Great Lakes Tent Co. grows as it provides long-term rentals to the automotive market.
Great Lakes Tent Co. is not your ordinary tent rental company with typical clientele. Yes, the Warren, Mich.-based business serves a broad range of customers throwing corporate events, weddings and other private gatherings. But it has also carved out a unique niche providing long-term storage solutions for the region’s automotive industry.
In more than two decades, Great Lakes Tent Co. has grown from its beginnings as a side business founded by the family of chief operating officer and treasurer Michael Solomon.
“To be blunt, they put us kids right to work; it was sort of free labor,” Solomon says. “As time passed, I enjoyed what I was doing and I enjoyed the industry, so I bought out my uncle in 2007. Then it became me and my father, and my father is more of a silent partner.”
As the tent and event rental industry has changed and evolved, so has the company’s customer base. “We used to be pretty much a residential tent rental company with a little corporate business,” Solomon says. “Now we’re 50 percent corporate, and of that 50 percent, half are long-term rentals. Of the remaining 50 percent of the business, I would say 30 percent are weddings and the other 20 percent are private events.”
Situated in the Detroit metro area, Great Lakes Tent recognized the opportunity offered by the automotive industry. “We do a lot of events with the Big Three [Ford, GM and Chrysler] around here,” Solomon says. “We’ll set up tents for six months and sometimes a year. In some cases, we will set up a tent for two years, and the customer will use it for storage.”
Solomon and Great Lakes Tent put a particular emphasis on correct set-up, proper anchoring and safety guidelines for commercial tents. “I like that IFAI did the ballast study,” Solomon says. “That was a big eye-opener for a lot of guys. It showed you need a lot more weight in most cases than 200-pound cement blocks and friction rubber mats underneath your blocks.”
Solomon recalls an event that truly tested the setup and integrity of the tent. “In our area, we deal with high snow loads and high winds,” he says. “A few years ago, we had a couple Navi-Trac® tents up for an automotive industry client. There were 70-mile-per-hour-plus winds. The tent was fully exposed to the west, so it took the full brunt of the wind. I’m thinking that this tent is going to be flat or in another lot. When I saw the tent, it was standing strong. Our guys had staked it correctly.”
Finding consistent, reliable labor to set up and break down tents is a constant struggle for many tent companies, and Great Lakes Tent is no different. “Getting more 22- to 23-year-olds to come into the business is difficult,” he says. “I’m looking for long-term help, and that isn’t easy to find. If an employee gives me two or three good years, they are going to be making good money.”
One particular event stands out for Solomon that showcases Great Lakes Tent and its capabilities. “A couple private schools try to raise a million dollars through donations, so we supply several tents and equipment for those events,” he says. “For the schools, it’s a major fund-raiser, so there’s a lot of pressure on us. But those have gone off without a hitch.”
Paul Johnson is a writer based in Minnesota.