Party Feature: An unconventional job
Party Feature: An unconventional job

U.S. Tent deals with a hurricane threat and security in Tampa, Fla.

When the Republican National Convention started to gear up for Tampa, Fla., in August, tropical storm Isaac took note. Come Sunday, Aug. 26, the day before the convention was to begin, it was a toss-up as to whether Isaac might make a surprise appearance in Tampa or veer off.

As a result, setting up tents for the convention became “quite the undertaking,” says Tim Boyle, CERP, co-owner, U.S. Tent, Sarasota, Fla. “We had eight hours to get them up, then we had to take them all down, then set them back up a day and a half later.”

Several U.S. Tent crews descended on the Tampa area, both downtown and on the beach, to install a total of 100,000 sq. ft. of tenting. “We were setting up the Saturday, the morning of the 25th. That night, we were 90 percent done with the job, but then we had to call it ‘unsafe’ with the unknown path of the storm,” Boyle says.

As of Sunday, Aug. 26, Isaac was a powerful tropical storm just north of Havana. “All the models had the hurricane coming toward Tampa,” Boyle says. “We wanted to wait, but if we hadn’t worked ahead, we couldn’t have gotten it done at the last minute.”

As Isaac continued on the path away from Tampa, it veered left in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in Grand Isle, La., on Aug. 28, moving on to hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, Boyle and his crew were working frantically.

“We went back in at midnight Monday, Aug. 27, and were done at 6 a.m. Tuesday. The biggest thing was not knowing when the reset was going to happen and having to coordinate that many people,” he says.

The beaches were a huge part of the event. “At the Tradewinds beach resort, we did 10,000 sq. ft. for the New Jersey delegation. It was a massive job. We had set it early the week before to get it out of the way. It was six tents, including tables, chairs and other décor. That was to be a four-day event throughout the convention. We had to pull it down Aug. 25 and then reset it on Tuesday, Aug. 28, for the Wednesday and Thursday events.”

Everyone worked odd shifts and the whole company was on hand, he says. “It was by far the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, but it was rewarding. My sales staff was out in the field directing people, driving trucks. It was all hands on deck. I know I worked at least three of the five days, 24 hours a day. I had guys with over 90 hours. I drank Red Bull all day and night,” Boyle says.

Normally, U.S. Tent has about 30-35 people working during the slow season. The convention meant tracking down seasonal staff and lining up crews for the week. “It was great to have this now. Summer in Florida is the slow season. We had to make sure we had everything ready, that we had guys available,” he says.

Crews were spread out all over Tampa. “It was unbelievable — the projects changed so much from the time we received the contracts to execution. Everything was at the last minute. We had to have all the equipment set aside until contracts were signed. We had to redo almost everything. We subrented items from other rental companies and they were great. Altogether we had about 80 guys working that week with something like eight different crews and 17 trucks running,” he says.

Though events were planned well in advance and equipment was reserved early, many details changed right up to the event. “We knew it was coming, but the bulk of it is so last-minute. In this business, you have to do it,” Boyle says.

Equipment provided in addition to tents included tables, chairs, linens, décor, flooring, lighting, fans and air-conditioning.

Security was a part of each delivery, and demonstrators were present, but nothing presented a huge problem, at least compared to Isaac, he says.

“Everything was credentialed and all the trucks had to go in for sweeping. It wasn’t your standard job, for sure. We were ready for that, though, and customers were great at getting us in and out. Going in, we were all scared to death about not being able to get trucks in or having delays, but that didn’t happen. We did so much of the work late at night or early in the morning, so that worked out well for us,” Boyle says.

Once the convention kicked off, albeit a day late, work continued at a hectic pace. “We had techs on site for every job and had people available 24/7. Once the convention was going on, it was difficult to get in and out, so it was better to have people and equipment on site just in case,” he says.

In the end, he says, the event went well. “We’ve never done anything like that before. It was just unbelievable,” he says.

The best part, he says, was creating new connections. “We created a lot of relationships over this event. It was a major team effort. Our subcontractors were the best,” he says.

 Party Reflections handles last-minute rental requests in Charlotte, N.C.

The Saturday before the Democratic National Convention (DNC) was to start, Douglas Crowe received a phone call. It was the Secret Service needing a few tents for the President and Vice President. That was one of many calls Party Reflections in Charlotte, N.C., received for the DNC and surrounding events.

“I’d say the funniest thing was how many people were requesting large amounts of product at the last minute. Saturday night before the DNC started, a production company called at 10:30 p.m. and asked me if they could rent 10,000 sq. ft. of flooring. Then, generously, they proceeded to let me know we could start right away if that would help,” says Crowe, CERP, director of sales for Party Reflections, which also has a rental store in Raleigh, N.C.

The DNC took place from Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, but also included close to 1,000 surrounding events. “We provided a lot of product to a large number of the events surrounding the convention,” Crowe says. However, renting equipment required a lot more than the usual event.

“We knew our normal business model would not work,” Crowe says. “Even though our inherent focus on our clients remained the same, we operated three shifts to meet the time priorities and the number of deliveries and pickups during the week.”

The confounding factor for many major events, especially political ones, is two-fold: Security and demonstrators. Adding on two to three hours or more to delivery times, the heightened security requires checking IDs and permissions of the rental crew, searches of the trucks and then an escorted drive to the event site. The routes for all of these can be peppered with determined demonstrators and more security personnel.

“For deliveries, first we drove to a Homeland Security Remote Delivery Site (RDS). At the RDS, each truck was X-rayed and swept for bombs. All staff was also screened and had to have a valid state ID or passport. Once the trucks were cleared, a police officer would escort the truck to the specific location for delivery on the paperwork,” Crowe says.

“Once we were escorted to the event facility, we spent time vying for dock space. Due to the large number of events in the tight schedule, the docks would often be filled with other vendors making deliveries or pickups, including caterers, florists, FedEx and so on. To combat this issue, we scheduled all of our deliveries inside the ‘secure perimeter’ to be done from midnight to 6 a.m.,” he says.

That is why Crowe found his team driving around at 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning, doing the truck shuffle with other vendors trying to make deliveries at various docks. For the most part, demonstrators stayed to the route they were assigned. The evening President Obama gave his speech on Sept. 6, there was a midnight “flash” protest that caught everyone off guard.

“It is the wild card,” Crowe says. “You just never know what you’re going to run into. We were at the RDS at about 1 a.m. and the Secret Service told us to ‘turn off the truck and pull out the sleeping bags, because it’s going to be a while.’ Fortunately we were in by 3:30 a.m. and out by 6 a.m., so it was not too bad.”

Social media shined a light on the events around the convention, but then made it harder for vendors to plan. Tweets and Facebook updates on concerts and parties shifted the audience, causing crowds to diminish and swell by the click of a button.

“It was crazy how social media drove events at the DNC,” Crowe says. “Most delegates are invited to all of the events — unless it was an event specific to one state’s delegates. Before the events started, delegates would tweet the hot events to attend. So we found that some events would plan on 1,000 people but end up with 1,750. Unfortunately, the opposite would happen as well.”

The oddest part, he says, was seeing Charlotte locked down with security. “It was surreal, witnessing the transformation of our city from its easily accessible and normal self to extensive street closures, military vehicles being used as street barriers and every other car being a federal government black Suburban,” Crowe says.

Work didn’t just include rentals. At one point during the week, the Party Reflections crew built, sanded and stained a set of stairs for a venue in half a day to accommodate one customer’s request. In all, the work was worth it and so was the time spent, Crowe says.

“We worked long hours, but it worked well. I was very proud of how most everyone was very well prepared ahead of time. We did not experience many last-minute changes and all in all it was a resounding success. There were no real hiccups and no major catastrophes. I was very proud of Charlotte and our industry for doing such a wonderful job,” he says.