June 7, 1939- January 20, 2021
The exhibit industry lost a giant with the passing of Larry Crumlish on January 20. It’s no exaggeration to say that he was one of the true pioneers of the portable tradeshow market. He was also known and loved by countless veterans of the industry— as anyone who ever attempted to stroll the floor of EXHIBITORLIVE with him can attest. Larry couldn’t make it more than 10 feet without seeing an old friend. The two of them would light up at the sight of each other, sharing some happy memory and a promise to see each other again soon. Simply completing a single aisle with Larry could be an all-day affair, which is a testament to the legendary impact he’s had on the industry in his 40-plus-year career.
After learning the ropes at what he called “the exhibit school of Freeman,” Larry founded Display Products Inc., in 1977. There he, along with his long-time collaborator Michelle Stacy, pioneered the use of fabric in tradeshow exhibits. Many of the commonplace fabric items—table skirting, throw covers, banners, and backdrops—we take for granted on the show floor were ushered in by Larry after responding to the needs of tradeshow exhibitors. In fact, serving the customer was paramount to Larry. Finding their need and satisfying it was always top of mind with him.
And that key characteristic led Larry to his next venture in 1985 when he launched what would become his landmark contribution to the tradeshow industry. He, along with partner Rik Kent, opened The Exhibit Store in Dallas. This “store” included products from a wide range of portable exhibit manufacturers. It was an unprecedented shift during a time when exhibit dealers were closely aligned with a single manufacturer. It’s fair to say Larry was the innovator of the industry’s “one-stop shopping” showroom that we all know today and was a testament to the goodwill he had built up with the manufacturers of the day. The Exhibit Store concept was a smash hit and eventually had offices in Houston, Austin and New Orleans.
Larry, the consummate salesman, was a mentor to his employees and interested in their personal development whether it was in sales or production. And he wasn’t afraid to give outsiders a chance. He hired clothing salespeople, ex-police officers, and people from all walks of life. Then he taught them how to sell. And he treated them all (along with everyone he had dealings with) as an extension of his own family, some of whom literally were—his wife Billye and son Tim were among the employees of The Exhibit Store. In 2001, Larry moved into consulting, working with many key tradeshow companies throughout the years until he retired from the industry in 2019 at the age of 80.
For all his contributions to the exhibit industry, Larry’s humanity and friendship will no doubt be missed most of all. Larry loved people, and they loved him right back. The gifts of personality and integrity served as the foundation of his entire life, both on and off the show floor. Being a great lover of wines, Larry would regularly invite people to his home for happy hours to share anecdotes and talk tradeshows. And his great sense of humor meant he never missed a chance to drop a pun into just about every conversation. His quick wit, infectious laugh, and genuine sincerity will be greatly missed, and anyone who knew him is a better person for it.
Just a few of the hundreds of remembrances and tributes from social media and his online guest book include:
Kevin Carty, EVP at Classic Exhibits, “Our industry lost a gem today! Thank you, Larry, for being a guiding light to so many over the years. You are going to be sorely missed. God Bless! Heaven became even brighter today.”
Mike McDaniel, business development at Electric Sky Fabrication (formerly Gist Specialties), wrote, “Larry was a good friend for the last 30 years. I met him when starting my exhibit career in the early ’80s when he ran Display Products and later The Exhibit Store in Dallas. Truly a leader in development of portable display products for the industry and a mentor for many including myself. Whether we connected later in California, Florida or here in Las Vegas, his huge smile and contagious laugh were always the highlight of my day. He will brighten even the days in Heaven. RIP and laughter, Larry.”
David Walens, CEO/president at Exploring, Inc., wrote, “This breaks my heart. He was a pioneer on so many levels in the tradeshow industry. He was also a long-time friend and one of the kindest and nicest people I know in this industry. He will be missed.”
Robert Laarhoven, brand ambassador at beMatrix USA, wrote, “Sorry to hear this. So many memories going all the way back to TS2 in San Antonio in 1984. Over the years Larry was a friend, customer and even co-worker for a time towards the end of his career. He was one of the pioneers in the portable/modular exhibit industry. I remember playing golf with him on a cold wet day during an EDPA conference in the ’90s. The club slipped out of his hand and got stuck in a tree. We took turns throwing clubs into the tree trying to knock his down. Thank you, Larry, for everyone you have mentored over the years and being a great example.
Chris Griffin shared, “The man was an institution. Larry made looking like Santa Claus cool—before it was cool to look like Santa Claus. Always a kind word for ANY new professional in our industry, Larry was an integral part of my own ‘learning’ about the history and evolution of the portable exhibit industry. First real showroom guy, with The Exhibit Store in Dallas. Calm seas and fair winds on your journey, Larry (don’t worry – I’ll turn off the show room lights when we’re finished for the day…)”
Danny Kent, founder of 5DShowServices, shared, “We lost a great soul last month. Larry was such a big part of my entire life both personally and professionally. He and Billye babysat me the week I was born while my parents took my older brother to the hospital to have his tonsils removed. 50+ years later they have been just as important to me and my family and Larry will be in our hearts forever. He was a true pioneer in the tradeshow exhibit industry and with his quick punny wit, infectious laugh and genuine sincerity will be greatly missed and anyone who knew him is a better person because of it. Cheers to you my friend.”
Mark Bendickson, principle of Mark Bendickson Design, wrote, “Farewell to an amazing friend, mentor and pioneer. If you have anything to do with custom modular or portable exhibits, this man has a great deal to do with you making a living. I like to think right now he and my Father are sharing a cocktail, and talking about the old days. Rest in Peace Larry Crumlish. A pioneer, and friend. To say he will be missed will be such an understatement. I have talked to so many people in the last two weeks that I haven’t for years, I imagine that would really make Larry smile to know that so many people are catching up and sharing old stories and memories.”
Marc Goldberg wrote that “…Larry’s mantle [was] of being a true leader in the industry in a most difficult time. He set a great example for a generation (or several generations) of industry professionals.”
Ray C. Rogowicz, owner/CEO and president of EXHIBITTRADER.COM, Inc., wrote, “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men, Larry was amongst.. An amazing mind, a never-ending spirit and a heart of gold. You will be forever missed my old friend.”
Candance Swaim, CTSM, “OMGoodness, we lost a good one. He was so kind and sharing. He truly was one of those that laid the foundation of best practice and willing to guide us rookies, especially here in Texas. Perhaps, Larry can work some heavenly magic for us. He will be missed, and that smile of his will live forever. RIP Larry; blessings to you and your loved ones.”
Industry veteran Gwen Parsons wrote, “So sad to learn this. Larry, ‘LC,’ has a very special place in the hearts of many in the industry. We’ve lost a good one. God bless him.”
Mel White from Classic Exhibits Inc., shared, “An amazing man on so many levels who deserves to be in the pantheon of greats in the exhibition industry. We are all better people having known him. Larry, my index finger is raised in praise of you!”
Mark Brauer, national sales director at Stylmark, Inc., wrote, “One of the good guys, industry innovator who taught me so much. Always quick with a solution and quicker with a smile!
Jim Shelman, GM, Classic Rental Solutions, wrote, “Larry was an incredibly nice man. He welcomed me into the industry at a TS2 Show in San Francisco over 30 years ago. I was a young rookie, yet he took the time to chat with me as though he knew me, had encouraging words for me, and sincerely showed interest my new career. That left such a positive impression with me towards him and the exhibit industry ever since. He made me feel like I was in the right place. Perhaps a great lesson and example for all of us. We should take the time to sincerely encourage others, because you never know the impact it may have on them. Thanks Larry! I have no doubt you’re shaking hands with that great big smile on your face today.
Marc Goldberg wrote, “We lost a brother, a mentor, a friend. When Mim and I started Marketech360 in 1985, it was recommended that I drive to Dallas and visit with Larry. I had no clients. I had a concept, a value prop, a passion for going it alone. He gave me a contract to sell portables in Okla.- Radius Exhibits kept food on the table, and the mortgage paid while I found my first staff training client. I traversed the state of Oklahoma setting up sample exhibit in driveways, in barns in businesses. My Honda trunk was packed with pop-ups and tabletops. He became a sounding board, step by step while we built our business. He sold me my first FS-22 Radius exhibit that I took to TSEA Montreal where I was across the aisle from Skyline which began a 25-year relationship with Jeff Johnson and Mike Thimmesch. It was Larry that encouraged us to move into the measurement arena and introduced us to Jane Lorimer who became our measurement partner and lifelong friend. Over the years, after we relocated to Mass., it was at ExhibitorLive and HCEA events that kept the friendship alive aside from frequent calls and emails. We will miss Larry and his affable way and great laugh. Billye, your partner will always be with us, too.”
Paul Bigham wrote, “Not a time passing I-35 and Manana that I don’t think of Larry and The Exhibit Store. I am blessed to have known Larry, and Billye as well. Such an important, and fortunately long, time of my life with him. I look forward to celebrating his life as the opportunity is confirmed…With love and admiration in all ways.”
Victor and Mary Lynn Maloney shared, “Oh boy, Larry, it was a delight to know you. You certainly knew how to enter a room and bring a hit of sunshine and laughter with you. So happy to have the memories of sharing food, cocktails, laughter and good times with you. Our most sincere sympathy and big hugs to your sweet family.”
Mark Brauer, national sales director, Stylmark, Inc., wrote, “Larry was a true mentor and innovator. Taught me so much about this great industry. Will truly miss that mischievous grin.”
Joe Fugaro, sales at Coastal International, wrote, ”So sorry to hear about Larry, Sales-ism lost a good man. Bless you my friend.”
Jay Burkette, former VP ExpoDisplays 1984-2020, EDPA Past President 2014, shared, “Larry was a heck of a guy, a survivor and a big part of our industry—always with a great belly laugh.”
Gery Hunter, president at Hunter Expositions Inc., wrote, “Met him only once, will remember him forever.”
Larry is survived by his wife Billye, daughter Amy Baker, son Tim Campbell, his siblings, and the host of extended friends who consider him family, including:
Danny Kent, founder, 5D Show Services
Doug Wickwire, president, Shabang Exhibits Inc.
Jack Rawlings, senior account executive, 2020 Exhibits Inc.
Peter Muller, vice president, McRae Imaging
Tim Lightfoot, president, Radius Display Products
To share a memory or send condolences, visit www.restlandfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Lawrence-Crumlish/
An excerpt of this story originally appeared in the Mar./Apr. 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 24-26 and the cover. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_mar-apr_2021. A big thank you to Mark Benedickson, Danny Kent and Tim Lightfoot for providing the photographs for this tribute.