Manatee business U.S. Tent builds success the family way

Boyle family successfully transforms tent rentals for high-end events

cschelle@bradenton.comSeptember 9, 2013 

MANATEE COUNTY -- The Boyle family wasn't quite sure how the party tent rental would turn out 12 years ago when they acquired United States Tent Rental in Manatee County.

Doing honest work and building relationships appeared to do well for the Manatee County business, 2006 72nd Drive E, as U.S. Tent grew from an old truck and some leftover holiday decorations to a purveyor of premier events including the 2012 Republican National Convention.

"Being in Sarasota-Bradenton area, we decided to take it from Christmas trees and pumpkin tents and go after the high-end market," said Tim Boyle, a partner in the business with his brother Cliff and father Brian.

The family business grew through the years to the point they needed to move to a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in 2007. The company also acquired Linens By The Sea less than two years ago, which they are expanding to offer luxury rental drapes and settings to decorate event spaces.

"We've been lucky," said Brian Boyle, the CEO and treasurer of the company. "You've gotta be in the right place at the right time. When we went into this business, nobody had any idea how big it could get."

Part of the success is the teamwork involved. Cliff is the MacGyver-type, Brian Boyle said, as he can resolve any logistical issue. Tim is the expert in sales and the patriarch of the family is the businessman.

"I had the business background. They didn't' have a clue how to do that," Brian Boyle said with a chuckle. "My ethics are pretty high. I set it up just like a major corporation. We just do everything according to the laws and the rules, and it's a relationship business. You've got to build relationships."

Some of those connections were on display Thursday at a U.S. Tent appreciation party where they put up four tents with a gaming area, food and bar area and VIP lounge to thank their customers and clients and showcased their new events products.

Each year, the company pours 10 percent of its annual revenue into new equipment, Tim Boyle said.

It's the service that should outweigh the quality of the products,

Brian Boyle pointed out.

"The quality of our equipment is only exceeded by the quality of our service," he said. The company was also recognized in 2008 by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce as a Small Business of the Year.

This is also typically the time of the year before it gets busy. The staff expands from 30 to about 100 to handle all of the requests and events.

Tapping into the high-end wedding market was a key driver for year-round business, Cliff Boyle said.

"In California it's common. In Sarasota, not so much. We started offering higher end stuff, nicer liners and LED drapes, floors and new carpet," he said, as the market demands first-class products.

One of the major coups for U.S. Tent is the sports tourism industry, doing work for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Boston Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers and Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.

"Going for the sports that are under the radar and building places like Benderson, I can't even begin to tell you the economic impact that has, and we feel it here. That's for sure," Tim Boyle said.

"It's not just smoke and mirrors. It's not just a select few because money trickles down."

That type of success isn't lost on Cliff Boyle.

"It means a lot. We give people good jobs and pay them well. We watched them grow," he said. "Some of these guys that have been with us have been here forever. We watched them go from minimum wage jobs to buying houses and cars and getting married."

One of the employees will be married in Jamaica soon, and the Boyle family will be there to see the couple tie the knot, Brian Boyle added.

When the larger and more complex events are needed, it means the business either has to hire more people or pay for contractors or subcontractors to run power, do sound and lighting or provide food, he said.

The business remains flexible having to cater to weddings, church revivals and corporate events, but when a hurricane hits, it takes some extra juggling.

And that's what happened at last year's Republican National Convention, held in Tampa.

Tropical Storm Isaac was barreling down on Tampa Bay, causing RNC officials some panic, and the schedule ultimately had to be reworked after the first day was postponed.

"We take credit or blame -- whatever you want to do," Brian Boyle said, laughing. "We wouldn't put the tents up."

The tents were all in place, some positioned in areas for the Secret Service's security checkpoints and surveillance, too. But there was a slight problem. Despite having tents being graded for a Category 1 hurricane, insurance wouldn't cover damages for the event.

"We told them at that point in time we did not have named storm coverage," Brian said. "Our insurance company wouldn't pay for damages by a named storm."

Brian Boyle was adamant that the tents couldn't stay up for both safety and insurance reasons and was threatened with breach of contract. Fortunately, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the storm, prompting a huddle to figure out a solution.

"Bottom line was, take everything down, but leave it down on the ground," he said. The next day, U.S. Tent reconstructed the tents for a second time for the RNC, he said.

That's just part of the business, Brian Boyle said, having to be ready to work around the clock.

In many ways, U.S. Tent is like the invited guest that might not get the credit from the partygoers, but as long as the company can play its part to make an event go on without a hitch, the staff knows they've done their job.

"We just want to be the common denominator," Tim Boyle said. "If we can be that, then we can become successful."

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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