Exhibit Associates is a leading designer and fabricator of Tradeshow Booths, Corporate Displays and Museum Exhibits. “Your Brand. Our Business.” is more than a motto – it is an attitude shared by the Team here at Exhibit Associates. Each Client Journey consists of a Project Journey that focuses on a successful project. Whether it is a permanent installation or a single event we strive for a “Positive Customer Experience” for all our clients.
Don says, “My goal is to ensure that our clients get the best experience possible”.
Don’s specialties include Business Development, Process Improvement and Operational Unit Leadership.
Brad Burrow: Welcome to the In a World with Real Media Podcast, and I’m here with Don Jalbert from Exhibit Associates. Don, we’ve known each other for quite a while and you have done some projects for us. By the way, that last thing you did for us turned out awesome. I was really, really impressed.
Don Jalbert: I’m glad you were impressed. What did the client think?
Brad Burrow: Well, they love it, so just a little fodder there-
Don Jalbert: Awesome.
Brad Burrow: But we do a lot of sets and stuff here and now I know exactly where I’m going to go with every time we need to do a new set.
Don Jalbert: Appreciate it.
Brad Burrow: That was awesome, fast turnaround and everything. Don, I wanted to get into like we do with everybody is, first, I want to just learn a little bit about you. Tell me a little bit about your family. I understand you’re a pilot. Is that right?
Don Jalbert: Yes, I am. Yep.
Brad Burrow: We have that in common, although I am not current right now. Don’t tell the FAA I’m not flying. I’m not current.
Don Jalbert: It’s tough to stay current. Current, you got to go burn some holes in the sky as they say.
Brad Burrow: That right, but what license level are you in?
Don Jalbert: I’m just VFR. I got a couple of hundred hours. My in-laws live up in Nebraska, so it’s always a good thing to go up to Nebraska. It gives me a great excuse to go flying. It’s cross country. It’s all good flying. I prefer the night flights because you can see further, if that makes sense, because nothing is in the sky without lights on it and you can see a plane for [crosstalk 00:01:28]-
Brad Burrow: That’s true.
Don Jalbert: That’s 30 miles away. It’s weird but night flying is better. I like to enjoy.
Brad Burrow: One of my best experiences flying was flying… I had a Mooney [crosstalk 00:01:38]-
Don Jalbert: Awesome plane.
Brad Burrow: They’re really long wingspan, fast-
Don Jalbert: Fast.
Brad Burrow: But flying back from Western Kansas at night on a full moon when there’s high pressure and it’s like you’re sitting on a carpet-
Don Jalbert: It’s beautiful.
Brad Burrow: And you can see everything. It’s unbelievable.
Don Jalbert: Anybody listening, if you have friends who are a pilot, ask them to take them up. They’ll find any excuse to go flying. Ask them, they’ll take you. It’s a blast.
Brad Burrow: Do you have a plane right now?
Don Jalbert: No, I rent. I rent.
Brad Burrow: Are you in a club or something like that?
Don Jalbert: No, I rent from FBOs, fixed-base operators in a couple of airports around town.
Brad Burrow: It’s fun stuff. Anyway, so I want to get in a little bit. You’ve got a very interesting career as I was kind of studying your background a little bit, but you’ve done some really amazing things.
Don Jalbert: Thank you.
Brad Burrow: Air Force, right?
Don Jalbert: Yes.
Brad Burrow: Target intelligence. I don’t know if you can tell us about that [crosstalk 00:02:34]-
Don Jalbert: Yes I can.
Brad Burrow: Without killing us.
Don Jalbert: I can. Yeah, I can. It is actually very cool. I joined the Air Force. My sister was in the Air Force before I was and I went to college and I wasn’t mature enough yet for college. I joined the Air Force, enlisted. I had an incredible time, but I became a mission planner and I worked directly for the DOO. This was a couple of years. It took me a couple of years to figure out which way was up I always tell people, but I was involved in the Libya raid that we did in 1986 that Ronald Reagan against [crosstalk 00:03:11]-
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Don Jalbert: Gaddafi, yes. It was one of my first missions, incredible, and I ended up in Desert Storm and I was doing mission planning. We did a lot of… In that time, I got promoted and things moved in the right direction and I figured which way was up, but in Desert Storm, we just really did our job. We took lessons learned from Libya and applied them in Desert Storm, but the amazing part was the intel group is a small group and if you’re capable, everybody knows who you are and you know who they are. In 1990, we deployed to Saudi Arabia, and I was trying to get someplace fun back in the States. I was trying to go to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Southern California, not because of the locations but the operational units that were there were absolutely incredible. I wanted to be operational because over in England when I was stationed there for five years, we were operational so it was absolutely incredible.
Don Jalbert: Well, the problem is every who had a fun job deployed and the comms, the communications, they didn’t exist back then. It was old green radios that you see in Vietnam. That’s pretty much what we had.
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Don Jalbert: In the movies, you see in movies. It was terrible. I would call back and I’d say, “Hey, I want to talk to so-and-so.” “All right, no, so-and-so is not here.” I said, “Look, my name”… I’d tell them who I was, why I was calling. They’d be like, “Can’t tell you.” I’m like, “Crap”, and then next week I’d be up in Riyadh and I’d run into them. I’m like, “Son of a bitch, I’m trying to get in touch with you”, because I don’t want to go someplace boring and then I couldn’t get any contact with anyone and then the Air Force sent me to a place called Omaha. That’s how I ended up in the Midwest.
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Don Jalbert: Yeah, and I got to Omaha and I just basically fell asleep at a desk and they tell me to get off Omaha at Offutt Air Force Base, the joke is, “What’s you’re on it, you can’t get Offutt”, and-
Brad Burrow: Badda bing, you need a drummer.
Don Jalbert: Exactly. You get out and go to Korea, and I didn’t want to go to Korea because of the mission that was over there, not because of the country, but the mission was not fun. I got out and made my way into what I’ll call the real world.
Brad Burrow: Then, you go from there and you’re with the software development company, is that right?
Don Jalbert: Oh my gosh, what a ride that was.
Brad Burrow: In Afghanistan?
Don Jalbert: Well, hang on, hang on. That’s a long story. Out of the military, I joined Electronic Data Systems, Ross Perot’s old company, EDS. They hired me right out of the military. I had the degree they wanted, just what they were looking for, but the number one requirement I fulfilled and I was willing to move to Jackson, Mississippi.
Brad Burrow: Oh, “You’re hired.”
Don Jalbert: I’m hired. Pretty much. “You want to move to Jackson, Mississippi, you’ve got the job.”
Brad Burrow: Wow.
Don Jalbert: Nevermind the degree, nevermind my skills, I’m going to move. Not many people from Omaha want to move to Jackson, Mississippi. Now, the good thing about Omaha was I did meet my wife there, so it’s all good. Omaha did have a purpose in my life.
Brad Burrow: Fate.
Don Jalbert: It was, definitely was. That’s a story in itself how I met my wife. With EDS, I went down to Jackson, Mississippi, and then quickly developed the job there, did what I needed to do, and then they promoted me to a job, EDS here in Corporate Woods here in Overland Park, and then my job was to travel around the country and consult the companies on the data set operations and the software in the telecom space that we were in.
Don Jalbert: I kept getting job offers from my clients, EDS’ clients, and my colleagues were getting the same job offers. We kind of sat around one day and said, “Hey, we can do this on our own.” Then, what EDS started doing was the smaller clients they were throwing back. They were saying no to small jobs, and we were like, “That’s table scraps for EDS, absolute, but we can [crosstalk 00:07:09]-
Brad Burrow: A big deal for somebody else, right?
Don Jalbert: A big deal for four guys starting in a basement, and so that’s what we did, from EDS to a company and still a going concern in Olathe. Took a buyout in 2003. Sounds sexy, but really it’s a great way to phrase an 18-month legal battle to get my equity out of the company.
Brad Burrow: Oh, man.
Don Jalbert: That was real interesting, and then I consulted, got into the wine industry a little bit.
Brad Burrow: Wow. That’s not on LinkedIn.
Don Jalbert: No, it isn’t. A friend of mine… I got my MBA from the Rockhurst Executive Fellows MBA Program. Great program, two-year lockstep program. One of my classmates was in the wine industry, called me up because I was the IT guy because I knew software-
Brad Burrow: Oh yeah.
Don Jalbert: He called me up for six laptops, and I just simply said, “Ron, I love you like a brother but you can’t spell IT. What do you need six laptops for?” He told me that his mentor in the business was coming to town, going to set up a global operation, and wanted him to run North America. I was like, “Great, do you have your federal tax ID number? Do you have property and casualty insurance? Do you have all of that administrivial stuff that will not make your company great but will shut it down in a heartbeat?” He was like, “What?” By the end of the week, I was Head of Finance and Operations for… VP of Finance and Operations for Cumulus Wines, and that got sold in 2008, consulted and then, this is real interesting.
Don Jalbert: I left the service to go do software, so one of my service buddies I was in the service with, a good friend of mine. He is now actually working for a private company in Germany, he called me up and said, “I’ve got a perfect job for you. It’s IT, it’s program management, it’s leadership. You have a team of 20 people in-country and a remote team in Colorado Springs and Virginia.” I’m like, “Okay, that sounds really great. You’re in Virginia now, the company is based out of Colorado Springs, and I’m in Overland Park, Kansas. Why are you calling me?” He goes, “Well, actually, it’s in Afghanistan.” I am not kidding you. I said over the phone, I was out driving down the road, I go, “Afghanistan?” My wife looked over at me and said, “No.”
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Don Jalbert: Five months later, I was on the plane to Afghanistan.
Brad Burrow: Oh, man.
Don Jalbert: To put it in context and everybody knows where they were on this one day, I landed in Afghanistan the day they killed Osama Bin Laden.
Brad Burrow: Is that right?
Don Jalbert: Yes, and I was-
Brad Burrow: Wow.
Don Jalbert: Security was extremely tight when I landed. I stayed there for 10 months. Had an amazing time. The people in Afghanistan just want to live their lives and the problem is, and I do believe once we exit that country it will go back to the way it was and I feel sorry for the people just trying to live their lives because that’s what 99.9% of them want to do, but you got the .1% that really want to make life difficult for everybody. I won’t get on a soapbox on that because that led me to looking for another opportunity. When I got back to Kansas City, they wanted to move me, I had kids in high school, and I founded Exhibit Associates. It was for sale so I bought it. That simple.
Brad Burrow: The rest is history.
Don Jalbert: I won’t go that far. It’s kind of interesting because I called my wife up after looking around the company and I said, “This is amazing. They built a cheese hall of honor, true and presidential library, Garmin is a customer, all these great things we do [crosstalk 00:10:47]-
Brad Burrow: That’s right [crosstalk 00:10:48]-
Don Jalbert: We just did a set for you guys. We do all these things. I was like, “We need to buy this company.” I called my wife, “We need to buy this company.” Her question was, “Where are you?” I didn’t tell her what I was doing that morning. She is a school teacher, behavior disorder special ed, and I’m a software guy, so we’re perfect to run an exhibit house. Thankfully, we had a great client at the time and we had great employees who… Well, I’ll say some were great, some had to go, and they’re all gone. It’s been seven years and the support we’ve gotten from some of the employees has been incredible. We pretty much have our team in place now and it’s… Every day, I’ve been going there for seven years, every day I drive to North Kansas City. It’s a 25-mile commute every day.
Brad Burrow: That’s right.
Don Jalbert: Every day, the closer I get to the airport, the faster I go. I can’t wait to get there and see what’s going on. You never know what’s going to be next.
Brad Burrow: That’s exciting.
Don Jalbert: It is.
Brad Burrow: It’s good that you feel that way about it. Don’t you think you have to have that kind of energy to run a business? If you don’t feel that way about it, you’re not going to be successful.
Don Jalbert: I phrase it as the pace of ownership. It’s a certain pace, it’s a different mindset, different… Well, like flying. Let’s go back to flying. Your attitude determines your altitude, and if your attitude isn’t there when you’re an owner, if you don’t enjoy the pace of ownership where you may have to be in the financial reports one moment and then the next moment there’s a disaster in the kitchen area because the ice maker has sprung a leak and there’s water everywhere, and then you have a client coming in that could possibly be your next largest client, you’re sitting there going, “What do I do?” If you can’t handle all of those things at you, you can’t handle that pace, ownership is different. Everybody thinks you’re playing golf all the time. Everybody thinks, “Oh, you set your own hours.” Well, yeah, I can only work half days. The other 12 hours I have off.
Brad Burrow: Exactly. Boy, that is so true. One of the things… I wasn’t planning on going in this direction, but I have found that one of the biggest challenges for me is to stay positive all of the time because you have a lot coming against you when you’re running a business. It’s not all… A lot of people think, “Oh, you’re in business. It’s all great. You’re just going to make all this money.” Oh, it’s a battle every day. How do you stay positive in that battle? It’s easy to go negative in my opinion.
Don Jalbert: It is very easy to go negative, and I’ll look at it this way. I’ll go back to flying. You got headwinds. Every once in a while I get that tailwind or you make that landing, you just grease that landing or that you were talking earlier about the flight coming back over Kansas where it was full moon, high pressure, it was beautiful. This is why I spend all the money doing this because flying is expensive, and so is business ownership and I don’t mean from a monetary, but from a physical toll, emotional toll-
Brad Burrow: That’s right.
Don Jalbert: And you do because you can go in and two employees have gotten into a fight and it may have gotten physical. What are you supposed to do? There’s other stuff and we have a great HR person that we have kind of on retainer. They handle everything for us. They tell us how to handle things and you have trusted advisors on what to do and you’ve got to trust them because I am not an expert. I’ll give you an example, social media. Social media is so important to my business, and I’ll say everybody’s business. My joke is, “Where is the best place to hide a dead body? Page two of a Google Search.”
Brad Burrow: That’s true.
Don Jalbert: If you Google “trade show booth Kansas City”, you’ll see competitors come up in the organics, you’ll see the national ads, you’ll see maybe a local ad. The top five slots are all ads, and then it’s fight in the organic space for “trade show booth Kansas City”. We fight in that and, yeah, we put up a lot of fun stuff. We have a dog on our social media called Lilly. The hashtag is #WeAllWorkForLilly, and it’s a friend of ours. We dogsit for him and sometimes we take Lilly to the office. We’ve got a picture of her taking a Skype call, and Skype actually shared some social media love because we tagged Skype on our Twitter feed with Lilly [crosstalk 00:15:17]-
Brad Burrow: Oh, is that [crosstalk 00:15:17] right?
Don Jalbert: Yeah, Skype shared it-
Brad Burrow: That’s awesome.
Don Jalbert: We’ve got Toyota equipment because we have a Toyota forklift. We got her… It took a while to get, but we got her on the forklift with her four paws on the steering wheel.
Brad Burrow: Oh yeah.
Don Jalbert: I could tell you how great we are, I could show you pictures of our booths, I could show you a lot of stuff. I put a picture of Lilly up and everybody loves her [crosstalk 00:15:39]-
Brad Burrow: Viral.
Don Jalbert: Viral, oh yeah. It’s unbelievable. Trying to figure out where we are on social media and how that all works, every day we learn something new.
Brad Burrow: It changes every day, doesn’t it? It’s like there’s no set of rules that stays the same.
Don Jalbert: Nope. We do put content up. I just put up the four rules of trade shows. We’ve been talking about that for years, what our clients should be doing for their trade shows. That is important to keep those four things in mind when our clients show up. The four things are tell people you’re going, whether it’s social media, direct mail, email, exhibit with a plan, make sure your booth is manned at all times. There’s a whole bunch of stuff to do with that. Most important thing, follow up. If you go to a trade show, you don’t follow up, don’t even go.
Brad Burrow: Probably in a timely fashion, too, right?
Don Jalbert: Yes [crosstalk 00:16:27], it has to be timely.
Brad Burrow: A lot of people sit on the leads for-
Don Jalbert: Yes, a month you’re too late because the person with the same product in the booth next to you has already followed up with them and got the meeting. The fourth one is stand out. That’s where we come in. We help clients. It doesn’t mean buy the biggest and best thing because we deal with a lot of startups where money is real tight, and then we deal with a trade show manager who has maybe for the year a $6 million budget, but that includes a lot of material in there, not just a brand new trade show booth. They may only have… It may sound sour grapes here, but they only have a half million dollars for a booth and that may be have to be spread over three years. It’s all different things, but we love the startups. It’s great to work with them.
Brad Burrow: We’re in a good startup community, too, by the way.
Don Jalbert: We are.
Brad Burrow: It’s a-
Don Jalbert: We are.
Brad Burrow: A lot going on here in Kansas City.
Don Jalbert: We are, with CTFO and PayIt. There’s a lot of things going on. I believe that there are some really great companies. Look at the leaders in this town. They were all startups at one time. Whether it’s American Century [crosstalk 00:17:35]-
Brad Burrow: Cerner [crosstalk 00:17:36]-
Don Jalbert: Cerner. Just really great. BATS, which is now CBOE. That was a startup, Dave Cummings and his group. Freightquote was a startup. There’s another Freightquote out there and we want to be their trade show [crosstalk 00:17:50]-
Brad Burrow: Your attorney is pretty good in that area, too, by the way, and she has been on our podcast, Sheila Seck.
Don Jalbert: Sheila Seck is awesome. When I first met her, she was like, “Here’s the due diligence.” If you’ve ever bought a company, the due diligence is enough to take a section, a percentage of the Amazon rainforest the amount of paperwork you need for the due diligence. She led us all through that transaction. We just became certified because I do own a part of Exhibit Associates, but I’m majority owner as my wife, and we are WeBank and she is the President of the company.
Don Jalbert: We just actually had a meeting about our open book management that we went to and she’s been leading the way on that open book management. The employees know what are targets are, they know what the margins are, they know what the top-line revenue is, and we share all of that with our employees so they know every time they do something what the impact is on margin and top-line revenue.
Brad Burrow: That’s pretty… I’ve had that thought through my head a lot over the years and gone back and forth on how transparent to be with my team, and [crosstalk 00:19:05]-
Don Jalbert: It’s tough.
Brad Burrow: I’m kind of leaning towards being more transparent right now than I ever have before, but man, it’s like you’re kind of putting it out there.
Don Jalbert: We do put it out there because the company is small. With 15 employees, it’s tough because if someone is having a bad day, everybody knows about it. Working with my spouse sometimes has challenges and everybody knows who is in charge. Let me get that straight up. Everybody knows who is in charge, and even before we made the transition, when we rolled it out that Amy was going to be the President, the peanut gallery in our employees said, “Oh, I always thought she was in charge”, and then someone said, “Oh, now it’s just official.” I’m like, “Hey, guys, I’m still in the room here. Come on.”
Don Jalbert: Again, we have a great team. Open… Really just an open way of conversation with our employees and now we get to quantify, “Here’s the margin, here’s our top-line revenue.” There are some things you keep… Salaries, obviously, but there’s a lot of other things you keep behind the curtain so to speak, but margin and top-line revenue, that’s what we focus on and that’s our goal as a healthy company and everybody wants that.
Brad Burrow: I think it’s helpful for people to know those things and they maybe take a little ownership in what they’re doing because knowing those things. Would you agree?
Don Jalbert: Yes, and actually, then they hold each other accountable as well, and we just had an issue where one person didn’t dig all the way through the facts and the project manager saw it and, boy, she just called him out like you wouldn’t believe. It was loud, everybody heard it. She was right. She overreacted and she apologized later, but actually he apologized because she was right because we have deadlines and we have to meet those deadlines because, one, trade shows don’t wait for anybody, and on our museum side, we do a lot of museum work, Truman Presidential Library, Union Station, Kemper, Nelson Atkins. My favorite one is down in Fort Scott, Kansas, and if they have a grand opening, that grand opening is happening whether our work is done or not. It has to be done and it has to be done right, so it’s [crosstalk 00:21:30]-
Brad Burrow: Deadlines can’t be missed on deals like that, can they?
Don Jalbert: Correct, because you’ll never get that client back.
Brad Burrow: Tell me a little bit about Exhibit Associates. Just give me the elevator speech, maybe a little bit more than the elevator speech.
Don Jalbert: Well, been around since 1978. Amy, my wife, and I bought it from the original founders of the company. We’ve been there since 2012. We do trade show booths, we do museum exhibits, and we do corporate displays, so when you walk into the Kansas City Ballet and you see all the graphics in their lobby, that’s us. When you go to Union Station and look at their Centennial Exhibit, that’s us. When you go to KCP&L downtown and their energy center and all the large graphics that are in their 1200 Main building, that’s us. H&R Block’s Living Archive Wall where Henry Block himself actually cut the ribbon and we got video of that-
Brad Burrow: That’s awesome.
Don Jalbert: That’s us, so it’s a lot of fun stuff. The trade show booths, I’ve been traveling. Fort Worth, we’ve had booths in New Orleans, Louisville, and tomorrow we’re setting up in Overland Park for the Lineman’s Rodeo Fun Event, which is really cool for me because my Dad was a lineman.
Brad Burrow: Oh yeah?
Don Jalbert: He climbed poles for 42 years and we do a booth at the Lineman’s Rodeo, which is at… Teams come from around the country and compete.
Brad Burrow: That sounds like a lot of fun to see that.
Don Jalbert: It is fun to see [crosstalk 00:22:54] it. It is, it is. Happening this weekend.
Brad Burrow: This is your brand, our business. That’s kind of your line [crosstalk 00:23:01]-
Don Jalbert: It is, it is, and everybody wants the “Just Do It”, or the IBM Think. Everybody wants that phrase and those are exceptions, that brand equity, and we protect our clients’ brand. It’s so important to us to get the colors right, to get the brand right, and especially if you put light behind it. It changes everything. We’re like, “Well, how do we phrase that to our clients?” A lot of our clients are in the marketing space and they want to know what you’re about. When we share Your Brand Our Business, you see kind of a light bulb go off. “Oh, that makes sense”, because it is their brand, not our brand, but it’s our business to make sure that we are representing and protecting that brand.
Don Jalbert: One of our clients, we send out… They have 1600 insurance agents around the nation. We supply their banner stands, table throws, pop-up tents, feather flags, and we have to make sure that before they go out that it’s been printed right, their logo is correct, and if you’re in one vertical, you’re actually getting that banner stand that’s correct for that logo. If a logo changes, there’s a lot of work we have to do on a logo. We protect our client’s brand because they put so much money into their brand, so that’s our business.
Brad Burrow: Boy, the brand police for some of these brands [crosstalk 00:24:27]-
Don Jalbert: Wow.
Brad Burrow: I mean, there’s probably some pretty good stories.
Don Jalbert: Well, I just put something up on social media. We did a donor wall here in town. Can’t share the name, can’t share where it came from, but boy, they loved it. The email we got was, “Wow, this is really awesome.” I can’t remember exactly what our client said, but I took a photo, blurred it out, which is really cheap. I get it, it’s cheap, but the words she wrote, that our client wrote, were like powerful and I wanted to get out there. We protect their brand and we don’t have a right to use their logo, we don’t have a right to use their brand, but they had a wall we put up and so we shared it as best we could without violating the trust our client has.
Brad Burrow: That’s great. Let’s transition. Talk about the challenges, and we’ve talked about this a little bit, but the challenges of running a small business. I know like for me, for example, we’ve been in business 22 years, our 22nd year, and I tell people that I am an expert on the roller coaster of revenue.
Don Jalbert: It is.
Brad Burrow: It’s so hard when you’re small because I haven’t found anybody that can sell like I can sell and I don’t mean to be prideful about that, it’s just that, I don’t know. I know how to do it and I haven’t found anybody that can really do that well, so-
Don Jalbert: Let me take that one step further. You can sell what goes on at Real Media better than anybody else. I believe I can sell what goes on at Exhibit Associates better than anyone else because I have the passion behind it and people see that passion. I don’t want to go in there being a cheerleader. I don’t want to overpower and suck the oxygen out of the room, but I’ll tell you, I’m real passionate about what Exhibit Associates does and that roller coaster of revenue, I’m going to shorten this up real quick.
Don Jalbert: We had a key employee that had some issues, impacted our company negatively and this was two years ago, 24 months ago, November 1st, we had issues and we could not determine… They were in a key role and we could not determine what our status of our company was. We worked after hours and on the weekends to figure out what was going on. We didn’t take a day off from November 1st to December 23rd except for two days, Thanksgiving and the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Brad Burrow: Oh man.
Don Jalbert: Our kids would come home and they would see our kitchen island, our kitchen table, the couch in the kitchen, the living room covered with papers, just invoices, just trying to go through them [crosstalk 00:27:03]-
Brad Burrow: Figuring out what happened, huh?
Don Jalbert: Finding what happened, and when we finally got to it, that’s when we started looking at, how can we hold people accountable? What can we do? If held to this, I will never repeat it, but then we finally got an office manager who just rocks to help us out with that job, but I’ll never repeat it and hopefully she never hears this, but okay, I’m going to share this with everybody I know.
Brad Burrow: Should I beep this?
Don Jalbert: Yeah, then we started going to the old what I call open book management, and it took us six months to implement it and we just finished up our first year and now we’re going into our second year of that and we’re refining what the accountability structure is. That roller coaster revenue, when we’re going through that crap in November and December two years ago, I did business development. The last thing I wanted to do, I was trying to figure out where the company was and do the internal processes, but I called companies and I said, “Hey, we’re really good”, and it benefited.
Don Jalbert: Lesson learned was you have to do business development every single day no matter what’s going on. If the largest… Let’s say CES is coming up, Consumer Electronics Show. Largest trade show in the world comes… Well, Paris Air Show is larger, but let’s say largest for various reasons. Consumer Electronics Show is going on. Let’s say we’re doing a 6,000 square foot booth, which our largest booth since I’ve been there in seven years is 8100 square feet, so that’s 90X90. That’s bigger than a house.
Brad Burrow: That’s just huge.
Don Jalbert: It’s huge. It’s bigger than two houses, three houses. Say it’s a 6,000 square foot booth, a lot of electronics, huge, large revenue number, we’re all excited about it. Well, even as busy as that will get you and as beneficial as that is to the bottom and top line of Exhibit Associates, you still have to worry about, what’s going to happen in February? Consumer Electronics Show is in January. What have you got for February?
Brad Burrow: That’s right.
Don Jalbert: You need to have customers calling you, you need to be calling your clients, and the one thing I never want to hear a client say to me is, “Oh, I didn’t know you did that.” We may sell them in the booth. “Oh, you do banner stands? Oh, you do table throws?” Or the guy who buys a table throw from us, “Oh, you do modular exhibits?”
Brad Burrow: “I wish I had of known that.”
Don Jalbert: “I wish I would have known that. I just $6,000 with your competitor.”
Brad Burrow: Exactly.
Don Jalbert: It’s like, “Oh, geez.” That roller coaster revenue, we live with it and we know we’re cyclical, so we try and do the permanent trade shows. September up till now very busy. January, February, very busy. After spring break and before Memorial Day gets busy, but August, we call it The Dog Days of August because everybody is out vacationing. The kids are going back to school, dropping kids off at college, a whole bunch of different things. We need a museum at that point in time to be doing their work and so it’s cyclical and we want to keep the guys in the shop because they do great work. We want to keep them busy.
Brad Burrow: What I found for Real Media was that I would go out and sell something and then I would end up working on it and then I wouldn’t be selling for two or three weeks [crosstalk 00:30:17]-
Don Jalbert: That happens [crosstalk 00:30:17]-
Brad Burrow: And that’s what caused our roller coaster.
Don Jalbert: That’s what happens.
Brad Burrow: Now, I’ve really kind of transitioned to… I’ve got a staff that’s really good, so I’ve really transitioned really pretty much into running the business and business development.
Don Jalbert: I would say working on the business instead of in the business. It’s weird and we had a great booth we did in May for a local customer. They were having a brand relaunch. Amazing booth. It was in D.C. for a trade show. Amazing project, great client, everything like that, but I’ll tell you, business development suffered in the final stages of that project because there was so much to it. When that booth was buttoned up and shipped off to Washington, D.C., it’s like, “Okay, now what?” Thankfully, we had three other projects right behind it, but it’s tough. It’s tough and you’ve got to have that daily minimum behavior of making the calls, doing the direct mail, following up [crosstalk 00:31:18]-
Brad Burrow: It’s discipline, isn’t it? You just [crosstalk 00:31:19]-
Don Jalbert: It is discipline [crosstalk 00:31:19]-
Brad Burrow: Have to do it.
Don Jalbert: And it’s tough. I’m not saying we do it every day because there’s things that happen. We had an employee not performing to standards in the shop and so we had to get rid of them. He did not go kindly into that good night. We had another employee we had to call the police on, which is always a fun event for everybody left in the building and you immediately have to have a meeting with everybody saying, “Hey, this is what happened. This is why we did it. This is everything that’s going on.” I’m not kidding you, I had one of my sales guys probably my first year there, when he exited, he was badmouthing the company. We got his emails and he left and started his own company and we’re like, “Great.” He took two customers with him and we were not happy about that. What I did was someone said, “You should look at his emails.” Yeah, we have access to everybody’s emails, but I don’t read everybody’s emails. I don’t have time.
Brad Burrow: Nor do you want to.
Don Jalbert: No [crosstalk 00:32:17] I don’t want to and I don’t care. I really don’t care. The job has got to get done. Everybody has this personal stuff, but what I did was I went back and looked at his emails and sure enough he was saying bad things about us. I printed up the emails and put them on my door to my office. Small company, everybody came by and started reading them and they weren’t happy about it, but they knew that, “Wow, I can’t believe you fired a guy that had been here for 10 years.” He didn’t know I did that, so when he showed back up… I don’t know what he showed back up for, I told him, “Just get out.” I wasn’t very diplomatic, either. I’m going to have to talk about my daughters, if you don’t mind.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, do. Yeah.
Don Jalbert: I have two daughters. One of them is an accountant superstar. She’s right out of Creighton University in Omaha. She just started last… This is her first season with Ernst & Young up in Boston-
Brad Burrow: Oh wow.
Don Jalbert: And I grew up in that area, so my family is around there so that’s really good for her. She’s a superstar. Then, my 20-year-old, she’s a Marine.
Brad Burrow: Wow.
Don Jalbert: She went to Parris Island, very proud of her. She won an award down there and had to write an essay. I’ve been sharing the essay up on some social media. Very proud of her, but the challenge is now she has to drop the F-bomb like every other sentence because she is a Marine. It seems like in their DNA [crosstalk 00:33:44]-
Brad Burrow: It’s a rite of passage, huh?
Don Jalbert: It is, it is. It’s just unbelievable and it’s so funny listening to her because here she is, she actually walked more than once the KC Fashion Week runway, so she would have agencies and particular designers ask for her-
Brad Burrow: Really? Wow.
Don Jalbert: And she would walk the runway. The last time she did it was in April, and in May she was on her way to Parris Island to get yelled at by the drill instructors. It’s kind of interesting to have this model and now who is very proficient in how to speak like a Marine.
Brad Burrow: Wow. Does she like it?
Don Jalbert: She loves it. Absolutely loves it. She is going to be working on the Osprey, the V-22 tiltrotor. She is down in Jacksonville, North Carolina, just making things happen right now.
Brad Burrow: Wow. Pretty exciting.
Don Jalbert: It is.
Brad Burrow: How is it as a parent knowing that you’re sending a daughter into a situation like that?
Don Jalbert: What’s [crosstalk 00:34:40]
Brad Burrow: I had a hard time just sending my son to college.
Don Jalbert: Well, when she went to Kay State, it wasn’t for her and she came to me. I was working out into the gym and she was saying, “Hey, can I come work with you?” I’m like, “Yeah, okay.” I’m working out, got my headphones on. She wants to talk to me. She waves at me and she goes, “Dad, I want to drop out of college and join the military.” I’m like, “You know I come to the gym to get away from all of this stuff?” She’s like, “Thanks, Dad.” I’m like, “We’ll talk about it later.”
Don Jalbert: We went and talked to the Air Force recruiter because I’m prior Air Force. I’m like, “Let’s go. Let’s talk to the Air Force.” She wanted to talk to a Marine recruiter after the Air Force. She came out of the Marine recruiter walking taller and I’m like, “Don, she’s going to the Marines.” I didn’t even say it, but I could just see the difference in her and it’s just her niche. It’s her thing. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done as a parent-
Brad Burrow: Oh man.
Don Jalbert: Because you can’t… How old is your son now?
Brad Burrow: He is 19.
Don Jalbert: 19, so where’s he going to school?
Brad Burrow: Hannibal-LaGrange College up in Hannibal, Missouri.
Don Jalbert: Okay, so if he calls you, says, “Dad, I need to talk to you. Dad I have trouble with this”, you’re taking the call?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Don Jalbert: Without question?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Don Jalbert: For 13 weeks, there is no call. There’s nothing [crosstalk 00:35:53]-
Brad Burrow: Nothing [crosstalk 00:35:53]-
Don Jalbert: You can do. If she gets injured, nothing you can do. You can write letters and say, “You got it, do great, love you, you got this”, but [crosstalk 00:36:02]-
Brad Burrow: Nothing back, though.
Don Jalbert: You get a couple of letters, but she doesn’t have that much time. That was a very tough thing, but we went down to Parris Island for the graduation. I’m sorry, I could tell this story. Mayor Sly James is a Marine. He was a Marine. His son is a Marine also. They’re both out, but his son is a carbon copy of the Mayor, and so I actually ran into the Mayor at the airport one time.
Don Jalbert: This is before the groundbreaking. “Mayor Sly James, I just want to say I ran into your son. He came and talked to us about a trade show booth. Amazing guy”, all this other stuff, “But I got to tell you, my daughter is going into the Marines.” He goes, “Oh well, good luck.” Probably he was so glad I wasn’t going to talk about the airport because everybody was talking about the airport. Well, we were doing an event up at the Kansas City Museum, a client of ours, they were redoing a lot of work up at the Kansas City Museum. Mayor Quinton-
Brad Burrow: Lucas [crosstalk 00:36:54]-
Don Jalbert: Lucas is up there, Mayor Sly James before the transition, so both of them up there and I’ve met Mayor Lucas years ago, absolutely years ago, but Mayor Sly James, I corner him, not really, but I go, “Hey, Mayor James. We met at the airport probably four months ago”, all this other stuff. He goes, “Oh, yeah, yeah.” “My daughter is about to graduate. She’s going to be a Marine.” “Awesome.” He gives me his challenge coin, which is a little coin that is very big in the military, and says, “Give this to her from me and tell her from Mayor Sly James congratulations and Semper Fi.”
Brad Burrow: Wow.
Don Jalbert: When I went down to Parris Island for graduation, it’s a two-day event, big thing, so the first day I’m there, I give her the coin. Of course, she says in the Marine way, but I’m not going to say the Marine way, she says, “No way!” You can just imagine what word was in the middle there. She was so excited to show Mayor Sly James’ challenge coin to her platoon mates, but very excited. I could go on forever. Credit to my wife as every good husband’s does. It was definitely a team effort raising the two of them. We had one who we barely knew she was there because she had dance constantly. She danced, danced, danced, danced, and studied, studied, studied, studied, but now right out of college, she is working for Ernst & Young, one of the big four accounting firms.
Don Jalbert: Then, our younger one, a little more difficult at school. Black belt, Taekwondo as like a 12-year-old, but once she set her mind to something she was really good. Amy and I… When I say this is the best day ever, it’s like saying the best professional day ever because there’s stuff that happens with the family that’s one level, and that’s something we do at the office. That fourth grade play your kid is in, never going to come around again. Go. That fifth grade dance recital, go. That swim meet, go. Whatever the kids are doing, go, because you know what?
Don Jalbert: You don’t have an opportunity to do that again because as a business owner in the past, I missed all of my oldest daughter’s first grade. I was pretty much on the road that entire time going to Afghanistan. I missed ninth grade and seventh grade of my girls because they were at Southwest High School, Blue Valley, and they were at Aubry Bend. I was in Afghanistan, so there was a lot of stuff I missed. It’s sensitive to my wife and I that our employees go. Go to that play, do this because, again, work will be there. I will go. I went to Parris Island graduation. When my daughter graduated Creighton, I was there. Whatever is next, I will be there and I expect my employees to be there as well.
Brad Burrow: That’s great. That’s great. Isn’t it amazing how your past experiences kind of groom you to where you are right now and how you’re running your business? You look at your military background [crosstalk 00:39:46]-
Don Jalbert: Yeah.
Brad Burrow: The way you were brought up, the experiences you’ve had. That’s had to impact how you run Exhibit Associates.
Don Jalbert: It does, it does in a way, and the challenge we have every day is you meet clients… We don’t keep them around that long who say, “Hey, let’s do this”, and they give you a verbal and then when you do it, they don’t follow through on it. It’s just like, “Oh.” We have to do things… everything is in writing. When we have milestones, we’re not going any further until we get a financial commitment from the client. We’re not going to do this until this happens. Because of the 2.5%, 5% who will, “Oh, I didn’t mean to go forward”, you said go forward in your email, so we have to get the written proposals and it’s just experience. You want everybody to do it on a handshake, but it’s trust by verify so to speak and you can’t because we’ve been burned too many times because we’re trusting by nature, unfortunately.
Brad Burrow: You got to learn that lesson the hard way, don’t you?
Don Jalbert: You do, and that’s why there’s so many lawyers and accountants out there because we’re all humans and we all wish we could get away with certain things.
Brad Burrow: I’ve called Sheila many times and she’s helped.
Don Jalbert: Helped, yes. We had issues. “If you’re going to buy a company and I’m going to tell you, ‘Hey, you’re going to buy a company and there’s going to be two things I’m going to tell you. Cash is king and it’s not a matter of if you’ll get sued but when you’ll get sued.'” Unfortunately, that’s usually an ex-employee and that’s happened and we’ve had competitors sue us and we actually out of probably I’ll say five lawsuits that we’ve had in the last seven years, two we settled for a ridiculously low amount of money, and the other three got dismissed because we try to run a clean ship. We really, really do. We want to be the nice guys. If anything, be mad at me because I held you accountable, but don’t ever say I was dishonest because that’s not the way Exhibit Associates operates.
Don Jalbert: We’ve had… I talked about firing clients, well, I alluded to it, we had a client who was just rude to everybody in the company, and finally we did the last thing you ever want to do. We called that person’s boss. They’re not a client now, but we got the I’ll call the platitudes. “Oh, sorry about that. That’ll never happen.” We knew they were going to go in six months somewhere else. Getting rid of that client was worth it than the wear and tear of my account manager and the shit my sales manager was going through trying to keep that client happy.
Brad Burrow: Stress. That’s exactly right. Finding the right clients is so important.
Don Jalbert: It is, and so my key is just they say the Golden Rule. Treat people how you want to be treated, really how they want to be treated, but I also look at my clients. Would I want them on my team? Could I be on their team? Is that someone who I’d want on my team? Is that someone whose team I could be on? We deal with some amazing individuals on the creative side, the marketing side, the architects that we deal with.
Don Jalbert: It’s great time to be in this business because everything is ticking up so the budgets are loosening up on the marketing side. Usually the last bucket of money to be loosened up, they hire a new salesperson, they hire a new this, they hire a new IT provider, they upgrade their infrastructure. “Oh, now we need to focus on marketing.” It’s not really the first line item every CEO thinks about, but eventually the marketing departments get their money and that’s starting to happen.
Brad Burrow: Which is wrong, by the way.
Don Jalbert: I agree, and anyone listening, marketing goes first.
Brad Burrow: It’s so true. It’s like you need to be focusing on marketing when the revenues are down. Let’s go ahead and wrap it up. Future, what’s future look like for Exhibit Associates and you personally?
Don Jalbert: Personally, well, this afternoon I’m probably going to do cardio. Probably not that close of future. We would love to open a second location. A lot of [crosstalk 00:44:18]-
Brad Burrow: Oh, great.
Don Jalbert: 95% of this business is Mom and Pops like us. If you can get a second location, that is more than a WeWork’s building in Chicago but actual functioning facility, then you’re in rarefied air. We are always exploring that. We’re always looking for that solution, how to do that through acquisition. That’s what we want to do. For my wife and I, number one on our list is downsize. We’re in the Blue Valley school district, we got the house and now we’ve got nobody in the house. We don’t need five bedrooms.
Brad Burrow: It’s funny. My wife and I are the same way.
Don Jalbert: We don’t know what’s going to happen, but it will be… It’s fun watching our kids become the people they are becoming, but downsizing on our house and upsizing on our business. How about that?
Brad Burrow: Switching the resources, huh?
Don Jalbert: There we go, yeah, because at the company I always like to tell people, “We’re one good customer away from a beach house, but we’re one bad decision away from bankruptcy.” That’s not anything a customer wants to hear and we’re not there, but I always say, “All we need is that one good customer and we’re good to go”, and [crosstalk 00:45:33]-
Brad Burrow: Anybody that legitimately understands small business knows that that’s truth. It’s so true.
Don Jalbert: It is, and if you want to have… if you’re passionate about something, and when I saw Exhibit Associates, I’d been to trade shows, but I looked at it as a watch company. They made beautiful watches and we spent time learning how to build a watch. Sometimes we had to replace people, which was good. Some people we fired and some people got other opportunities at larger design shops around the nation because, again, it’s a small world, which is really cool because I can call up a design shop like in Nashville and call their leadership up and say, “Hey, I need some help.” They’ll be like, “What do you need?” Vice versa, they call us, “What do you need?” We’ve done some amazing projects. I know you want to wrap this up. I could go for another probably four hours, so at least.
Brad Burrow: We’ll have you back.
Don Jalbert: I hope. It would be great. I would love to talk about the time in Afghanistan was really cool. That was absolutely, absolutely cool. Nothing like it. The people over there, what we complain about, they can’t imagine. They just could not imagine our style of life here, and I live in Overland Park and you can’t complain, and if you do you have to go to these fourth world countries to see with it because even when I was in the Air Force, I went to some countries that weren’t up to our standards. I didn’t grow up in Overland Park. I didn’t nowhere near an Overland Park, but I… I could go into that, but I’ll wrap it up.
Brad Burrow: Well, tell us, how could somebody get ahold of you if somebody is looking to build a trade show booth, they want to do some things?
Don Jalbert: Exhibitassociates.com is always a good way. Google me, “Don Jalbert”. I come up all over the place, but Exhibit Associates, we’re very active in social media, firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to our website, Google “trade show booth Kansas City”, we’ll come up and if you’re just listening, Google it anyway and click on our link so that way we go up on the SEO ranks.
Brad Burrow: You got it.
Don Jalbert: There’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned from other people over my 25 years here in Kansas City, and hopefully when I see them they’re like, “Man, I cannot believe”… Well, hopefully they say, “Man, I always knew you had it in you.” My wife is doing an amazing job. If I had told her seven years ago you’re going to be President and running the company, she would have said, “No way”, but the team loves her. She is doing the work and she is very sincere, forthright, and she is very direct with everybody and not in a bad way. She tells it like it is and the team loves her.
Brad Burrow: Well, you have an amazing company.
Don Jalbert: Thank you.
Brad Burrow: It’s fun seeing all the work and [crosstalk 00:48:34]-
Don Jalbert: You’re a customer, so I think that’s awesome.
Brad Burrow: That’s [crosstalk 00:48:36] very true. I’m singing your praises.
Don Jalbert: Actually, Sheila, our lawyer, is a customer, too. We did her desk and her sign in her office.
Brad Burrow: Oh, is that right?
Don Jalbert: Yeah, that’s with the granite on it, that was an interesting [crosstalk 00:48:48]-
Brad Burrow: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, we wish you the best of luck. Thanks for listening everybody. This is In a World with Real Media Podcast. We’re on all the podcast formats, so iTunes, Spotify, radio.com, Stitcher, all of those, so be sure to subscribe and we’ll have lots of new content coming out soon. Thanks for joining us. Thanks, Don.
Don Jalbert: Thank you. Goodbye.