Keeping the train on the tracks for 50 years
By Brock Huffstutler
December 12, 2023
Since 1973, Macon Tent Rentals, Macon, Ga., has serviced the tenting needs of clients ranging from weddings, corporate events and family reunions to galas for the likes of presidents, vice presidents, governors and an American Idol winner. What is behind the operation’s successful 50-years-and-counting run? Its “chief tent guy” Jeff Holloway says, “fortitude and stick-to-itiveness to finish what you start” have been key to “keeping the train on the tracks.”
The company was founded by brothers Bill and Jim Bonbrake. Their goal was not to provide tents for parties or couples’ nuptial celebrations, but to be a resource for auction companies and construction sites. “They didn’t really want to get into the party or wedding side. They liked staying on the commercial side,” Jeff says.
By 1986, the Bonbrake brothers conceded that the tenting business was trending away from their preferred clientele and toward the special event market exclusively. So began their exit strategy and the Holloway family’s entry into the picture.
“The Bonbrakes advertised [the sale of Macon Tent Rentals] in the newspaper around 1987. My dad [Roland Holloway] saw it, analyzed their book of business and financial performance, and in January 1989 purchased the business,” Jeff says.
Roland came into his new tenting enterprise from the dairy business, which was experiencing some market volatility in the late 1980s. While the dairy industry might not seem related to tent rentals on the surface, Jeff says there were parallels that made the transition make sense. “We came from a butter and ice cream side of the dairy business. That’s pretty much service. We knew that a tent company was just a big, glorified service and there was some reasonable growth that could provide for our family,” he says.
After pivoting from the dairy business to the tenting business, it didn’t take long for Roland to become an innovator in his new field.
“My dad was one of the front-runners of the tent rental industry,” Jeff says. “He saw where it was headed. When he came in, tents were canvas and ropes. My father started cutting ropes and making ratchets and straps, going to vinyl and high peaks, connecting with caterers, florists, mothers of the brides and event coordinators. He stayed up countless hours figuring out that the special event business is where we’re going to make it.”
Jeff and his brother, Mark, helped their dad grow the newly acquired family business and Jeff recalls witnessing Roland come up with tenting strategies that would become industry standards.
“My father would find a different way of doing something,” he says. “On Thursday and Friday nights my father and I would set up 40-ft.-by-60-ft. or 40-ft.-by-80-ft. tents using a gasoline-powered hammer, a winch, and ratchets and straps. He would tell me, ‘I think I figured it out. We need to put a center pole on the hand truck, raise it up using this winch and tie it off at the stake,’ etc. Today, that’s the standard. If you order a 60-wide century tent from a manufacturer, they’ll send you a schematic on how to set the thing up and part of that is you get a winch and you get ratchets and straps and all that goes with it.”
Jeff would later distance himself from the family business to pursue what he describes as “numerous sabbaticals,” returning in the early 2010s when his brother was ready to exit the operation and Roland was looking toward retirement.
“A bell went off,” Jeff says of the moment the opportunity arose to take over his father’s business. “I thought, my father has never been hungry, he’s got a nice house and a nice car. I think we have a golden opportunity here to capitalize on what my father started and for us to just keep the train on the tracks and keep maintaining and growing it.”
But Jeff realized he couldn’t “keep the train on the tracks” alone. He needed a partner. That is when Brian Corrigan — later to become known as Macon Tent Rentals’ “chief event guy” — was recruited to oversee planning and operations for the company while Jeff’s aim was to handle sales and event execution.
“I hunted Brian,” Jeff says. “He and my brother were good friends in high school. He had also worked for my brother and my dad, and he managed and operated one of the largest law firms in middle Georgia. So, I found him and said, ‘You are the man of integrity and the business-minded man that I need. Let’s buy my father out. There are going to be some tough times, but I promise you I’ll work just as hard as you do if we can see the growth and take this thing to the next level.’”
Since teaming up to officially take over Macon Tent Rentals in 2015, Jeff and Brian have continued to grow the business, with plans to expand beyond their single location in the near future.
“We have added structure, we’ve added trucks and we’ve added staging,” Jeff says. “It’s a desirable market. Now is the time for us to expand, so that’s where we are right now. We are working on another location as we speak.”
Jeff is proud that he and his forebears have a tradition of self-determination. “From the time our family came over on the boat to where they settled in Georgia, nobody had a real job; it’s just in us to tune our own drum,” he says. He also acknowledges that learning from peers has been critical to his company’s success.
“I have taken the business to where it is now by A) Hanging out with the people who are a whole lot smarter than me, and B) Watching the bigger guys who are in the bigger cities and seeing what they are doing, and then surrounding myself at the ARA [American Rental Association] shows with the leadership of successful companies and going to every one of the seminars,” Jeff says.
As Macon Tent Rentals is poised to expand beyond its middle Georgia presence, its owners intend to maintain the same mindset and sense of integrity that has kept the brand thriving during its first 50 years.
“We’ll keep the train on the tracks by maintaining a strong presence in the market, never compromising on our quality of product, and continuing to grow individually and collectively as an organization built around extraordinary men and women,” Jeff says.
What does this member value about ARA? ‘All of it.’
Jeff Holloway, who serves as “chief tent guy” at Macon Tent Rentals in Macon, Ga., singles out the educational seminars and networking offered at The ARA Show™ as major factors in the company’s success.
But when asked to name any other American Rental Association (ARA) programs he finds beneficial, he simply says, “All of it. The services that ARA provides are a dynamic thing for keeping us in business, even aside from the show.”
Holloway holds the services provided through ARA Insurance in especially high regard, saying that the agency’s understanding of the unique cycles of the tent rental business has been a huge benefit.
“For us, fortunately, ARA Insurance has put tent renters outside the general contractor category. That has been a huge, huge thing for tent businesses to survive. Just our premiums in general — we can’t pay insurance premiums like the general contractor,” he says. “Then, ARA Insurance has gone in front of the insurance commissioners of our country to say, ‘No, the tent guys are not a general contractor.’ That saved us because who am I to go in front of the insurance commissioner in our state and say, ‘You can’t put us in the same category?’ The ARA Insurance people have done that. They have been an adviser, so it’s been great.”
Holloway also praises the expertise and character of his business’s ARA Insurance agent, Emmett Long, CIC, rental risk adviser, Jowers-Sklar Insurance Agency, Rome, Ga. “Emmett is not only a great insurance guy, but he is a super dude who cares about what he leaves after he is gone. That’s what separates Emmett from the rest of the [insurance reps outside of ARA Insurance],” Holloway says.
You can learn more about the insurance and risk management resources available through ARA Insurance here.
Holloway’s partner, Brian Corrigan, “chief event guy” at Macon Tent Rentals, also finds value in ARA membership through his involvement with his state chapter board of directors. Corrigan joined the board in 2016 and has served as president of the ARA of Georgia since 2022.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve our members in both party and construction/general tool rentals,” Corrigan says. “We have a fantastic board comprised of members who care deeply about growing each of our own businesses while providing meaningful content, training, networking and fellowship with our fellow members across the state. Each season and business cycle brings about its own challenges and though it’s tempting to bury my head and focus only on my own situation, we grow best and strongest as we grow together, sharpening and challenging one another.”