Dan Nolan knows his way around a tent. He started doing installations for the Tennessee-based, family-owned business, Chattanooga Tent Co., when he turned 18 and worked there full-time running the second shift throughout college. “I remember saying that when I graduated I’d never work there again,” he says. “But when we ended up opening the office in Atlanta [for Tents Unlimited] I decided to make the move. I graduated on a Wednesday and on Thursday morning the moving van rolled.”
For two years Nolan worked with his father at the branch, which was created to provide logistical support for the 1996 Olympic Games. Shortly after that he decided to try his hand at working in the corporate world. With degrees in human resource management and general business, he was well suited to work as a regional sales manager for a temporary staffing service—at least on paper. Nolan spent 18 months there before returning to the family business in 1998. “I found out I don’t like to do the same thing day in and day out,” Nolan says. “What’s really great about the tent and event rental business is that occasionally you do the same thing twice, but generally you do not. It’s a business that offers a great deal of autonomy if you’re good at what you do.”
Working in the corporate world was far from wasted time for Nolan, however. “A year and a half in a corporate setting gave me perspective on how we ran things at Tents Unlimited—a ‘mom-and-pop’ company as opposed to the corporate approach,” he says. “I’ve been able to cherry pick the best from both worlds and really drive the growth of Tents Unlimited and Event Rentals Unlimited.” Nolan and his two partners, Sam Wodetzki and Arnie Seyden, purchased Tents Unlimited in December 2010. Much of Nolan’s energy (“I’m a big picture, 30,000-square-foot-view guy for all intents and purposes.”) has been focused on strengthening the business’s infrastructure so that he can “work on the business as much as work in the business.”
Further afield and closer to home
Nolan’s passion for all things tent related extends beyond his own company. As vice chairman (soon to be chairman) of the IFAI Tent Rental Division (TRD) he’s working toward improving procedures and guidelines for the tent rental industry. “I’m really excited about what the leadership of the TRD is doing,” he says. “I think we’re going to be able to bring some huge advances to the business from a [best practices] and safety standpoint.”
At the end of the day, however, it’s family and relationships that are at the foundation of Nolan’s efforts—both in the business and at home. He skis and wakeboards with his children, restores old cars with his father-in-law and—on the rare occasion that there’s any time left—relaxes with the family in the home theater, which he built. Then it’s back to work at the family business. “I have three or four cousins who work in the business as well as my dad and uncle, and while we have separate ownership, it’s still one big family business—and that’s good,” he says.