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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Swartout’

Design Monday and Mike Swartout

May 1st, 2016 COMMENTS


Relentless Discipline

If you read Kevin’s moving tribute to Mike Swartout last week, you know how much he meant to the Classic Family. What you may not know is how much he sweated over Design Monday. No one was more devoted to ensuring Design Monday was creative, professional, and on-time than Mike. His insistence that we never miss a week was an internal driving force that pushed us to be amazing on an unforgiving deadline.

That said… it didn’t start out that way. When we launched Design Monday in 2005, Mike had concerns. He agreed that far too many distributors saw Classic as a basic portable-modular manufacturer, which he felt was unfair and just plain wrong. Our design portfolio was substantial, our production capabilities impressive, and he wanted the Classic distributor network to know that.

Mike_Design_Monday2After we sent the first Design Monday, Mike said to me, “So what will we do in six to eight months when we’ve exhausted the best of the best?” “Mike,” I said, “we’ll never exhaust our design talents. Your department in tandem with our distributors will push us to innovate. Yes, we may not always get it right, but no one will ever out-design us again.” True to form, he accepted that challenge and by doing so, he pushed his fellow designers, our project managers, and mostly Production to be a better company.

Two weeks ago, Mike’s health was failing quickly, and there was a chance he would need to go to a hospital. He called to let us know. Not long after, I got an email from Mike. He wanted to know what we were planning to do about Design Monday. He was determined to the very end, never to miss a week as long as it was on his watch. And we didn’t.

Mike, my friend, this week is for you. Thank you for propelling Classic Exhibits to new heights and for reminding us that creativity and discipline go hand-in-hand. I’m a better person, and Classic is a better company because of you.

RSMGC Donation Fund

Many have asked how they can help. Janet, Mike’s wife, has requested that donations be make to the Randy Smith Memorial Fund. Several years ago, the Randy assisted the Swartout’s with medical expenses at a time when it was most needed. Please click this link — — and select the Mike Swartout RSMGC Donation Fund. Thank you very much!

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


Farewell to Our Dear Friend Mike

April 25th, 2016 36 COMMENTS

Mike and Janet Swartout

Dear Classic Family,

Saturday was a tremendously sad day in our internal and external family. Sadly we lost our beloved Design Director Mike Swartout this weekend.

As many of you know, Mike has been battling cancer now for years, a very aggressive form of prostate cancer. And “battling” does not really seem to capture all that Mike has been doing for five plus years to be honest. He fought it. And fought it hard.

Sadly, Mike succumb this weekend while surrounded by his family. As sad as we are, there is a sense of peace surrounding this news. Peace that comes from knowing his pain is gone at long last.

But it does not take away the feeling of loss. And the tremendous sadness we all feel on behalf of his beautiful family — Janet, his wife, along with Rachel and Morgan his kids.

mikeMike came to Classic some 16 years ago this past March. I will never forget when we hired him. I and others in the company were very excited to add his talent to what we were doing. And from the time we hired Mike, he drove us into so many positive directions design-wise as a company. Admittedly… sometimes in uncomfortable directions. 🙂

But rather than talk about his work contributions that were beyond measure, Mike was also a great friend and brother to many of us. Myself included.

When you strive to create a team, what you really want is a family at work. And Mike was a part of that evolution at Classic. He lived and breathed Classic:  Classic Products, Classic Design, and more importantly the Classic Family.

He invested time, energy, and emotion into his co-workers as if they were his own family. And ultimately we all become his family. In and out of the office. For better and for worse as they say.

classic-exhibits_september_17His battle with cancer, which he referred to as the EEE (Evil Effing Empire), was beyond admirable. It was a battle he knew would not have a positive outcome for HIM, but instead of dwelling on the negative, he focused on creating positive outcomes for others. Mike willingly participated in several experimental studies. One of those was Provenge. Mike’s willingness to be a “Guinea Pig” meant that an immunotherapy treatment became available to others. All tangible stamps he was able to leave behind very proudly.

Personally, I loved Mike. He was my friend and a great one at that. Great friends are those who support you in everything — and call you out on everything And Mike was that for me and for many others in his personal and work life. He was never one to pull any punches. Instead he would tell you how it is. “Put on your big boy or big girl pants” he would say at times. And other times he would just listen and advise compassionately.

20151023_151647Over the past six months in particular, I have come to eagerly await our visits, back and forth emails, text messages, and conversations. They were rich! Rich in life lessons, rich in substance, and often sprinkled with some great humor. Usually poking fun at each other as “broken men blessed with outstanding wives and families” that both of us were sure we did not quite deserve.

I am going to miss that the most. Growing together as men, husbands, and parents. I am going to miss my friend.

Mike had so many close friends in this business. And he was impacted by you all.

Please do keep Mike’s wife Janet, daughter Rachel, and son Morgan in your thoughts and prayers as they traverse this time of loss.

Mike’s Family is going to be holding private services later in the year at their family cabin in lieu of a funeral.

Bless you Mike. You will be missed here on earth. I look forward to our next visit.

RSMGC Donation Fund

Many have asked how they can help. Janet, Mike’s wife, has requested that donations be make to the Randy Smith Memorial Fund. Several years ago, the Randy assisted the Swartout’s with medical expenses at a time when it was most needed. Please click this link — — and select the Mike Swartout RSMGC Donation Fund. Thanks.


We Have the Design Cure. And It’s Free!

May 8th, 2015 1 COMMENT


Someone once said that design is easy. All you have to do is stare at the screen until drops of blood form on your forehead. Truer words have never been spoken.

As a designer, how often are you asked to reinvent the wheel while the clock is ticking? What if that pressure had to do with redesigning a kit from Classic’s award-winning Exhibit Design Search? More and more designers are saying, “That damn thing has already been drawn. Wish I could get the model file. Guess I’ll reinvent the wheel again.”

OK, that’s not exactly what the designer says, as she sweats blood from her forehead, but you can guess the R-rated version.


Download Kits Models from Our ftp Site

Breathe Easier

Classic Exhibits has the cure. We will give you, yes give you, free of charge, our model files. However, there is a catch. There’s always a catch. The models are free. If you don’t see the model you need on our ftp site then simply call or email us and ask for the appropriate model file in the file format you want. That’s the catch.

Did I mention we give away hours and hours of our design time to you absolutely free and only ask for orders in return? I ask you, how many things in this business are actually free? Do you recall the time you took that roll of duct tape (thinking it was free) from the show floor and months later received a bill from Freeman for $125,345,000.00 + drayage. Geez, they’ve got cameras everywhere now don’t they?

Classic has offered this “freebie” for years and many distributors utilize it all the time. These are the same distributors who recognize there is a marked increase in the number of orders that close when their designer is in direct contact with their client. Classic Exhibits, always looking to make you more profitable, recognized long ago that not every distributor has room, either physically or fiscally, for staff designers. Our solution (which is also free) is to be your designer.

How Does This Work?

Quite simply actually. In a call with your client, Classic designers can be introduced as your staff, offsite, freelance designer, etc. Why do we offer this freebie? Katina Rigall, a Classic Designer, probably said it best in a past blog:

designWant a 100% Success Rate? Before working at Classic, I was the lead designer at a custom exhibit house, and I had the opportunity to work directly with end-users on Every. Single. Project. It was truly gratifying to create designs that hit every request, the verbal and the non-verbal.  You can hear the excitement in a client’s voice when the design strikes a chord with them — it makes them invested, it makes them attached, it makes them want it, it makes them BUY it.

I, too, have worked direct with the client either as a distributor’s designer or as a manufacturer’s designer. Hell, one time the client was with me at my side in front of my computer for five days. Every one of those deals closed. To be sure not all projects will go as smoothly as grass through a goose or even close for that matter, but you can sure see that the odds improved dramatically. Folks, that translates into money in the bank. Doesn’t get any easier than that.

No Cost Services

So those are two of Classic Exhibits Design Department’s “no cost” services that translate directly into black ink for you. To be sure I haven’t covered all the technical know-how, but we’ve kept the process as simple as we can… just ask and you will receive. You can always email, and we will respond like greased lightning.

Classic realizes a designer can’t always avoid forehead hemorrhaging especially with client comments like, “I don’t know exactly, but I’ll know it when I see it.”  But, if you make your model request a tear-jerker you just might get one of us to feel sorry for you and send you a piece of medical gauze to wrap around your head.

Inside Info:  This guilt tactic won’t work on other exhibit designers as we can’t hear through the layers of gauze wrapped around our heads.

Mike Swartout
Design Director


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


No Mountain is Too High . . . Well Maybe One: Word on the Street — September 30th thru October 4th

October 6th, 2013 COMMENTS
o Mountain is Too High …Well Maybe One: Word on the Street -- September 30th thru October 4th

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Welcome to the month of October. Yep, that’s right. Three quarters have come and gone in 2013. It’s truly hard to believe. But we certainly ended with a bang. And I hope the same is true for you.

Classic Exhibits had its largest September EVER! So THANK YOU for your continued confidence and loyalty. We certainly appreciate it!

September came to a close with two events: Shared Knowledge University (Fall 2013 session) and The Club 815 Gran Fondo Fundraising Bike Ride.

Shared Knowledge University — Go Fighting Hybrids!

First, SKU was another screaming success. While the group was a bit smaller than some past classes, this semester’s graduating class was engaged, participatory, and of course just plain good people.

McMenamins Detention Room

On behalf of Mel, Jim, me, and the entire family here at Classic Exhibits Inc., thanks to the new graduates for giving your time and attention. We hope you left with a better understanding of the breadth of the product line, the usefulness of the tools we offer such as EDS, and of course we hope you have an even better sense for who we are as a company.

Finally, every class is distinct, and every class leaves its mark on the school and you. The Class of September 2013 was no different. You have left us with memories of KNOBS and just how critical they are to our day-to-day work and personal lives. Now graduates . . . . celebrate your degree with a muffin or two. Please let Jen LaBruzza or Reid Sherwood know if you would like to participate in the May 2014 class. Space is limited and typically fills fast for the Spring session.

Grand Fondo Hood River Bike Ride

Second, The Club Rode once again.

On Saturday September 28, 2013, the setting was once again picturesque Hood River, Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Team: Joel Roy, Cathy Roy, Grant Murrell, Greg Garrett, Mel White, Dave Brown and Kevin Carty. The Cause:  to raise funds for our colleague and friend Mike Swartout, Design Director of Classic Exhibits.

If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the second year we have ridden this same ride for this same great friend. But believe me when I say this year was much, much different in both good and bad ways.

The good part was that this year the wind was manageable, Only about 20 MPH at its worst. But the Bad part was it rained cats and dogs for the first 51 miles of the 80 mile ride. I mean it poured!

To my teammates — Thank You! You are all inspiring individuals in your own right and I appreciate you taking the time once again to go on the ride with me. I know you will agree with me when I say, the rain really was no big deal and did not bother us at all. We were motivated by the presence of Mike and Janet Swartout all along the route. Having you both there was so great and soooo appreciated! Especially at the King of the Mountain climb.

And thanks to all who donated to our ride. We truly appreciate all your support! And its not to late to send in last minute donations. Please follow this link:

Back to business. I hope your fall is shaping up as well as ours. And thanks again for such a great kickoff to the fall.

Be well.



Upcoming Events for The Classic Exhibits Family: Word on the Street — Sept. 10th thru Sept. 14th

September 16th, 2012 COMMENTS
Upcoming Events for The Classic Exhibits Family

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Not only is this “the busy” season, but this is also a busy time for events at Classic.

First, Club 815 Fundraiser

The time is finally here. The Fundraiser Ride for Mike and Janet Swartout is this Saturday, September 22. Yes, it’s the culmination of months of training, but more importantly, it’s the culmination of your tremendous support for Classic’s Design Director, Mike Swartout, who is battling cancer. Thanks to those who have been so very generous by contributing to the team that includes Joel Roy from Creative Dimension, Greg Garrett from Greg Garrett Designs, David Brown from Optima Graphics, Tony Ricci from Optima Graphics and his lovely wife Betsy, Mel White, Charlie Shivel and me from Classic, and my step-father Grant Murrell.

Your donations and support have been nothing short of humbling. Many have been asked us to resend the information so you can still donate. It certainly is not too late. Jut click this link to support our team. And remember to let us know if there is anyone in your life that we can ride “In Memory of” or “In Honor of” as we scale Mt. Hood next Saturday.

Club 815 Fundraiser:

Special note to our team –Guys and Gal, I truly am honored by your participation and really look forward to spending a couple days together riding, hanging out, and recovering. It’s going to be fun. And I know I speak for Mike and Janet when I say “Thank You” for your inspiring willingness to take on this challenging event.

Shared Knowledge University (SKU)

After the ride, Shared Knowledge University starts at Classic Exhibits Monday morning September 24. The training will be two comprehensive days for experienced and new Classic Distributors.

Like the last SKU event, we will cover everything from product training to procedures to design to project management for Classic Exhibits, Classic Rentals, Eco-systems Sustainable, and ClassicMODUL.

Optima will be there to give a graphics presentation. And you will have the opportunity to spend time and meet all the Classic Exhibit employees that you work with everyday on the phone.

Like any event, it can’t all be work. 🙂 We have two evening events planned that the attendees will really like. Both located at very unique and very “Portland” venues.

To those who are registered, I am really looking forward to seeing you and showing why I think Classic Exhibits and its employees are simply the best.

A little teaser . . . To those distributors who have Exhibit Design Search on their website, expect BIG, BIG changes this week. The new EDS is done, Version 3.2. You can see it on Classic’s website now. It will appear on your website sometime this week. Expect a blog post from Mel in the next day or two detailing all the changes.  They are significant!

Hope you all have a great week ahead. Be well.

Kevin Carty