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The 6 Questions with Chris Griffin


Chris Griffin and his team at TS CREW have been busy filling the social media circuit with some really edgy, entertaining and informational videos. Chris is the star providing tips and insight as they poke a little fun while conveying the reality of what goes on before and after a show. It’s clear that TS CREW brings a forklift of value to every exhibitor. Choosing a customer centric I&D company is one of the most important decisions when putting the face, to face-to-face marketing. After watching the latest TS CREW videos, it was clear…

I had to ask Chris Griffin of TS Crew The 6 Questions

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?

CG – The trade show industry is like the Kevin Bacon game (name any actor and within 3 movies / costars that the actor you mentioned has worked with, you can connect them back to Kevin Bacon). My college roommate in the 1980s, a guy named David Stone, had a brother living in Texas who was selling something called ‘portable displays’, and he and his wife were absolutely slaying it in terms of sales success.   At the time, David and I were still finishing at Northeastern University in Boston. He was an Engineer with Boston Edison. I was a sales rep for a large mutual fund company called Putnam. Later, on a trip to Mexico, David and I stopped off in Dallas, Texas for a few days to visit his brother and wife.   We stayed at their house.   We attended a Diane Weintraub seminar they hosted on “Successful Exhibiting”. We saw the Skyline Mirage pop-up display and thought it was the coolest thing we’d ever seen.

The punchline is that shortly thereafter we relocated to Dallas, Texas…David to take over and build a ‘service dept’ and me to begin as a sales rep for the outside territory cities in North Texas (Waco, Tyler, Amarillo, Abilene, Witchita Falls, etc.). I went into it with a “3 to 5 year outlook”, never dreaming it would be the job / career / industry that would grab and hold me for three decades.

That was my first trade show employer company over 25+ years ago, and it still exists today (The Trade Group). TTG is now one of the most successful exhibit houses in the Southwest, if not the entire U.S.   Decades later, I realize how fortunate I was to A) be able to learn ‘my craft’ in such an exciting and growing market, surrounded by people and resources that encouraged my success at every level, and B) years later, I realized that a lot of the early success I enjoyed came from representing a line of world-class products (Skyline), a key component of any sales professional’s true success formula.

I look at where I sit today and think the one thing I kept doing consistently over the past 27 years that continually propelled me forward was this… I kept raising my hand and asking for more opportunity.   And people in this industry kept giving it to me. Now how cool is THAT?!?

And who inspired you to grow into your Tradeshow career?

CG – We all have mentors in life and in business, and I’m a little intimidated to start naming names. Because as you look in the rearview mirror over a 35-year work career, you realize how many people influenced you, encouraged you, inspired you and how many taught you something invaluable…sometimes in very unorthodox ways. I’m a believer that some of the greatest lessons in your professional career are being exposed to what NOT to do (ie. “I will never treat people that way” or “I won’t build a business like that”).  The problem with starting to name names is you always forget somebody important. For me, most of the people that inspire me fall into one of two categories. These are by no means complete lists, but here are a few that leap to mind…

The People That Recognized Something in You Early, and Took an Interest in Helping Shape ‘That Thing’ They Saw…

  • Daniel K. Griffin and Doris F. Griffin – parents extraordinaire.  Like many of you, I had the kind of parents that said ‘ if you can believe it, you can achieve it’.   Right On.
  • Jim Brockelman, The Putnam Companies = First boss. Best boss. Still shaping young, impressionable minds today.
  • Gordon Savoie and Bryan Beaulieu, the original owners and founders of Skyline Exhibits. These men gave me a new opportunity every time I asked. What a great culture to come into back then, and in which to learn about the trade show industry.
  • Charles Pollacco , founder of VMC Group/ Aura XM (now Impact XM).   Taught me the difference between Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom.
    • Knowledge = The gathering of information.
    • Understanding = Retaining it in such a way that you can teach it to others.
    • Wisdom = Knowing when to apply it.

The People That Motive and Inspire You, Just by How They Do Their Jobs and By What You Witness Them Building or Achieving Daily…

Seth Godin – Author.

Jim Hoffmann – Founder of Optima Graphics = Best teacher of how to do business with your friends.

David Beach – CEO of Atlantic Exhibits = Knowing how to field a great team; building systems around blocking & tackling disciplines, yet making room in the company for the new and creative methods.

Jim Weiss – Sales Executive = How can you possibly remember to call 30 years of contacts on their birthdays?

Mel White and Kevin Carty – VP Leadership at Classic Exhibits = Two men whose heads are constantly on swivel, who build both culture and company every day. The only two guys I know who are successfully working ON their company while they are working IN their company (most of us mortals have to choose one, at some point).

Mike Levi – owner of ION Exhibits = In 15 years of visits, I have never made a trip to Mike’s facility and didn’t leave with at least 3 really good, actionable ideas of how to improve my own company when I got home. That’s about 45 great ideas and counting…

Eva Griffin – Wife/Mom/ Partner. You ran your first 5k race (called “from couch to 5k”) at the age of 40 years old. You did it so our young daughters might have a role model to look up to other than Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton, who were dominating the news at the time.   Now, at 47, you’ve completed countless road races and half-marathons (seriously, too many to list), two full marathons (3rd NYC Marathon coming up), a Sprint Triathalon, five successful Tough Mudder races (and you’ve now trained over 50 others Mudder athletes), two Spartan races, you’re a CrossFit Masters Competitor, and now have a 2nd college degree in Nutrition. Inspirational? –Yes. (But can the girls and I request more than just flaxseed, kale chips and bok choy in the pantry?)

2. What would you be if you were not in Tradeshow?
AuthorCG – I would be the sole proprietor of Snorkel Griff’s Scuba Shack, a small but profitable full-service marina operation located somewhere between Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island, FL (exact longitude and latitude lines TBD).

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?
CG – LOL…There’s no way I can top the Harold Mintz list you published earlier! That was incredible. But here are a couple of my favorites.

LAS VEGAS – yeah, it gets ripped a lot by our industry brethren.   And hey, I’m not a gambler. But the energy in this city is unbelievable.   It’s like no place else. After 25 years of regular visits here, it still makes me smile every time I’m there (which is about 60-80 nights per year).

BOSTON – (forget your convention experience). Hanging out Downtown, sporting events (any), the energy of 52 colleges and universities and 450k students from all over the world, people watching, the North Shore, The Cape, and 20 other cool things to do within a 2 –hour drive.     It’s little New York, but with a Wicked Pissa attitude!

PARIS – Great walking city. Great café city. Unlike the stereotype, I found the French people easy to deal with and would return here ANY TIME.

ANY BEACH TOWN: Two things that feed the soul….live music and large bodies of water!

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

CG – You ask this question of any veteran of the trade show labor side of our business and the stories will be three things:

  1. Colorful (filled with adventure and characters)
  2. Awe Inspiring (they will border on the unbelievable…)
  3. Endless (there truly is not shortage of nightmarish experiences)

Seriously, I would not be shocked to walk into a convention center sports bar one evening and hear an I&D City Manager finish a story with the phrase “….and when we finally opened the crate, inside we found three Filipino fishermen…STILL IN THEIR BOAT!”

My personal nightmare recollection?… We general contracted an International Dealer Conference that took place in a 25,000 sq.ft. ballroom in San Diego, CA.   Part of the event involved laying 25,000 sq.ft. of rolled carpeting over a permanently carpeted ballroom.   Because of the low profile nature of the ballroom carpet, we made the decision not to put self-adhesive plastic poly (visqueen) down first (something you would normally do when putting carpet over carpet, to help the temporary carpet stay laying flat during your event).   Two hours before the opening reception (for 2000 guests), the caterers / vendors all starting moving in their “stuff” over the carpet to the food stations, and the temporary carpet started to “walk” (shift), creating lots and lots of ripples. We had a team of 6 carpet layers back out with carpet kickers and fresh sneakers to “kick out” the ripples and smooth out all carpet rolls.   Turns out we had to have them stay for the entire 2 ½ day event and rekick and stretch 25,000 of carpeting every four hours, after the audience had been in this main ballroom, just to keep the floor looking presentable.   The poor labor guys must have kicked 250,000 sq.ft. of carpet over that 2 day weekend event.   One laborer gave me a receipt for new Adidas tennis shoes, as he kicked and “carpet-danced” so much that his (blistered) toes came shooting through the front of his tennis shoes when the seams finally gave way on Day 2.  

Lesson 1: You do whatever it takes (customers saw all of this and were blown away by the customer service).

Lesson 2: Steel-toed shoes, baby!

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

CG – I am AWFUL at balancing hobby life and work life.

My hobby’s “used to be”:

  1. traveling (for fun)
  2. boating
  3. guitar playing
  4. reading

Given the 100+ night per year travel schedule for work, here’s the impact on my hobby life:

  1. I’m traveling for fun less often these days (it’s just nice to be home now)
  2. I’ve sold the boat that didn’t get used as much (and now pursue “friends with boats”)
  3. I’m now more of guitar “collector” than an active band member
  4. My reading is way UP (I probably plow through 2-3 books per week)

Favorite free-time thing to do is still hanging out and doing anything with my wife and our two daughters.

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

CG – Three things:

  1. “At the counter of success, there is no credit.   You pay in cash, and you pay in advance”.
  2. Surround yourself with people way smarter than you are (IMMEDIATELY).   If you can do this sooner rather than later in your career, it will impact your personal development beyond measure.
  3. Every client deserves a clean sheet of paper (thank you, Scott Walode).

Thanks Chris! Next up – We visit with one super cool dude,
Mike Swartout, Exhibit Creative for Classic Exhibits,
and ask him “The 6 Questions” 

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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