Answering a classified for a receptionist at the now-defunct Heritage Exhibits 16 years ago proved to be a life-changing moment for Jenny Bess, the owner and founder of a new tradeshow marketing and logistics company — ExhibitSmart.
Not only did Bess meet a lifelong mentor – her eventual mother-in-law – at Heritage, but she also found her calling to work in the tradeshow industry. Starting off in account management, she later earned positions with Reveal Inc. and ELITeXPO.
At ELITeXPO for seven years, Bess expanded her knowledge and skillset as a client service specialist and project manager. Using the years of experience she continued to build upon, Bess decided to launch her own venture.
With support from family, friends and fellow members of the tradeshow industry, Bess founded ExhibitSmart in June 2014.
“I wanted to challenge myself and advance my career. I want to help clients make decisions based on efficiency and make new connections,” explained Bess. “Taking this leap also provides me with some flexibility to be there for my children. It’s scary and exciting but rewarding.”
As the leader of ExhibitSmart, Bess extends a hand to companies of any size, helping them promote themselves at tradeshows or overcome personnel shortages within their marketing departments.
“I’m like another person in their marketing department,” she added.
A large company that downsized its marketing staff may go outside the company for temporary assistance with the logistics of their tradeshow. This is where Bess steps in. The same is true for smaller companies that may not have a robust marketing department or no clear marketing leader. Bess becomes that leader.
Her clients come from a range of industries, but due to her experience with the crossover of various industries inside the tradeshow industry, she can easily pinpoint which tradeshows they should target based on the audience and attendance.
“Sometimes, the tradeshow is just about being there and showing your face. Others are about making deals. Guiding customers through the process of choosing the right tradeshow for marketing, to boost sales or show a new product line,” she stated.
Not only this, Bess assists with pre- and post-show mailings, social media and press releases; onsite literature distribution; offsite meetings; exhibit branding and messaging; hotel arrangements; labor and more. If there is a need to reference forms related to the tradeshow, Bess neatly organizes show kits for anyone to quickly find it.
“With our show information packet, we indicate what was shipped, when it arrived and who signed for it. On the show floor, the client has all of the details in one place — from show service orders to pack lists and graphic layouts. When on the show floor, the installation and dismantle city manager has this same packet and can easily reference what was ordered. It makes for a smooth show when all that work is done up front and you’re not running around like crazy,” Bess said.
Additionally, Bess trusts her vendor network to provide her clients with the best service in warehousing; installation and dismantle (I&D); graphic; flooring and more.
“I’m in a unique position because I don’t have a ton of overhead. My trusted vendors can come through and assist me. I can do things more efficiently because I’m playing many roles. It worked well being an account manager and project manager. It’s all about details and tradeshow dates. My efficient way of working benefits the client,” she commented.
Now working as a one-woman show in St. Louis, Bess enjoys the flexibility of her new role. When she’s not meeting with clients, she works out of her home, where her co-worker is her 10-year-old Weimaraner “Epcot.”
“[My dog] is not demanding; he just needs to be let out every once and a while,” she joked. “The big difference is the liberty I have to make decisions. I could be doing internal tasks one day and sales and marketing the next day. I can structure my day to how I feel it should go, but the clients’ needs come first,” Bess explained.
Although ExhibitSmart is still young yet, Bess already sees how it could expand in the future. When the company reaches the milestone where it needs more employees or a brick-and-mortar office, she plans to seek counsel from others who’ve followed this path. She also hopes to become a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)-certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE).
Aside from being a tradeshow industry veteran and business owner, Bess is a married mother of two who enjoys staying involved in her children’s school activities.