Trade Show Leader Carrie Freeman Helps Create Company Image

Article excerpt

Basically we create dreams," says Carrie Freeman, president of Freeman Exhibit Company. "We give vision and shape to our clients' marketing needs by producing trade show exhibits and environments that deliver messages, establish relationships, and increase sales.

"It's an exciting business but also a very challenging one. Our account managers start by eliciting information from a client about specific needs or goals for the exhibit. Then our designers create a blueprint for an idea that's never been done before. Next we take it to our carpenters and watch it being built in the shop. At every step, our people become more excited so that by the time the exhibit is completed, we all have a lot of ownership in what we're doing." But it's not just ownership in projects that Freeman generates.

The Impact of Company Culture

Earlier this year, Forbes magazine cited the Dallas-based Freeman Companies as "second in the country" in the convention and trade show industry. In 1995, the firm produced 2,600 trade shows that brought in over $362 million in revenues. What can such success be attributed to? Perhaps it is tied to the principles that this privately held corporation has been built upon.

"My grandfather, Buck Freeman, founded the company on a concept he drew from Ralph Waldo Emerson: `Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.' Add to that the mindset of the chairman of our parent company (my dad) who believes `you always hire people that are better than you are, train them well, give them the right support, and then let them do their jobs.' The result is a very participative firm. Right now, full-time employees hold over 30% of company stock."

The Freeman Companies and its four individual companies each specialize in a particular services area for meetings, conventions, and trade shows. Each is an independent profit center with its own presidents and general managers. Carrie points out that general managers have a lot of autonomy in running their branches because their home offices trust them implicitly.

"Such an environment gives a lot of people the freedom to be better than they ever thought they could be, and this doesn't apply just to management.

"For example, in our exhibit company, graphic design is really critical. Styles tend to change so quickly and so frequently that design can `date an exhibit faster than chipped paint.' It's amazing to see some of the computergenerated renderings that our designers are coming up with today. This advanced technology is enhancing their inherent talents and enabling them to produce really awesome work."

Freeman's Client Base

Freeman's clients range from individual trade show exhibitors and small businesses to some of the nation's largest corporations and professional associations. Their clients are drawn from such industries as aerospace, manufacturing, travel, oil/gas/chemical, energy, technology, telecommunications, health, travel, food/beverage, financial services, radio/TV/cable, real estate, and publishing.

"We hit a pretty broad spectrum," says Carrie. "We're the official contractor for more than a third of the 200 largest U.S. trade shows, and work with such big events as the Republican National Convention. However, we also serve clients involved in trade shows as small as 5-10 booths and work with groups who, for example, might need a stage and five tables for a fashion show or an individual who needs to rent an overhead projector for several days.

"Our work this summer on the Republican convention was especially challenging. In the RNC's previous conventions in Houston and New Orleans, we worked in domed sports arenas that were already equipped with plenty of built-in seating, VIP boxes, and high ceilings that could handle special lighting requirements and that type of thing. So, for the San Diego Convention Center, we had to come up with a different game plan for the podium, the press boxes, the tons of communications cable, etc. …