Reprinted by permission. Original post 7/31/2015 by Optima Graphics.
“Before I finished reading the first answer, I was grinning as I realized how much fun it was working with Harold. You can hear his voice as he tells it the way it was. By the answer to the sixth question, I was laughing out loud for real. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.“ — Gary Camarato
1. Tradeshow industry lore is that we all just fell into tradeshow and once you’re in you never leave. For many people that is certainly true. For others, they leave but a part of them remains. How did you get into the business?
HM – I’ve always been intrigued by creative advertising. Case in point… One time at the grocery store, I noticed that Lifesavers was celebrating their 75th anniversary by offering “for a limited time” the roll candy wrapped in its original packaging and artwork. It instantly reminded me of being a kid. I’m actually not a huge fan of the candy, but that afternoon I purchased an entire case. Because of the packaging.
After graduating school, I decided that I wanted to work in an advertising agency. Not sure I’d be good at it or if I’d even like it. But if someone asked me what I did for a living, I thought it’d be cool to say, “I work in advertising agency.” I soon found myself working as a junior copywriter at an ad agency in Alexandria, VA. It was a conservative, right leaning agency. Not my cup of tea but it was the only one willing to hire me with absolutely no experience. After a few months on the job, I was given the assignment to write a radio spot for the newly established Washington Times newspaper. The only instructions from my boss were, “This is a serious paper, Harold. Don’t write funny.” But I had a problem with that instruction. What if “funny” was the best way to communicate the client’s message? So I wrote funny. That afternoon, I presented to my boss what I felt was one of the best spots I’d written in my burgeoning copywriting career. After reading only few seconds, he stopped, looked at me with disgust and tossed my copy into the trashcan. In a loud, gravelly voice he barked out, “NO!” I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t even read it! Without even thinking, my emotions kicked in and before I could contain myself, I blurted out, “F@%* YOU!” Basic Business Rule #1: NEVER say “F@%* YOU” to the boss. I was terminated immediately with extreme prejudice.
A friend that I went to high school with thought this story quite humorous. He suggested I take my “Funny” to his dad’s place of business as they were looking for a personable salesperson. I asked what sort of business it was. He told me his dad owned a Custom Exhibit Shop. A what? He told me I should just stop by and check it out. I did. And I spent the next 30 years bringing my “Funny” to the trade show industry.
And who inspired you to grow into your Tradeshow career?
HM – Trick question. Impossible to narrow it down to a single person. Here are just a few…
My Dad – He was an architect. When I told him I, too, wanted to be an architect, he told me that if I liked design, and with my personality, I should get out from behind the desk and find a job that put me in direct, regular contact with clients.
Scott Walode – He hired me without knowing what my job would be. He simply said, “Move to New Jersey. We’ll figure it out when you get here.” I learned from Scott the difference between a good boss and a great boss. Scott was (is) a great boss. Funnest job I ever had. We never stopped laughing.
Alex Hill – He brought me into the world of Nomadic Display. He showed me that a company’s success – and hence, my personal success – was directly related to its Customer’s success.
Pat Goeke and Gwen Parsons – There’s nothing like loving the people you work with. It makes a tough job easier and tons more fun.
2. What would you be if you were not in tradeshow?
HM – Well, considering I’m currently not in the tradeshow industry at this time, I guess this is an easy one… I’m currently working with one of my best friends from high school in the entertainment business in Los Angeles. Talk about a fun job, in the past 2 years, I’ve helped write a book and multiple screenplays, produced a daily SiriusXM radio show, worked directly with Hollywood A-listers and agents, organized film openings, threw a red carpet premiere screening and given thousands of bicycles away to students around the country. I have fun in my life everyday.
3. Without considering the customers you visit, focusing only on the location, what is your favorite city to hang out in for business travel and why?
HM – Sorry, again I am unable to narrow it down to just one city.
- Kansas City – For BBQ!
- San Francisco – The Hills, Cowgirl Creamery, Chinatown, Alcatraz and Wine. (Not necessarily in that order!)
- Louisville – Juanita’s Burger Boy, of course…
- Baltimore – G&M Crabcakes. (DAMN, they’re good!)
- Oakland – I’ve found no other reason to be in Oakland other than Oliveto Cafe and Restaurant. Frikkin’ amazing!!
- Portland – Powell’s Books
- Memphis – Gibson’s Donuts, Gus’s Fried Chicken and Payne’s Original BBQ (Get the chopped pork. Thank me later…)
- NYC – Kossars Bialy’s and The Pickle Guys (Both on the Lower East Side. It’s a nosh-a-thon!)
- Boston – Panza (Grilled Italian Greens and their Bruschetta. Mmmmm.)
- Philly – Doc’s Deli (Forget Pat’s and Geno’s… Go to Landsdowne, PA. World’s BEST steak n cheese.)
- Chicago – Garrett’s Popcorn (There’s the Chicago Mix and then there’s everything else…)
- Atlanta – The Varsity (Whaddya have?)
- Tampa’s Ybor City – King Corona (Now THAT’S a Cuban Sandwich!!)
- Ottawa – Elgin Street Diner (Let’s talk about POUTINE!!!)
- Denver – El Taco de Mexico (I got the Smothered Burrito. So good, I didn’t even complain about the CILANTRO! No shit!!)
- Las Vegas – M&M Soul Food (Get off the strip and catch a break here…)
4. What experience do you recall as a nightmare when it happened but can sit back and laugh about it now?
HM – It was my very first solo sales call. I didn’t care that they were two hours away; I’d finally found a company that needed a new portable exhibit. I didn’t know poo about all the features of a portable exhibit but back then there really weren’t too many options. (“You want a folding panel or a pop-up? What color. Done.”) When I got there, I introduced myself to the conference room filled with people. And then the questions started.
“Does it come with shelving?“
“How much weight can it hold?“
“Can we add on to it later?“
“What should we plan on budgeting for shipping to/from our shows?“
And on and on and on…
I didn’t know A SINGLE ANSWER to ANY of their questions. Not one!
But that didn’t stop me from answering them.
- Shelving? Sure. Absolutely. Of course it comes with shelving. (No it didn’t.)
- How much will it hold? Well what would you like to place on the shelves? Oh, an anvil? Sure, it can hold that. (No, it can’t. Shelves didn’t even exist yet.)
- Adding on later? Sure can. Quick and easy. (I’m such a liar!)
- Budget? How much do you want to spend? Oh, $100? Yep! No schvitz. Piece of cake. (Uhh, that won’t even cover the shipping.)
So driving back the 2 hours to the office, all I kept worrying about was WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY ACTUALLY ORDER THIS THING AND FIND OUT IT CAN’T DO ANYTHING THAT I SAID IT COULD?
Not to worry. I never heard from them again. Business Rule #2. If you don’t know the answer to a client’s question, no problem. Tell them you’re not sure but that you’ll check into it and get back to them asap. The embarrassment of not knowing can be immediately replaced with stellar customer service.
5. Do you have any hobbies? How does your hobby influence your industry work and vice versa?
HM – I don’t talk about this anymore. I’ve learned to bury it and not speak of it. It’s one of those life-changing events that alter you forever. But you’re my family. You’re my brothers and sisters. I’ll share my pain with you in hopes that it will one day help you find strength.
On my first trip to New Orleans back in the early 90’s, my wife and I were enjoying a spectacular lunch at a fantastic restaurant. I remember looking up and seeing a classic N’awlins poster that had a bunch of hot sauce bottles on it. I thought what a great idea. So that night, for less than $20, I bought 8 bottles of hot sauce at a gift shop and brought them home. That simple purchase lit a fuse. Over the next 10 years, every city I visited, I found time to check out the local supermarket to see if I could find a new bottle or two. As my collection grew, so did the number of shelves required to hold them in my office. Soon, my Distributors started bringing me gift bottles as well. My younger brother even made me silver chili peppers that I could give out to friends if they managed to find a bottle that my collection didn’t already have. Hundreds and hundreds of bottles of hot sauce lined my office walls at Nomadic. When people would visit, I’d ask if they wanted to try the hottest hot sauce in the collection. We scorched many a tongue and tummy in that office in Springfield, VA.
It was a day like any other. And then it wasn’t. I was in our showroom with some clients. I remember being in deep conversation about how our Nomadic widget was so much better and different than our competitor’s widget. And then I noticed our office manager standing in the showroom doorway with a look on her face that I shan’t soon forget. It stopped me in mid-sentence. I excused myself from our clients and moved cautiously over to where a few co-workers were now gathered. “What is it?” I asked. My query was met with silence and down turned eyes. “WHAT? What happened?” I was now getting more than a bit uncomfortable. Is my mom ok? Did something happen at home. Just as my thoughts started to ramble aimlessly through all the possible hellish scenarios that could have befallen me, I heard the office manager say in a low, almost whisper of a voice… “It fell,” she said. I asked, “What? What fell?” “Your hot sauce. It fell”, she said.
Oh no. One of my bottles of hot sauce had fallen. Gee, I hope it wasn’t the one that I had picked up in Germany last month. No way to replace that one. And crap, now I’d have to go and update my records, erasing the fallen bottle from my master list. “Which one fell”, I repeated. And then she said it. “Harold… Your shelf fell. They’ve all fallen.” I didn’t even hear the rest of what she was saying, already sprinting for my office down the hall.
I was 30 feet from my doorway when the smell hit my nostrils. Instantly, my eyes began to tingle and burn. Tears started to form. Not from the emotion of what had just happened. That would come later. My eyes were now filled with tears as if I’d just sliced a bagful of onions. I could’ve sworn there was a hazy blur to the air outside my office door. And then my eyes focused on something out of place. Way out of place. Laying on the ground a few inches in front of my door was a mini sombrero hat. What’s that doing there? That’s supposed to be on top of my new bottle of habanero sauce I had just picked up in Albuquerque. I arrived at the doorway and got my first glimpse of the carnage. Oh, my God. It was awful. A hundred bottles? More? Crashed, broken, oozing on the newly carpeted floor of my office. I tried to look away, but couldn’t. I began to take a visual inventory of the fallen. Shards of broken glass, black caps with no necks attached, labels torn to the point where they were no longer readable. And the sauces. Dripping, flowing, soaking. My sauces, unconstrained by their bottled walls were now joining together. In death they had found each other, pooling together for one last fiery flow of lava. I couldn’t look anymore. I had to get out.
An hour or so later, Judy, the company president came to pay her respects. I was still in shock and yet honored that she would take the time out of her busy afternoon to come and attempt to console me in my hour of bleed. Our eyes met. And then she spoke, “So, who’s got chips?”
6. If you could send a message to yourself day one of your tradeshow career what advice would you give yourself?
HM – When the road before you splits into two different paths and you need to choose which one you’ll take, choose the path that you think will lead to the most joy. That doesn’t always mean it will be the easier of the two paths, but if you choose to follow the joy, you’ll smile your way through it all. And don’t say “F@%* YOU” to the boss.