Q and A with Founding Boothologist John-Paull Davidson
It is often said that behind every successful entrepreneur is a driving passion. For you was it sustainable design?
In a word, yes. I was fortunate to get my start at Mobius in the 90s. We were designing for the success of our clients but also to a higher ideal. That design can make people’s lives better - more relaxing; more functional; pleasing. I grew up in an environmentally conscious household in Oregon and while I loved design, the waste really bothered me. In 2007 I started to think that the time was right to build a company around the notion of being “the green booth company”. There were a lot of companies that wanted green booths then, and it's been one project after another.
What inspired the Eco Rolla and Boothster Banner Stands, why focus on such a banal, off the shelf, throw away product?
Well your question almost answers itself. The world is filled with boring aluminum junk called “banner stands”. Banner stands are a ubiquitous visual communication tool. We felt there was room to reinvent that product, and do it with made in the USA, sustainable green materials. Our Eco Rolla and bamboo lite have re-invented what a banner stand is. Its a little more expensive than aluminum but it creates a totally different, more positive, warm and fuzzy brand identity.
Can you tell us how Boothster provides Booth Design Ideas for clients?
Brainstorming is a key element of our booth design process. We start out by asking a lot of questions about the project, and we throw out ideas back and forth as that QA evolves. What boothster designs do you like? What design ideas, booth or otherwise, are inspirations? With an active discussion and back and forth presentation of photos and brand guidelines, an effective booth design always emerges. The Booth Design Ideas page on our website is a great starting point.
Is it true you started the company with $50?
Yea, $50, and just the right mix of naivete, audacity, and hard work. I paid a guy to teach me how to upload a website. I came up with a web strategy in 2007 and literally we haven’t been able to stop the projects from coming in since then.
So was it an overnight success?
No, way. We were getting so many small orders from totally random sources it was really hard to stay focused, and not get distracted. I did not want boothster to follow the traditional path of a design build company, so that meant I had to experiment a lot. Try different things. After 7 years we are a lot more focused on natural products and government. I feel we are successful but we have a lot more work to do. We are expanding into POP and retail displays, like what I used to do at Mobius.
Why not follow traditional booth design build models, why reinvent the wheel?
A lot of “great” booth design or “design build” companies went out of business with that old model. A lot of those companies have very tired design approaches. I got tired of that tired attitude and wanted to do something outside the booth… haha - outside the box. Also, I wanted this company to be a game changer. Successful financially, and sustainable for the planet.
You say Boothster has settled into a building model after years of experimenting...
For the first several years I hired mostly from outside the trade show booth industry so that we could develop unique, green building practices unimpeded by old, dogmatic approaches to design. Now that we have developed our unique materials and building practices, I have come full circle, and we also work with “old school” booth builders. The result is an unbeatable combination of fresh, innovative design, and old school booth building know how.
For years Boothster was The Green Booth Company. It almost sounds like you are downplaying the green aspect of Boothster today.
Being sustainable will always be integral to Boothster. A lot of companies ruined the world “green” by green washing. Our ethos is sustainable modernist. To us sustainable means biodegradable, and non toxic. The bulk (up to 100%) of our designs will biodegrade and be mostly non toxic. We believe all design should be this way. We are influenced by Japanese and Scandinavian design.
You have been around for nearly 8 years. You survived the recession. You’ve done up to 100 projects large and small per year. Why do customers keep coming back?
We view the success of our projects as a partnership between us and our clients. We roll up our sleeves and have fun working with our clients, and create awesome results together. We create sublime designs that are the catalyst for buyers buying products. We also are really good with government clients. Government gets such a bad rap in the media. We show that the government CAN get it right. There are 1000s of people out there fighting the good fight for socially conscious organizations, and we do a great job of touting that. Another part of our success is that though we are highly talented at design, we are not snobby. We really get grass roots and work hand in hand with our clients.
What is a boothologist?
Its a take off on a Portlandia (the TV show) skit where there is a mixologist that mixes drinks. We are booth experts so we are Boothologists.
Tell us about your international operations. What is this I hear about being “Big in Japan”?
Well we have done projects in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Seoul, Korea; Tokyo, Japan; and later this year, in Durban, South Africa. We are also setting up Boothster Japan, in partnership with a 100 year old Japanese company. We are pretty excited about it because we are so heavily influenced by Japanese design.
What are your goals for the company in the next two years?
We are launching this new website on the Shopify platform and hope to double our online sales in two years. For the custom side of our business our goals are more modest. We hope to increase sales by 10%.
When you are doing 100s of projects a year in this kind of business there have got to be stories. Tell us one (or two please).
Several years ago I was on a trip to Japan, and had the sales line forwarded to my mobile phone there. I had got my time zone wrong and was out on the town drinking with my friend in the middle of the night Tokyo time, and picked up a call. It was a small online purchase which netted me about $1000. The new client thought that was pretty hilarious and needless to say I bought a round a drinks after that fortunate occurrence.
That story gives a window into how Boothster really runs differently than other booth design companies. Can you elaborate on that?
Yea. Just like our booths are not plastic and aluminum, our people and practices are not operated out of a cubicle. We have graffiti art at our shop, and jam really innovative music at work. You go to your typical booth design company and their shop is playing the same 10 Classic rock songs all day. We work with a lot of free lancers. We collaborate in really creative ways to get our work done.