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By: Leah Kellar

From it’s offices in Las Vegas, New York, Oslo, Oakville and Toronto, ASTOUND has always ensured that the show has indeed gone on to thrive, with a track record of executed projects in 25 countries and counting. ASTOUND is a global design and fabrication house, building end-to-end solutions for events, exhibits, and environments such as massive tradeshows, events and environments. It takes teamwork and a solid management strategy to pull this off successfully every single time, and that’s a big part of why the company was recently listed as one of Canada’s Best Managed companies in 2013 by Deloitte.

“We’re quite excited to be given the nod as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies. The troops here are quite proud to be apart of this company and we’ve all worked very hard to be at this level. We work together as one big team here, because it’s a very fast paced environment for us, so if one person needs help we all jump in and help out, that’s the fun part of it,” said Mike Heffernan, (aka Heff) Vice-President of Operations for ASTOUND, a department which oversees production & fabrication, transportation, pull & preparation, installation and dismantle, shows services and asset management.

ASTOUND employees number approximately 70-100 people serving an average of 300-600 projects a year. Its Las Vegas and Oakville facilities span over 120,000 square feet in production space housing custom fabrication shops capable of manufacturing exhibits and permanent architectural components. ASTOUND began 12 years ago by founder Dale Morgan and headquartered in Oakville. The company began working for clients in Asia with some of the biggest shows mainly along the Pacific Rim. After recognizing the excellent quality and dependable service ASTOUND routinely provided, clients in Asia asked the company to begin working for them on shows in North America. This was the beginning of ASTOUND’s status as a global brand over the course of the last ten years. Two and a half years ago, Heffernan recognized the potential in this relatively young up-and-coming company and joined forces with them to help the company to grow even further. Since he has been on board, ASTOUND has created production facilities in Oakville and Las Vegas, and a design and presentation centre in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

Heff’s experience spans 25 years in the exhibit industry. He spent many of those years as an events supervisor with the benefit of travelling the world while setting up exhibits and tradeshows. Now much of his time is spent travelling from both production facilities before shipping out to a big show to ensure quality and efficiency ahead of time.

Projects for clients can cost anywhere from $5k -$5-million depending on a client’s budget and how big the show is expected to be, and can consist of portable pop-ups to huge custom events with heavy-duty industry-standard lights and stage. Creativity is big in this business.

“We’re working with lots of moving parts and one of the most important are the several partners and employees around the globe, we’re going to so many shows in the year, we’re always up on the latest trends and the best partners,” said Heffernan.

ASTOUND President and founder, Dale Morgan, does his best to stay ahead of the curve in terms of trends—whether it’s fabric, glass, graphics, or modern technology in LEDs and audio visual. Often management will attend other tradeshows that they are not involved in simply to see what’s happening and trending in the industry. The company is also big on being innovators and coming up with their own original creations. ASTOUND is very proud of and well known in the industry for the quality of its millwork and use of experimental materials such as its creative and cost effective use of foam as well as plastic fusion and unique lighting innovations. Some of the company’s biggest milestone projects over the years include exhibits for Nvidia at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, MWC in Barcelona, IBC in Amsterdam, Sochi 2014, NAB 2014, the Guggenheim Lab, Porsche Launch, E3, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. ASTOUND has also set up exhibits at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, Construct Canada and other Canadian franchise shows.

Not only does the company custom design and build the exhibits, but they also dismantle and store them for clients with the option of custom rentals.
One of the biggest challenges for ASTOUND is simply the deadline-driven nature of the business. The show must go on, no matter what. It can be the best part of the job as well as the most challenging part of the job, Heffernan admits. What he relies on for the remedy is strong team training in advance of events. During training sessions what was done right is highlighted as well as what aspects of carrying out the job need improvement. From there a strategy is implemented and taught to try to minimize the risk.

A committed group of core project managers, account managers, field supervisors and production staff keep ASTOUND running efficiently and projects ready on deadline. ASTOUND also has its own in-house research and development solutions team to customize projects to meet client preferences. Being deadline-driven means managing logistical challenges as well. When ASTOUND built some exhibits for the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia this year they were able to efficiently ship them over via air freight well in advance of the games, however other times it makes more sense for the company to use it’s network of partners worldwide and project manage from Oakville, sending out employees to help supervise the install of the show to ensure quality standards and a great client experience are met.

“One of our close partners is North American Logistics Services headquartered in Bolton, Ontario. They really understand our industry and our needs and how dynamic our industry environment can be,” said Heffernan. “Sometimes it all can come down to the guy behind the truck driving the project from our facility to wherever it has to go: California, Florida…we’re fortunate to have them as partners.” Other critical partners that really understand ASTOUND’s needs on site are Octane services, MC Exhibits, True Services and Renaissance Management.

“We don’t think of these guys just as vendors, but true partners,” said Heffernan.

Good management and maintaining solid partnerships is what it’s all about, once you factor in ASTOUND’s award winning design innovations. ASTOUND was the recipient of Oakville’s OABE 2013 Large Business of the Year Award, and listed in the Fab50, which is a list of the 50 best design and fabrication houses in North America. Above all, Heffernan acknowledges that ASTOUND would not be where it is today without its strong business and employee relationships.

“Our success is based on the relationships that we have with our co-workers, colleagues and clients. When we’re on a tradeshow floor or any other site, we are dealing with complex list of contractors, partners, clients and our own field personnel, so it’s about building those relationships and working with a spirit of cooperation,” said Heffernan.