Straight Talk: Mike Davis, CORT President and COO

July 15, 2021

Mike Davis, newly promoted president and COO of CORT, describes part of the industry’s recovery process as being akin to walking into a child’s toy room. There are a bunch of stuffed animals, games and other odds and ends. The only thing missing is the floor, which is buried under the mess. Behind the scenes, as trade shows and events regain their foothold, is an ongoing clean-up process. When done correctly, there are fewer items to step on and clear paths forward. Less clutter and more room for movement, in other words.

It is along those same lines Davis takes on added responsibilities at the nation's leading provider of furniture rental and transition services, a company he’s called home since 1997. He is now the point person for CORT Furniture Rental, CORT Trade Show & Events, CORT Party Rental, 4SITE by CORT and Roomservice by CORT in the U.K. All of those previously siloed divisions of CORT are now under one roof, eliminating many fears of tripping over a stray chair or trampoline. 

CORT is confident a clearer path toward its clients’ goals will be a victory for all, including the revived trade show and events industry. We talked to Davis about what staging the comeback will look like.

No one likes that the pandemic happened, but most acknowledge that there will be some benefit from it. What do you see as lessons to take from last year’s shutdown?

There's the old adage, “Never waste a good crisis.” As an industry, we have done the three-year, five-year type plans, but we haven't been as good at pulling the car over to the side of the road from time to time and doing an assessment. One of the big lessons we learned out of this was we had an opportunity to look at the things we were doing and say that some of this stuff just didn't make sense for us or the customer and put things in place to make sure that we don't go back there again.

This is an opportune time for businesses to really put some foundational things in place and I will tell you, talking with our customers, especially on the exhibit house side and on the trade show side, they are absolutely doing that. Everyone has stepped back for different reasons and really assessed their business.

Is that some of the strategy behind your new role?

The company grew up very organically, which many companies do, especially during long growth periods. We’ve had a lot of structural changes where we've brought separate verticals together. An example of that was probably about eight or 10 years ago or so, the trade show and event verticals were very separated. Then you started to see where trade shows started to morph into more of these multifunctional types of experiences. We started recognizing that customers really didn't see themselves the way we saw we were segmenting them. They wondered, “Why do I have to talk to six people?” 

We needed to really spend more time understanding where the customer needs are, and creating that alignment. I now have responsibility across the verticals for sales and operations, which gives us a quicker decision-making process and gives us better visibility to the customer so that we don't treat them kind of as a one-off.

From what you can tell, how is the industry going to adapt to the pandemic?

I think it’s going to end up breaking down some of the barriers that we have between general contractors, the exhibit side, the event side and show management/show organizers. I think there's going to be a much greater customer view in this, and recognizing some of the things that have prevented us from fully growing the business that we wanted to from a customer standpoint. Customers are going to be looking at things to make them simpler and most cost-effective.

We were already seeing more of a trend toward outdoor space and more experiential marketing. Some of that trend was already there. We saw that in the sense of people not wanting to have brick and mortar on the retail side of things We’re betting on groups wanting to engage in non-traditional environments. 

Were many of the changes we are seeing going to happen anyway?

I agree it's been an accelerant. In some circumstances, we basically created a wormhole. We went from here to there in half the time. I think the human condition changes quicker when there's a precipice. And, for the industry as a whole, this was not the precipice you want, but it's the precipice we got.

How do you see venues changing with the times?

When you look at what they're doing with convention centers and how they're designing them, it's much more event-driven thinking. It's not a million square feet of open space and this is how it lays out. You saw that with the expansion in Las Vegas; you're seeing that with the expansion at Javits. They're putting a lot more thinking into how to create environments versus space. And I think that's a huge distinction. Casinos always did that well in Vegas. I think that was probably the example where they learned from.

Companies are not as heavily staffed as before. How will that play out?

We're under the assumption that our customers will come back in a very, very lean way. And as a result, resource demands are going to be much higher than they were before the pandemic. And we're going to have to try to anticipate that and do our best. Everybody is going to come back at a different speed. This is a little bit of Vegas where people are pushing their chips in, but they're just kind of deciding when's the right time. The only thing that we're all sure about is that we're all going to get it a little wrong.


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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.