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The Island of Misfit Toys – By Jim Obermeyer

island-misfit-toysI cannot count the number of times over the years that I have been in conversations and in meetings where someone is talking about how they ‘stumbled’ into this industry, how they ‘got yanked in sideways’ or how they ‘just fell into it.’ It appears that no one actually grows up and goes to school planning to be in the trade show industry. We all just end up here.

Kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys.

When I heard this reference from the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special, at first I laughed…and then I thought, hey…wait a minute!

The comment came from a speaker at the recent Exhibit Designers & Producers Association (EDPA) ACCESS Conference, held November 30 – December 2 in Orlando, our industry’s annual gathering of designers, builders and suppliers. This three-day meeting brings together around 300 of our industry’s finest for educational sessions, keynote speakers, a product showcase, networking opportunities and a fundraising event for the EDPA Foundation.

I always go into this week fired up about the chance to see old friends, meet new ones, learn new things and just be a part of a group of very passionate ‘misfit toys.’ I’m not sure how you can attend this event and not come away energized about your career, your business and your industry.

There is always something special that happens during this conference. This year, for me it was seeing a former boss, mentor and fellow admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work be recognized by the Hazel Hays Award.  This award acknowledges significant contributions to the knowledge and literature of the exhibit industry; the design and invention of material, equipment or processes.  Congratulations, Mick Parrott!

Frankly, I’m not sure how you can live and work in this industry and not make this event an annual requirement on your calendar. Seriously, if this is your chosen field (no matter how you got into it), whether you are an owner, an executive, in a sales, creative, financial or production role, this should be part of your year.  It is so important to step out of your building, step away from day-to-day minutia and expose yourself to the opportunity to spend time with people that are dealing with exactly the same issues you are.

I don’t know of anywhere else that someone in this industry can get this kind of opportunity to learn, to re-energize, to meet, and to just hang out with fellow industry people. Sure, we’re competitors.  But in all the years I have been coming to this event, I have acquired more knowledge, made more business friends, found more key supplier partners and gained a better understanding of how we can all work together than any other single event in our industry.

Perhaps it’s because it’s early December and I’m sitting in my hotel room on the last day of this event, sliding door open, warm breezes drifting in, that I am a bit high on this event. Perhaps it’s that I am still ‘hung over’ from all of the great conversations I’ve had in the last three days.  Perhaps it’s because I’m overwhelmed with all of the new information I’ve gained that I want to figure out how to take back and use in our business.

Whatever it is, my wish is that if you’re reading this and you’re in this industry, you would seriously think about attending EDPA ACCESS next year.

Island of Misfit Toys? Maybe not so much.  I think I like EDPA Executive Director Jeff Provost’s reference better.  In the last session on the last day, he referred to us as a “family of businesses.”

It’s time for you to join the family.

See you on the show floor…and see you next year at ACCESS.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a Vice President at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at

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