Tents Unlimited opened in 1988 with 2 tents, some old tables and chairs, and an old pickup truck. The first few years were ran out of an old garage in New Hartford, CT. In 1991 the former owners moved into the warehouse at 1695 East Main St. Torrington, CT and began to expand their rental inventory. As the present owner I got my experience from 2004-2006 at the Vermont Tent Company where I plunged head first into the Tent and Event Rental world. We were doing amazing events like the Head of the Charles boat races in Boston, Princeton University Graduation and numerous high end events throughout VT and northern NY State. In 2007 I was hired full time at Tents Unlimited and brought along a wealth of knowledge I had learned from working at VT Tent Co.
At the end of the 2010 season the opportunity to purchase Tents Unlimited outright was put on the table. I was 26 years old and obviously did not know a single thing about buying a business but I dove in. After a few meetings with lawyers and accountants I realized really quickly that I could not afford to pay for their expertise at the time. One of the accountants I met with was gracious enough to steer me in the direction of the SCORE program at the NW CT Chamber of Commerce. This would be my saving grace in the end but I still had a ways to go!
My first meeting was with Byron Brooks and as many of his first meetings must go I was pretty much clueless. He was patient and showed me a few tools and templates on the SCORE website that would help me begin writing what would become my business plan. By the 2nd meeting I had thrown some words and paragraphs together. I give Byron a lot of credit because he stuck with me even when it didn’t look to promising. Maybe that’s just how I felt at the time but we pressed on. As my business plan started to take shape and I put together Cash Flow Statements, Balance Sheets and 3-5 year projections Byron brought on Bob Petricone as an additional mentor. We joked at the time but we must have had 10-15 meetings over this time period and I was determined to have a well put together business plan to provide to the banks as I tried to find financing to buy the business. If memory serves me right it was about 12 months of meetings but in the end I had a 46 page document that described in detail many aspects of how I would run the company and gave an accurate portrait of what the finances would end up being. Light years from the page and a half of chicken scratch I showed up with on the 2nd meeting we had.
A few bumps and road blocks later, my wife Brittany and I closed on the purchase of Tents Unlimited on August 10th, 2012. It was an amazing feeling but the transition from one day being an employee to the next running the show and being in charge of 10+ employees and 100’s of events a year was pretty wild. Just following this Mr. Brooks and Mr. Petricone brought on Mr. Walt Williamson as a 3rd mentor. For a good couple years we had 2-3 meetings a year. I would always show up with questions and new topics to talk about but between the three gentlemen it seemed they had an endless amount of insight and experiences to share. I will never be able to repay them for the immense amount of help they provided me but I look forward to paying it forward when the time comes down the road.
Without the SCORE program I honestly do not think we would have been able to purchase the business. My resources were limited and all I knew how to do was set up beautiful tents, something banks did not exactly find equity in at the time. It is wild to think this all started 7 years ago and we have made strides forward as a business. With a focus on service and quality products Brittany and I have been an amazing team and we look forward to having educated employees that go above and beyond for our customers. We focus on changing trends in the industry and listen to our customers’ requests and make purchases and changes based on these factors. Other than writing my business plan I would say these gentlemen taught me that calculated risk is something to embrace. To not be afraid to make big decisions because when you are in business for yourself you are forced to make big decisions on a regular basis. What was stressful 4 years ago is now a walk in the park and we are faced with new challenges all the time and I look forward to my continued growth with my amazing mentors I have at the SCORE program. I have told numerous people about the SCORE program and will always be an advocate for their services. Whether you are just starting out, 5-10 years into business or a seasoned pro at what you do there is always something this great group of people can offer you.