Trade Show Leader: ExpoDevCo’s David Audrain
David Audrain is CEO and partner of Exposition Development Company (ExpoDevCo), a privately held business producing trade shows and conferences in North America, which also manages the Society of Independent Show Organizers.
During his 23-year career in the trade show industry, Audrain has held a myriad of positions, most recently before ExpoDevCo as president and CEO of Clarion Events North America, as well as Messe Frankfurt North America before that, where for more than six years he led a team of 40 staff spread across the USA, Mexico and Canada.
In addition, Audrain was COO of private show management firm ConvExx from 2001 through 2005, having come from his position as general manager for the Men’s Apparel Division of MAGIC, part of Advanstar Communications.
As vice president at Hanley-Wood Exhibitions, Audrain directed the Surfaces and NACE trade show teams, and at Miller Freeman he was vice president responsible for the Sewn Products / Decorated Apparel Group, which included nine trade shows and four monthly trade publications.
Audrain joined Miller Freeman in 1997, after seven years with the Texas Restaurant Association, where under his direction the Southwest Foodservice Expo grew more than 75 percent.
Before moving to the U.S.in 1989, Audrain owned a software development company in Europe, creating high-end multi-currency accounting and investment management software.
Audrain is a past chairman of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), a past chairman of the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), and serves on the board of directors of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). He earned his Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM) designation in 1995.
In between running shows and serving as executive director for SISO, Audrain took some time to share some wisdom about his time in the industry:
TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?
David Audrain: By accident like most of us. I had been in the financial software industry in Europe until 1989, moved to Texas intending to continue in that industry, things didn’t work out and in 1991 I started working for the Texas Restaurant Association in Membership Sales. In early 1993 the then VP of Expositions left with no notice, 8 weeks before their 90,000 NSF show was to be held, and his two-person staff had also changed recently, so there was no-one left on staff that really knew how to run the show. I had set sales records in the membership side, and I was able to convince the CEO (thank you Richie Jackson!) to give me a shot at running the show. In the next five years we doubled the revenue and grew the show to be one of the strongest regional events in the industry. I then was approached by Galen Poss to join Miller Freeman, running a group of shows and magazines in the decorated apparel and sewn products industries, and from there I went on to Hanley Wood (thank you again Galen Poss!), Advanstar, ConvExx, Messe Frankfurt, and finally our company ExpoDevCo. It has been a terrific ride!
TSNN: How different was the industry when you started, compared with today?
Audrain: There was a lot less technology of course. We still managed our floor plans with a huge vinyl wall plan and labels, then had to do weekly floor plan checks against the exhibitor database and audit change log. Email was still in its infancy, and the faxes, so many faxes! The technology today gives us so much more information about our customers, and such better means to communicate with them. I remember when Embossed Plastic Cards (like credit cards) and imprinters were the latest technology for exhibitor lead retrieval! The mobile apps and match-making systems we have access to today were not even dreamed of in the early 90s.
But at the end of the day, the core of what we do is “bring buyers and sellers together”, and that has not changed. And we now have to fight harder to get people to spend time at our shows. Before the internet was the first stop for everyone’s information needs, people would attend shows to stay informed, but now many people don’t think they need anything but the internet. Luckily, face-to-face events still provide the personal relationships and experiences that cannot be replaced by the internet.
TSNN: What are some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this industry?
Audrain: This is an incredibly entrepreneurial industry, made up by people that never cease to amaze me. When you consider how many different people and businesses it takes to make a successful show happen, it requires great people giving 100%, and working together. One thing I know for sure is that no show is produced by one person, it “takes a village”. What show organizer would have a show without a venue, or a series of contractors. As show organizers we are like orchestra conductors, if it wasn’t for the ‘musicians’ we’d just be strange people waving a stick in the air… So as a show organizer the most important skill we have to have in abundance, is knowing how to find the best people to work on our own teams, and to work with us as our contractor-partners.
TSNN: What is your favorite part of being in the industry?
Audrain: What I love about this industry the most is the people in it. I can’t imagine working in any other industry now, I love this business and the people in it, many of whom I am pleased to have as dear friends. And now I am lucky enough to be in business with my best friend, who happens to be my business partner and also my wife, and the fact that Stephanie is able to put up with me every day in all those roles never ceases to amaze me!
TSNN: Anything you miss that you wish was still around?
Audrain: There are some people that I miss, Bob Dallmeyer was one of my dearest friends from my first years in the industry. But in terms of things about the industry, in general no, the changes that technology and new products have brought us have certainly given us better events and better offerings for our customers.
TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away?
Audrain: I don’t miss the manual floor plans on the walls, or the old binders full of paper Exhibitor Services Manuals! I remember having to help stuff final pages into too many of those over the years!
TSNN: What do you hope your personal impact on the industry is?
Audrain: I have been extremely fortunate over the years to have worked with some of the best leaders in our industry, and I have learned more than I could have ever thought possible from these people. In return I have tried to give back to the industry through service first with IAEE, and now with SISO. I hope that I will have been able to provide some of the same assistance to the next generation of leaders coming up now.
TSNN: Any wise words about what this industry means to you overall?
Audrain: Most of the people I know in this business wouldn’t do anything else, there are great people in this industry that we can all learn from every day, listen more, talk less and try something new every day.