The Tale of the Open Show

The Tale of the Open Show ISSA

By Grant Watkinson

Editor’s note: This article was initially published on ISSA on March 13, 2023. You can find the original piece here. 

Once upon a time in 1997, ISSA was under the leadership of Jerry Rau. As president of ISSA, Rau wanted ISSA to open the ISSA Show North America to end users. But amending ISSA’s articles of incorporation required board and membership approval.

The board of directors, at that time, was composed of 15 voting members—seven distributors, seven manufacturers, and one manufacturer representative. For the most part, distributors opposed opening the show to others because of fear that manufacturers, including private label manufacturers, would sell directly to their clients, eliminating the need for distributors. On the other hand, many manufacturers were unhappy with the distributors’ lack of interest in showcasing their new products. Hence, this was a bit of a conundrum for the association.

This article is part of a series celebrating ISSA’s 100th anniversary. For more, visit

At Rau’s first executive meeting with all of the ISSA officers, he asked the group for approval to update the association’s strategic plan with the help of a professor from American University who had assisted with previous association strategic plans.

At the time, I was serving as ISSA vice president. While I was aware of the professor’s previous work on the strategic plan, I found it unfavorable, particularly considering Rau’s interest in opening the show to others. I felt that a large majority of the board needed to favor such a move if it hoped to obtain membership approval.

I recommended that the association hire accounting and professional consulting firm Arthur Anderson to lead the board as an independent resource and to seek outside pertinent data for the board’s consideration as part of the strategic planning process. After a good deal of discussion, the executive committee asked John Garfinkel, our then executive director, to reach out to Arthur Anderson for a proposal.

Garfinkel met with representatives from Arthur Anderson and, after several exchanges, came to the entire board at its next meeting with a plan that entailed numerous discussions, in-person and via phone, and an outline of comparative association research the project would require. The initial price tag was US$125,000, not including association expenses for additional board meetings. The board approved Arthur Anderson’s proposal with an 11-4 vote.

The consulting firm assigned one of its partners, Jim Broering, and an associate, John Delaney, to work for ISSA. The first assignment was a review of ISSA’s financials. It was clear from that review that ISSA’s trade show, funded primarily by manufacturers’ exhibit fees, was the association’s principal source of funding, composing about two-thirds of its revenue. Furthermore, any exodus of large manufacturers to the other for-profit trade shows could result in the loss of our association as we know it. The comparative trade show analysis prepared by Arthur Anderson was clear on the potential for loss. The for-profit trade show managers were effectively taking over the trade shows of other associations by opening them to larger audiences.

1997 ISSA Board (From L) John Garfinkel, Ted Alm, Doug Popp, Fred Guaraldo, Bob Sinclair, Grant Watkinson, Randy Brame, Jerry Rau, Bob Stahurski, Tom Lane, Stan Reichel, Karen Key, Joe Putyrae, Roger Parrott, Steve Schroder, Mattie Chinks

With that background, the discussion moved to risk assessment. Many questions arose, such as: How would we transition any change in membership? How would the board structure change, if at all?

Ultimately, the ISSA board approved opening the show to building service contractors (BSCs) and facility managers. Most significantly, the board vote was unanimous and association members approved opening the show by a substantial majority. Questions of board membership and leadership were left for future boards to determine.

The first so-called “open show” was held in 1999 so staff could meet with other organizations and members about the change and to allow sufficient time for members to develop any modifications to their show planning, including invitations to their customers to attend the show with them.

Those on the board when it voted to open the ISSA trade show to end users were:

  • Jerry Rau, president – Minuteman International Inc. (M), Chicago
  • Grant Watkinson, vice president – Coastwide Laboratories (D), Portland, Oregon
  • Tom Lane, international director – National Sanitary Supply (D), Los Angeles
  • Steve Schroeder, treasurer – SC Johnson (M), Racine, Wisconsin
  • Roger Parrott, secretary – RoVic Inc. (D), Manchester, Connecticut
  • Ted Alm, director – Flo-Pac (M), Los Angeles
  • Randy Brame, director – Brame Specialty (D), Raleigh- Durham, North Carlina
  • Mattie Chinks, director – Avmor Ltd. (M), Montreal
  • Alfred Guaraldo, director – Georgia Pacific (M), Atlanta
  • Karen Key, director – Basic Supply (D), Houston
  • Douglas Popp, director – Roger Popp Inc. (D), Indianapolis
  • Joe Putyrae, director – Putyrae & Associates (MR) San Francisco
  • Stanley Reichel, director – Banner Chemical (M) New Jersey/New York
  • Robert Sinclair, director – General Supply (D) Yakima, Washington
  • Bob Stahurski, director – NYCO Products Co. (M) Chicago.

One interesting takeaway: Brame came into the open show discussion and throughout the process as a “no” vote. When asked why he voted “yes” in the end, he replied, “My father taught me, during discussions on major decisions in our family business, to always be the devil’s advocate until I was convinced of the merits of the argument.” That still sounds like good advice.

Subsequent boards approved opening board membership to BSCs and facility managers. Now, 22 years after opening its membership, our ISSA president, Matt Vonachen, is a BSC member.

Today, ISSA and its various divisions, departments, and partners are recognized, worldwide, as the leading voice for cleaning for health.

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ISSA is celebrating our 100th anniversary by highlighting the people, products, and brands who helped us reach this important milestone, and those moving ISSA and the industry forward into the next 100 years. Share your story or upload historical photos from your company’s past to be featured in ISSA’s print publications, on our website, and/or on social media.
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About the Author.

Grant Watkinson is past president of ISSA (1998).


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