What are Fern’s main responsibilities?
As the third largest official service contractor in the U.S., Fern’s produces over 1,000 trade shows and up to 500 other events a year. This past year we had 17 shows on the TSE Gold 100 list, including the No. 1 and No. 2 shows in the country: The Utility Expo and Equip Exposition.
Fern has been around since 1909 and has continued to flourish through many changes in the industry. What would you attribute that to?
When you have a company that’s pushing 115 years old, it’s the people. The Fern team has proven for generations to be our secret ingredient. Event organizers at all levels value working with great people who are trustworthy, hardworking and, above all else, committed. We are in a relationship industry, and our team earns relationships and values them, and that is really what has made us a durable, enduring and sometimes endearing organization.
The time since March of 2020 has been one of the most challenging in our industry. With that said, what is your outlook on the future of trade shows?
I am more bullish on the future of trade shows than I have been at any point in my 30 year career. Clearly not the way we would have wanted to go about it, but the absence of live events and the associated commerce opportunities, training, entertaining and, most importantly, the building and nurturing of relationships, really validated the importance of events and trade shows in a way that could not have been done otherwise. Conversely, the challenges of virtual and digital were made clear as well; and though there are great opportunities going forward with digital, you can forever eliminate the idea that virtual is any type of threat to live events.
Fern has a reputation for service and a laser sharp focus on the core service of an Official Services Contractor; how are those two areas connected?
We want show organizers and exhibitors to have a simple and satisfying experience. We have been accelerating our efforts to make every interaction predictable and efficient for the customer. We found many opportunities to lean into in these areas during the pandemic. An example is Fern 1Rate, which dramatically simplified material handling, which had always been a key frustration point for exhibitors. We also eliminated the cancellation hassles the exhibitor had to go through when changes occurred. Our experience allows us to understand what the customers value and we are not introducing additional complication into the service experience.
What keeps those connected to Fern so loyal?
The longevity of the Fern team members is a key factor that contributes to our long client relationships. It is important to us to develop our team and invest in them, while also providing a degree of continuity. Our team appreciates the consistency of a company that knows what we do well. When your team members are happy with the company a long time, that provides a lot of value to customers; in turn, they are happy with us for a long time.
What are the biggest challenges you see for the industry?
The past few years saw an accelerated rate of retirements and people leaving the industry as a result of the pandemic. The challenge this presents is introducing future generations to events and the opportunity they provide to make an impact and as a career. Future generations are best suited to leverage the intersections of live and digital. We need to make sure to embrace their voices and perspectives.