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Celebrating Industry Trailblazers

Advice from Cathy Kolf

What advice do you have for other women in our industry?
Stay focused, stay positive, and always be professional. 


Many times, your best customers can turn out to be your friends which can lead to profits not only financially, but also personally and socially. 

Realize that there is always an opportunity in any challenge. Face any challenges head-on, as they are always an opportunity to improve. Don’t hide your mistakes. Address them and fix them. 

Problem-solving can be an opportunity to prove your commitment to the customer. Address a challenge immediately as an opportunity to gain credibility with your customer. 

What was the most memorable meeting or event you attended?
The most memorable event I attended was the first year we won chapter of the year at EDPA Access 2013. It was exciting to bring the whole team up on stage so they could be acknowledged for all their hard work! 


I also still enjoy attending and working with the Chicago Randy golf outing to support our industry. Even one of my employees was a recipient. 

How has being involved in the EDPA helped you grow in your career?
Being involved in the EDPA gave me the ability to meet my customers in a social, educational, and networking setting. I was the first president of the EDPA Midwest chapter who was a vendor rather than a display house. It gave me another avenue to service my customers and to bring speakers and new information to meetings to better support the initiatives of the EDPA members. It allowed me to listen to what they need and provide information through speakers in the EDPA. I worked with the current board of the EDPA to provide relevant content, education, and networking to my customers and the members of the EDPA Midwest chapter. 

Why are you passionate about this industry?
What other industry would open as many opportunities as the exhibit industry? You’ve got lighting, A/V, transportation, logistics, construction, graphic printing, flooring, and more. It involves everyone in one way or another. The vendors in this industry are just as important as the exhibit builders. It’s an industry that everyone touches. It affects all aspects of business and imagination, and it’s an amazing industry for thinking outside the box!

Cathy’s advice for the EDPA chapters
My philosophy on growing a chapter is to build your board with like minds and have monthly events.


One of the “old school” things I did was send a postcard for the events to all the trade show-related companies in the area. A postcard won’t go into junk mail and multiple people at the company will see it and touch it. The receptionist will see it and will pass through different levels and different departments of a company. 

Creating a committee for each major event will increase the attendance with e more people you have planning it. 
I was very proud to have won chapter of the year 3 times and helped the presidents who followed me to maintain and grow the chapter. 

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About Cathy Kolf

Cathy Kolf was the general manager of Display Supply & Lighting from 2004-2019. Shortly after starting at DS&L, she joined the EDPA Midwest chapter and then ultimately the Board of Directors. She led the chapter as president for three successful years. In her nearly 15 years of involvement in the EDPA, she not only increased our membership and board participation,  but she had a hand in filling many of the board positions that are still held today. She is a trusted advisor and friend of the EDPA Midwest Chapter, and we are proud to continue her important work growing our chapter.

Advice from Pat Friedlander

Advice? I’ve learned long ago to forego giving advice and instead share what I have experienced over many years. What do I have to share? Well…

Don’t condone or participate in inappropriate conversations (or behavior). For too long, women have been silent while listening to comments that are sexist, racist, ageist (my new favorite), or any other -ist you could name. I complained about an insulting ageist video that was shown at the last EDPA ACCESS by a speaker (a woman!) who went for the cheap laugh by showing old people in demeaning ‘funny’ vignettes because they had to work until the age of 85. Poverty in old age is not funny—and people working past an ‘acceptable age’ (whatever that is) are not that unusual.

Be careful who you party with and who takes your picture while you are partying. Always monitor your brand. I hate to tell you, but our industry loves gossip. Please don’t contribute to it. You don’t have to be ‘one of the boys.’ Personally, I have a problem with the emphasis on drinking at industry events, the frat boy culture. Time for that to disappear.


Say “yes” to opportunities that enhance your brand—accept a leadership role in an association, look for speaking opportunities, and don’t be afraid to write about the industry and your observations (editors will help clean it up if necessary). If no offers are on the table, call an editor and volunteer. Everyone is always looking for content.


If you are overcommitted, evaluate your activities—you might have to let something go. ROI is not just for trade shows.

I always liked the cliché, “Bloom where you’re planted.” Someone is signing your paycheck—you owe them loyalty and respect. (If you can’t do that, get another job.) Make your company look good, offer opinions—not stridently, but along the lines of “I noticed…” Always make an “I” statement. Come up with suggestions for company-wide initiatives—like CSR or fun activities. (Disclaimer: I don’t play pickleball.)

Don’t play the blame game. In the heat of meeting deadlines, people often point fingers at someone else. Be supportive—this business is about teamwork, where everyone expects you to have their back—and vice versa. 


Remember, not everyone is judging you, so get over yourself. Walk into a room as if you own it. If you don’t know anyone in the room, introduce yourself to someone—including, perhaps, another lone ranger.  Talk to people! Be open, friendly, and curious. That is the key to networking and building a network, your personal brand, and friendships.


If you don’t remember names, don’t bluff. A simple “I know we met before, but help me!” works for me. Smile, and if you engage in conversation, pay attention. Be authentic—let people get to know you.


Not to sound shallow but look your best. “Your best” is uniquely you, and you determine what it is, but put yourself together in a way that helps you communicate who you are or aspire to be.


Always support other women’s efforts. One of my favorite quotes comes from Nora Ephron: Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women."


In my day, we had a slogan: Sisterhood is powerful—that’s true for many areas of life, including our industry.

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About Pat Friedlander
Pat is an accomplished marketer, published writer, trainer, and speaker in the exhibit industry, particularly in healthcare. Over the past 30+ years, she has developed a wide range of programs and initiatives —many of them award-winning—for her clients.  She won HCEA’s Distinguished Service and EDPA’s Hazel Hays awards, but she has no plans to rest. She had a whole other career in book publishing before officially becoming part of the exhibit industry. A former college professor, she holds an MA in linguistics and classical rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin. She has done post-graduate work at the University of London, the University of Chicago, Loyola University (Chicago), and the Kellogg School at Northwestern.  She achieved HubSpot certification in content marketing and also has a certificate from the University of Virginia in AI for marketing. In her free time, she goes to the theater, reads, and discusses movies and shoes with her grandchildren.

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