Political rallies provide much-needed relief

October 2020

Being a party and event rental operation in a swing state during an election year can have its advantages.

Robert Copley, CERP, manager, Event Essentials, Windsor, Wis., and ARA of Wisconsin president, discovered that recently when his business received a phone call from a logistics company that has been working on rallies for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

“This was kind of a new venture for us. We haven’t done political rallies before, but with Wisconsin being such a big swing state we have seen an uptick in the number of rallies, especially from the Trump campaign. The logistics company called us prior to the Oshkosh, Wis., rally and asked if we could help them out,” Copley says.

The logistics company already had hired a production company, so there wasn’t a need for pipe and drape or staging. What they were looking for was tents, tables, chairs and lots of fencing.

“They needed those items for security inside and outside the rally space to control the line of people. The rally was at an airport hangar, so we put up tents — 10-ft.-by-10-ft. and 10-ft-by-20-ft. frame tents that were weighted because they were on asphalt or concrete. We also put up a 10-ft.-by-130-ft. tent for the Secret Service for the metal detectors for people who were entering the grounds or the space. As far as the fencing, the requirements were anywhere from 4,000 to 8,000 linear ft.,” Copley says.

After successfully completing the first rally in Oshkosh, Copley and his crew were asked to assist with rallies in Mosinee, Wis., and Duluth, Minn. “We were supposed to assist with the rallies in Green Bay and Janesville, but they were canceled after President Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus (COVID-19),” Copley says.

Working on these rallies has been kind of tricky because a lot of the requests have been pretty last-minute.

“There might be changes from the White House or the Trump campaign. We usually would find out only the day prior to the event. For the Duluth, Minn., rally, we found out the afternoon prior around 4 p.m. We had everything finalized at 9 p.m. that night and had a crew on the road by 9:30 a.m. the next morning heading to Duluth, which is about five hours away. For the other ones we have been given a couple days up to a week’s notice – depending on the scheduling,” Copley says.

With the rallies, Copley usually has sent four to five of his people to set up and has had a couple of people stay there during the rally in case he needed to change anything after the Secret Service security sweep. “Then the rest of us came back and typically tore down about an hour after the event was over. All have been late-night teardowns. That means anywhere from 9 to 10 p.m. teardown and get home about midnight to 2 or 3 a.m. For Duluth, Minn., we had a crew that just stayed there for two days because of the distance, but the majority of the rallies have been within a couple hours’ drive,” Copley says.

These events have occurred just as business had begun to slowly improve after the shutdown because of COVID-19.

“We have been doing a little bit of everything. We have put up long-term tents for restaurants and for the University of Wisconsin. We also have been doing smaller weddings for anywhere from 25 to 100 people, depending on where the weddings are being held and what the guidelines in that county are. There are stricter guidelines within our county than surrounding counties, so we have been doing more traveling across the state. Some of it is because of our products and some of it is because some of these smaller mom-and-pop shops have closed. Many of these local events have been last-minute, too,” he says.

Many of the rallies have overlapped with other events he had booked locally.

Juggling these events has been challenging, especially because Copley is working with a reduced staff.

“We had to furlough 12 full-time employees at the end of June. We typically have 26 or 27 full time, so we are down to 14. In the busy peak season, we are up to 60 full- and part-time employees. We have been executing our entire events with our core full-time staff,” he says, adding that he has been actively helping with setups and teardowns.

Copley says the past 60 to 90 days have been extremely busy. “While we are still not meeting last year’s numbers, we are taking on as much business as we can with the window of our season closing soon,” he says.

To handle all of these events, Copley has subcontracted various pieces of equipment for the rallies. “We have subcontracted porta-potties, additional fencing, trash and recycle pickup, dumpster rental and things like that. We even had to subcontract some tenting because our inventory was out or we didn’t have the staff to do it,” Copley says.

In addition to subcontracting some of the inventory for these events, Copley has been able to offer business to rental operators in other states.

“Our contact from the logistics company would ask us who we knew in other cities where rallies were going to take place. We tried to reach out to other rental operators and connect them with our contact at the logistics company. When the logistics company first called us, we mentioned that we are a member of the American Rental Association (ARA), which has a lot of members all across the country. We have a lot of connections through ARA,” Copley says.

Copley is grateful at being able to secure more business for his crew and help other rental operators — who, like him, have been severely impacted by the pandemic — land more business for their rental operations.

“It has been nice to be able to have repeat business from the rallies and have the team that we have worked with at the rallies have the trust in us to execute these events to their standards. It’s also been great to spread the business during this time and help our colleagues within the industry by giving them some jobs,” Copley says.

Copley admits he has had a lot of long days of late, but “it’s all about making hay while the sun is shining, that is for sure,” he says.

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