Convention Data Services Focused on Building Relationships for 30 Years

December 17, 2016

Marlys Arnold

Exhibit marketing strategist and consultant Marlys Arnold is the author of "Build a Better Trade Show Image" and host of the Trade Show Insights (]]>www.tradeshowinsights.com]]>) blog and podcast.

Attendee registration was an incredibly manual and time-consuming process back in 1986 when Doug Fletcher saw the need to modernize it. So, he created Convention Data Services to benefit show management, exhibitors and attendees.

Fletcher worked with a business partner who built the software that eventually led to the CDS registration platform. Yankee Dental Congress, Metalcon, Build Boston and SPIE were some of the early clients.

The company grew from two to 15 employees within a few years. Working at the Cape Cod office in those early days had the feel of a start-up company — everyone participated in generating ideas, consistently trying new ways to improve on existing products and services. Fletcher met regularly with clients and prospects, actively listening, learning and adapting to meet their needs.

He also strongly believed that in the face-to-face industry the key to success involved more than just mailing badges, but in providing complete customer service before, during and after an event. Through the years, the focus has remained on building partnerships and delivering innovative solutions to enhance the event experience.

John Kimball began working with Fletcher as a financial consultant in 1995, then joined CDS full-time as Director of Finance in 1996. He was promoted to CFO in 2006.

“At CDS, we focus on building relationships with our clients,” Kimball said. “The onsite environment of a trade show is a unique opportunity for our team to bond with our clients and we travel to their events to
both support the event and build on these relationships. We are not afraid to pitch in anywhere there is a need to help our clients. This also allows [employees] to see how their role supporting our clients’ events in advance impacts what takes place onsite.”

CDS also has a legacy of making employees feel like they’re contributing to something much bigger than just one event, celebrating each success.

Some of those major milestones include:

   - Completing the SFN event in 1997, their first “large” event
   - Delivering their first truly online event with live registration
sites for ICE in 2000
   - Acquiring IMTS in 2009 and delivering on the event in 2010

The company faced a significant challenge in 2006 when founder Doug Fletcher died suddenly. Doug Levinson, COO, stepped in as CEO.

“We knew we needed to reassure our clients and the industry that CDS was built on a strong foundation and we had the leadership in place that would keep it running and on track,” Kimball said. “Our clients gave us the biggest compliment when they assured us they would stick with us and that ‘they believed in the CDS team.’"

When Levinson retired as CEO in 2011, Kimball was selected as his successor and Levinson became Chairman of the Board.

The company has continued to grow over the past 30 years and now employs a staff of 165. This team of employees provides products and services for 95 business and association clients and 250 events worldwide in a variety of industries, many of which have been clients for more than 20 years.

Along the way, the CDS office moved from Hyannis to Bourne (both located on Cape Cod), and a new 30,000-square-foot headquarters is under construction near the current location. The company also has satellite or virtual offices in Austin, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

“Working at CDS for the past 20 years has given me a deep understanding of the trade show industry and the value of relationships,” Kimball said. “I am very thankful for the experience of leading an amazing organization like CDS. Our employees are the most passionate and loyal group of professionals I could ever ask for in a team. I am not surprised at how far CDS has come in 30 years and attribute this success to our people and our unwavering commitment to always be improving.”

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