Kistler Tent & Awning lets clients lead the way in Wyoming.
Around 30 years ago, 14-year-old Kyle Gray got his start in the tenting industry by helping put up tents with his family’s friends, who owned Kistler Tent & Awning. The occasional helping hand turned into a regular summer job through college, and later Gray and his wife decided to purchase and run the business.
Kistler Tent & Awning is much older than Gray, with a manufacturing history dating to 1917. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Kistlers rented bunting and equipment to fairs and rodeos. The company’s second owners successfully pushed the business into tent rentals in the 1970s.
Today, the company is the only tent rental business in the town of Casper. But despite the market share, Gray says the company doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all rental shop. “We’re not full-service,” he says. “It’s hard to have a crew to set tents, and then have them turn around to clean their hands and put on white linens.”
Gray and his wife do some event coordination, but the majority of their clients opt for the do-it-yourself approach. Gray also allows his customers to set up small frame tents and some pole tents on their own. “The biggest one we will let go out is the 20-by-60, and it’s worked pretty good for us.” Except for one incident early on, when a 40-foot-wide tent came back somewhat demolished, Kistler’s DIY tents have been spared from all but minor rips.
Tents that come back dirty are cleaned onsite, but not without some problems. At the company’s current facility, tents have to be cleaned outdoors—weather permitting. “That’s a challenge for us,” he says. “When we have the time, we don’t always have the best weather.” Gray hopes to solve the dilemma soon. “We’re in a situation now where we need an expansion,” he says. “We’ve grown so much that we need more storage. We don’t have a big enough showroom. Within the next year, we’d like to do something.”
The company’s growth is partly due to a recent boom in oil and gas exploration and mining, leaving “lots of extra money floating around, which is good for us,” Gray says. But the burgeoning economy also means that employees are particularly difficult to attract and retain. “That’s been our biggest headache—trying to get competent help and get them trained,” he says. “Here, [the employees] can just go as they please; they can walk out the door at lunch and be working in the afternoon.”
But the difficulties are just part of the normal ups and downs of owning any business, Gray says, and not enough to keep him from enjoying the work. “I enjoy getting out,” he says. “I enjoy the challenge of making the events successful, making the customers happy, trying to do something that nobody else is doing. It’s physical work, but it keeps you young, I think. Or,” he says with a laugh, “it makes you old fast!”