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The 6 Questions with Mark Bendickson

I asked Mark Bendickson of Exhibit Design The 6 Questions.


Mark and I met some 10 years ago and since we have worked on a project or two. Mainly I always appreciate Mark’s perspective and candid challenge to the creative side of our business. He always tells it like it is… pretty edgy in a time where many play it safe. There is so much of the same, overused, boring design out there – it’s a good thing we have true creative pros like Mark out there keeping us on our toes!

1. Tradeshow industry lore is that we all just fell into tradeshow and once you’re in you never leave. For many people that is certainly true. For others, they leave but a part of them remains.  How did you get into the business?

MB – My father was in the exhibit business since the 50s, so I was exposed to it quite a bit growing up.  I used to do I&D on the weekends.  In fact, I got in my first argument with a union shop steward electrician at the National Beer Wholesaler’s Show in Washington DC when I was in 8th grade.  The first time I ever saw Lee Knight was when he was performing magic long before Exhibitor Magazine, and I cut classes in college for a few days to drive a limo for Alan King and Doc Severinson (OK, I am old) for a corporate event in St. Paul.

In spite of all that (or maybe because of it) I was 30 before I actually went to work for a display company.  I was designing specialty vehicles at the time when I had an opportunity to be a principal in an ambulance and firetruck manufacturer in Ohio.  Unfortunately timing was bad and the real estate market meant I would have taken a bath selling my house, so I finally gave in and gave the exhibit business a try.

For some reason when people get in this business, like Al Pacino in Godfather 3, they are almost never successful in leaving.  In the last 25 years I have worked in the custom end of the business as a designer and department manager, owned two other exhibit companies, and am now a design consultant.  I have certainly not enjoyed every second, but as a married friend once said; “marriage really sucks 90% of the time, but the other 10% is good enough that it makes up for it.”

I don’t think there is any profession that offers the variety of experiences and client variety.  I have designed both exhibits and exhibit systems for clients in almost every category of service and manufacturing company there is. More importantly, in contrast to the huge number of gaping assholes, I have also had the chance to meet and work with some of the most amazing, talented, dedicated and creative people imaginable.

And who inspired you to grow into your Tradeshow career?

MB – The list is long, but I won’t name names because some of the best lessons I have learned are what not to do.  For every creative director that mentored me and taught me what was and wasn’t important, there’s a CEO who made his mark by being a living, breathing, cautionary tale.

2. What would you be if you were not in Tradeshow?
MB – Considering where I was when I got into the tradeshow business full time, I would probably be administration or marketing for a healthcare company, or still doing industrial design.

3. Without considering the customers you visit, focusing only on the location, what is your favorite city to hang out in for business travel and why?
MB – That is difficult, as it’s the people that make the trip.  No matter where you are, paradise can be ruined with poor company, and kindred spirits can make the most mundane locales a joy to remember.  I would say, however, that a good rule of thumb is don’t go too far south between May and October, and too far North between November and April.

4. What experience do you recall as a nightmare when it happened but can sit back and laugh about it now?

MB – Not that happened to me.  Nightmare problems get solved, but I can’t think of any that are amusing in hindsight.  There are, however, a whole bunch that were nightmares for other people that were really amusing, then and now, to watch unfold from the sidelines.

There are plenty of non-nightmare but self-deprecating ones.  For instance, I had a regular routine for coming back from Vegas after 8-10 day stints by hammering a bunch of margaritas at the airport bar before getting on the red eye.  Once, when I got to MSP, and my client had a two-hour layover to wait for his connection, I decided to stick around and have breakfast because I was still too drunk to drive home.  

Or the flight home from Global Shop where I tilted my seat back as soon as the gear came up and promptly fell asleep, only to wake up as the wheels hit the tarmac at the end of the flight, and a flight that you can sleep through is about as close to being Star Trek like transported there is.  As we were taxiing to the gate someone a couple rows up asked their travelling companion if they got any sleep, to which they replied, “I tried, but somebody was snoring too loud.”  It was then I noticed about half dozen people give me a quick sideways look.  And it got better.  At the baggage claim one of the owners of Interlock Structures, where I was under contract as creative director at the time, said he had come back during the flight to chat and shook me for a good solid minute but couldn’t wake me up

5. Do you have any hobbies? How does your hobby influence your industry work and vice versa?

MB – I don’t have any “fly fishing or stamp collecting,” type hobbies.  But I am constantly, consciously or not, noticing how effective the way finding graphics are in an office building, or the traffic flow in a mall, or the rhyme and reason for the way things are merchandised in a store, or the way exhibit signage is produced at the zoo.  It’s important to get visual reference and inspiration from other sources.  If you only look at other exhibits, you end up doing stuff that looks like everybody else’s, a common malady.

6. If you could send a message to yourself day one of your tradeshow career what advice would you give yourself?

MB – Have fun but be careful.  Set boundaries and make priorities, because this is a business that can become 24/7 way too easily.

Have someone that you would like me to ask “The 6 Questions” ? send me an email at gcamarato@optimagfx.com

What is The 6 Questions?

A clever friend of mine, we’ll call him Harold Mintz, just to use a name, once hipped me to a trick. Harold explained that whenever he is at a party and the conversation is slow he loosens things up with a question. “What did you go to school for and what are you doing now.” Everybody has a story – Brilliant!

Piggybacking on big H’s idea, I’m running a new blog series titled The 6 Questions. I have some of the icons of our industry, folks you all know, lined up and ready to reveal the how, why and whatever. Our tradeshow industry is packed full of some of the most interesting people. They each have a unique story to share. Thanks for reading! ~ g

About our Author
Gary Camarato is the Vice President of Marketing & Creative Development at Optima™ and has been in the Trade Show industry since 1992.


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