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The 6 Questions with Jim Hoffmann


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In 1992 I joined Optima right as Jim and Dave Hoffmann were starting to get their operation going. Although I had met Jim he was never there. He was on the road all the time, traveling all over the U.S. in at first, a little blue Ford Escort, then more and more often by plane. One thing was certain; he was drumming up work everywhere and from anyone that would give us a chance. Once we completed an order, we started seeing repeat business. Our workdays were long and the more Jim traveled the more work we had the opportunity to complete. Over time and with the addition of a sales team (Dave Brown), Jim started spending more and more energy growing the company and mentoring the employees that embraced his customer centric philosophy. I can’t think of anyone that helped more in forming my understanding of our industry as well as how to approach life in general. I can still hear him explain we grow our company by helping our customers stay successful, not by focusing on any one single job. Brilliant really.

This week I asked Jim Hoffmann, 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?

JH – In 1988 I was canned in the corporate world and was unemployed. My cousin, Dave Hoffmann, was also unemployed. We decided to pool our resources and purchase a manufacturing company. As it turned out the only thing we could afford were franchises. So we bought a master franchise out of Long Island called Mr. Sign. Our goal was to sell franchises in several midwestern states. To demonstrate the franchise we opened an operating sign company. One of our initial customers was a tradeshow distributor in St. Louis named Steve Stamos. Steve asked if we could make headers for pop up displays. We had no idea what a pop up was let alone a header. Steve showed us: reverse computer cut vinyl applied to the back of Lexan then spray painted and covered with protective vinyl with Velcro strips. We began selling headers in the St. Louis area and gradually expanded from that base. I was the sales guy. We leased a Ford Escort and hit the road. A week in the office and a week on the road. In 1992 we closed Mr. Sign and started Optima Graphics focusing exclusively on the tradeshow industry.

And who inspired you to grow into your Tradeshow career?

JH -Steve Stamos.

2. What would you be if you were not in Tradeshow?
JH – My background was computer programming followed by business development including mergers and acquisitions. Probably would have found something other than Mr. Sign and purchased it.

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?
JH – No question it is Boston. Great restaurants, super history and you’ve got to love that accent.

Author4. What experience do you recall as a nightmare when it happened but can sit back and laugh about it now?

JH – On a broad basis it was trying to get around in strange cities and getting continually lost. Back then it was pre GPS and you had to use paper maps which are hard to read when the guy behind you is honking at you.

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

JH – Wine. I have a cellar with over 1600 bottles of good stuff. Only influence to the industry I can think of was a reasonable knowledge of a wine list at customer dinners..

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

JH – Hire more people sooner.

Thanks Jim!
Next week we hear six chords from

Chuck Michel, Elite Expo. Cool!

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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