InTents June/July 2021 - 8

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Perspective: Scott Sutherland,
Olympic Tent/Tacoma Tent & Awning
Editor's note:
This is an excerpt from an article
that appeared in the April 2021
issue of Specialty Fabrics Review
magazine. To read the full article,
visit www.specialtyfabricsreview.com.
n the summer of 2020, Scott Sutherland
was elated with record-shattering
sales, but he was also in a situation he had
never imagined: out of aluminum, out
of fabric, out of nearly every component
used to make tents. The pandemic roller
coaster had sent the event tent industry
from a bust to a boom, with schools
and hospitals replacing weddings and
festivals in the tent market. Meanwhile,
the supply chain was chaotic.
But then, Sutherland hadn't imagined
" I love risks and rewards, problem
solving, creative engineering and
providing a family work environment, "
says Scott Sutherland, president of
Olympic Tent and Tacoma Tent &
Awning. Photo by Rick Dahms.
a career in the tent industry in the
irst place, even though he grew up in
his parents' business, Tacoma Tent &
Awning of Tacoma, Wash. The company
was founded in 1937, and Sutherland's
parents became owners in 1971. He
began working in the business at age
11, installing rental tents, sewing cargo
straps, grommeting horse blankets and
sweeping the building. As a high schooler,
he learned to weld awning frames, stretch
on covers and install awnings, and he
started selling awnings during summers
as a college student. His long-term plans,
however, didn't involve fabric and frames.
" I was in law school at the University
of Washington in 1986, pursuing a career
I
in international politics and the foreign
service, with zero interest in the family
business, " he says.
Then Sutherland's parents decided to
liquidate Tacoma Tent & Awning. Seeing
the opportunity to own a business at age
26, Sutherland took a leave of absence
from law school-and never went back.
The awning market was taking off, and
that was the product he knew best.
Today, the business is organized with
four divisions-tents; awnings; signs and
graphics; and aerospace/special projects.
And while awnings were in Sutherland's
wheelhouse, the tent market is where he
would make an industry-wide impact.
Revolutionary concept
In the 1990s, Sutherland sold off the
company's rental tents and began to
market tents nationally for sale under the
Olympic Tent brand, introducing a major
innovation to ease installation: slide-in
tops for western-style frames. Adapting
the concept from European structure
tents, Sutherland eventually extended
the innovation to slide-in legs and roller
wheels, which allow the tent user to open
and close sidewalls by themselves. Other
manufacturers eventually jumped on the
bandwagon, but not before Olympic Tent
had secured its market share.
" I credit a lot to having been a rental guy
myself growing up, because I don't think
I would have seen the value of slide-in
tops if it were not for having to install a
lot of lace-up tops, " he says. " You can't say
I invented this, but I adapted this to the
tents we were building already. Clients
had the tubing and connectors. All we had
to do was sell them the new track rafters,
crowns and slide-in tops. "
Still, introducing a new concept to a
traditional industry isn't easy. Sutherland
recalls one of the irst rental trade shows
he attended as a new exhibitor, where he
6 intents june-july 2021
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InTents June/July 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of InTents June/July 2021

InTents June/July 2021 - 1
InTents June/July 2021 - 2
InTents June/July 2021 - 3
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