By Cathy Broberg
Steven Eisenstein, president of Classic Tents & Events, has always valued out-of-the-box thinking, creativity and a willingness to learn. These characteristics have allowed him to step into a new industry mid-career, discover ways to grow and diversify his company, and now pivot into new markets and glimpse the silver lining amid a pandemic.
Studying the industry
Eisenstein knew he had a learning curve before him when he purchased Classic Tents with business partner Karen Alcock in 2010. With two decades of experience in the catering industry, he says, “I understood how events worked; I didn’t really understand how the tenting side works.” Eisenstein immersed himself in his new industry—joining the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) and the American Rental Association, attending numerous conferences and meeting with others to learn what works.
That investigation led him to purchase a Tent OX™—“a game changer”—in 2014 to improve installation efficiency. It also prompted the company to invest in a tent washing machine to clean its own tents and provide tent washing services to other companies.
Although the company had a solid footing in the events and festivals market when Eisenstein came on board, he was eager to explore other possibilities. The company’s location in Atlanta, Ga., proved favorable for entrance into a somewhat unusual market—the film industry.
A 2008 law providing up to a 30 percent tax credit to movie and TV production companies filming in the state put Georgia on the map with filmmakers. The tax incentive soon lured producers, directors and movie stars to Georgia to film blockbuster productions like Ant-Man, The Walking Dead and The Avengers: Infinity War—which in turn created a demand for production support, including tents and other event rentals.
That’s a role Classic Tents & Events has auditioned for and won. The company provides tent rentals used for hair and makeup tents, dressing rooms, catering and more as well as flooring, lighting, staging and other rentals for the industry year-round.
Yet film productions are just one segment of its business. Other markets include retail and corporate events, fairs and festivals, galas and fundraisers, sporting events and concerts, and social events. “The nice thing is we’ve got eggs in a lot of different baskets at any given time,” says Eisenstein.
While many of its bookings this year were canceled, the company picked up some of the slack by pivoting into different markets. That includes partnering with companies that provide generators and refrigeration to offer tenting for hospitals and other health care facilities. “It’s not anywhere close to what our normal year would look like,” he says, “but it’s the same for everyone. We’re all in the same boat together and we’re looking to help each other as best we can.”
Regular meetings with a business analysis group help keep Eisenstein optimistic during these tough times: “The outlook for the business is, we’re going to survive this; we’re going to be strong through it. We have to be creative to get there but at the same time, there’s still a need for what we do so that’s not going to go away, thank goodness.”
Eisenstein credits loyal clientele and a dedicated workforce to the company’s success. And he strives to reward that dedication. On Feb. 20, for example, the company celebrated 20 years in business by hosting an appreciation event for its best customers and staff. That meant showcasing its products in action—with live music, food and drink, and dancing.
“It all starts with my team,” Eisenstein says. “I’ve got a great general manager, who has really helped take us to where we’re at. We’ve got four great sales managers that all really care about their customers. That’s how we’ve stayed in business for so long. We really take good care of our customers and they want to keep coming back to us.”
Cathy Broberg is a writer and editor who lives near Minneapolis, Minn.
Classic Tents & Events
Year founded: 2000
Number of employees: 38
Primary business: Tents, flooring, lighting and accessories for film productions, corporate events, festivals and fairs, galas and fundraisers