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The Tradeshow Times: A Great Industry and a Great Place to Work

by Bob McGlincy

The tradeshow industry is an important one. It creates jobs, generates business and bolsters local economies. Its a lot of fun, both on and off the show floor, and I am fortunate to be part of it.

My first show was 45 years ago at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC)—the dismantle of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). It was a hot June day in Atlanta, and I wasnt sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t understand how that first day would impact the trajectory of my life. 

I walked onto the show floor with some friends (isnt that how many of us got into the business?) and stopped in my tracks. It was amazing. There was so much activity—people, noise, excitement—and the building seemed to go on forever. The entire hall was only 149,000 square feet, but it seemed huge to me at the time. Since that day 45 years ago, the hall tripled in size, and the GWCC added two more buildings. NAMM also grew over the years; by 2019 it was one of the top 20 shows in the country.

The industry has been very good to me. Not only have I had a lot of good times and made myriad friends, tradeshows helped me put two kids through college and paid for one divorce. In the beginning, I worked as a stagehand on the show floor and remodeled homes. Then I joined I&D after its founding in 1979 (the name changed to nth Degree in 1996). It was a fun place to work, with good energy and good people. They gave me the opportunity to move from traveling lead man, to city manager, to regional operations manager. I was able to work part-time and make a full-time living; I even worked outside the industry, as a set carpenter on three movies. 

In 1984, I&D exhibited at TS2 with the tagline, Pioneering the Industry to Excellence.” Although I&D was not the first labor company to emphasize service, the company changed the nature, training and perception of the show floor worker, which was huge.

I was recruited by Giltspur in 1988, and became vice president of operations for their ExpoServices division. After ExhibitGroup acquired Giltspur, I became managing partner of a startup, and we sold that company in 2005.

The best place I have worked is Willwork, and I have been here for 16 years. Prior to joining the company, I was a competitor, a guest lecturer at Willwork University, and a client. The things that impressed me most about the company were the quality of the people and the outstanding level of customer service on the tradeshow floor. These things continue to impress me today.

Willwork creates opportunities and provides for families. Many of the executives have been with the company for more than 20 years; several started out on the show floor and are now leading different divisions. Willwork is a team and despite its size, it feels like a family. People work together, travel together and laugh together. Most of all we have fun. We have fun on the show floor making a difference for our clients, and we have fun bonding off the show floor. Super Bowl parties, laser tag, softball games, lobster boils, chili cook-offs, recipe sharing, lunches, bowling tournaments, best ball and golf scrambles, pizza challenges, birthdays, horseshoes, charity events, donut eating competitions, Christmas parties, holiday decoration prize fests, Wiffle ball games, dinners, training events … the list could go on. 

But to me, what makes it the most fun is collectively providing great service. Take away the stress and the chaos of the show floor, and deliver peace of mind” — thats what Willwork does. Its a culture – people either fit in and they love it or they dont and they leave. Much like the industry itself.

What makes a company great? Its the people and the owners; its the attitude, mutual respect and core values. A great company works at being innovative and proactive. A great company makes opportunities for people to make a living, support a family, advance a career, help the community, have fun and make a difference.

Tradeshows are great: they are business malls for displaying products, convention centers for connecting people, mini-universities for a meeting of the minds, financial engines for powering local economies. Tradeshows display breathtaking, museum-quality designs of brand architecture. Tradeshows are energizing. When I walk onto the show floor, I step a little quicker, stand a little taller, and can’t help but smile more broadly.

Bob McGlincy is director, business management at Willwork Global Event Services. Willwork creates engaging, energized, and exceptional event experiences. Bob can be contacted at

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