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Traube Tent Co. has been answering the call for more than 85 years

By Connie Lannan

March 4, 2024

Left to right: The late John Traube with Steve Traube and their father, Dave.

Need tents and structures for disaster relief and emergency response, military support, commercial and industrial needs, large private and public events, construction jobs, site remediation, petrochemical or agribusiness jobs, and/or professional sporting events? Well, then there is one business to call: Traube Tent Co. in Columbia, Ill.

This rental operation, which just celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2023, has been the company that commercial, industrial and government clients have turned to for their tent, structure and other infrastructure service needs to support those tent installations.

“There are several industries we cater to, focusing mainly on the larger events. Subrental of structures is another one, which we are targeting for more growth,” says Steve Traube, president of and the third generation to run his family’s tent rental business. “We offer tents, from our smallest 10-by-10s to our largest, 40 meters in width, which is 132 ft. wide. We can go up to several hundred meters. In addition to the tents, we offer staging, flooring and lighting. We subcontract the HVAC and restrooms.”

As their name implies, tenting is the company’s niche. While starting out in 1938 as Traube Venetian Blind, a manufacturer of venetian blinds established by Traube’s grandfather, John H. Traube, the company moved into the tenting arena in the late 1950s when the family purchased East St. Louis Tent & Awning.

“That is how we went from blinds and awnings to tents as well. The company then split officially in 1996 into Traube Awning and Traube Tent Co. My cousin took ownership of Traube Awning. Then it moved out of our family’s ownership until Nov. 1 of 2023 when I brought it under the Traube family umbrella. As for Traube Tent Co., my brother, John, and I took ownership of that portion of the business. So now our tent company has evolved from operating as a local window treatment, awning and tent rental business into a modern, national turnkey provider of  engineered clearspan structures and tents for rent and for sale, serving a variety of markets in the lower 48 states,” says Steve, whose operation is housed in a 30,000-sq.-ft. building with 3.5 acres of outside storage.

Photo courtesy of Traube Tent Co.

The versatility of tents is what makes it so fascinating, Steve notes. “Every day is different. Every event, every site and every installation is different. We can take the same structure, ship it off and create a different event every time. It is cool and fun to watch. We are kind of a dinosaur that specializes in tents and structures. That is all our guys do every day. They love it. They are good at it. That is unique. We are truly that specialist. Structures and tents are where we came from, where we are and where we see our future,” he says.

Steve admits the company could not have come this far or experienced so much success over the years without his team.

“Our people are what make our company stand out,” he says. “We currently have about 35 full-time employees and can go over 50 during our busy season. Many of our employees have been with us for a number of years. My longest-tenured employee has been here 23 years. Several are over 15 years and a couple more than 10 years. Our culture is one of teamwork. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but we are all here for the same purpose and goal. All our people are willing to pitch in and do anything, and they do. You can have the CEO standing next to the installer. I have been hands-on in the past. There is that willingness to pitch in and ultimately be a team player.”

The unexpected illness and death of Steve’s brother, John, in 2018 at the young age of 48, left a huge hole. Just as the team had regrouped from that tragedy and was starting to get its bearings, another life-altering event occurred: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We had several months at the start where the spigot turned off,” Steve says. “Our meetings were about how long can we bleed. Then we saw more COVID testing facilities, more outdoor facilities for hospitals, schools, companies, government offices, etc. We put up a lot of long-term tents and pre-engineered structures to handle COVID-related issues. We kept everyone on board during this time.”

Steve is grateful that business has rebounded. Its ingenuity and diversity of projects also have been recognized by the surrounding community. The company was recently honored with the Family Business Award from the St. Louis Business Journal.

As noted in the Journal, “Traube has tackled unique projects throughout the United States, from a temporary grocery store in Minneapolis after the George Floyd riots to business continuity operations for the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., following the tornadoes in December 2021 to providing over 100,000 sq. ft. of structure for an annual PGA Tour event in the New Orleans area beginning in 2021. In May 2023, the custom-engineered structure for the DoubleTree in Chesterfield, Mo., opened the doors to a brand-new 6,500-sq.-ft. event space” that is a complete buildout, with climate control, lighting, carpeting and fire suppression.

Throughout the years, Traube Tent Co. always has taken the steady route — developing a niche, honing and growing it with expert precision to serve the needs of its customers. That steady and decisive strategy has served as a powerful growth strategy, too.

“Overall, it has been that slow and steady build. We had some larger contracts that gave us a boost along the way, but we use that word-of-mouth strategy, focus on doing a good job and pricing it right. We continued to invest in the company — in our products and our people,” Steve says.

It’s a strategy that has served the company well for more than 85 years and one that will carry it into the future.

“We will continue to look at other opportunities — expanding our flooring or expanding into restrooms or another product line that is complementary that doesn’t require too much of a different skill set. We also will look for any acquisition opportunities. We see structures as our market and want to continue to grow there — grow the depth and breadth of our structure inventory,” Steve says.

The business’s modus operandi can be summed up by a quote from Steve that was published in the Business Journal: “Tackling unique projects, exceeding client’s expectations and delivering cost-effective solutions is in our DNA at Traube. Traube can provide stock and custom installation deliverables anywhere in North America. Just like the past 85 years, Traube looks forward to being a leader within our industry for the next generation.”

Unexpected life events forced early succession planning

Every rental operation faces challenges. Traube Tent Co. had a very unexpected one that thrust Steve Traube, president of the Columbia, Ill., business, into succession-planning mode years before he thought he would need to address it.

In 2016, Steve’s brother, John, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Multiple treatments and surgeries could not prevent his untimely death in 2018 at the young age of 48.

“It was very difficult — a huge challenge personally and emotionally. It still is. He was 3½ years older than I was and came into the business a couple of years before I did,” Steve says.

While never imagining he would need to think about succession planning so early in his career, Steve was fortunate that he and his brother had been proactive in this area, taking steps before John’s death. “That made the transition of the business as easy as it could be. We had not kept up with the funding of the buy/sell, but we were in a good enough position to make it work,” Steve says.

Because of what he went through, Steve is exploring a new, formalized succession plan.

“I am in the midst of going through the process slowly and methodically. I want to make sure it is done right. I have some temporary plans in place. Long term, I am looking to get something in place that involves our employees. I have a son, but he is only 13. I have a couple of young nieces and nephews. No one has expressed an interest. The employees are driving this bus and they have for some time. We might have some family and employees being part of the transition,” he says.

The important aspect is that he’s taking the needed steps. If he and his brother hadn’t done the same all those years ago, there would have been major consequences for Steve and his company.

While Steve wishes he never would have had to go through the succession planning process in such a tragic way, he is grateful they had plans in place. That is why he is so adamant about putting together a formalized plan so his family and employees will be able to handle the situation as easily as possible.