For Janice Grieshop, vice president of Celina Tent in Celina, Ohio, it all began in 1996 when a local hardware store went out of business after 74 years. “My husband, Herb, and I purchased its small inventory of tables, chairs and three tents and started Celina Tent Rental out of our rural home,” she says. “Our early customers were local people hosting parties and other events.”
Two years later, Celina Tent Inc., began designing and manufacturing tent tops to meet customers’ demands for quality party tents at a lower price. Once these affordable tents were available, the Grieshops launched their first website, CelinaTent.com, to promote chairs, tables and tents to the rental industry. This initial online effort was followed by GetTent.com in 2002, which sold the company’s party tents and related event accessories.
The sale of the rental division in 2005 propelled Celina to start developing its own line of shelters and provide contract manufacturing services to other shelter manufacturers.
Celina Tent also began investing in its community by employing local people in the field of textile engineering. “We are very fortunate to have employees that have returned to Celina Tent after earning their college degrees. Some of our key engineering employees have been with us since the tent rental days,” says Grieshop.
Celina Tent was awarded a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contract in 2006 to produce the Humanitarian /General Purpose Tent System (HGPTS). This non-tactical military tent is a humanitarian relief shelter still used regularly throughout the Middle East and the South Pacific after conflicts and natural disasters. To date, Celina Tent has produced more than 10,000 humanitarian shelters.
In the succeeding years, Celina Tent expanded beyond its Ohio borders by supplementing manufacturing capacity with a facility in China in 2011. Growth continued domestically in 2014 with an 11,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the company’s namesake town of Celina, Ohio. That was followed by an additional 27,000-square-foot building the following year to accommodate large orders, such as tarps and HGPTS for use in humanitarian crises in Syria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nepal.
In 2016 Celina Tent opened a distribution center in the United Kingdom. This facility holds inventory to support the event rental industry. Additionally, Celina keeps Berry Amendment-compliant shelters there. “Holding Berry-compliant shelters in the U.K. gives our company the ability to ship immediately when the U.S. government has a need in Europe,” Grieshop says. “This has been especially valuable recently. I am very proud we can support our military quickly when needed.”
More new buildings came in 2018 when warehousing and shipping moved to a 100,000-square-foot distribution center in Celina, and an 85,000-square-foot assembly plant opened in nearby St. Marys, Ohio.
“Our facility in Celina designs and cuts the fabric for our custom products and military products, which are printed at our in-house print shop,” Grieshop says. “These products are then assembled in our St. Marys facility and sent back to our distribution center for shipment.” Custom products include printed paraphernalia like table covers, tents and flags with customers’ logos, graphics or designs.
The company now has 120 employees worldwide and provides 24-hour customer service through an online chat feature. This service has been especially valuable during natural disasters and for supporting late-night event professionals and those seeking instruction manuals.
“One reason we have been so successful is that we have such a stable workforce,” Grieshop says, adding that employee turnover is low because workers are paid a fair wage, treated well and provided with excellent fringe benefits.
Educating the customer base
A diverse range of customers from around the world purchase from Celina Tent. “We try to stay in touch with the changing needs of our customers,” says Grieshop. “This has resulted in a large investment of time and money in our YouTube channel (bit.ly/3EmUfVO) and websites. We want to provide educational materials to support new buyers.” These educational materials, developed when Celina Tent was still offering rentals, provide rental customers with instructions they can view while on the job
Additionally, CelinaMilitaryShelters.com provides downloadable information on Celina’s products designed to support military and defense customers. Here customers worldwide can obtain needed information about Celina’s Berry-compliant shelters.
Like other manufacturers, Celina Tent adapted its business to reflect the ways the world changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When COVID hit, our warehouse was filled for the 2020 party and hospitality season,” says Grieshop. “The market quickly changed from the event industry to makeshift hospitals, testing stations and overflow space for hospitals. Then it shifted again to restaurants, schools and universities for social distancing tents. Now the hospitality market is slowly coming back. It is a big change from the pre-COVID market.”
And like many manufacturers, Celina Tent grapples with supply chain issues. Grieshop says this is a significant challenge for the company.
“The supply chain is disrupted,” she says. “We cannot get our materials to manufacture the orders we have. We don’t know what is going to happen with the supply chain. The material orders we’ve placed are out as long as nine to 12 months. When they will be filled is totally out of our control.”
All in the family
Though global in scope, Celina Tent is still a family-owned business. Management was transferred to Grieshop’s children in 2015. Son Jeff Grieshop is now president and daughter Jill Roy heads sales and marketing.
“It is a great legacy for us to have them continue to grow the company,” Grieshop says. “Jeff has been with the business since day one. He has the energy and ambition to forge out into the new markets. Both he and Jill are comfortable working with technology and are adept at changing directions quickly as needed. I am proud of the way they are carrying on what has become a multinational corporation and confident they will continue Celina Tent’s reputation for high quality and excellent service.”
Reflecting on the growth of Celina Tent, Grieshop says the company went from tent and table rentals to making its own commercial tents, to breaking into the military market. “We have a big online presence and have an inventory for immediate shipment of commercial and military shelter products,” Grieshop says. “We strive to give exceptional customer service, embrace change and innovation, and look for new ways to grow our organization and ourselves. I see my children taking Celina Tent to greater heights in the future.”
Jean Feingold is a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Fla.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I took the small inventory from the local small-town hardware store and turned it into a worldwide manufacturing facility in 26 years. During that time, the company transitioned from being a rental company to a manufacturing company and also started making products to supply the military. In 2019, we received ISO 9001:2015 registration, demonstrating our production systems meet the highest standards for quality, efficiency and safety.
Over the years, we have been challenged by how fast we were growing and changing. We overcame these challenges by staying diligent and weathering the storms. Success didn’t come overnight. It took a lot of hard work with great people and luck. Every day is a new adventure.
SIDEBAR: Project Snapshot
Humanitarian/General Purpose Tent System
“Getting the initial contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to produce the Humanitarian/General Purpose Tent System in 2006 was not only good business, it was a great honor,” Grieshop says. Still used today worldwide, these 16-by-16-foot non-tactical shelters provide an economical solution for humanitarian aid when shelter is needed due to natural disaster or conflict. This first DOD opportunity opened the door to better understanding the various military shelter specifications. This led to the development of several new Celina military shelters.
Each system is customized as needed and can include billeting and dining areas or medical facilities. As requested, they have sidewalls, flooring, cots, tables and chairs, material storage and generator capabilities for lighting, heating and cooling. “Because the need for these shelters is critical in emergencies, we expand our production capabilities to fill any order,” she says.