museums&MORE Winter 2016
Editor’s Letter: Trade Show Bonus By Zeke Jennings

A recent trip to the Smoky Mountains was a great reminder why trade shows are worthwhile beyond just finding the latest products.

I, like many of you, was in eastern Tennessee in early November for two of our industry’s biggest events — the International Gift Exposition in the Smokies and the Smoky Mountain Gift Show.

While in Pigeon Forge, I got a chance to interview Gerry Ward, founder of Wildlife Artists. Ward started the company nearly four decades ago making animal souvenirs, and eventually it found a niche by focusing on plush.

Like most enjoyable interviews, it was more of a conversation than a question-and-answer session. Ward is still involved with the company, although his daughter, Caroline Ward, now primarily oversees operations. One wouldn’t know it, though, as Gerry still has plenty of energy, as well as plenty of passion.

A self-described serious wildlife photographer,” Ward talked about why he started Wildlife Artists some 40 years ago. While working as a management consultant for some of the country’s largest zoos, Ward became frustrated because he felt the animal products the zoos were selling were too cartoonish and didn’t represent the wildlife he had observed in remote areas of Africa and Asia.

“People weren’t concerned with authenticity or realism,” he said. “I figured, as a wildlife photographer, maybe I could do better.”

Not only did Ward find success in making realistic animal products, the business became a training platform for his three children, who did everything from working in the warehouse to international sales while in high school and college. Two of them, Caroline and James, now run retail-related businesses.

More with Gerry Ward of Wildlife Artists

Ward had a passion for wildlife. He saw a market to make products related to his passion. Ward’s vision not only provided for his family, it provided a future for his children. That’s a feel-good story.

There were no shortage of great products in the Smokies, but the personal interaction was just as valuable.

Everyone has a story.

What’s yours?

Zeke Jennings





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