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As_The_Saws_Turn Jim Obermeyer
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Lessons and Observations

by Jim Obermeyer

If you would have asked me a year ago if I would see this day, I would have had serious doubts. As much of a glass-half-full guy as I am, I had significant concerns for our industry, and my continued participation in it. But here I am at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show at the LVCC, exactly 40 years after I did my very first show—Computer Aided Manufacturing International (CAM-I) in Fort Worth in October 1981.

Yes, 40 years of working with clients at tradeshows in 26 different countries, 47 different states, 81 different cities and 168 different venues. Who would have thought that 40 years ago? Certainly not me. I was working in a large marketing department at a huge defense contractor. I always wondered why there were these two guys who were never around.

Finally, I asked them what they did. “Tradeshows,” they said. And my response? “What’s a tradeshow?” That’s where it all started.

I know I have a lot of colleagues in this industry who have logged more than 40 years and are still going strong, and that is encouraging. What has 40 years of work in this industry brought me—other than the opportunity to work with some of the best people I know, and the ability to provide for my family? Here are just a few lessons and observations that come to mind:

– You’ll never truly know this business until you work on the show floor. Pictures don’t tell the whole story. Everyone in this industry should see at least one large show from bare concrete to bare concrete, and everything in between.

– Bring the right team with you to the show—they will save you time and money and make the results even better. And you’ll have more fun.

– One good service desk person can change the outcome of the entire show.

– Our companies may be competitors in the industry, but on the show floor we are all comrades. We all strive to create success for our clients, and we help each other when we can.

– Being at the show is a great place to build strong relationships with your clients and enjoy their company. I’ve had opportunities to do wine tastings, meet sports and music stars, have private tours of the San Diego Zoo, NASA Kennedy Space Center and Chicago’s Natural History Museum with clients.

– Oh, the places you’ll go…taking my I&D supervisor to see the Grand Canyon on a day off during a long show in Las Vegas. Seeing Elton John, Sting, John Mellencamp and Tim McGraw play private concerts at client events. Watching planes race (yes, race) at the Reno Air Races with a client. Getting to go to the Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean from our client’s rental house in Mission Beach.

– Everyone has a story. Take the time to listen to them. Sit around the hotel pool with your team after a long day of set up and just have beer and pizza and conversation. Take your team and go hang out around a bonfire at the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nev.

– I think we in this industry have a tendency to not value the expertise that we have. A good friend of mine from outside our industry said to me, “Jim, you could walk into any corporate board room in America and be the smartest guy in there on the topic of face-to-face marketing. You need to place more value on what you know.” He’s right. And this is not about me. This is about us. Every one of us that has spent our careers in this industry has developed a level of expertise unmatched by those outside our business. We need to place more value on that expertise, and frankly, we need to stop giving it away.

– At some point you will want to give back to the industry that has given you so much. Get involved in EDPA, EACA or whatever industry association works for you. And go to the Randy Smith Memorial Golf Classic, our industry’s way of helping our people get through some of the absolute toughest times of their lives. It will change you forever.

I am nowhere near Clint Eastwood’s age, but whenever I’m feeling tired, I read about him still actively pursuing his work at age 88 and telling Toby Keith he doesn’t “let the old man in.” And the leading auto racing teams with guys like Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs and Richard Petty in their late 70s and early 80s, and all still actively involved in their businesses. Interviews with each of them lead to a common denominator: a continued passion for what they are doing. It is not a job. It is not even a career. For them, it is a passion. It drives their energy; it motivates them to continue doing what they are doing. And they still enjoy it immensely.

And that is how I feel right now about what I am doing. The old man has definitely not gotten in here. See you on the show floor…still!

Jim Obermeyer has been in the exhibits and events industry 40 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner. He can be reached at jobermeyer903@gmail.com

A shorter version of this story originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 12. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_nov-dec_2021

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