Intentional Growth

#235: PIVOT! How One Trade Show Company Ended 2020 with More Cash Than They Started

#235: PIVOT! How One Trade Show Company Ended 2020 with More Cash Than They Started
Intentional Growth
#235: PIVOT! How One Trade Show Company Ended 2020 with More Cash Than They Started

The tradeshow industry was one of the hardest-hit in 2020 and while 30% of companies managed to take full advantage of unstable markets, 30% scraped bottom or worse. Rising from the bottom third, Mark Johnson ended the year with more cash than he started. Listen in to hear how he accomplished remarkable pivots to keep the entrepreneurial dream alive while safeguarding his clients during some of the most volatile times in recent US-history.

Our conversations focuses on the fourth principle that we cover in our Intentional Growth Course: strategic planning. When Mark and his company found themselves in a bind because of what COVID did to their niche market, they didn’t just roll over. They decided to pivot. Today Mark talks about how he did it (and the steps to how that led them to become an even bigger business), why and how building an intentional business has led them to even bigger success, and how to identify markets that align with your business’s niche and values so you can do the same thing.


What You Will Learn In Today's Podcast Interview

  • What improv and leadership have in common.
  • Mark’s core business philosophy of being “fast, flexible and fun” and what that drives in his culture and growth.
  • Being arrogant and having a big ego can cause you to miss market trends and opportunities.
  • How Mark and Star Exhibit recovered from the sudden death of his 37-year-old partner Tom.
  • The devastating impact 2020 had on the tradeshow industry.
  • Why Star Exhibit ignored going into the PPE industry when making pivoting choices during the pandemic.
  • How Mark created a culture that enabled one of his front-line employees to take an idea all the way to the NHL.
  • The importance of picking up on market trends and how to identify emerging markets that align with your company’s resources.
  • How his company pivoted into pop-up office spaces to solve the need for isolated work areas that are separate of the distractions of home life.
  • Why building an intentional business allowed flexible thinking and quick decisions when time was of the essence.
  • Diving into the “Blue Ocean” annually is beneficial for your business, not just your blood pressure. Mark shares the importance of updating business plans each year to keep alignment and ROI high.
  • How Star Exhibit climbed back from two employees.
  • The value of human-centric design in fulfilling market demands (and when you might pass on an opportunity that doesn’t fit).


Are You Growing The Value of Your Business

Take The 2-Minute Assessment To Get Your Intentional Growth Score™ And 1-Page Vision Board.

  • Are your company's current initiatives intentionally designed to increase the value of the business?
  • Do you know what you want from your business long term and why?
  • Do you know what your company is worth?
  • Do you know the differences between Management, Family Transitions, PE Firms, ESOPs and Strategic Buyers?
  • Does the business have a written strategic plan on how to achieve the desired normalized EBITDA and valuation?


About the Guest:

Mark Johnson is the CEO and founder of Star Exhibits, a strategic face-to-face marketing solutions company as well as CEO and founder at myBackyardStudio, which offers attractive and affordable space options addressing the need to do more from home. His passion to deliver human-centric solutions spills over from his for-profit endeavors as he is known for taking an active part in ensuring the safety and security of his clients. Mark has served on the board of international and national industry associations, as well as multiple non-profits.



07:36 - “We were coming into 2020 thinking we were going to have a fabulous year.” – Mark Johnson

09:12 - “In 2020, IFES, International Federation of Exhibition Services, posted a 70-90% drop in revenue in our industry worldwide.” – Mark Johnson

10:36 - “We’re not going to put this on our website, but we have customers that are in trouble and we have a shop full of guys who know what they’re doing, let’s go help them board up stores and protect their assets.” – Mark Johnson

17:09 - “You gave us the business, but we don’t have any orders yet.” – Mark Johnson

19:47 - “You know, we don’t live in Cuba! We’ve got to figure out some other way to to do this.” – Mark Johnson

26:26 - “Ideas are currency. Can you come up with good ideas and solutions?” – Mark Johnson

33:44 - “A good percentage of [businesses that Mark talked to] were just like, ‘No, I’m worth 3 million! I’m worth 30 million!’ and, just… Not today, sorry.” – Mark Johnson

35:57 - “The key thing is, ‘When will companies and employers let their employees travel?’” – Mark Johnson

47:53 - “I think where my strength has been is, I know what I know but I know more of what I don’t know and I’m really willing to go talk to other people and find out about it.” - Mark Johnson

53:38 -  “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to lean into it.” – Mark Johnson


Links and Resources:

Engage Star website

My Backyard Studios website

Mastering Your Cash Flow Digital Course

ARKONA Boot Camp

Reach out to me if you have questions about the boot camp!


You can also reach out to me via email at [email protected], or on my LinkedIn.

Brought to you by Ryan Tansom of Intentional Growth