Joel Davis: Trade Show Incubator
Joel Davis started JD Events in a small office off the Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County, Connecticut, 12 years ago. In the intervening years, his office may have moved—although not very far—but a fair number of events have passed through his hands and, in virtually every case, when he sold them, they were in better shape than when he either bought or launched them.
Davis spoke with Expo Editor Michael Hart recently about his company’s first 12 years as a trade show incubator.
Expo: How has the company you started 12 years ago changed?
Joel Davis: The original business plan we created in 2002 is exactly what we’re still doing. It’s gratifying that you can put a business model into place that you think and hope will work and 12 years later it’s still working.
It’s a very long-term-oriented business model. I’m not trying to build an empire and sell the whole thing off one day and ride off into any sunsets.
The business model is to do what I consider the fun part of trade shows, which is launching and turning around and growing and nurturing businesses and then, when we get them to a certain point, transitioning them over to a larger organization that has a strategic need for that business.
That’s where I find the most excitement in trade shows, the startup stage. That was the plan from the beginning. That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what I hope to keep doing.
Expo: Tell us about your most recent sale to the National Association of Broadcasters.
Davis: We launched a satellite technology show in New York in 2002, the year we started the company. Over the next few years, it grew very nicely and we expanded and morphed it into a broadcasting show that was focused on media and entertainment technology.
We envisioned a show that was very similar in positioning to NAB’s show in April in Las Vegas. We thought there was a big market need that could be served in New York City, the media capital of the world.
We’ve been hard at work building that for 12 years. It really gained traction, it kept growing, the exhibitors were really seeing value from that audience, so, because we were essentially building an East Coast version of NAB, it made a ton of sense when it was time for us to move it on and focus on new products, that NAB would be the perfect buyer for it. It’s a complement to what they’re doing and a market they feel strongly about being in.
Expo: What does your current portfolio look like?
Davis: Our business model has always been to have three or four brands or business markets that we were serving at one time. We have a show called Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo, one called Customer Engagement World and we just acquired a new business called Audio Expo of North America, a consumer event that focuses on high-end audio equipment and music technology. All of these started out as acquisitions.
Expo: What do you look for when you’re thinking about whether to acquire a property?
Davis: It’s not like we have deep pockets and we can buy something that’s well established. We’re making acquisitions opportunistically. In many cases, it’s a distressed property, underperforming or undervalued somehow, so that we can buy it very much on the low side and try to turn it around.
We’re looking for something very reasonably priced, probably not of interest to anybody else, but something where we believe there is a tremendous opportunity and upside and great long-term growth potential.
Expo: And when do you know it’s time to sell a show?
Davis: When a show gets to the point where it requires a lot more attention and resources than we can give it. I have a small team; we’re 12 people here doing everything.
When a show gets to a point where it’s growing beyond our bandwidth, and we know we are not the shop best situated to take the show to the next level, then it’s time to move it into the hands of somebody with deeper pockets and greater resources and a greater long-term strategic need in that market.
Our favorite thing to do is new launches, so I’m searching for the next great idea, the next great trade show launch.
Expo: What are your plans for the next 12 years?
Davis: We’ve been doing this for 12 years and I feel like we could do it for the next 10 or 20 years. It’s working, we’re able to self-fund everything we do, we’re able to make small acquisitions and invest in launches and we’ve got the core team still together.
We’re a trade show incubator and, if somebody has a good idea, this is a great place to bring your idea to get it off the ground if you’re not able to do it yourself.