Executive Perspectives: Gary Keefer of Orbus Exhibit & Display Group
As part of Print+Promo Marketing’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Gary Keefer, CEO of Orbus Exhibit & Display Group, Woodridge, Illinois. Here, he breaks down pandemic influences, talks resilience, and advocates for the needed blend of technology and creativity.
How did you get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Gary Keefer: I have over 25 years of executive-level leadership experience, including years of strategic development and plan execution at B2B product and service businesses in the contract furniture and promotional products industries. I’ve led and structured teams of over 200-plus sales professionals in business development, account management, marketing and customer experience as both a dealer and a manufacturer. Design and visual communication have been incorporated into every role I’ve held, including my time as a key leader for the world’s largest furniture dealer, CEBI. Further, my background in operations, project management, rental services and global supply chain at such firms as Staples B2B, Cort Furniture Rental, and Waterlogic round out the journey to Orbus.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
GK: I set goals by listening and learning from employees, clients, partners, investors and strategic suppliers. I analyze data and leverage internal and external research to develop growth strategies focused on the cornerstones of people, proposition, process and technology.
Through it all, it all comes back to people — setting goals to provide a great client experience while developing our own talent internally. On a personal level, I derive a lot of satisfaction from providing value to the careers of my teammates. At home, it’s about spending quality time with my family and friends.
I am honored to help lead Orbus in its continued climb as North America’s largest provider of Visual Communications Solutions to the sign, graphics, promotional products, exhibit/display and commercial interiors industries.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
GK: There are many economic factors that affect Orbus and the industries we serve.
Supply Chain: We are navigating supply chain challenges. Continuous monitoring, diversification, large spot buys and optimization are helping to continuously mitigate risk and strengthen our inventory and manufacturing position. A key enabler is effective use of technology — and we are investing heavily to bolster our technological capability.
Labor Shortage: The labor shortage in 2021 impacted everyone in the industry, and we saw reductions and turnover in end-user organizations as well. As the market reopened and rebounded, we had to get creative to find workers, while supporting those we had, all of whom worked tirelessly in all departments. We’ve not only focused on creative sourcing and keeping up with demand — we also concentrated on cross-training, education, continuous improvement, investment in equipment and productivity gains. We were recently awarded “The Best & Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation” award for the seventh consecutive year; employees are surveyed and rate the company on specific criteria.
Demand for In-Person Meetings: Despite COVID-19 and its variants, and the increase in work-from-home across industries, we are seeing evidence that there’s an eagerness and pent-up demand for the return of business travel, entertainment, events, trade shows and in-person meetings. Further, retail is becoming more experiential in nature, so visual impact is even more important today. And, brands matter more than ever, so providing solutions to build and bolster them is a focus.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest changes or challenges the industry will face?
GK: The industry will be faced with increased input and transportation costs, as well as supply chain challenges over the next few quarters at many firms. Resiliency is a critical attribute in business today. Even some of the world’s largest transportation firms have become less reliable, which pressures an industry like ours due to its deadline orientation. Maximizing available end-user spend demands a scale of potential solutions. One of the biggest changes I see is that the pandemic has pulled forward the need for a higher standard in technology, to match the extant high creativity standard of the industry.
What keeps you up at night?
GK: I’d rather look at the positive aspect of that question first. The market-share opportunity for Orbus in the industries it serves is massive. What keeps me up at night is the excitement of continuing a remarkable growth trajectory and leading the company in its organic expansion journey and its strategic acquisition and business integration efforts. Of course, it’s easier to accomplish all of that if there are no more major viral variants.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now?
GK: Our business investment has grown in technology, software, information processing and automation, helping the company to achieve faster productivity growth at a critical time in its history. We just introduced a new e-commerce store where we enable customers to self-serve quickly and easily. We simplified the transaction process with automation, making it easier and faster to do business with us. There are many more cutting-edge things we are doing, but they are top secret! Let’s just say that we are working hard on the amazing magic that happens when a designer’s vision springs to life.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
GK: I’m really tall at 6'5". My roots are in the Midwest, and I’ve worked for companies coast to coast in the course of my career. I love camping, touring great cities and spending an occasional day on the beach, but mostly, I am obsessed with great food.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.