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Trail Magic


Several years ago, I wrote an article called “Trail Magic.” The term was introduced to me by my son when he completed a seven-month hike on the 2,700-mile Appalachian Trail.

The “trail magic” tradition was started by those who have completed this long hike. Previous travelers who made the full journey would go back to a single point on the trail that was most difficult for them, and then quietly leave a pizza and a 6-pack of beer for an upcoming hiker group to find when they arrived at this very point- Eureka!

Imagine being exhausted and losing energy only to find a welcome surprise at the top of a hill during an arduous stretch of trail. At this point, no better reward is appreciated than a boost in energy and an unexpected surprise they called “Trail Magic.”Those on the trail fortunate enough to have experienced this “eureka moment” know exactly where it came from, but will never meet those who left it behind.

Most of us on our journeys through the exposition industry have experienced a “eureka moment” or two along the way and, in some cases, know good and well who the givers of our “trail magic” were.

In the past two years, four veterans in our business passed away. Each had left “trail magic” for me, whether they knew it or not. I want to recognize them for what they did and how they influenced me in the exhibit business.

Al Bonk
I served as a project manager for Al and his major account – Miller Brewing Company. Al came to Exhibitgroup (EG) from Kitzing Exhibits where the philosophy was that the “booth activity” came first, and then the exhibit. Al often ventured to provide services to Miller that were well beyond the boundaries of normal services offered by the average exhibit company. In 1975, he brought outdoor events, private sales meetings and POP displays for EG to produce. These services were not normal offerings at the time and have now become a standard offering in the industry. This opened my eyes to believing that “we could do this” in the tradeshow industry.

Leo McDonald
Leo hired me at Exhibitgroup as a designer with little experience. He then encouraged me to become a project manager, an AE and then president of EG-Chicago after he retired. Leo was the first exhibit company owner to create a network of locations in the USA and the first to provide exhibit rentals nationally as well. He connected with the Greyhound Corporation to be the first exhibit company owned by a company outside of the industry with stockholders and funding beyond normal. He was also instrumental in creating GES, in which he was president of Exhibitgroup and GES at the same time. Leo believed that good people were your greatest asset and rewarded them generously. He was very active with EDPA in the early days and supported the association for what it represented: exhibit service companies. Leo was also not afraid to do work internationally and influenced me big time here.

Peter Bestmann
Peter Bestmann owned an exhibit company in Ramagen, Germany, called Bestmann Messebau International. In the ‘80s, Peter would travel to Exhibitgroup twice a year to help create a connection with Europe and the USA. Peter served on the board of Octanorm Service Partners International (OSPI) and influenced me to join and serve on the board with him. This encouragement was just what I needed to see the benefits of international marketing services. His vision of world connections through tradeshow marketing was well before its time.

Clay Wilkening
Clay was my mentor at Exhibitgroup. He was the first sales manager in an exhibit company. Most exhibit company AE’s are self-taught entrepreneurs who do not like anyone asking them what they are doing. Clay had a style that did not bend your nose. You wanted to please him because you liked him. He turned me on to being a member of EDPA where I went on to be president. Clay saw our industry as a large community of friendly competitors.

Lee Kleiden

Lee was a stellar AE at Giltspur Exhibits in Chicago. In 1995, Exhibitgroup purchased Giltspur. I was a part of management at Exhibitgroup and the acquisition was not a welcome move by many. Lee stepped in and acted as a peacemaker to allow the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s to join together as one. At this stage in my career, I needed a friend like Lee to help pull us all together. Lee was a role model to many and well liked and trusted by his customers.

Over the years, I am sure that we each have a story or two about a person who helped us along on our journeys in the world of tradeshow marketing. What “Trail Magic” will you leave behind?

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