Meet John Lindgren, Tradeshow Rock Star

January 20, 2021

Would you know what to do if a light fixture fell over and set a display on fire? How about if the headline celebrity you had booked weeks ago didn’t show up on the day of the show?

John Lindgren has been there, and he has the stories to prove it.

John has been working in the world of promotional industry tradeshows for over 20 years. He joined SanMar in 1995, as part of the Inside Sales team. He brought with him memorable experiences with some familiar names. Even his first job made its mark on him. “I still have my business cards from Mrs. Fields,” he recalls, referring to his first job at the famous cookie shop in Bellevue Square. “That’s where I first learned about making a great product and providing a great service from beginning to end. I still use those early lessons today.”

These days, as Tradeshow Director at SanMar, he’s in charge of managing SanMar’s presence at multiple industry tradeshows as well as keeping our showrooms across the United States up to date. That’s not how he started out, though. In fact, his first request to represent SanMar at an industry tradeshow was denied.

“That made me determined to go,” John remembers. “I learned what I needed to do and made myself a tradeshow rock star.” By the following year, he was in charge of building a new booth for SanMar’s tradeshow presence from the ground up.

1990s SanMar tradeshow booths

SanMar’s new showrooms in Washington, Ohio and Nevada were some of his first projects — showrooms that he has since expanded, redesigned and moved many times over. “Over the years I’ve put in maybe 20 showrooms for SanMar,” he explains. “Early on we had to move everything by hand. You just rent a U-Haul and get it done.”

That’s a philosophy John has carried with him over the years. He’s had some excellent mentors to help him learn what he needed to know along the way — most importantly, how to handle things when they go wrong, and how to negotiate with strong personalities. The answer to both, he says, is to stay calm and adapt.

“There have never been two days that are the same, it’s an adventure every day,” says John. While he’s developed many skills and best practices that he can put into practice every day, his favorite part of the job is that there’s always a new challenge. 2020 was a whole new experience for him, and he had to use that adaptability to bring the tradeshow experience to a virtual audience.

“The core tradeshow practices still apply in the virtual world,” he explains. “I still have to play a little Goldilocks with our booth staff. We don’t want to be understaffed or overstaffed, so finding that ‘just right’ level is always important.” After a few early hiccups at the first big tradeshow of 2021, the PPAI Direct-2-You Virtual expo went well. “I was really pleased! We had great attendance and everyone was really engaged.”

With fewer tradeshows happening this winter, John is hoping to spend a little more time with his husband and one of their favorite shared activities: hitting the ski slopes at Snolqualmie or Mount Baker. “We live close enough that we can usually avoid the weekend crowds,” he says. John also admits that he grew up a Mister Rogers kid, so being nice – a SanMar Family Value – just comes naturally.

When it comes to his future plans, John looks to another mentor who helped shape how he approaches his work: SanMar’s founder, Marty Lott. “Marty always asks what we can do to make your business better, and that sticks with me. People getting what they need out of a booth or a showroom space is my happy place, but I’m always looking for ways to improve it too.”

John says that his many years at SanMar is no accident. “I really like the longevity here. If I can make a difference and do something I love, I don’t have any reason to go anywhere else.”

We couldn’t agree more. John has plenty of stories to tell that we didn’t get to here. If you get the chance, ask him about some of them — you won’t be disappointed.

2000s SanMar tradeshow booth