by F. Andrew Taylor
Kevin Walsh, president of Showdown Displays, reveals how the company has had 20 successful years in business: “Magic.”
“When you meet a Showdown team member, there’s an energy about them,” he explains. “There’s an intangible quality about the pride they have in what they do and the pride they have in wearing that Showdown brand, and I think that is magic. It’s a magic that we have about our brand.”
It’s possible that the success could be chalked up to hard work, customer service, attention to detail and a strong desire to serve their clients as well.
The manufacturer of portable, lightweight signage and displays was founded in 1999 by Ed Flaherty and remained a family business until 2017 when Pfingsten Partners became the majority equity partner.
“They’ve both been phenomenal for us,” says Walsh. “Our family owners were fantastic. They built a leadership team and instilled a culture focused on growth through delivering customer delight. Pfingsten has really been accelerating that growth plan through acquisition—both domestically and internationally—over the last 12 months.”
Among those acquisitions was Alabama-based Xarisma (pronounced “charisma”), a leader in custom soft signage and innovative display development.
“Showdown’s success is in providing custom print images on standard sized display and signage products,” says Walsh. “Xarisma’s expertise is in offering custom-sized soft-signage and display products, especially in the SEG [Silicone Edge Graphics] world and the custom flag business. This expertise will allow Showdown to expand our product and service offering for all of our North American resellers. We’re very excited about what that’s going to do for us,” says Walsh.
Showdown Displays has a team of local sales professionals positioned all over North America, but its manufacturing facilities are located in three buildings: a 120,000-sq.ft. manufacturing facility in Ramsey, Minn.; a 185,000-sq.ft. corporate headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minn.; and the recently purchased 95,000-sq.ft. Xarisma facility in Huntsville, Ala. These facilities are complemented by an additional ten (10) remote distribution warehouses that supply display hardware and components to 92 percent of the U.S. next day.
The company’s leadership is keenly aware of the challenges that can be created by rapid growth. To proactively address this, the leadership team completed a strategic planning session in 2012 where they outlined crisp new mission and vision statements. At the same time, they clearly defined the core values that were responsible for the company’s success. Actively socializing these messages while recognizing and promoting team members that personified those values, helps to align all of Showdown’s team members on a common goal as the business grows. That mission: “Great Products… Legendary Customer Experiences.”
“We’ve been fortunate and blessed to have experienced tremendous growth,” says Walsh. “When I joined our organization in 2010 we had 109 employees. Less than 10 years later, we’re at more than 570 employees and still growing. It’s essential to have enough talent and leadership to maintain that growth. Those mission and vision statements helped define our company culture, and our culture differentiates Showdown from any other company I’ve experienced.”
From the humble start as a manufacturer of traditional tradeshow pop-up displays, the business has evolved into a trade-only supplier of event marketing products supporting promotional agencies, experiential, display and signage companies who are looking to build their clients’ brands. Whereas customers once came to Showdown for pop-ups and signs, now they partner with Showdown for nearly everything display related.
While Showdown started in 1999, it sprang from another company, Creative Banner Displays, that started in 1989. Creative Banner was a manufacturer and supplier to the sign shop industry, delivering hardware and consumables used in the sign and print industries. “It has been an incredibly exciting journey,” says Walsh. “To stay relevant, we continue to invest in print technologies at the forefront of the wide-format print marketplace and through that investment we continue to discover new and innovative products that can help brands grow.”
“In addition to the advancements in print technology, the markets and channels continue to evolve as well. We’ve seen once independent and distinct channels such as promotional, advertising, print, signage and exhibit displays grow closer in an effort to provide an immersive experience for clients,” Walsh continues. “To fuel that effort and make it easier for our reseller partners, we’ve been aligning our efforts behind a single brand: Showdown Displays.”
Showdown believes a key element to its success is doing business only through approved product resellers. “We don’t have a separate website for a direct-to-market brand because that isn’t who we are or what we do,” Walsh says. “Being able to communicate that with conviction is powerful for our team and our reseller partners.”
What some might call challenges or problems are part of what Walsh calls “opportunities” and perhaps the most exciting and rewarding part of the work. As a hypothetical example, he cited a recent opportunity for a partner whose client was a large electronics company introducing a new hand-held device. Printing and drop-shipping 5,000 retractable banners to 2,500 locations was the easy part. The challenge was in gaining access to the image of the new phone only five business days prior to launch. As he says, “That’s exciting.”
“Coming up with creative solutions to meet those remarkable demands of visual promotion or product introductions, while still managing your way through customer requirements, is where the Showdown team really excels,” Walsh says. “Seeing our team collaborate on those solutions and delivering, is one of the top things that I love about my role.”