this industry and at what age?

My dad, owner of Crown Rental, brought home canopies to be cleaned that my mom and my siblings all participated in. You would think at a young age (nine) cleaning tents would have been short-lived, but it stuck with me and to this day, I still get on my hands and knees to clean our tents. 

Do you have anyone you consider to be a mentor?

I wouldn’t be in the rental world if it wasn’t for my family. My parents raised me with a drive that has yet to be diminished in any way. I have met a lot of people over the years, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn something from each person. Everyone has a slightly different perspective on things and if you aren’t willing to see that and grow from that, you aren’t setting yourself up for complete success. 

What do you think the next big challenge might be for the industry?

Probably a recession. We service higher-end weddings, so you just don’t know how that is going to go. But I enjoy a good challenge, as it keeps you on your toes and never lets you stop improving yourself.

Any words of appreciation for anyone?

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my family business with my parents and siblings, as they all have helped me in ways that I won’t forget. The InTents magazine has been great as well as all my clients. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them letting me continue to do this intense job of setting up tents for a living.

Also, a special shout-out to Brant McWilliams who used to be with Aztec tents. He sold me my first sailcloth. Now the Aztec team gives my couples amazing products. 

Name: Michelle McCulloch

Age: 39

Company: Regal Tents & Structures, a Division of Chair-man Mills Corp., North York, Ont., Canada

Title: VP Tents and Structures

Number of years in the industry: 17

How did you get involved with this industry and at what age? 

Regal Tent was a family-owned business. My parents owned and ran the company since I was a teenager; I can still remember sitting around the dinner table talking about the latest big tent setup with my dad. When I graduated from business school, I joined the family business as part of the sales team and eventually worked my way up to running the company for my family before selling it to Chair-man Mills in 2021.

Do you have anyone you consider to be a mentor?

My parents are my mentors. Working hand in hand with them at the company for over 15 years was an incredible experience. My mother’s passion on the finance and IT side of the business exposed me to the data and numbers, guiding me to focus on profitability and sound business decisions based on real information. My father’s enthusiasm for sales, project management and customer relationships was contagious. He helped me define the kind of businessperson I wanted to be and his impact on the tent industry in North America continues to make me proud to work in this industry. I still rely on them to this day, given their invaluable knowledge gathered over 70 combined years in the industry.

What do things look like now versus in 2019?

The market has changed drastically since 2019. COVID gave us the opportunity to get in front of new clients that had never used a tent before and want to continue using tents even as the pandemic subsides. Now with the addition of the event market returning and people still wanting to be outside as much as possible, demand is overwhelming. Investment in new inventory and an incredible sales and ops team has set us up to have a pretty exciting year in 2022 and 2023.   

Any advice to offer the next generation just getting started in this industry?

Surround yourself with people who encourage you, whom you can learn from, and who will elevate you to do your best.  Don’t forget to encourage those around you, teach those around you, and elevate those around you to do their best. People are the most important part of business.

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