Home > 6 Questions > The 6 Questions with Mel White, Classic Exhibits

The 6 Questions with Mel White, Classic Exhibits


When I asked Mel White to participate in the 6 Questions, he told me he was too busy but offered to let his wife, Christine Delea, answer them for him. I’m betting he’s regretting that decision right now. Here’s a candid peek into Mel (and Christine’s) world. It answers an awful lot of questions… Waaaay more than just the six. And it’s a little scary honestly.

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?

AuthorMW/CD – The industry lore is true for me. I was being held captive by hot-weather-hating mercenaries in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and they indoctrinated me with a number of their crazy ideas: We should all sleep on ice beds. Never have fewer than 3 cats in your house at a time. Mustard helps you live forever (check the research). And, of course, the trade show industry is perfect for a person who previously worked as a retail manager, teacher, technology business consultant, railroad herbicide applicator, whiskey bottle packer, and furniture warehouse mule.

Of course I will never leave. Besides supporting one wife (who is an artist and a poet and therefore completely incapable of working in a capitalist society) and five cats, my wife is now a Girl Scout leader, so I have a group of tiny girls who are dependent on my paycheck for s’mores, fun patches, and trips to the zoo.

And who inspired you to grow into your Tradeshow career?
MW/CD – I read a lot of books. Many of them are directly related to running a business, marketing, trade shows, and the like. Other books, such as A Wrinkle in Time, The Rise and Fall of Great Civilizations, Sister Wolf, The Hunger Games, and anything by Joyce Carol Oates, John Steinbeck, John Scalzi, and the Sister Fidelma Murder Mystery series are even more insightful about the intricate nature of the trade show business.

The list would be long, very long, because I make a lot of mistakes. Thankfully, my colleagues, friends, and customers have been gentle about guiding me away from the third rail, which is my natural inclination. I have a job and a career in spite of myself and because of them. If you’ve ever called me an “idiot,” you know who you are.

2. What would you be if you were not in Tradeshow?

MW/CD – Well, I was born as a fully-formed workaholic adult, so it would be nice to have a childhood at some point. But that probably would not pay very well.

Hmm. Maybe a reality show? A reality show that follows me around as I make vegetarian meals and read books.

Or a creator of teenage slang. Someone needs to coin the next “totes,” “gnarly,” and “talk to the hand.”

Any of those. Or an oceanographer or professional sigher. I’m very good at sighing and rolling my eyes.

Author3. 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?

MW/CD – Las Vegas.

My wife likes to gamble, drink, hang out poolside, ride around in limos, see overpriced shows, eat fine food, and be surrounded in neon lights. 

I hate all of those things, so when I go to Las Vegas, I get a lot of work done. I can eat cheap—$1.00 popcorn at Circus Circus—and I like free shows. So I do squeeze some entertainment out of Vegas. But really, I get so much work done there. My wife is off in the casino, everyone around me is drunk and/or crying about losing all of their savings, and I just focus on work. It’s perfect. And air-conditioned.

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

MW/CD – I had a dream once that I ate a giant marshmallow and when I woke up, my pillow was gone.

Do you mean like that?

MW/CD – No?

Okay, did I mention that my wife is a Girl Scout leader? Her girls have a nickname for me from the ONE DAY I was the canoe helper guy at their weekend camp. They call me “Mel Moo Milk.” During February, my garage is filled with Girl Scout cookies. I know the Girl Scout Promise. I have been to GS Thinking Day and Juliette Low’s birthday party. I have ridden the MAX into Portland to accompany girls to the Portland Art Museum. My wife won 12 tickets and a skybox to a baseball game . . . and we took her troop (sigh). Her troop is 8- and 9-year-olds, so she has them for another 10 years.

I will let you know when I am sitting back and laughing about this.

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

MW/CD – It’s like you are not even listening.

Girl Scouts.
Five cats.

But every once in a while I think about running away, so I find an event of some type—running or biking—and I sign up. With the wind in my hair, I pretend I am running north, through Washington, across the border, and I will end up in some small Canadian town where I will start a second life as a dog-loving Canadian Mountie who hates reading and refuses to even buy Girl Scout cookies.

Also, and this is just between us, I search for Bigfoot. I sneak out of my house at night and scour the Pacific Northwest in search of the great beast that has so far eluded me and taunted me from his idyllic forest lair. Someday, he will be mine! And my co-workers will quit mocking me.

Author6. If you could send a message to yourself day one of your tradeshow career what advice would you give yourself?

MW/CD – Take chances early on—don’t wait to get a foothold in the business to start thinking outside of the box. And listen to my wife about everything. She is the smartest person in the world after Stephen Hawking and Robin Morgan.


Thank you Mel and Christine for sharing!
If you’re not already working with Classic Exhibits, check them out


Have someone that you would like me to ask “The 6 Questions” ?
I thought so, just 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.

  1. October 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Is it true that Big Foot sports a pair of chaps (like Kevin and I)? No wonder you keep searching. Make sure you have your camera, we’re sending Larry the Cable Guy up to assist.

    • melmwhite
      October 30, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Just so there’s no confusion. Any Sasquatch sightings in the South are the result of Everclear or the backyard equivalent. Clearly, if the S’quatch was living in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, etc., he’d already be playing SEC college football (and earning a degree).

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