The Expo Group doesn’t worry about its ranking when it comes to size, even though its general contracting competitors have grown larger through recent mergers and acquisitions.
Ray Pekowski, President and CEO, said being small keeps the company agile, innovative and close to its customers and employees.
The company continues to lead through the use of technology and design to evolve its hassle-free customer experience. Managing strategically to its three-year plan, The Expo Group is gaining positive results for clients, strategically gaining market share and making business fun.
As merger-and-acquisition activity transitions the trade show landscape, Ray said the result will be the three largest contractors controlling 80% of the industry with the largest controlling over $2 billion. Nevertheless, this consolidation has been a good thing for The Expo Group, he shares, as The Expo Group sees more and more clients seeking alternatives to the same-old service levels. The changes also have left Ray as one of the two most experienced leaders at the helm of a general services contractor.
Ray, who became an entrpreneur in 1988, recently discussed The Expo Group’s position in the competitive landscape and plans to expand in the future.
DANA: What are the pros and cons of being a smaller company in this space?
RAY: First, we come to work every day focused on the tasks at hand. We ask ourselves: What do we need to do to exceed our customer’s expectations? What do we need to do to make doing business with us easier? What do we need to do to lower costs? And finally what are our customers’ challenges needs that we can proactively conquer to help them perform at a higher level?
Another plus is our company’s cost structure on a relative basis looks better against the competition today than in the last 10 years. But we don’t ever take that for granted.
Being small is something we put in the pro column, because The Expo Group is able to do things that larger companies probably cannot do as well. Being smaller does enable you to listen to your customers better, react a little more quickly, take care of your people, and be more agile when a new idea is presented.
DANA: Does the company want to sidestep a merger or acquisition?
RAY: Our strategy is to succeed as an independent company.
To make that happen, The Expo Group must continue to be the best and grow but certainly not be the biggest. We recently brought in an outside advisory board to guide executive-level managers as we transition into the second generation of our company ownership. Invariably we have had special advisors to the company, and we take family business governance seriously, so those special advisors will always be available to the company.
DANA: A decade ago, The Expo Group had operations only in Dallas, San Jose and Washington DC. Now the company has facilities and offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas and San Antonio. What changed?
RAY: Nothing really changed as it was always part of our long-term strategic plan to open distribution centers covering the four geographic areas of the country, meaning in the West, Las Vegas; North, Chicago; South, Dallas; and East, Atlanta or Orlando.
We gain efficiencies that translate into cost savings by not having brick-and-mortar operations across the country in every Tier One convention city. The cities we are in have good truck lanes, and our business model gives us better inventory controls to actually lower operating costs.
DANA: Recently, competitors like Freeman and GES have committed to services that go beyond face-to-face marketing services, with content development, simple strategy services and even brand sensory training. What is The Expo Group doing about it?
RAY: Over the years, these large companies have seen their capacity to grow become more and more restrictive in the core services of contractors. They both lose business to one another and so must turn to acquisitions outside North America and to offering non-core services to grow.
We are focusing on strengthening our core offerings by enhancing our service levels through our personal service, design and innovative technology rather than over-broadening our suite of services. Never would we want to be like the saying “Jack of all trades but master of none.”
We offer a very personalized experience. People want to do business with people. For example, The Expo Group does not have call centers. Our competitors need them due to the sheer volume of business. But they take away the personal touch that a company like ours can provide. Who will argue with better and more personalized service?
DANA: You seem to have extensive business exchange with some of the other smaller companies and partnerships with exhibit builders. Is that a winning strategy?
RAY: We think so. These partnerships work best when the orientation of each is to make the overall show experience stronger. Our network of the mid size companies is very strong, plus we are growing relationships with exhibit builders and design houses. Many of these companies in particular have demanding corporate clients who expect personalized solutions.
DANA: How do you keep innovation going at The Expo Group?
RAY: A lot of industry firsts were accomplished here at The Expo Group. We have an entrepreneurial mentality, and our corporate culture is designed to encourage people to come up with better ways to do things.
Soon to come is version 6.0 of The Expo Group’s proprietary and patented technology and business method along with improvements to ExpoProof, the company’s workspace collaboration tool and ExpoCube(TM) an in-house proprietary inventory management technology that will lower the cost of doing business with The Expo Group.
Our leadership team service employees by fostering their career growth and their ideas, then get out of their way in terms of bureaucracy and process. We encourage them to assess where our customers may be struggling and then strategize with them to develop a plan, then execute. The results help people perform at higher level, which coincidently, just happens to be our mission statement!