The future of the company hung in the balance. By the early 1980s, Bryant’s Rent-All in Lexington, Ky., could continue to compete against low-priced big-box retailers for tool and equipment rentals or transition to tent and event rentals. Fast forward to today, the company now known as Bryant’s Rent-All Events and Tents is squarely focused on tent and event rental and has grown by leaps and bounds.
In 1953, Vernon Bryant founded one of the first equipment rental businesses in the state. Bryant’s thrived in construction, landscaping and tool rentals from the 1950s through the 1970s. In 1982, Vernon retired and his son Terry Bryant assumed control. Construction and landscaping equipment was a huge capital investment. Interest rates hovered between 16 and 20 percent, and major area retailers were renting at low rates, which translated into thin profit margins. Terry Bryant made the bold decision to focus on tents and events.
“My grandfather said, ‘I don’t want to go in that direction [tents and event rental], and when I’m gone, you can do whatever you want,’” says third-generation manager Scott Bryant. “About 1982 my grandfather retired, and my dad did go to the party and tent rental business. That was about the same time the big-box stores came into town with tool rentals. And it was hard to compete with those guys.”
A helping hand
Committed to a new direction, the company established industry connections, especially with the leaders of Chattanooga Tent & Event Solutions, Chattanooga, Tenn. “I don’t know any other industry that your competitors will help you out,” Scott Bryant says. “They took us under their wing and helped us out, forging relationships with manufacturers.”
The focus on tent rental did come with some struggle. “[Terry] said he had to take out a loan to make his first payroll, and he had to buy new equipment and keep up with those interest rates,” Scott Bryant says.
Today, Bryant’s is planning to expand its 37,000-square-foot headquarters. “In 2010, we had to sell a property to the city under eminent domain,” Scott Bryant says. “We found a new property, and that’s our current facility. This took us from a mom-and-pop store to more corporate.”
According to Scott Bryant, the business has entered a new phase. “It was a slow growth, which was good for the time,” he says. “Now it feels like we’re jumping into this next level. We’re being mindful and trying not to take too big of a bite where it’s going to hurt our service.”
When the FEI World Equestrian Games held its annual event at Kentucky Horse Park in 2010, Bryant’s supplied tents. “That was a huge deal,” Scott Bryant says. “We didn’t do the main tents, but we did some smaller tents. It was so impressive to be part of that event.”
Bryant’s has the good fortune to operate in a region with demand for tents year-round. The company business is about 40 percent corporate events, 30 percent weddings and 30 percent public events. “We’re really blessed to be in this area,” Scott Bryant says. “We’re here with the University of Kentucky and a ton of other colleges and universities. What’s unique to our area is that we’re the horse capital of the world, and Kentucky makes more than 90 percent of the world’s bourbon. These farms and distilleries are great backdrops for events.”
Paul Johnson is a writer based in Minnesota.