Celebrating 16 Years as a National Small Business – by CEO, DJ Heckes


Today is the start of my 16th year in Business as the CEO & Founder of EXHIB-IT! I cannot believe 15 years (not to mention 15 lbs!) has passed! Looking back and reflecting, I am truly amazed at what has transpired!

I founded EXHIB-IT! after working for Exhibit Design, a company based out of Seattle, for over 5 years. I founded my business by buying out the New Mexico and West Texas territory for a good chunk of change. That change really only bought me a phone number and 3 exhibits! During that time, sales territories were still popular as this was before the global internet took over and territories were no longer in practice.

However, I am glad that I did it that way. I can always look back and not just remember but also know where I came from and what got me to where I am today. I combined top notch training with my inner entrepreneurial spirit to progress to become a business owner. I would like to believe that the “business owner” is my spirit animal!

I was able to work out of my home while raising three kids (which if you have ever tried to speak on the phone with a toddler in the room you know the challenge) all while working for Exhibit Design. Sometimes I look back and recall how simple things were then for marketing and how complex marketing is in today’s market place. When I opened the doors to my first business location in Albuquerque, all things changed for my family. I knew it would take long hours and dedication to grow and build a successful business! However, I never looked back and only look to the future. The Trade show industry is a niche world full of noise while people try to build relationships in just mere minutes. This industry and its nuances really appealed to my high speed, extroverted personality and desire to rise above the noise! What can I say, I am pretty competitive by nature and it seemed like a worthy challenge!

Tradeshows have changed so much over the past 22 years since I got started in the industry. I still recall the long days where I picked up the phone and dialed numbers from a prospect list and people actually took my calls! Then, technology came along and websites became more prominent and faxes were still the way to communicate with paper long distance. That eventually got replaced with email communications and the all fabulous scan function!

Between the years 2006-2007, my company grew 169% and I was riding the success wave and winning lots of awards, including the SBA Small Business Person of the Year Award, Top 10 Women of Influence, Fastest Growing Businesses and many more.

This did not last as long as I truly wanted! When I moved to our new location in March 2008, business started to change later that year. I noticed a downturn in customers wanting to spend their marketing dollars and attend tradeshows as we moved into 2009. I knew if I did not diversify my business, I would become one of the 34% of exhibit houses that closed their doors. During this time I wrote my first book Full BRAIN Marketing for the Small Business and it was published early 2009 and the book was revised and republished in 2011. I wanted to give back my knowledge developed as an entrepreneur and business owner and help other struggling businesses. The book really took off and I received many emails and testimonials from readers.

It took me another year to rebrand and diversify my business to become more of a marketing partner for companies that did not have the manpower to maintain their brand, marketing to their target audience and attend face to face events, tradeshows and conferences.

This is when we really focused on business from the inside out. We listened to our customers’ needs more intently (not that we did not do that before, but even better) and heard their issues and came up with marketing packages and tradeshow management packages to become their true marketing partner.


During this time I also rebuilt our Company Model as shown below by investing in my employees who fit our corporate culture.

Here is our model and how I used myStrategic Leadership Strength to influence and build a high performance team.

Strategy: the Company’s formula for winning.
Goals & objectives were set and achieved, along with our mission, vision and core values set in place. A personal story was developed to be the compass of the company. We restructured and focused on the products and services that were in highest demand and served our clients well.

Structure: Determines the placement of power and authority in the Company Structure and policies fall into four areas:

• Specialization – refers to the type and numbers of job specialties used in performing the work. We added more printers and personnel who were highly trained to service our customers’ needs.

• Shape refers to the number of people constituting the departments (that is, the span of control) at each level of the structure. I developed leaders and gave autonomy for decision making to get me out of the bottle necking.

Processes: Systems and Procedures were rewritten and updated for standard operating procedures to provide the best customer service to our customers.

Rewards: Goals were aligned with rewards for employees that tied into the overall goals of our company. This provides motivation and incentives for completion for strategic direction.

People: Having the Right People in the Right Seat. I had to stop the bus and change the direction for some of the employees and even open the door and let some employees off the directional bus. This was a difficult process, but it paid off so well for our overall teambuilding.

In 2012 I knew I needed to write an industry book and co-wrote The NOISE Behind Business – How to Make Tradeshows Work with Chris Kappas and the book was published early 2013 by Red 7 Media. Companies were realizing that they had cut trade shows out of their budget and cut back on employees, but business was dropping due to no face to face interactions to build relationships with their customers. Shaking lots of hands indiscriminately does little to drive profits. Often the intent of a trade show is lost in the execution of the details. There are so many steps and activities that have to be planned, coordinated and timed for successful trade show execution. The bottom line is results and a measurable return on your investment should always be expected. This book is used as a training guide in three universities as a training book for trade show managers.

We had a three year growth trend 2013 – 2015 and attribute this success to building a strong EXHIB-IT! team with people who truly are passionate and deliver customer service and also to our customers who believe in us and our ability to make a difference in their own return on investment. We have built business through clients who refer business to us, therefore letting our work and problem solving speak for us.

I am looking forward to the next 5 years to get to our 20 years in business and beyond! Every year brings new challenges and opportunities and with those comes the potential to be creative and design solutions. We value our internal team and our clients and we are glad to call them all our EXHIB-IT! Family!


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