How Display America and Office Depot joined forces to embrace change.
Carlos Quiñones knows something about managing through tough circumstances.
He was working in the trade show industry when 9/11 happened. Travel and trade shows stopped and he lost his job right as his second son was born. It was a difficult period for his family, who were living in Atlanta, Georgia at the time. But Quiñones, born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States and Germany, saw an opportunity.
In 2003, he started Display America, a minority- and family-owned business that provides trade show and logistics management across the country. Within years of opening its doors, the business was expanding into additional manufacturing and storage centers, adding staff, and signing big clients—including Office Depot, which was recommended by another corporate client. While he certainly didn’t welcome the COVID-19 crisis or the major disruption it brought to his business, Quiñones knew he’d find a way to make it to the other side, just as he did in previous times of uncertainty.
Display America has pivoted to designing, developing, and producing products to help its community fight the coronavirus pandemic. The company started making divider panels to be used in alternative care facilities in cities hard-hit with the virus and realized that there were opportunities to provide more products made necessary by the pandemic. Quiñones reached out to his contact at Office Depot to see if Display America could play a role in the organization’s changing supply chain as they set out to provide new, innovative solutions to healthcare and education customers.
Quiñones and his team at Display America partnered with Office Depot to design solutions for personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing-friendly products, including partition walls for schools and workplaces. His marketing team raced to put together a completely new protective solutions catalog, highlighting solutions fit for classrooms, isolation rooms, waiting rooms, field hospitals, and labs. They also produce PPE for healthcare providers. “I didn’t even know what PPE was six months ago!” says Quiñones. Courtesy Display America»
Display America has built its reputation around providing creative, custom trade show solutions with true turnkey service. Quiñones remembers the custom exhibit, complete with hardwood floors and top-of-the-line graphics, crafted for an Orlando-based company that ended up landing him the Office Depot referral. “Their goal was to stand out from the crowd. They wanted to look better than everyone at the show floor. Our display did the job for them and it did the job for Display America—the procurement director from Office Depot stopped at that booth and wanted to know who did it,” he shares.
The client passed on his contact information and a few weeks later, Quiñones got a call while he was visiting family in Puerto Rico to attend his grandfather’s funeral. He had to tell the caller, an Office Depot marketing manager, that he’d have to call back in a few days. “Usually you don’t do that in business, but my mind wasn’t there, and she appreciated the honesty,” he says. When they did start working together, Quiñones dug into Office Depot’s strategy and needs over several assessments before his team started producing work for them.
In the 13 years since Display America first started working with Office Depot, they’ve worked on everything from NASCAR booths to education trade shows to supplier diversity shows. The processes and procedures Quiñones had put in place to provide top-in-class customer service to Office Depot became a core part of his offerings to other clients. As the pandemic forces his business to change course, he is making sure he is providing that deep partnership to all his clients.
“Customers prefer to deal with experts, so I will continue to position myself as that expert. Every week I’m looking at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website, at the guidelines for schools and the workplace,” Quiñones says. “The number one thing is to be responsible.”
Quiñones isn’t anticipating a return of trade shows until at least 2021, so for now, he’s focusing on making his shift to protective equipment manufacturing profitable and permanent. “We could create a division to focus on safety and healthcare, and I think that would allow us to diversify in a way that doesn’t become too disruptive. We have the experience to design workplaces; we design these modular structures for trade shows, and now it’s just applying it to corporate environments, restaurants, and hospitals,” he says. “I want to continue down that sustainable path.”
He can’t be sure what the next year will bring, but like he’s been before, Quiñones is ready to face it. “What I went through in the trade show industry after 9/11, and with the housing market in ’08, we all persevered,” he says. “With hard work, teamwork, and passion, we can make it better than what it was before.”