Taken from the London Free Press article written Monday, July 21, 2014. Click the link to read the article within the London Free Press
From designing and building tradeshow exhibits to vehicle graphics and vinyl lettering, Stevens E3 does it all.
Cam Stevens, 47, the president of Stevens E3, is the third generation to be involved in the family’s business. One of the keys to his company’s success is working with the client to determine their goals and then delivering an exceptional product that meets their needs, he said.
The “E3” of Stevens E3 stands for exhibits, environments and events, three areas the company specializes in.
Whether the client’s aim is product branding, promotions or recruiting, the bottom line is simple: “If they are successful on the tradeshow floor then that lends to our success,” Stevens said.
And from university recruitment exhibits to tourism pavilions and industry tradeshow displays, no two projects the company tackles are exactly alike. It’s always challenging and exciting work that keeps the 25-member team engaged and all members on their toes.
“We are a giant prototype shop. We don’t do the same things over and over again. We have to start from scratch every time,” Stevens said.
Stevens E3 tries to keep operations in-house as much as possible by investing in new technology and keeping a close eye on industry trends. The progressive company handles all aspects of production from the design stage to building the finished product at its 35,000-square-foot workshop and design studio on Oxford St. East.
In addition to building exhibits for prominent London icons such as General Dynamics and Western University, Stevens E3 has dabbled with post-secondary recruitment displays for major universities including the Royal Military College of Canada, McMaster and Laurier.
What began as a small sign painting business in 1927 has grown to become so much more. Stevens’ grandfather H.A. (Archie) Stevens began painting signs in his garage to pay for his education. But his small business was successful, and by the time he was finished university Stevens had a full-time employee working for him. He decided to continue his business.
And though the name has changed several times — from Stevens Signs to Stevens Signs and Displays and now Stevens E3 — the company’s commitment to innovation and quality design has remained the same.
In the 1940s, at the request of clients, Stevens Signs started building trade show exhibits — a decision that shaped the business for decades to come. It was the era of road shows, where companies would showcase their wares in different venues nationwide.
“In the 1950s and 1960s my dad was driving across the country with exhibits in the back of a trailer,” Stevens said.
He used to work for his father Doug Stevens as a summer job and grew up gaining first-hand experience in the industry. He began with an entry-level job working at the drying rack at the end of a silk screen station and eventually worked his way up in the company. For this reason, Stevens has an understanding and appreciation for every aspect of his operation, from the workshop employees to project managers and designers.
Each generation has brought their own focus and vision for the company. When Cam Stevens took over as the president of the company in 1997, he said he was grateful that his father allowed him to pursue his own vision for the business.
“He allowed me to make mistakes, to make decisions that would impact the company. He was always there for guidance or support or suggestions, but he turned over the decisions to me when I took over,” he said.
And though Stevens E3 has a legacy as a well-established London business, the company has set its sights on a more global focus in recent years. With Cam Stevens at the helm, the business began building an international profile. “We completely focused on exhibits and started to broaden into more large government pavilions and international projects,” he said.
Their first foray into large-scale international exhibits was a pavilion they prepared for the Canadian government in 1999. The exhibit appeared in Kuala Lumpur and though they had done international work before, the company had never undertaken anything of this scale. “We were very much the underdog,” Stevens said about the bidding process, “This was a big deal.”
Stevens’ international focus has led to his involvement in the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) — a United States based professional organization for exhibit design houses. The organization helped him build valuable connections to other companies from across the globe. Stevens, who served as the president of the association in 2012, said his membership in the organization was a launching point for his company’s international profile.
But it is not all work and no play for Stevens. He loves music and even plays the cello in The Railway City Ragtime band.
Stevens is also a boater. With the lighthouse pictures on the wall and seaside-inspired table lamps, his passion for boating extends to the nautical theme of his east London office. Stevens and his family escape to the lake several weeks each summer to boat, fish and get away from it all. His boat is docked in Wiarton and has all the amenities. “It’s our cottage on the water,” said Stevens with a smile.
Stevens is steering the company in a progressive direction with a global focus. But he is quick to credit his father and grandfather for their contributions to the company. “I always look to my grandfather for inspiration,” Stevens said. “It continues to drive you forward when you hope that your father or grandfather would be proud of what you’ve accomplished.”