An interview with Jeff Meisner, President and CEO of Skyline DFW, Exhibits and Events

We recently caught up with Jeff Meisner, President and CEO of Skyline DFW Exhibits & Events, to find out how his firm has continued to grow in these challenging economic times. Here's what he had to say:

(ERI) What are some of the changes that you've seen in the trade show industry in the last five years?

(JM) There has been a blurring of the lines between portable, modular and custom areas of our business. On the larger scale projects, exhibitors are tired of wasting up to 25% of their budgets on non-productive expenses like shipping and drayage/material handling, so they are turning away from heavy exhibits made primarily out of wood. They are instead embracing more fabric since it is lightweight, inexpensive to ship and the dye-sublimation technology has improved so much that extremely vivid images are now possible. This has created tremendous financial pressures on the traditional custom houses, many of whom either went out of business or merged their operations over the last five years. It has also affected the companies who manage shows because two of their primary sources of revenue (shipping and material handling) have been dramatically reduced. The result has been some extremely "creative" ways of show management trying to replace this revenue on the backs of the exhibitor.

On the lower end there has been an influx of products manufactured overseas, primarily in China. This is creating financial pressures on the traditional North American exhibit manufacturers as they must lower their margins and/or change their business models to compete. The overseas products are still lower in quality but improving all the time. Anyone who is ignoring this reality has only to think back to the days when the "Big 3" American automobile manufacturers laughed at Toyota, Nissan and Honda when they first released cars for the North American market. I doubt very much that the Big 3 are laughing about this now.

(ERI) When adding to your staff, what attributes in a candidate do you look for regardless of the position?

(JM) First and foremost we look for people who embody the three main core values at Skyline DFW – honesty, integrity and professionalism. These traits have more to do with who you are as a person and how you were raised instead of what professional experience you have on your resume. Secondly we look for people who fit well into the Skyline DFW culture – they must be highly intelligent, have a positive attitude and be extremely passionate about providing the best possible experience for our clients. Lastly we look for specific personality traits that people in that particular position must have in order to be great at that job function. For example, anyone applying for our Event Services Consultant position must have a high level of detail-orientation because the people in this position complete show books for our clients and therefore need to have a passion for details and deadlines.

(ERI) What have been your greatest challenges in owning a exhibit design firm in the last three years?

(JM) Our greatest challenge has been managing tremendous growth. We have been extremely fortunate to be one of the fastest growing privately-held organizations in the United States, as evidenced by our inclusion on the Inc. 5000 list the past two years. Many other companies laid off some great people during the recession, and we were able to add some of them to the Skyline DFW team in the last three years. This has also forced us to continually improve our processes and procedures to allow for scalability as we continue to add more people.

(ERI) What do you attribute your success and recent accolades to?

(JM) Without a doubt it has been our people. The team we have here at Skyline DFW is the best we have ever had in our 10-year history and we keep on improving. The passion that our team has to "do the right thing" for our customers (even when no one is looking) is the "secret-sauce" that keeps our clients raving about our service. We have a binder full of customer testimonial letters that you would have to read to believe!

(ERI) What approach did you use to manage sustained growth during an economic downturn?

(JM) Hire only the best (see above), provide your people with as much training as possible and then get out of their way while continuing to support them when they need it. Set realistic but challenging goals within an environment that allows your team to believe that they are achievable. Great people want to be challenged and aren't afraid to go after BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) as long as they have the trust of their teammates and management. Be willing to take calculated risks and try to stay ahead of the growth so you can manage it when it happens.

(ERI) How do you compare Skyline DFW to so many exhibit houses that have struggled to stay in business?

(JM) Skyline DFW embraced some of the emerging trends that so many others either ignored or were oblivious to. For example, over the last five years Skyline DFW has dramatically increased our services offerings as we saw many companies laying off the people who managed the details of their trade show and event marketing programs. The result is that many of our clients have outsourced these functions to Skyline DFW and we have become an extension of their marketing departments. Also, even poorly managed companies can do well when the economy is booming, but their true colors will come out in times of recession. We believe that the core values and guiding principles of Skyline DFW have allowed us to grow dramatically while others have struggled to stay in business.

(ERI) How do you keep yourself challenged?

(JM) By continuing to raise the bar every year. Skyline DFW has had record revenues every year since we started the company over 10 years ago. In 2010 we established a leadership team to create the vision of what Skyline DFW would look like in 5 years. Part of this process, known as Vision 2015, was to establish Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) for the company to achieve by 2015. These BHAGs, along with our never ending quest for perfection, are what continues to keep us challenged and motivated on a daily basis!!

About Skyline DFW Exhibits & Events:

Founded in 2001, Skyline DFW Exhibits & Events provides portable, modular and custom exhibits backed by comprehensive creative and event management services to clients primarily in the Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding North Texas areas. Skyline DFW has thousands of satisfied customers, including American Airlines, Brinks, Chesapeake Energy, Interstate Batteries, Lennox, RadioShack, Safety Kleen, Sally Beauty, SuperMedia, TCU and Texas Health Resources.

As the recipient of numerous design and corporate awards, including Inc. 5000, Dallas 100 and Small Business of the Year, Skyline DFW has been consistently recognized as one of the top dealers in Skyline’s network of 138 offices worldwide. Skyline DFW’s mission is to passionately provide stress-free experiences through inspired solutions and legendary customer service.

For more information about Skyline DFW Exhibits & Events, please visit http://www.dfwexhibits.com.

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