Freeman Sells Fern Exposition & Event Services to Fern COO Bludworth

July 1, 2012

Dallas-based Freeman will sell Cincinnati-based Fern Exposition & Event Services, which it bought just more than a year ago as part of the acquisition of Wheelhouse Solutions, to Fern’s COO Aaron Bludworth and an investment group.

 Both companies chose not to disclose financial information related to this transaction.

The Wheelhouse Solutions deal in June 2011 also included Champion Exposition Services and Immersa Marketing, but while Champion was folded into Freeman, Immersa and Fern were operated for the past year as standalone brands.

“I am excited to represent Fern employees in this purchase and to continue providing our customers with outstanding service and solutions,” said Aaron Bludworth, Fern’s new president and CEO.

With core markets in the Midwest and Southeast, Bludworth added that Fern has an imbedded foundation that was difficult to integrate into Freeman.

 “Their markets were slightly different, and their services were slightly different,” said Joe Popolo, Freeman’s CEO.

He added it was decided that under Bludworth’s leadership, Fern would succeed best as a standalone company.

As a result, Popolo said, “We proceeded with the divestiture.”

He added, “During the past year, Freeman’s leadership team evaluated the two companies’ strategic goals and advantages, and it became clear that it was in the best interest of both companies for Fern to continue operating as a standalone entity.”

The two organizations will continue to partner in several markets ensuring the day-to-day experience for customers, vendors and employees will be unchanged by the shift in ownership.

Popolo said Freeman has worked with Fern as a subcontractor in the past and will continue to do so in markets where Fern is strong, such as Indianapolis and other Midwest cities, and vice versa.

Both Freeman and Fern started as family businesses, with Freeman beginning in 1927 and growing to 70 offices in North America and producing more than 15,000 events annually, including 56 percent of the TSNN Top 250 largest U.S. trade shows.

Fern opened its doors more than 100 years ago and now serves 1,000-plus expositions and events held annually throughout the United States and Canada.

Fern also employs nearly 200 full-time employees, as well as part-time workers and contractors for shows and has eight offices.

Some of the largest shows that Fern serviced last year included GIE+EXPO, ABC Kids Expo, Performance Racing Industry Show and Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International.

Bludworth is well suited to lead Fern into the future. His career in the exposition industry began in 1992 with Modern Exposition Services, where he filled numerous executive positions, including executive vice president and managing director.

Bludworth also was an executive at GES Exposition Services in Las Vegas, where he managed the National Corporate Events Group and oversaw Las Vegas trade show sales.

“Fern has always taken a very personable approach servicing shows,” Bludworth said. “ … We are looking to continue what’s made us successful.”

He added that in the future, Fern will look to not only expand its products and services, but also to open more offices and grow its event and trade show portfolio. 

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