Strategic Moves Key to SmartSource Success for Over 30 Years

December 28, 2016

It’s not often that a business idea is sparked by a trip to the dentist, but that’s what happened to Julian Sandler. The dentist asked if he knew of anyplace where he could rent a computer.

Sandler, a nuclear physicist turned serial entrepreneur, thought there had to be other businesses and organizations needing short-term computer rentals, which led him to found Rent-a-PC in 1984 with two employees. The company was based (and still is) in Hauppauge, New York, so early clients were primarily corporate accounts on the East Coast, renting brand-name PCs and peripherals.

From the late 1980s through 2013, the company would embark on a series of strategic acquisitions to expand its national footprint to 21 major markets in the U.S.

In 2001, they acquired Keystone Computer Rentals, gaining a greater share of the association and trade show industry. AllService Computers was acquired in 2003, with a specialization in the legal industry, followed by Bit-by-Bit Computer Rentals in 2005 for more focus in the legal and staffing industry. The name also changed from Rent-a-PC to SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals, to reflect the broader company mission.

“All of these acquisitions happened with one end game in mind,” said Stephen Rupolo, Vice President of Product Strategy. “We wanted to become not just a vendor pushing short-term solutions, but a true technology consultant, partner, and integrator closing the loop between application and results-oriented outcomes.”

It wasn’t long before SmartSource was gaining ‘exclusive technology provider’ status for leading trade shows and convention centers around the country, in part due to their large national footprint.

Acquisitions continued in 2006 and 2008 with ACE Rentals & Staging and AD Handy Company, giving broader audio-visual and presentation software capabilities. When Rentsys Technology was acquired in 2009, the company expanded capabilities for events in the software user conference industry.

But that year also brought a major turning point at SmartSource. Julian Sandler lost his life suddenly to a fast-moving disease, leaving the company without its founder and charismatic leader. The sudden loss of
this industry innovator required fast thinking on the part of the company.

Mike McClernon was named as Sandler’s successor, and served until Peter Handal was named as President and CEO earlier this year. Handal was formerly Chairman & CEO of Dale Carnegie Training and a member of the SmartSource Board of Directors.

SmartSource now offers technology for a diverse range of trade shows across the country, providing event technology solutions from 21 full-service locations. Solutions range from registration software, lead retrieval software, and beacon technology to digital document libraries, kiosks and charging stations, video walls, enterprise WiFi and more.

The latest acquisition of CRE Computer & Audiovisual Solutions in 2013 has enabled the company to gain a foothold in the entertainment industry. Today’s clients span three separate channels: Event & Conference Solutions (corporate, academic, and user conferences), Trade Show Solutions, and
Business Solutions (general technology rentals for legal firms, film and production companies, IT staffing companies, and government/emergency response).

The company is looking ahead to 2017 and has already announced the new SwiftColor SCC-4000D Oversized Credential Printer, which will keep attendee registration and traffic flowing more smoothly at shows. There are also plans for another solution which will merge the best of smartphone platforms with large touchscreen impact, according to Lauri Christiansen, Director of Marketing.

While the company has grown from a staff of two to more than 300, a large percentage of employees have been with SmartSource for 20-25 years or more. One has even been there since the beginning: Bob Forster, Director of Asset Management.

Christiansen attributes much of the company’s success to the fact that “the company culture is very much centered on exceeding customer expectations; a goal achieved through strong teamwork, collaboration, creative 'out-of-the-box' problem-solving, and a 'don't quit until the client's total satisfaction is achieved’ mentality.”

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.