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Expo Events: It all began with salsa

By Connie Lannan

September 5, 2023

Left to right: Michael Viramontes, Jared Medaris, CERP, ARA's James Auerbach, Martin Viramontes and Mario Viramontes

Left to right: Michael Viramontes, Jared Medaris, CERP, ARA’s James Auerbach, Martin Viramontes and Mario Viramontes

Today, Expo Events in Fresno, Calif., covers all areas of the event rental space. There is the large event rental division, the trade show division, the audio-visual division and the creative division that can design and build custom furniture and props. No matter your event rental need, Expo Events can take care of it.

However, the company didn’t start with such a massive footprint. Its origin was humbler, centering all around salsa.

“Mario Viramontes, our owner and founder, moved to California from New Mexico in the early 1980s to start a business with his own brand of salsa. He would go to trade shows of vendors who sold their goods to supermarkets. He started selling his salsa, making contacts and became involved in the show production part of the process,” says Jared Medaris, CERP, president, who also serves as ARA of California president.

“Pretty soon he was helping to promote those trade shows. Then one of his suppliers who was providing the pipe and drape wanted to sell their business. He saw it as an opportunity for him to get inventory, so he got the pipe, drape, chairs and tables. Working out of his garage, he started promoting and setting up equipment for trade shows. He recruited his wife, Connie, and his twin brother, Martin. That is how the business started in 1985. Our original name was Exposition Décor. We were a trade show decorating company,” Medaris adds.

Eventually they found a warehouse to store their equipment. When friends and family members started asking to use the tables and chairs on the weekends, he realized another need existed. So, in 1986, Viramontes organized the parent company of Expo Advertising and turned Exposition Decor into a division of Expo Advertising. He later changed the name of the parent company to Expo Marketing & Services.

Mario and Connie Viramontes, owners

Mario and Connie Viramontes, owners

As more needs were identified, new divisions were created that still stand today: Expo Event Rentals, Expo Creative, Expo Tradeshow and Expo Audio-Visual. In 2019, he changed the name of the company to Expo Events, with all the divisions under that umbrella.

Medaris, who joined the company in 2002, has played a major role in that expansion. After joining the company right out of college, he worked in the office, then moved to handling the operations and going out in the field. After learning all areas, he ended up training a new manager of the party rental side. When that manager left after being with the company for a year, Medaris had a conversation with Viramontes about the future direction of this area.

“Mario said, ‘You trained this person. While you are quite young, do you want to take over this division?’ That decision to stay in the rental business and focus on it as a career path changed my life,” says Medaris, who was named president of the company in 2016.

Twenty-one years later, Medaris has had plenty of opportunity to focus on what the company offers for its primarily Fresno, Clovis and California Central Valley clients.

A big part of that growth involved moving to a new location 10 years ago. “Our new location has a public showroom and larger warehouse. Our main warehouse is 30,000 sq. ft. We then purchased a 5,000-sq.-ft. warehouse next to it, which we use to produce our custom props for trade shows and events. In 2019, we purchased a 15,000-sq.-ft. warehouse. The intent was to fill it with our tenting side, but then 2020 came and the pandemic hit. We ended up using it as an event center, but at the beginning of this year we realized we had grown to a point where we needed more warehouse space, so we closed the event center and are using the space as another warehouse,” he says.

Jared Medaris, CERP, president

Jared Medaris, CERP, president

They have needed that space to accommodate their ever-growing inventory that caters to their diverse clientele.

On the trade show end, “a lot of our business comes from the food service industry such as U.S. Food Service — contacts Mario made in the beginning. We have a lot of specialized equipment — meat slicers, refrigerators, portable ovens and things to make a mobile kitchen at a trade show. We travel up and down the state, and sometimes we ship our equipment to Chicago and Texas. We do a lot of state fairs and recently have started catering to the video gaming community. We also have a lot of caterers use our equipment,” Medaris says.

On the party rental side, “we have a good mixture of clients. About 10 years ago, we noticed that we were getting a lot of weddings and started focusing our inventory in that area,” he says.

They wanted to grow into the corporate market, which had a lot of annual events. About seven years ago, they added an outside salesperson who visits clients and showcases what the company can do for their corporate events.

“That is where we developed the creative side to build props. Many of these companies were from out of town — LA, San Francisco, etc. To get into that market, we realized we needed to come up with a way to have custom products, furniture and props. After that, we noticed our competitors were getting a bigger slice of the wedding side, but we were doing more of the corporate side and festivals,” he says, noting that these areas are just starting to come back after the shock of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While corporate events have taken a large role, Medaris says his company still has a significant wedding presence. “We have planners, caterers and brides as clients. We have a very nice showroom and an area in our showroom where planners and caterers can come and consult with their clients. That has been helpful,” he says.

Along with that, the company, which has always offered tents, greatly enhanced that inventory line during the pandemic. “We realized that tenting was the only part of the business that was growing. We invested heavily in tenting. That is a pretty big part of what we do,” Medaris adds.

Then there is the whole audio-visual side. “We offer projectors, televisions, LED offerings and all things involved in the audio-visual world,” he says.

Diversifying in this way has been part of their overall growth strategy. “We have focused on service. We do a lot of training of our people so they can give the level of service that is up to the standards of our company. How clients are receiving the equipment — the quality of it — says a lot to them and a lot to our strategy for growth,” Medaris says.

That strategy was honed even more after Medaris attended The ARA Show™ in 2016.

logo“Dennis Snow [who spent 20 years working with the Walt Disney World® Co.] was a speaker. He talked about focusing on the customer side and building policies and procedures with the customer in mind. He asked: ‘What are three things you want your customer to say about your company after any interaction?’ I came back and talked with our team. I asked what are three things we want our customers to say after they have an interaction with us?” Medaris says.

As a group, the company came up with the following:

  • That everyone was helpful, friendly and polite. “We looked at what policies, procedures and training could we implement to make that a standard. We changed our dress code. We trained our people on how to speak with and interact with our customers, how to be helpful and friendly,” he says.
  • We wanted our customers to say our deliveries were on time and that we finished our job faster than what was expected. “We installed GPS in our trucks, moved our dispatch from our second floor to a room that is next to our sales team with our warehouse on the other side. Now there is interaction between these departments. Communication is flowing to our dispatch and sales team, allowing them to give input to each other. We put procedures in place for our drivers so they are scheduled to arrive 15 minutes to a half-hour earlier than their crew to get the trucks ready so the crew can jump into the trucks and get going immediately. We have our salespeople keep track of routes and in what order. They can see the GPS of where the trucks are,” Medaris says.
  • We wanted each customer to say their order was exactly right. “We put a lot of effort into how to turn a client’s vision into reality and every step in the process so the client knows what to expect and that it arrives correctly,” he says.

Those qualities are what make the company stand out, Medaris notes. Even after going through the devastation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in which they went from around 70 employees to about nine in three months, they employed those strategies when they reached out to hospitals and restaurants and focused on long-term tenting options.

Today, with about 40 full-time and 20 additional seasonal staff during the busy months, they are back in full swing. “Now our sales have increased and we are doing more events,” he says.

As to what the future holds, Medaris says, “we are looking at controlled growth. We want to continue to build our team and keep our revenues in line.”

While the company might have started with a salsa focus, it is now a large and diverse operation, thanks to recognizing specific needs and then addressing them.

ARA connection strengthens company

Expo Events in Fresno, Calif.

Expo Events in Fresno, Calif.

Mario and Connie Viramontes, owners of Expo Events, Fresno, Calif., joined the American Rental Association (ARA) primarily to access the rental-specific insurance and attend The ARA Show™. However, as time went on, that connection grew as they and Jared Medaris, CERP, president, discovered how the membership benefits helped their company and employees grow and prosper.

“We joined a lot to do with the insurance and the show. I remember when I attended myself and realized the opportunity to network with others. We can [all] speak the same language. That was really cool and it was a benefit we didn’t realize,” Medaris says.

The next year, those from the company who attended the show took part in the daylong educational offerings that were provided the day before the trade show opened. “We realized there was a benefit there. That is how I got involved,” he says.

Medaris and some of his team members signed up for the Certified Event Rental Professional (CERP) program. “We found out how important it was to educate ourselves and make connections,” he adds.

That relationship with ARA grew. In 2016, the company received the President’s Image Award. In 2017, Medaris was asked to join ARA’s Party & Event Services Shared Interest Group. That opened his eyes to other areas of the association and created more connections with other event rental operators, prompting him to become more involved at the state level, too.

In 2018, Medaris was named one of the “12 to watch under 40” by Rental Management. Then, in 2019, he officially joined the ARA of California board. In 2022, he took part in the ARA Event Rental Advocacy Work Group. That same year he was named president of the state chapter. At the show in 2023, he was awarded the ARA Region Nine Leadership Impact Award.

Throughout this time, he learned more about RentalU and had his team members take advantage of the resources offered through this ARA educational platform.

Doing so benefited not only Medaris but also his team and the entire company.

For Medaris, ARA has helped him “make those connections with the people around you. It is so beneficial and helps you stay motivated,” he says.