Sad News and Bitter Irony – Paul Karel Remembered – Tradeshows Canceled

Sometimes, you don’t have to know someone, or even anything about them to have an appreciation for what they accomplished, and for how you benefit from those accomplishments or stand on their shoulders.

There was sad news received today. Paul Karel, former Decor Expo (nee ABC) show manager, unexpectedly passed away over the past weekend due to complications from routine surgery. He was one of the last to retire from Commerce Publishing Company before it sold itself to Pfingsten Publishing LLC, which is now owned by Summit Business Media LLC.

We Stand On His Shoulders

Sometimes, you don’t have to know someone, or even anything about them to have an appreciation for what they accomplished, and for how you benefit from those accomplishments or stand on their shoulders. Such could be said of Paul Karel. As the Show Manager for more than a decade of what were then known as Art Buyers Caravan shows, he was instrumental in helping the art print and retail framing markets to blossom at a time of tremendous growth within the industry. With his steady guidance, the shows grew and the industry around them flourished. The art and framing industry is a better place today because of those shows. He would be the first to tell you it wasn’t just his efforts, but he wouldn’t have been shy about admitting his talent was a major factor either.

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Paul was brought in by Decor management to oversee the ABC shows as they started to grow from humble beginnings in hotel ballrooms in a couple of locations to larger venues and more locations. The success eventually led to the New York shows becoming a huge international draw and the Atlanta Decor Expo show becoming one of the largest 200 tradeshows in the country for a brief time after his departure.

His Leadership Helped Foster the Growth of an Industry

Anyone who has tried to manage a tradeshow will testify it requires a remarkable range of talent and ability to juggle multiple tasks well. A mind boggling number of tasks have to be managed to come off on time. Buyers and exhibitors need to be pacified for the myriad of issues they confront when large tradeshows convene. Away from the shows, the promotional activities to get both buyers and attendees to participate never ends and neither does the endless negotiation with vendors of all sorts.

Paul managed as many as eight successive shows in one year with a very small staff of smart dedicated people. Usually two full-timers and some part-time help was all he needed. By comparison, look at the size of the staffs of the West Coast Art & Frame show or the Decor Expo Atlanta show or ArtExpo to get an idea of how incredible it was for him to efficiently and effectively manage those shows as he did.

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Paul was a tough manager and negotiator who could not be conned, but he knew how to spot up and commers who needed a boost to bring them along. For them, he would find ways to bend the rules a little to help them stretch a budget to get more exposure at a show. His prices were sacrosanct. The rampant dealing you see on booth prices today were unheard of in his time. Whether the show was setting up to be a loser or runaway winner, he always stood firm. Those who had their differences with him, and there were plenty over the years, always knew that he was consistent. If he was an SOB at times, he was a consistent SOB. But, his shows always always ran on time.

The Art Print Market Grew as Baby Boomers Domiciled

The industry’s growth spurt began in the mid-80s just as the art print and retail picture framing market began a meteoric rise in sales and popularity. The poster market was rocketing as Baby Boomers were growing out of college dorms into homes and apartments. They wanted to move from taped or tacked concerts posters on their walls to real art, but still affordable. Many of them jumped into the business either as artists, retailers, framers or publishers.

The offset limited edition print market also grew out of this same rise in popularity for fine art on the walls. The growth in the business was benefited by having a strong  publication to educate retailers how to manage their businesses and the trade shows that evolved out of them were an important component of stoking the growth.

The Sad News of Paul’s Passing Coincides With the Baltimore Decor Expo Being Canceled

The bitter irony in the timing on the news of Paul’s passing is it comes within days of the announcement of the canceling of the Baltimore Decor Expo, which had been rebranded Spring Decor Expo. That show had morphed from the once worldwide preeminent picture framing show, Frame-o-rama, and its sister art & poster show, Galeria into a disastrous downhill slide. What is left is the Fall (Atlanta) Decor Expo show as the last remaining from an annual tradeshow schedule that at one time included New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Louisville and other rotating sites such as Denver and Seattle. You might say with his death, the shows have come full circle. It is sad news to know we have reached this point. In case you hadn’t noticed, the Art DC show recently was also canceled. It’s not been a good year for news on the art and framing tradeshow front.

Seasons Come and Go – Nothing Wrong with a Bit of Nostalgia

Things change and seasons come and go, we all get older and nothing remains the same. To accommodate the changes, we look for new ways to make our businesses grow as those things that were once stalwarts in our marketing arsenal fall away. Still, no one can be faulted for having a bit of nostalgia for what once was. There was a camaraderie that grew out of the effect of frequently throughout the year bringing together the new and old players on the scene. We all learned from each other. We went to dinner together and often many came back to the hotel bar for a night cap to recap the goings on at the show and the state of the industry. Lifelong friendships and acquaintances grew out of those shows. Their passing, which was likely inevitable, has sadly left a void in the relationships and other intangible aspects they provided as well as the access to regional markets.

Share a Memory

In his day, you could reliably find Paul kibitzing and enjoying an after dinner drink, often in the company of Marcia, his devoted wife, there to commiserate with you, to buy you a drink to celebrate your good fortune, or to strategize about how to make the shows better. Even though the sign in his office read, "Be Reasonable, Do It My Way" he usually was approachable with new ideas. He liked to make money, to be successful and for others to enjoy their own successes with the shows he managed.

It is in fond memories of those moments after a good day and a good meal in a city somewhere that I choose to remember Paul when the pleasure of his company was at its best. If you knew Paul and have fond memory of your own, why not leave it here in a comment. I’ll make sure his family receives them.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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