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Trade Show Leader: Stone Fort Group’s Sean Guerre

Trade Show Leader: Stone Fort Group’s Sean Guerre

Sean Guerre is a media entrepreneur and currently is the co-founder of Stone Fort Group- a Live Event & Digital Media startup serving b2b communities in the Energy, Transportation and Workforce/HR markets.

His claim to fame is serving as a former chairman of the Society of Independent Show Organizers, and he has been a keynote presenter and speaker at SISO, IAEE, Folio, Niche EventFest and CEIR Predict.

Prior to founding Stone Fort Group, he co-founded TradeFair Group (energy media), which was sold in 2012 to private equity firm Veronis, Suhler & Stevenson.

Guerre graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University with a BBA/Marketing, lives in Houston with his wife Katy and 2 daughters. He has served on the boards of SISO, St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Southeast Media and Pink Petro.

He is passionate about launching live events, new digital media brands, startups, running, cycling, craft beer and spending time with his family.

Guerre’s favorite quote aptly captures his sense of humour as well: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” – Mike Tyson.

He took some time to tell us how he got started in trade shows and to give some witty wise words.

TSNN: How did you get started in the industry?

Sean Guerre: I was fortunate enough to have a fraternity brother who was working at an oil & gas publisher launching a trade show group. He asked me to come over from my current job…selling fax machines…I think I made the right choice 😉 We had an awesome adventure building and growing shows for them in the US and then globally. After a few years we jumped over to our own startup to manage and build shows for ourselves and I have never looked back!

TSNN: How different was the industry when you started, compared with today?

Guerre: As you can guess from my 25 year-old starting point, all of the tech was built well after I started in the trade show business. Rolodexes, phone calls and foam core floor plans were the norm…and fax machines of course! Print marketing/Direct Mail was king and business moved at a slower pace. Everyone worked in the office and there weren’t many shows held by corporations, mostly association and some for-profit. The majority of events were horizontal and focused on major industries and large segments.

It is a much faster business pace today with instant feedback from digital ads, social media and the ubiquitous email. It is easier to test a new event concept and determine the likelihood of its success with the marketplace. The ability to connect with a marketplace is also significantly easier through all the channels that exist in today’s trade show industry. Our teams work virtually, they are global, and events serve key niches regularly.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the focus of bringing a community together to share knowledge and have buyers and sellers trade challenges and solutions.

TSNN: What are some of the lessons you have learned being a part of this industry?

Guerre: I have been incredibly fortunate to have had strong mentors in the trade show business right from the start, and the lessons they have taught me are priceless. Sharing information is something that you rarely see in business, but in the event business it happens everyday and makes us all stronger.

David Johnson, my first boss, showed me this business and all the possibilities of how we can serve a market need, which is the only real reason you should launch an event.

Michael Hough, Denyse Selesnick and Lew Shomer showed me how to profitably launch and build a trade show as a small company without any real investment, but with passion for a market.

Don Pazour taught me how to be gracious, grow a business to the next level, make it more profitable…all at the same time.

David Audrain, Joel Davis, Phil McKay, Scott Goldman, John Failla, Carl Landau and so many more from my experience at SISO are a constant set of sharing peers that give me great counsel on launching & building our events.

TSNN: What is your favorite part of being in the industry?

Guerre: There are actually 2 fave parts for me:

1.     The people! I truly love the great people I have met in the trade show industry. From the folks in the industries we serve, the awesome teams who made our shows successful over the years, and of course the great people who are all part of the trade show industry.

2.     Shows! That feeling you get when you start a show from scratch with your team. Finding the market need, developing the relationships, creating the marketplace and then seeing it all come to life…it is one of the most magical experiences that one can have.

TSNN: Anything you miss that you wish was still around?

Guerre: I’m a pretty optimistic person and stay focused on the present and future, so honestly there isn’t anything I really miss from the past, it was all a great adventure. If I had to pin down one item…I do kinda miss those big foam core backed floorplans. It was just cool to see them around the office every day, get colored in as booths were sold, contracted and collected $$$. Salesforce Reports and Online Floorplans don’t have quite the same feel.

TSNN: Anything you are thrilled went away?

Guerre: Fax machines!

TSNN: What do you hope your personal impact on the industry is?

Guerre: Hopefully I have given back at least a small amount back for what the industry has given me, which has been tremendous. I will continue to strive to give back, help new folks entering the industry, give advice and time to young entrepreneurs and promote the live event industry as a fantastic marketing channel for b2b marketers.

TSNN: Any wise words about what this industry means to you overall?

Guerre: I’m not sure this is wisdom but here are 2 quotes that I love which sum up much of what I have learned as a 25 year veteran in the trade show industry:

· “Anytime someone throws money at you…don’t duck!”- Sheldon Adelson

· “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face”- Mike Tyson