Adam Torres and Theron Whitney discuss exhibiting at trade shows.
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Exhibiting at trade shows can be a great way to grow a business and build awareness. In this episode, Adam Torres interviewed Theron Whitney, Vice President, Co-owner at Xibeo. Explore exhibiting at trade shows and Theron’s new book, Mission Matters: World’s Leading Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Top Tips To Success (Business Leaders Vol. 9, Edition 3).
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About Theron Whitney
Theron has worked in his shop building exhibits from scratch, booth design, and assisting with graphic design. He also has extensive knowledge on trade show logistics and managing client’s booths at shows.
Recently their company has expanded its capabilities in designing and building out commercial interiors for restaurants, retail, and corporate lobbies.
Xibeo works closely with you to ensure you make all the right decisions for a successful trade show or event. Xibeo offers the most creative and innovative solutions in new building materials, techniques and cost savings measures for your product exhibition or trade show.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I wanna welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and if you’d like to apply to be a guest on the show, just head on over to mission matters.com and click on Be Our Guest to Apply. All right, so today is a very, Special episode. We’ve been working on this book for a long, long time, and I, I’m wel, I’m happy to welcome back to the show, Theron Whitney, who’s the vice President and co-owner over at Zibo.
Theron welcome back to the show. Thank you. It’s good to be back. All right, so we got, we got a lot to talk about when I kind of think about us working together. Over the last couple of years, we’ve, I have learned so much from working with you about the, about the trade show industry, about trends, what’s going on.
I know you got some updates today that we’re gonna talk about things with l e d screens rentals, just a whole lot of things. And of course, the main event we’re, we’ll talk about your book and the book that we published together and your. Portion in it called Building Loyalty, the Key to Success.
But before we get into all of that, we are gonna start this episode. I already know, you know the drill, you’ve been on the show. We’ll start this episode the way that we start them all with our mission matters minute. So Theron, we at Mission Matters. We amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts.
That’s our mission. Ron, what mission matters to you? I would just say for me, the mission is taking care of our clients as if they were part of the family. Yeah, that’s great. Love bringing mission-based individuals on the line to share, you know, why they do what they do, how they’re doing it, and really to, to dig in and, and figure out what we can learn so that we all grow together.
So, great having you back on. And I guess just to get us kicked off, I don’t wanna assume that, you know, some of our, we’ve been pretty blessed, so the show’s grown, it keeps growing. I don’t wanna assume that maybe some of our newer listeners caught some of the work we’ve done before. So, Maybe just start off with telling us a little bit more about like how you got started on this path to, you know, the trade show industry.
Well, it’s, it’s kind of a long, funny story, but I’ll try to tell you the, the short version of it. I was in sales, retail sales for seven years and then got a little tired of that. And a friend of mine was out buying store fixture displays, and he came across a display house in Ventura, California and he said, Hey, these people sell trade show exhibits.
Why don’t you check them out? So I did, and that was 1993. And since then, I’ve been in the industry now almost 30 years. Wow. So, yeah, it’s been a long, long journey. And then started my own company with my partner 22 years ago. So we’ve been just having lots of fun and, and solving, making solutions for clients and just having a good time.
Yeah, it’s great. And yeah, you’ve one of the reasons I like to bring up your history as well is just cuz you’ve been doing this a long time, so you’ve seen trends in the trade show. I mean, you obviously, you know, weathered the pandemic, all those other things, and you’ve come back stronger than ever, especially with the with all the events going on.
I know we just did one yesterday and we, we got some other conferences we’re gonna do. And it’s picking up to me, I mean, what I’m seeing is that people wanna be out, people wanna be at these events. Like is it busy? Like, what are you saying? Yeah, absolutely. 20. As of 2021, when we, the industry started coming back, there was just a slow trend upward.
Mm-hmm. Last year we started seeing it really grow, but there was still customers from Asia and Europe that weren’t really making out to the trade shows. And this year, now everybody is back. Everyone Asian clients, European companies coming to the US to exhibit and be in the trade show world.
So we have seen an additional uptick in business for us to supply the trade show exhibits as well as at the shows. I’m being told by clients that they are being inundated with you know, new, new customers, new leads, new sales requests. I mean, it’s. It’s crazy how busy out there it is. Hmm. Well that’s great to hear.
I’m glad. Cause that’s a, it’s a big industry and and especially for business owners and obviously lots of different types of, of, of trade shows and conferences, but I feel like people getting together and like those exchanging of ideas and like for some of what I’ve been hearing, it’s like, Okay.
If you haven’t had been to a trade show that you used to go to for many years and now you’re going back and you’re, you’re kind of getting back with your buddies or the other people that you’ve worked with for all the years, and you kind of maybe lost touch with, assuming you didn’t have that online, even if you did keep that online you know, portion of the relationship going, it’s just, it’s just not the same.
So, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I’m seeing too. Yeah. So I want to I wanna get into the main event here. So the book, I mean, we’ve been working on this for a long time. So your, your portion in the, in the book, so called Building Loyalty, the Key to Success. What was your inspiration and what really, what do you hope the readers will get from reading this?
Well, I’ve been in sales a long time and as I mentioned, we’ve run our business for 22 years, and the, the one aspect of. Of staying as long as we have is developing loyalty in your clients as well as your staff. And that’s not really something that they, they teach in business school. They teach you the, the, you know, the basics, but the, the loyalty aspect I learned over the years in retail sales to get repeat clients and you wanna take care of them.
The customer service is really important. Being a problem solver, finding solutions. And that develops the loyalty of your customers so that they keep coming back to you. And then on the flip side, when you’re dealing with your employees, you want your employees to be happy. You want them to be loyal to you.
You don’t want to train somebody for a year, then have them leave. Mm-hmm. So you want to keep your employees happy and, and have incentives for them to stay and, and work as hard as they can. And, and also take some ownership in the company as well and, and in their work. So, you know, you, you gotta balance both of those aspects and, and loyalty to just keep your company going strong.
So one of the things that you also taught me, and it was, it’s pretty interesting, and I I talk about it actually pretty often, and I know you don’t know this, but when you kinda described to me what was going on during the pandemic and we’d had some conversations and maybe unfortunately, you know, some of the, some of the some, some players did not last and they didn’t make it through that business, but there were individuals like yourself and many others.
That, you know kind of pooled together resources. And what I mean by resources is I, I, I don’t mean funds, I mean like, like equipment and different things. And it really was, I don’t think that you ever, you never gave me the impression that it was like a cutthroat industry in the past, but it wasn’t necessary.
Necessarily as, you know, everybody getting together. Like, and it could be something as as simple as I have a, I have a client that needs X, Y, Z exhibit or setup, right? And it’s not in my inventory right now because somebody else is using it. Hey, do you have one that I can, you know, borrow and that I can still make sure that I do this?
Because now. Not, again, not saying it wasn’t like this before, but now the client and just making sure everything’s comes together like on schedule, on time, everything else, it just had a whole new level of importance. Can you maybe speak on that a little bit and kind of what took place? Cuz I, I think it’s super interesting and I think it’s also good case study for maybe some other industries to think about.
Yeah, I guess in the beginning when I first started in the industry it was very competitive. There were lots of companies out there that were doing what I was doing and I don’t wanna say cutthroat, but it was just say it was strongly competitive. And after the recession We survived that, and some companies kind of disappeared because they didn’t have the abilities that we did.
We were doing a lot of custom rentals at that time. Mm-hmm. And so people started to get on board with that idea and see that, oh, there’s a, there’s an opportunity there to, you know, offer something that wasn’t normal in the industry. Mm-hmm. And then after Covid I was on LinkedIn quite a bit and Twitter and, and just kind of reaching out to others in my industry, trying to figure out, well, what can we do?
What. Yeah, how can we help each other? Because trade shows were shut down for the first time ever, and there was no light in sight in terms of when, where we were coming back. And so a lot of brainstorming. And in doing so, there was a lot of new networking that happened and I don’t know. It was kind of like a, there’s a crisis and you kind of develop a camaraderie with those that survive and you’re really there to just see each other succeed.
It was just a completely different mindset. Now there’s fewer exhibit houses out there that are, are our size or smaller and you know, we don’t wanna see our industry go completely Yeah. Fall away. And also there’s a lot of big companies that don’t want to help small clients, so, Hmm. So it was just kind of like a, a, a really good synergy that developed after Covid where a lot of companies who couldn’t maybe do custom displays, but they had a client that wanted to have a custom exhibit, they would reach out to a company like mine and say, Hey, can you help me?
Yeah. And, you know, we, we would be more than happy to do that. And then same thing, if I have a, a show on the East Coast and shipping costs were outrageous, I would reach out to a company out there and say, Hey, can you help me? And so you just kind of develop that rapport and synergy and, and everybody wants to work together, which is totally different than when I first started, but it’s really nice to see how it turned around.
Oh, it’s, it’s a great story. That’s why I, I had to have you say it because it’s a great story on how industries that even were competitive. I like your word much better than mine. That’s much more, much more pc. I agree that we’re maybe pretty competitive to kind of come together like that, and really ultimately it’s just to, you know, to help the client.
Like that’s the main thing, which everybody hopefully is in business to do, so That’s awesome. Yeah. You mentioned, you mentioned something about custom rentals, so maybe for that niche, if you will, like, maybe tell us how it was before and maybe some of the things and some of the evolution of it and what your company’s been able to do.
Sure. It. In the beginning, if you wanted to rent an exhibit, you would rent it from the show decorator. Yeah, and it would be basically like a tinker toy set. It would be just a bunch of horizontal aluminum pieces that you would put some PVC in between and you have a, a booth. Over time it had. It has evolved into a modular system that was a bunch of panels, and we kind of collected those over the years from clients that would trade in a booth or we would buy a used booth or a booth was abandoned and we would just kind of collect that into our inventory.
And so we started offering solutions that. Use those systems, or maybe we had to buy a couple little things to help give the client exactly what they would want. And because we knew they would rent again, it was an investment that was worth it on our part. We maybe didn’t make a lot of profit in the beginning, but each successive time that we would rent it clients would be happy.
We give ’em a look that no one else had, and it, you know, helps sustain us. Now, Everybody who is kind of our size or larger who has the inventory and the space to hold it, is offering custom rentals of a sort. But not everybody will have a shop. Not everybody will have design experience. Yeah, they have to set that out.
So what we do now is a client will tell us what they want and rather than go to an ad agency or go to a marketing company, they just tell us, here’s. Here’s what we want and we can use our experience, you know, 22 years or for me, 30 years in the industry and design or create a solution right on the spot, right in front of them and say, oh, here, here’s, here’s what we can do.
And then make it completely custom, scale it to their brand. And they have a look that looks as if they just bought it, but in fact they spent a third of the cost to just rent it. Yeah, and what you’re doing now, I won’t let you skirt past that that fast because what you’re doing is so like you’re making it easy for people and it’s not that easy like to download your brain and your team in 30 years of experience to design a booth on this spot.
Like you’re making it like, oh yeah, you just do this, this, but come on. Like that’s deal. That’s not an easy feat. I can’t let you like just glance over that. That’s not a normal experience in putting one of these together. Yeah. No, that’s true. I mean, it’s, and, and again, I think it’s, it comes from the experience, but also I have fun doing it.
So for me, those 30 years, I enjoy it. I always learn something new. I’m always out there. I go to museums, I go to art. Galleries. So I, I kind of pick up on different creative ways to explore how we could translate something into a trade show display. Mm. And so you kind of get the experience, but you also get the creativity because I enjoy.
What I do and I’ve helped other exhibit houses, you know, come up with solutions or fabricators that are saying, well, how do we do this? And, you know, I, I, I’m up for the challenge. And so I reach out and say, yeah, here, try this. And it goes back to that, that positive competition and friendly competition where, you know, I wanna see other companies succeed as well.
And take care of their clients. Cuz in the end it’s the client that matters. Yeah, absolutely. So speaking of some, you know, new developments and trends and what’s going on in the in the trade show industry currently, I know one of the things that we were talking about is just like costs and certain things, you know, coming down and just boosts are getting more fancy.
Maybe tell us a little bit more about that. Well, I guess in terms of being fancy You know, there’s, there’s other features that we, yeah, we developed, which are back lit graphics that’s now very popular. A couple years ago it wasn’t a big thing, but now. Everyone does back the graphics and then mm-hmm.
Their the L led screens, modular, l e d screens are becoming more popular. I think of the big jumbotrons at stadiums now, it’s scaled to the point where you can build them on the show floor in two foot squares, and you can create a big. A big wall. Yeah. And have a visual that’s not only lit, but moving around until your message, it’s, you know, like a billboard.
It’s a, and it’s still, and, and the prices. Now this is accessible for small businesses. Like once upon a time, when I say fancy, I mean once upon a time, unless you’re a big, you know, car show or something else. Right. Like that. And you, you’re spending a million bucks or you know, X amount on a, on a booth, then you had it.
But now it’s like within reach for other businesses as well. Yeah, I’d say it’s reasonable. I mean, it’s not the cheapest thing out there. Of course. Yeah. It’s cheaper to do back lit graphics or just regular graphics. But yeah, it’s definitely more accessible for companies to have these modular screens and get their message out there and it just adds another dimension to really showing off their brand.
Yeah. I wanna, I wanna go back to the book for a moment. So in. And kind of putting that into the chapter of course, like what do you think some, circling back to this idea of loyalty and really success, like what do you think were maybe some of your kind of secrets along the way or some of the things that helped you along the way?
Well, I touched on it earlier, it’s, it’s being a problem solver coming up with solutions. One of the things that I learned early on in my sales career was, Try to be as try to be a problem solver to your, your customer, even if it’s something that’s not within your scope of your field. You know, I, for example, I had a client that said I need to create a, a big photo booth to take pictures of cars in my warehouse.
How do I do that? Well, I’d never had any experience for it, but I said, well, I think it’s something that I could do. Let me look into it for you. I never, I never say no. That’s a good thing and a bad thing, but I, I didn’t say no. I said, let me figure it out. And I looked up, you know, other studios and what they do and we came up with a solution that was a portable.
Studio that he could take pictures of his cars and put it in his warehouse, and it was affordable for him and it solved all his needs. That particular client comes to me now every year for trade show booths, for store fixtures, for showroom displays, you know, and he just knows that if he needs anything, he comes to me first, and if I tell him, no, I can’t do that, then.
He knows for sure that there’s nothing in my world that I can do for him and he’s gonna have to go somewhere else, but I always try to make sure that I’m the first person that my clients will come to for, you know, whatever they need. Yeah. What would you tell to, I mean, you, you’ve been in business for a long time.
What would you tell to maybe some of those? A lot of lot of things changing right now in, in, in the world, right? The economy lot of different things, lots of uncertainty. Still a lot of transition. After covid, all of that, and there’s this next group of, of entrepreneurs that are coming up. I know I met some of them.
We’ve been Mission Matters, has been doing tech week, all week, and we are at events. We held some events, and I see all of these new entrepreneurs. With all these ideas and all this energy, and man, I’m telling you, I’m like, I, I wish I had that energy still. I don’t not like they have it. I’m like talking about those early 20 sums.
Yeah. You know, benefit of hindsight, obviously a lot of years in business what kind of, what kind of words of wisdom or things would you tell to that, that fresh crop that are coming out? Well, I, I’ve seen that same youthful exuberance. Yeah. We’ll call it. That’s so scary to me. Yeah. You know, and one of the things that, that I’ve noticed is no one knows about sales anymore.
They don’t, they don’t understand sales. They just someone says, you know, I need this. And, and they just go to the first thing that they can think of and say, okay, yeah. Well, it’s this I, I think a lot of it is developing rapport, developing relationship, you know? Mm-hmm. If you meet someone for the first time, you don’t try to say well, here, why don’t you just buy this widget?
Not, this is what I’m selling. Yeah. You ask a lot of questions. First, you need to find out. How are they going to use this? What do they need it for? What do they have in mind? And, and really just have a conversation with a customer or don’t try to just sell them something. Because in the long run, it’s the relationship that matters.
It’s not what your product is, it’s not what you’re trying to sell. It’s. How the customer sees you and how they get a rapport developed with you so that in a way you’re, you’re like friends, you, they know that they can come to you for anything and you can feel comfortable telling them well. I, you know, you’re, you’re telling me you want this, but that’s gonna cost you a lot in shipping, or that’s, that’s gonna break down in a year.
You don’t want to do that. You should get this thing. I might not make a lot of money on it, but you’re gonna be a lot happier and you develop that trust. You trust in the rapport.
And some of those, I don’t know why that is, but you’re, you’re spot on. And I don’t know if it’s this concept of we give we just, you know, give Facebook our, our money for an ad and then all of a sudden they’re gonna buy something and everything’s gonna be online and this and that. But you’re right, that like, Person to person, all of the, like, just being able to do a real needs assessment.
Everything’s not a lead intake form. Everything’s not like, you gotta follow up, you need more. There’s more to it than that, especially for larger sales. There’s more to it than that. Ensure you can get them through, you know, a certain amount of the, of the Decision making process on the front end possibly.
But the next piece of it where it’s really building that relationship, or like the example you gave the gentleman who you solve problems for, the first thing he does is come to you and then after that you can’t do it in your world. Then he’s going somewhere else, like being that real. Solutions provider.
Right. That’s a needs-based assessment. Needs-based selling, I should say. That’s a, that’s an art that you’re right, that’s a good one. I’m, I’m in on that one. Yeah. Cause I don’t, I don’t think it’s, I don’t know if it’s not taught as much or what that is, but I’m, I know that’s how I kind of grew up in, in the early days of financial advisor and, and in finance when, when I was just starting my training outta college.
So, yeah. Good stuff. Yeah. All right. So lot going on over there. Earlier you mentioned, we were talking about the, the space and the space needed to hold some of these some of these exhibits that are for, that are, or trade show exhibits that are for rent. So with all that inventory, I mean, coming in and out, I’m guessing you’re, you’re outgrowing things and you’re moving.
Like, talk to me man, you last time, last time I think we had to reschedule cuz you were in the middle of a mover, something like that, like huge facility. We were just, Crammed and we’re still crammed in for space. So you know, we’ve, we’ve actually been looking to expand for quite some time. Covid kind of slowed that down, but now, and just the past two years, we’ve been really looking hard to see what we do to expand.
And so now we’re putting the feelers out or leases up soon and the building that we’re in, and it’s like, okay, we need to get another 10,000 square feet to accommodate all of the, the work that we’ve got coming. So it’s, it’s exciting and it’s scary all at the same time. So I know we’re still, we’re just getting started and promoting your book and we got a whole lot more promo going on.
But I, I also know you, you’re, you’re, you’re a creative guy. I’m, I’m just curious and I, I, you know, I want the story first. I gotta hear first, if you were to write something going on in the, the future, like what kind of things would you be thinking about or bringing other content out? Well, you know, because what I learned early on when I took writing courses they, they always say, write what you know.
And what I know is marketing in the trade show industry. And it’s, it’s a, it’s an odd, I was about to say weird, but it’s just kind of an, it’s an odd niche to have to work in. And a lot of people in marketing, they. Don’t really know that much about trade shows and the ins and outs and dealing with the unions and, and dealing with freight.
And I, I see that all the time with my clients and the, my client base is getting younger and younger, a lot of ’em fresh out of college, and they’re asking for help on everything, you know? Mm-hmm. How do we, how do we deal with these forms? How do we do this? And if I was to write another book, it would definitely be talking about the ins and outs of trade shows and yeah, how to, how to market yourself at a trade show and how to design a booth for a trade show, dealing with the shipping, what to know about that.
And there’s a lot of details in there. And if you make a mistake, it’s gonna cost you and you don’t, if your boss is relying on you, you wanna look like the hero. You don’t want to make a lot of mistakes. It’s gonna cost him money. Yeah, man, that sounds like an online course. A platform, a brand, a business builder, a business and a bot.
Man, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a big task. But I mean, your, with your experience that’s you know, you’d be doing a good service to the next, especially that next crop that are just getting involved and that really wanna get into it. Who knows? You might, you might inspire with your content the next person that’s gonna take over, so that’s awesome.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Well, Theron first off, it’s been great having you back on the show as always, always a pleasure to work with you. I’m just curious, I mean, what’s next? I mean, what’s next for you? What’s next for Zip Zepi? Right now based on what I’m seeing, what the trends are mm-hmm. One of the reasons why we have to expand is we’re doing more Showroom designs, more store fixtures.
Mm-hmm. Retail because of Covid, the first thought in my mind was, we have to expand from just trade shows. Mm-hmm. So we’re taking the, the marketing solutions, structural solutions that we’ve done for years, and now we’re applying it to. Stores applying it to showrooms so we can create some modular brand designs that could easily get installed or be removed from a, a retail store or from a, a showroom corporate, you know, showroom.
Yeah. So we’re doing that. And then a lot of rentals especially for the l e D tiles. We’re trying to expand our inventory on that because there’s a huge demand for it. And then we’re, we’re also seeing just people wanting to purchase more of their exhibits and have bigger exhibits. We’re seeing those grow.
So it’s just kinda like all of these different directions all at once. And getting a new space is gonna help that. Man, that’s exciting. You’re in the middle of all of this. This is great. Yeah, well if if somebody’s watching this, you’re listening to this and they want to follow up and they wanna connect with your staff, I mean what’s the best way for them to do that?
Probably the best way is just reach out with an email and just kind of list what your needs are or what you’re trying to accomplish or questions. Happy to answer. And just reach out to [email protected]. You know, sales at X I. Dot com or just check out our website, zio.com and you’ll see all the examples of what we’ve been doing for the last 22 years.
It’s great, it’s great story. And happy to bring it to my audience and excited to get this book out even more so if everybody’s watching or listening to this, we’ll put obviously the website, all that other good stuff in the show notes as well as the book link so you can pick up a copy. And speaking of the audience, If this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging in an episode, well up bringing on business owners, entrepreneurs and executives, and having them share their mission, the reason behind their mission, you know, why they do what they do, like what gets ’em fired up in the morning, to go out there into the marketplace and make a difference.
If that’s the type of content that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to you, we welcome you hit that subscribe button. We have many more mission-based individuals coming up on the line, and we don’t want you to miss a thing. Theron as always, pleasure having you on this show. So excited to continue promoting this book with you, and thanks again for all you do.
Thanks, Adam, I appreciate it.