After 18 years in the event rental industry, John Campanelli, CEO, InProduction, Chicago, and former leader of California-based Classic Party Rentals, has decided it is time to retire.
Campanelli’s last day at InProduction was Jan. 1, 2022. Jason Tedrow, InProduction’s president and chief operating officer, has now assumed the CEO role at the company.
“I turn 65 in March. It always has been my plan to retire around this age. Jason joined InProduction in 2018 with the plan that he would succeed me at the appropriate time,” Campanelli says. “Having worked with Jason to successfully guide InProduction through the dramatic downturn in events as a result of the pandemic, we are now heading into a year of record sales. I have decided that no better time exists to transition out and let Jason lead our sales and operations teams to drive InProduction to new levels of success. The team knows and respects Jason. He is well-educated, very smart, hardworking, extremely organized and a good leader. We are fortunate to have this seamless transition as we continue to innovate and gain traction in the industry.”
Campanelli leaves a legacy of thinking big and acting boldly. That trait was evident when he was in leadership at R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., where he built a $1 billion logistics business within the printing giant.
In 2004, he moved to an entirely different industry — event rental — when he became the CEO of Classic Party Rentals. For Campanelli, this move wasn’t such a stretch. “Both were service businesses. Every job was different. Even in the printing industry, every job — every magazine and every catalog — was different. You are not producing widgets. You are providing a service that is very perishable, so to speak. I saw a lot of common attributes in the event rental industry,” he says.
Under Campanelli’s leadership, Classic became the largest event rental company in the United States. He led the sales growth of Classic to $250 million, expanding the company from operating in two states to more than 35 outlets in California, the Southwest, Southeast, Florida, New York and Washington. He left Classic in 2009.
Campanelli is proudest of two things from his years at Classic. “One is building the company and the staff. Many are still in the industry and have leadership positions within the industry. The other thing was combining and integrating the tenting function. Classic was by and large a tabletop company. In 2005, we acquired Aztec Tents from Chuck Miller and then Prime Event Group. We added a lot of tents and structures to have a more national tenting business. We could then lead the trend of full-service rental companies. That was a big deal at the time. Acquiring those tenting companies gave us a broader and bigger level of inventory to service a wider variety of events. I am very proud of the people development and the tenting component,” he says.
Then in 2015, he reunited with investors Dubin Clark to commence work on InProduction. “We began with the acquisition of SGA Production Services in October of 2015 and then added and integrated T&B Equipment, CommuniLux Productions, Nussli U.S. and Seating Solutions into a one-stop shop for most of what is necessary to serve the end markets we serve — corporate, entertainment, golf and all other sports,” Campanelli said in a September 2021 Rental Management article. “We rebranded our legacy companies — several of which go back 40 years — into InProduction in 2017.”
This area was a space Campanelli had looked at before, “but I felt that seating and staging — those components are long-lived, bigger assets. As with Classic, I enjoyed bringing in the large tents and structures — bigger live assets. I thought there was a good opportunity to consolidate and take advantage of the trend, which was more hospitality and high-end seating. The whole area of hospitality — going from simple wooden bleachers to the high-end hospitality seating offered in the entertainment business — made me think about the application to concerts and outdoor events. Looking back at Woodstock, that was the first outdoor event. Looking at the trends of how to create a temporary infrastructure for spectators to elevate their experience, I thought there was an opportunity in that particular business,” Campanelli says.
Bringing all those assets together was a tremendous boon to the company, particularly during the worst of the pandemic.
“Strategically acquiring the assets that we did so we could better serve all markets, including golf, other sports, corporate and entertainment business, and adding the structures and modular stadium concept, I think, is what allowed us to continue to operate the business profitably during the pandemic. We had diversified the business and made additional products and services and were able to serve a multitude of markets. Those assets that we added played very well to the outdoor arena. Think about events today and the trend to move more events outdoors. We were well-positioned to take advantage of that,” Campanelli says.
Being such a figure in the event rental industry has allowed Campanelli to see the industry evolve, change and even shape its existence. That vantage point has made him very optimistic about the future of this side
of the industry.
“You go from Woodstock to what you have today. The outdoor concert thing was just starting. You see the trends. We had a blip in 2009 and then the last two years, but this industry has seen steady growth and expansion,” Campanelli says.
“It has been marked with more and more attendance, participation, steady growth and higher-end venues, seating and higher-end experiences. People will continue to figure out how to make those experiences better. That will continue to grow. Besides the entertainment, the wedding market, etc., well, these are life events, the fabric of the community. For the most part they are exciting and fun-type events. Yes, every 10 years or so the industry suffers a slight downturn, but it comes back stronger than ever. This is a very strong period for the event industry. What we see for this year, by and large, the social aspect, entertainment and sports — are coming back strong. The corporate market is still a little bit weaker, but that will come back as well,” he says.
For all the success he has garnered over the years, Campanelli admits that what he will miss most of his time in the industry is the people. “As I leave, it is the people and the clients I have worked with. That is what I will miss the most,” he says.
But as he retires to Florida to hone his golf game, he won’t completely leave the event world. “I will stay on several boards — by and large event rental company boards,” he says.