Classic Party Tents Exits the Business: What Can We Learn From It?

On Thursday July 13, it was announced that most of the inventory and assets of Los Angeles-based Classic Party Tents – once one of the nation’s largest event and party equipment rental companies – were being sold off by a third- party firm.  What can we learn from this surprising news?

Before we answer that question, I’d like to point out that what has happened to Classic Party Tents, while shocking, is definitely not a sign of the times, nor is it an indicator of where the industry as a whole is headed. Without a doubt, there is plenty of money to be made by companies as big as Classic Party Rentals or as small as a regional tent and event company, and by every size organization in between. The key to success, more than ever before, is paying close attention to the labor side of your business. After all, labor is the biggest cost factor of every single install you are hired to perform. Applying this resource wisely can boost productivity and profits at the same time.

Here are three key practices you can follow that will help increase your success and limit failure:

1:  Compete On More Than Price Alone

Chasing jobs by ratcheting down your bid price is a sure-fire path to closing a tent rental business. Low-balling to get the job is generally worse than turning down the opportunity in the first place. While there may be short term value in bringing in as many gross dollars as possible to service debt and maintain balance sheets, the approach is unsustainable if you cannot deliver a net profit. If there’s anything we can learn from the loss one of the industry’s big players, it’s something that many smaller, and carefully-run tent rental businesses already know:

  • Reinvest in your business, in your people and in your technology, including technology that helps reduce the cost of each job you take on.
  • Develop more competitive advantages Low-balling bids to get jobs brings in cash, but not profit. Concentrate on building the intangibles that elevate you above the competition, such as dealing with the customer fairly and completing each job expertly and on time. These are powerful competitive levers for attracting new customers and driving repeat business.
  • Pay attention to the needs of your crew on the job. It costs much less to retain a happy crew than to constantly hire new people (and temps) and then train them to bring them up to speed.
  • Build a solid foundation on which your business can grow. That’s the only way we as tent professionals can gain and sustain our success in this industry.

2:  Boost Crew Efficiency with New Labor-Saving Technologies

No commercial tent rental business, large or small, can escape the universal problem of rapidly rising labor costs. Rental companies that fail to grab ahold of new, faster installations technologies are condemned to stretch completion times, pay more for labor and limit (or lose) profitability, every time they send crews out to job sites.

Continuing to do installs in the way they’ve been done for years, much less decades, savages not only the bottom line, but also the crews who bear the burden of that decision as they struggle through 70- to 80-hour weeks. The very latest tent installation technologies are an increasingly well-known “secret” that permits companies to install more tents, with less effort, so they spend far less time on every job. Task after task, from driving stakes to pulling roof panels, can now be done in a fraction of the time it once required, and with fewer crew.

3: Get a Grip On Crew Turnover

Turnover is one of the biggest problems any commercial tent rental company faces, year and year out, because it limits productivity severely. It also leaves companies scrambling for temporary labor which arrives on the job with no experience. Crew productivity slows, with constant interruptions for crew training, and work on the job site is disorganized and confusing for new and experienced workers alike.

In such an environment, staff defections often begin to accelerate. For lack of adequate staff, you either have to turn away jobs or send too few crew to complete a job, ultimately risking burnout and injury.

There is no reason to have to fight a constant battle, training new staff and trying to retain existing staff when you don’t have to. Think outside the traditional box of tent installation procedures. The answer isn’t spending more time recruiting talent, but rather to implement technologies that reduce the man hours on a job and substantially reduce the pure physicality of the job. This is what ultimately gives crew members an incentive to show up for the next assignment.

Automated tent installation systems, like those made specifically for tent professionals by Tent OX to mechanize traditional manual labor work, provide a big lever for improved staff retention.

What Happens to theMarket Classic has Vacated?

Classic Party Tents As of the writing date, the West Coast and Florida sites of Classic have had no change in operation. While some markets will be covered by two companies that have taken over a few of the former Classic’s locations, the rest of the market for the big jobs the company once dominated has been thrown wide open to the industry’s remaining big players and enterprising mid-size companies who want to vie for some of the big jobs Classic once “owned.”

Classic’s collapse may also provide an equipment windfall, allowing many companies to buy into Classic’s large tent inventories or structure at cents on the dollar. A caveat here: Classic appears to have stopped refreshing its inventory some time ago, so premium-condition purchases may be hard to come by.

Meet the Author: Scott Woodruff is a 30-year commercial tent industry veteran, former president of Mid-Atlantic Tent Renters Association, and an active safety advocate within the tent and event industry. Scott built a successful regional party rental business that he sold in the last few years to concentrate on Tent OX, the first system-level commercial tent installation suite of products designed to reduce labor in nearly every step of tent installs and takedowns. Tent OX products are widely being sold throughout the US and in Canada.

*For additional information on the sale of rental items, contact Jody Bacque with Hilco Industrial at or 251-404-2367.

Below is a snapshot of the Classic Party Rental inventory as shown on July 14 on Hilco Industrial’s website.

classic party tents