Eventstar Founder & CEO Alain Perez Takes Us Inside His Tent Business

If you’ve attended an event on the beach in recent years—anything from South Beach Wine & Food Festival to an Art Basel satellite fair, or a private corporate event—you’ve stood inside a temporary tent structure manufactured, designed and engineered by local company Eventstar. Founded by Alain Perez, along with his sister and brother-in-law in 1997, what started as an $11,000 investment has grown into an international, award-winning company leading the way in temporary structure innovation.

They create turnkey custom solutions for events ranging from major sporting events like the Kentucky Derby to pop-up shops for retailers like Nespresso. In May 2013, they also designed and manufactured a structure to house NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise atop New York City’s Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum on the Hudson River.

A big player during Art Basel when the city is virtually covered in tents, Eventstar is responsible for all of the major satellite fairs. Last year, they created nearly 750,000 square-feet of climate-controlled, tented exhibition space and they expect to reach one million square-feet this year (twice the size of the Miami Beach Convention Center where Art Basel is held).

It’s not all parties, glitz and million dollar art for sale underneath their tents, though. When disaster struck New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the company was called upon to create temporary shelter for the power company’s linesmen working to restore power in the region. From there, a disaster relief division was born and Eventstar has provided housing, shelter and food in the event of natural disasters throughout the United States, South Florida and the Caribbean, including the creation of temporary hospitals in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

We sat down with Cuban-born, Miami-raised Perez, 42, to learn more about the evolution of his business and the role he plays in Miami’s thriving events landscape and beyond.

How did you get started in the rental tent and temporary structures business?

Alain Perez: My background is really a hands-on one. After high school, I worked at a tent rental company. I really dug the whole tenting, building, dismantling and what you can do with these structures. I realized that, depending on how these things are designed, you can basically do anything a building can do in a very fast and instant gratification-type of a way, which became the DNA of our company. We have an engineer, an architect and a team of four designers who make up our engineering/design team, and I collaborate. I’m very involved in the decision-making process of what works in the space that we want to participate in.

Give us an idea of the scope of the projects that Eventstar works on.

We work from social private events that have a very demanding infrastructural component, which is what Eventstar provides—very elaborate productions and shows–to projects like the Intrepid Museum. Our services and products really address an array of applications and needs, which is very exciting.

Tell us about the  Intrepid Museum project with the NASA Space Shuttle.

We were asked by an architectural firm to bid on the whole design, meaning their take on what the building should look like and make it a reality structurally, a viable reality, which we did. Then we were asked to bid on the project for the manufacturing and the erection of the building of which we did and we won that. That’s how we landed the project. We were asked to do so because it had very specified requirements that aren’t offered in the conventional construction business especially at the speed that it required the building to go up. We were literally manufacturing while we were erecting the building and still figuring out engineering. It had a few overlaps in order to hit the mark that they had. It was engineered to deal with snow loads and Hurricane Sandy-type wind loads

What gives EventStar the competitive edge?

We can turn a building around for a client that’s ready to use that’s in line with a conventional building, like a store with hard interiors. We just did a project for Nespresso, a pop-up store. Everything inside that store is provided by us except for the product.

Going beyond that, we manufacture 100% of our product, therefore we understand it and we can provide a real calculated solution for the client. Our type of client doesn’t want to inherit any headaches when it comes to structures. The typical option is to rent a structure and deal with the engineering separate and deal with the other problems separate. With us, you get the entire solution, so that’s important, having those internal departments.

Equally as interesting is all of these new products that we have in the marketplace where we are targeting certain specific areas and designing product for it. Up to now, you’ve had to use a tent because there’s a lack of something stronger. To address Miami or South Florida’s hurricane concerns, we use tent structures that are designed to be dismantled in the case of a big storm, a tropical storm, or north of that. That’s been the case.

These newer products, you can have higher wind capacities. All of a sudden, we may be able to address another 30 mph and that makes the biggest difference in the world. That same product reinforced will soon compete with wind loads of a conventional building because it is the same thing; it’s a question of how you anchor it. By designing temporary structures, the goal is to keep it light, you don’t want to get into building something that’s so clunky that it’s no longer a temporary structure because that defeats the whole purpose, and we’re not in the conventional construction business.

You’re a big player during Art Basel. What has that experience been like for the company?

We’ve been providing tent structures for some of the fairs for about seven years now. We’ve seen the growth firsthand—the satellite growth. It’s not only from a volume perspective, but it’s also helped us see further into what these temporary structures can be, especially in the case of Design Miami/ where we’re always asked by the client to develop interesting facades and treatments that are not typical of tent structures.

That must be an exciting collaboration. What does that process look like with Design Miami/?

It’s great. It begins with the client’s team and whatever architect they’re working with in trying to realize their goal, and in keeping with engineering requirements, which is really the fine line at the end of the day. How can we pull this off and still meet what’s required to stay within code? Basically, our designers interact with the architects and together we arrive at how to best address the different responsibilities. It’s their design always and in this case we’re a partner/manufacturer. It’s a very rewarding client to have.

What aspect of the business are you most passionate about?

I think the most exciting thing for me is seeing the evolution of the structures and the new designs we’re working on come to life, and it really is Jetsons, Willy Wonka-type stuff. Somebody that’s in the aviation business might see that in a plane. I’m in temporary str
uctures, and to be apart of a company that, I really strongly believe, is leading the way worldwide, it’s really exciting. We have meetings with the designers everyday to talk what alloys we’re using for this specific thing, all the way down to a bolt. And the narrative is really all temporary, the development part, and knowing that we’re developing cool, next generation things that hopefully we’ll see through to when I’m 84 (if I make it there) and tell my great grandchildren about how it started.

Tell us how Eventstar got involved in disaster relief.

In the beginning, we were involved in some temporary tenting for some of the hurricanes, smaller ones, but nevertheless. Then when Katrina hit–actually we were doing the [MTV Video Music Awards] here behind the [American Airlines] Arena. Katrina came through very light. We were beginning to reinstall [for the VMAs] after the storm moved into the Gulf. I’ll never forget, it was very eerie. We were getting ready for this big show and this monster storm was about to decimate New Orleans and the Delta areas. And of course, I don’t think anyone really knew what it was, how real and how well-forecasted it had been.

Right after that, we were asked by some of the power companies in the south to build temporary shelters and sleeping areas for the linemen who were reinstalling power. Organizations that were feeding and sheltering people contacted us. We decided at that moment that we would have a disaster relief division.

Subsequently, Hurricane Ike in 2008 went to the Turks & Caicos islands. We were asked by the government to provide housing and shelter and food for 5,000 to 6,000 people. We flew in something to the tune of 10 cargo planes overnight, as well as a lot of marine shipping—we chartered some cargo boats. And in about 72 hours, our structures were up in South Caicos and Grand Turk, which were the two islands hit the hardest. They remained there for a couple of months, these air-conditioned shelter/buildings, made of very large tents and all the components. In this case, we provided all the food through a local caterer from Miami.

In Florida, every time there’s a storm, we’re on standby with FPL to provide infrastructure, and with different states we have different types of contracts.

The Haiti earthquake, we were asked to provide temporary hospitals in air-conditioned tent structures. We were on the ground, also by airlift, probably within 72, maybe 96 hours, turnaround. We were building structures on the ground and we’ve done many other things in Haiti since then—hospitals, storage, industrial application, as well. For us, it started as a piece of business, and ended as more of a donation and a lesson—a good one.

You have offices in Miami, New Jersey and the Caribbean and an international roster of clients, what’s your travel schedule like?

I’m usually between Miami and New York. I recently had a lot of Caribbean activity, a couple of islands in particular, also California, but anywhere, really. For instance, I have a meeting in Berlin in two weeks with an agency and their automotive client to design a temporary building for a tour. That type of meeting, I have all year round. I have a supporting staff of four when it comes to sales, and we do these trips very often, sometimes without any notice at all. I’m wherever shelter is required.