Be sure you are doing what makes you happy.
On September 1st, 1992, after attaining 15 years of knowledge and expertise in the exhibit and trade show industry, Bev Gray, President and CEO, formed ETC Exhibit Services at the request of their first client in her humble town home office with her husband, Mike Gray.
From that first year, ETC’s mission was to provide Exhibit and Marketing Managers an incomparable personal service, integrity, and value for trade shows and corporate spaces. This personal touch how Bev was able to dive head first into the industry and have instantaneous respect from the community. To this day, these core values are found throughout the Exhibit Edge offices and in the minds of all their employees.
With the new millennium, ETC Exhibit Services, Inc. decided it was time for a new face and announced a new company name after securing it nationwide – Exhibit Edge Inc. The new name reflected the company’s desire to stay ahead of trends to offer new and technology focused exhibit products. This change allowed Bev to stake out ground as a truly innovative and personal company. Through her direction, Bev has taken Exhibit Edge from a humble home business to a multimillion empire.
In October of 2004, Exhibit Edge received its Woman-Owned Certification by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, WBENC and was recognized as 100% Woman-Owned. Through this certification, Exhibit Edge has plunged into the Supplier Diversity space with Bev at the helm. Her ability to share the significance and impact of a woman-owned business is impeccable, causing multiple heads to turn her way.
Within recent years, Bev decided to ramp things up again and through her woman-owned business circles caught wind of a brand new type of organization. Exhibit Edge quickly became one of the founding members of the Titanium Worldwide Collective. The collective, 17 Best-in-Class Diverse Suppliers which joins together as one company to provide service to those who would be out of reach without these relationships, has provided Exhibit Edge with substantial growth and more opportunities than ever before.
In her own words, “we will continue to successfully serve clientele by meeting all the changing demands of their trade show needs in local, national, and global venues.” Bev says, “We will continually move and think ahead of the exhibit industry trends. Providing expert knowledge, service, and responsiveness will remain the trademark to our success.”
Where did the idea for Exhibit Edge come from?
Michael Gray, our current Vice President and my husband, was working at at trade show exhibit company. There was some internal conflicts within the company and he resigned. While we were deciding what the next step would be, a client he serviced called him. He told her what had transpired. She relayed how different his service was and if he started his own company, she would be a client. He brought the idea to me and we agreed it would be a good endeavor.
We decided I would become president since I had the administrative, organization, and financial background. From the beginning, we wanted to serve clients better than other exhibit companies. In 25 years, detailed customer service is our signature style.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Everyday at 9:15 all employees meet for our “Daily Warm Up”, a quick stand up meeting where everyone shares the previous day’s biggest accomplishment and their top 3 day goals. This gives the chance for all employees to know what others are working on. We also share company news, detect any conflicts, and just get to share with each other to build comradery.
My day is typically a combination of business development, financial, company procedures, general owner work, and a few human resources tasks. I am always looking for our next client. With so many companies in the Washington, D.C. region and other opportunities that come our way, I like to stay involved so I can hear what clients are looking for. I work closely with our Business Developement Manager to coordinate and plan connections. Typically, I am the one to attend events to get closer to our target companies. I enjoy getting out of the office. I also always found that I either meet someone or hear a story, and potential opportunity. As the owner, my goal is to increase revenues and profits. There are always new ideas to pursue to help both areas. Because of the variety of my day, it goes by quickly, leaving me to complete some tasks in the evening at home.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In a word, carefully. When you’re working with someone else’s vision, it’s imperative to stay objective on the subject. We’ve been doing this for 25 years and still need to remind ourselves that the client’s vision, not ours, is the goal. We always start by gathering a complete list of needs, wants, and expectations. From there it’s a matter of limiting the expectation to what is realistic to produce while still meeting the needs and wants of the project. We want to make sure that we provide the client with exactly (if not as close as possible) what they wanted.
We are in the midst of a rebranding. I use my gut feeling a lot. For example, I was going to share our logo with a creative person whose opinion I value. I was not excited about sharing the concept. That told me that the logo was not the correct one. I relayed this to our designer and she said she was feeling the same say. We took a few steps back and now have the logo we will move forward with.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In our business, it’s the digital innovations that are taking the industry by storm. Everything is going digital in the business space so the way companies reach out to each other and their consumer has needed to adapt to meet the current market atmosphere. Things like badge scanning, digital signage, touch screens, augmented reality, and digital lead capture are all becoming the norm to this industry and we’re doing everything in our power to stay on top of this change.
In fact, we’re currently working on providing clients a system that digitally sends their collateral to their attendees instead of printing out thousands of pieces of paper (most of which end up being trashed on the show floor).
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Learning how to take a break is the best habit an entrepreneur needs to learn to be productive. The human body and mind has many limitations, but focus is one of the strongest limitations it has. On average you can only focus for 50 minutes every hour before your productivity drastically drops off. You can recover your focus in 10 minutes so I like to take small breaks throughout the day to keep myself moving forward. It’s also good to move and stretch. I use this time to go visit other departments to see what they are working on. It’s called time-chunking and something I recommend everyone does to stay focused and productive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There is a song by MercyMe titled “Dear Younger Me”. The basis of the song is if it’s better for the singer to tell his younger self how to navigate what they will experience (because they already experienced it), or is it better for the younger self not to share because then the singer would not be the person that they are. He would be a different person. It’s a great concept to ponder on. When I was finishing up high school, my first thought for a career was architecture. I love design of structures. I decided not to pursue it because I thought it would be too hard and competitive. I don’t know where I got that notion, but I wish I did not listen to myself. In the end, as owner of Exhibit Edge, I do get to assist in the design of structure. I wish I learned how to do it on my own. Therefore, it’s important to listen to what comes to mind at first for a career. Typically, it will be what you naturally love.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Sometimes it’s better to lower your profit margins in order to secure an opportunity. Our Business Development Manager has a saying while talking to his prospects that goes like this, “Bill, I want you to know that this project is going to be amazing, but I’m more excited for the next 5 years of business we’re going to do together. Welcome to our family.” That’s how our people approach every client, it’s about the entire package, not the one-off sale, therefore it’s ok to lower your price to help get someone in the door to build the relationship that will sustain business.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Look at your financials weekly. It gives me a snapshot of where the company is. I know them so well that when hard times come, I know how to cut corners. I can see where we are spending with our vendors and negotiate better pricing with them. In good times, I know where we can spend extra to make the company better and stronger. You always need to reinvest in your company and especially your employees. Arrange your financials so you can see what areas are more profitable than others. As one example, I arranged our to list out fabrication income and fabrication expenses. I can take those numbers and include the pay for our fabricators to determine if that department is profitable. If not, I need to made adjustments. Personally, as an entrepreneur, exercise regularly and hard. I have more energy and confidence in myself since I made intense exercising 4 hours per week a commitment.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Letting go! Give others responsibility and authority, after they have proven themselves. And sometimes you just have to take a bit of risk. This has many benefits for you and your business. Employees want to feel they are making an impact. They also want to grow in responsibility because it typically leads to additional income. For the owner, you need to focus on what you love to do. Otherwise, you won’t be as happy and will lose your focus and ultimate goals. Before letting go, be sure to train others in your goals and the company goals and purpose. You will need to direct them to the correct path. At the same time, be open to their suggestions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Being 30 years old when Exhibit Edge was started and making a profit the first year, there is an excitement that goes with that know that you are in control of your income and future. That excitement led to spending some of that profit early on. Looking back, I should have set a company cash-on-hand goal. After that very comfortable amount was reached, then we could buy that larger home and new car. We would have been better positioned to buy company assets, including a building, hire more experienced people, and weather hard time if we had built up that cash first.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Want to dive into an undersaturated market? The trade show business is pushing for all-inclusive applications for exhibitors. There needs to be more options of applications that do lead capture, digital content delivery, and business card/badge scanning. The key is having the app be able to function offline so exhibitors don’t need to purchase internet to make the app work. On the back-end, once connected to the internet (after a show) the app needs to directly integrate with the major CRMs like SalesForce and Inside Sales. We’ve looked at a couple options, but they’re incredibly expensive for the functionality they provide. More competition in this space would be incredible for exhibit houses, such as Exhibit Edge.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I changed all 5 of my plant pots in my office to bright orange and yellow ones after adding a lot more orange to my home office. I noticed at home that the orange color just made me happy when I worked or even just walked into the room. The pop of color by just new pots adds energy to the space without the full cost of redecorating.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
The most notable piece of software we use was added to our tools about 6 months ago. We began using a program called Slack for our interoffice communication. In the trade show business, you often juggle dozens of projects and events at the same time so you need a quick way to communicate, effectively, within your team. Slack provides exactly that on both desktop applications and iOS/Android devices.
What’s more, you can use Slack as a FTP site, integrate Slack with programs like Outlook, MailChimp, SalesForce, etc. It even allows you to integrate things like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. Communication is the most important part of running a successful business and Slack makes that a breeze and actually adds some fun to our daily interaction.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Start With Why by Simon Sinek is the first one that comes to mind. In this book Sinek discusses how average businesses simply tell people what they do, but successful businesses start by explaining why they do what they do. That revolutionized the company culture of Exhibit Edge. We’re not the type of company that simply says what we do, we’re the type of company that tells you why you need to do business with us. A number of years ago, my Vice President and I spent hours formulating our company’s why. We first thought about why we started the business 25 years ago and compared it to how we operate today. There was a fundamental reason that had not changed. After many revisions, Our Why has remained unchanged after 5 years:
We care, serve and challenge the ordinary to maximize our customer’s vision and success.
What is your favorite quote?
“What the mind can conceive, it can achieve” – Napoleon Hill
This quote transcends through my personal and professional life. From meeting our clients’ design requests to personal goals and everyday tasks. I’m a firm believer that if a thought was put in your brain, there is a reason for it. I come up with a lot of ideas. Due to my nature, I then have to analyse them which slows it down. Thank goodness I’m surrounded by people who don’t analyse. They just get started on the work. This quote makes me circle back to remind me why I came up with the idea and I need to more quickly to get it working for me.
- Everyone needs to pause and reflect about what really motivates you. We get so caught up in the day-to-day, it’s important to think about what really makes you unique and knowledgeable.
- Your unique experiences define who you are. There is no need to focus on the past because it’s exactly that….gone. Thinking about the future will most likely create fear. Living in the present keeps you positive and focused.
- Be sure you are doing what makes you happy. Whether it’s adding a pop of happy color to your work space or transferring tasks that you don’t like to do, looking forward to your day, especially as a business owner, makes you smile more which makes others around you happier.
- While you hear this a lot… Take time for you own well being. Responding to a habit is the best way to lock this in. Good habits just need a start, then keep it going for 21 days. Soon, not doing what is good for you will seem foreign. Good habits are just as easy to create as bad habits. Create those good habits.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.