How It All Started, 30 Years Ago
by Tom Lemery
I was 33 years old with a wife and two young sons. I had invested 10 years of my life advancing my career at GE and had successfully achieved my goal of becoming the Senior Exhibit Designer with GE Corporate Marketing. I had a staff of two designers along with a handful of freelancers while supporting eight exhibit coordinators. My team and I provided exhibit design, graphic design and production drawings for over 100 shows and events annually, but I also had project management duties and worked hand-in-hand with a select group of exhibit builders. I was at the forefront of some of GE’s most innovative product launches and marketing initiatives, advising high-level executives on everything from creative visual communications to traffic flow. I loved it! So why the heck would I want to leave GE and start a business? Simple: change was coming.
In 1980, Jack Welch became CEO of GE and along with him came new ideas and a different way of doing business. It has been well documented that Jack was a dynamic business leader with a clear vision of GE’s path to become No. 1 worldwide across all business sectors they touched. I personally met Jack on two occasions during my time at GE and respected his business approach and ideology. Once, during a cocktail party at a GE training facility, a large group of managers was invited to hear Jack speak about the future. I attended the meeting with Russ Percenti, Manager of GE Corporate Exhibits and years later my partner at Creatacor. Jack began his speech with a brief statement, which I clearly remember as if it was yesterday: “We need to be leaner. If there are services we currently provide inside (GE) that can be purchased from outside suppliers without sacrificing quality, we must do so!” he said. Thud! Jack’s statement hit Russ and I like a ton of bricks. Certainly the services our group (GE Corporate Exhibits) provided could be purchased outside from very capable and well respected exhibit houses. Clearly, the handwriting was on the wall!
By 1986 Jack’s initiative was in full swing. GE Corporate Marketing was a mere skeleton of what it was in its hay-day, which included over 400 marketing communications professionals, such as artists and designers, writers, program managers, account executives, production technicians and clerical staff. As 1986 came to a close only the Exhibit Operation was left. We had survived the last six years because we served many GE businesses that needed our services and, although it was never officially talked about, because we were profitable.
A few months later in March of 1987, Russ and I had lunch, but many of our colleagues were gone—victims of downsizing. Our offices on the fifth floor of 80 Wolf Road in Albany, which once served as home for some of the most creative marketing minds in the world, had been whittled down from hundreds to just 20. We knew our time was running out. I remember Russ looking up as he finished sipping his coffee, asking: “What if we take it outside?” Not prepared for the question I said, “Take what outside?” He said, “The business.”
At first I was in disbelief and overwhelmed with apprehension. I had a wife and two little kids at home and a mortgage to pay. The thought of leaving GE and becoming self-employed scared me to death. But the more we talked about it over the next several days the more my apprehension turned into excitement. It was really a great idea! After all, we were servicing about a dozen GE businesses who still needed our expertise. Certainly there would be risks but the potential reward was much greater than the risk for failure. And if we handled it properly, all those GE businesses would follow us. A week or two later knowing we had to do something before someone from the corporate office made the decision for us, we called our General Manager, Frank Fagan. Frank, a highly-experienced numbers guy with over 25 years with GE, loved the idea. We met to discuss the details and after three months of negotiating and planning, Creatacor was incorporated on July 6, 1987, with GE’s blessing and a two-year contract. We were in business! I will forever be indebted to Frank for his thoughtful and considerate negotiating approach and for providing such a life-changing opportunity for me and my family.
[Regarding the inspiration behind the “Creatacor” name… As you may know, I’m a huge Disney fan. Not just of “The Mouse” and the attractions but their business model as well. The Walt Disney Company, like GE and Apple, have a great reputation for business excellence. At the time there was an innovation center at EPCOT known as “Communicore.” I loved the name. It just rolled off the tongue. I wanted something similar, which said creativity and fresh-thinking people. And so the name “Creatacor” was formed.]
As 1987 came to a close, Creatacor, with a staff that included three designers (including myself) and four account executives lead by Russ, produced a half-dozen shows for GE, totaling over $800,000 in sales in less than six months. In those days all of our exhibit production work was bid out to trusted suppliers including Global Exhibition Services in Brooklyn, owned and operated by Ralph Tressler and his sons Dana and Drew (yes, our own Drew Tressler who joined Creatacor in 2006). The following year, we produced 24 shows and events for GE, growing our annual sales to more than $2 million. We also added our first non-GE customer, OSRAM, and produced our very first Lightfair, then known as Lighting World.
By the time our fifth anniversary came along we had doubled in size with support from countless freelancers and subcontractors. Russ, who was 24 years my senior, was ready to retire. In August of 1992 we negotiated the terms of a buyout and I became President and CEO. It was then that I decided in order for us to be the trade show exhibit provider we needed to be we must expand our in-house capabilities and become a full-service exhibit house. We soon added exhibit production and warehousing to our scope of services. Our offices remained at our Clifton Park facility at 13 Old Route 146 and we leased a 5,000- sq. ft. space from our friends at Adirondack Scenic in South Glens Falls. Under some extremely challenging conditions including a shortage of labor and insufficient shop space, we produced our first, major, completely in-house show— Lightfair for OSRAM—in 1992. Despite our difficulties, and weeks, days and hours of teeth grinding and nervousness, the show came off without a hitch and we received many notes of appreciation from OSRAM.
With every year came a new event, a new client, a new experience. Growth was our No. 1 priority, in addition to creating job security through success by closely following the principals of our mission statement…
…to become the most efficient, productive exhibit company we can be. We must strive to be known and respected for our creativity, innovative approach, and the quality of our work. We must serve our customers, as well as each other with honesty and fair mindedness. We must accept change with an open mind and continuously push for improvement with confidence and conviction.
Over the last 30 years I have worked with some great people as well as some not-so-great people. I have learned from the best and yes, I have even learned some things from the worst, many times learning lessons the hard way. But whether my experience was good or bad, it was still “experience” and experience makes you a better business leader and a better person. Now that I’m retired I can reflect on my successes as well as my failures and can tell you this: success comes with having the right people on your team, combining your ideas and dedication and simply doing the job right. Failure comes from not listening to your heart or the people you trust.
There are so many people I need to thank including Russ Percenti, whose idea, “What if we take it outside” started this whole thing rolling. Russ moved to North Carolina shortly after his retirement to be closer to his children and grandchildren, where he lived until his passing in November of 2006.
I also want to thank Will Farmer, Linda Casimano and Gerry Glynn, who helped me make it through some of the toughest times with their advice and commitment. They stood by me even when we didn’t agree, which wasn’t very often. I cannot imagine what Creatacor would be like today without them.
I also want to sincerest thanks to the hundreds of customers we have served over the years including, GE, OSRAM, Sylvania, LEGO, DSM, Central Garden & Pet, Callaway Golf, Pierce Promotions, Sub Rosa and many, many more. Without you we are nothing. You will forever have my sincerest respect and gratitude.
Creatacor is a great company because of each of you! Whether we have served you for decades or just a few weeks, know that we are grateful to be associated with your business and consider ourselves to be an extension of your staff. To all Creatacor associates: whether you have 30 years with the company or just a few days, know that you are part of a phenomenal team and be proud of what YOU have achieved and what YOU can accomplish!
See us in action: BEHR
Grand Central Station, New York, NY
August 9, 2017
To announce its first-ever 2018 Color of the Year, Behr Paint constructed a Pop-Up Trend Home inside Grand Central Terminal—and we were there to help!
The Logistics of Trade Show Life: Part Two
According to Kyle Peterson, Creatacor Project Manager
Have any favorite cities?
New York is my favorite city, as it’s by far the easiest to navigate and if you can’t find it there, it truly doesn’t exist anywhere. But I also love going to San Diego. Who doesn’t want sunshine every day, a low of 65 degrees and a high of 75 every day?! Beyond that, any city with a large live music presence is always a draw to me.
Las Vegas is my least favorite city, although every time I go I like it a bit more. Winter there is considered off-season so the show schedules tend to be less exciting, and because you’re in the desert it has the potential to get quite cold. In the summer you can’t go outside because it’s like standing under a hair dryer everywhere you go, any time of day or night. It is also quite expensive compared to some other cities. But the restaurant scene is amazing, I’ll give Vegas that.
Best place you have eaten, where and why?
There isn’t only one, for sure. Rose Rabbit Lie in Vegas has an amazing small plate menu, fantastic décor and live entertainment including tap dancing on a grand piano while the jazz band dazzles your ears and the singer woos you while sitting with you at your table… Pretty great. I’m also a fan of Max’s Wine Dive in Austin which has incredible comfort food with an extensive wine list in a comfortable bar atmosphere and great service. I’m also a fan of almost every Irish Pub in New York City.
Best place you have stayed and why?
During my first trip to San Diego, the only hotel with a room available was the Marriott Marina. I had a room on the 25th floor with a balcony overlooking the ocean. It was amazing. I remember leaving the sliding door open the whole time I was there to enjoy the constant warm breeze off the water.
My current favorite place to stay, and a place where I spend about 20 nights a year, is The Marriott Grand Chateau in Las Vegas. It has the same rates as other hotels, but with better amenities. It’s like a large one-bedroom apartment with in-room washer and dryer, something that comes in really handy when I’m spending two weeks there each January. It’s also close to the strip so dining options are aplenty, and has two swimming pools and three hot tubs… although those are always closed when I’m off work.
Anything you would change to make it better?
This is a constantly changing business. The only way to make it better is to make it easier, and the only way to do that is to be as prepared as you possibly can prior to stepping foot on that exhibit floor. But to put it simply, good communication—both within our walls and with the client—is essential to a successful show.
What is the most fantastic thing you have seen?
I’ve seen The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, The U.S.S. Enterprise up close. I’ve driven the Pacific coast from San Diego to Venice Beach in July, and it was incredible.
What would make your job easier?
Longer time frames to prepare prior to a show would almost always make things easier. Most shows could use one more day of setup time to help cut back on the long days while eliminating the need to pay overtime.
Anything the client could do to help contribute to lower costs, easier set up?
The more prepared the client is before setup starts, the better. Having all their details figured out prior to us shipping the booth makes for a much smoother installation. And although it doesn’t happen often, sometimes the client realizes they want to change the booth layout once they see it in real life. That means we have to take it all down, roll up the carpet, redo all the electric and start back at square one.
One more thing: It’s always best when our clients understand that the booth will be a mess until about 10 minutes before we’re all done. This work is controlled chaos, and when our client’s nerves are at ease, our job is easier and less stressful.
Is it helpful to have clients on the floor for you, and also for them?
Yes, most of the time. I like to have the client on site prior to telling the hired labor they’re done, which gives me some assurance that we have final sign-off prior to my team’s departure. But if the client shows up too early in the setup process it can slow things down.
How do you ensure a quality set up with a team you don’t know?
Having good drawings and a full understanding of how the booth works is key in this industry. Day one, you gather the team, complete introductions, review drawings and develop a plan of attack. You make yourself available for questions and be proactive, paying attention to workflow and next steps. Finish every day with a wrap up, and work out a game plan for the next day, as well as a sincere thank you and a handshake with each member of your crew. It goes the same each day thereafter until the set is complete.
We made the “list” again…
the 2017 Event Marketer FAB 50 List, that is!
We’re grabbing headlines again…
“Where in the World” is Creatacor…
Natick Mall-The LEGO® Americana Roadshow, Natick, MA (9/9)
Solar Power International, Las Vegas, Nevada (9/10)
CAMX, Orlando, FL (9/11)
The Battery Show North America 2017, Novi, MI (9/12)
AFIA Liquid Feed Symposium
The Big E 2017, Springfield, MA (9/15)
SMISS Logistics, Las Vegas, NV (9/15)
American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition, Chicago, IL (9/16)
Lark Fest, Albany, NY (9/23)
Pack Expo 2017, Las Vegas, NV (9/25)
SSW-Supply Side West 2017, Las Vegas, NV (9/27)
ARMA Austin Regional Manufacturing Assoc., Austin, TX (9/27)
World Dairy Expo, Madison, WI (10/3)
CanWEA, Montreal, Canada (10/3)
NYS MWBE Conference, Albany, NY (10/4)
Staten Island Mall-The LEGO® Americana Roadshow, Staten Island, NY (10/7)
International Cable & Connectivity Symposium, Orlando, FL (10/9)
International Rubber Expo 2017, Cleveland, OH (10/9)
AUSA Annual Meeting, Washington, DC (10/9)
ACC Annual Meeting 2017, Washington D.C. (10/15)
AirBNB @ NMSDC Conference, Detroit, MI (10/21)
NASS 2017, Orlando, FL (10/25)
AAPEX17, Las Vegas, NV (10/31)
NYC Marathon Expo, New York, NY (11/2)
Play Fair 2017, New York, NY (11/3)
Walmart Toyland 2017, Bentonville, AR (11/3)
NAPT 2017, Columbus, OH (11/7)
AAPS 2017, San Diego, CA (11/14)
WindEurope, Amsterdam, Netherlands (11/28)
Power-Gen 2017, Las Vegas, NV (12/5)
CAMX – Composites and Advanced Materials Expo, Orlando, FL (12/12)
According to Sage World, a provider of research and business management tools, 92% of trade show attendees say they’re looking for new products even though only 13% of companies introduce their new products in trade shows.