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Meet Josh Rifkin of Flatworks Displays

Below is the contents of a recent Q&A on December 20, 2018 with our CEO, Josh Rifkin:

SDVoyager Article:

Today we’d like to introduce you to Josh Rifkin.

Josh, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today. I spent more than a decade navigating many of the biggest trade shows in America as the sales director for a major publishing company. It was shocking how much money we were wasting on hired labor, storing the giant crates that housed our booths and the massive freight bills for every show.

We exhibited at dozens of shows a year. The six national shows looked nice, but the other eight shows looked like a science fair with a draped table and some vinyl banners. It was embarrassing because we were publishing art by all the masters. We had no brand consistency across the dozens of shows. I realized that in order to truly eliminate the single worst part about attending trade shows, the booth as we know it had to go. With the help of some fellow trade show vets and an engineer, we designed a system that solved all the pain points we felt were holding back most companies.

Establishing a presence at a large trade show is a major milestone for a new brand, while a multi-show schedule can provide the backbone of sales for larger more established companies. But regardless of how big a company is, the traditional trade show booth has long been considered one of the necessary evils of business. We designed our system to solve the majority of pain points every company experiences.

Our San Diego-based company has created a solution that will save time, money, and space — and make any company stand out in a sea of heavy Slatwall and wire grids.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

About three years ago I was laid off from my job of 13 years. Our youngest daughter was only nine months old, and I was a little freaked out about not having a job. We had already planned a trip to Kauai, so we jumped on a plane and tried not to think about the future for a week. It was hard not to think about it, but we had a great trip nonetheless.

While I was on that trip, I realized this was my opportunity to do something on my own. I decided to take that leap my father and grandfather did when they were around my age…

Fortunately, my wife was in full support, and we had a little saving to give this a shot. I had already been working on the design of a new trade show system, but now it was time to kick it into full gear. There were so many things to set in place to be a full-service trade show company.

We needed reliable suppliers for plywood, laminating, printing on fabric and panels, crate manufacturing, lighting, aftermarket hardware accessories, a wood shop and a whole slew of other operational systems like QuickBooks, CRM software, a project management software… and the list goes on.

That said it took over a year to get everything in place with ZERO income. I could not have done any of this without my wife, Ashley. During that time I started taking a class at the SD Makerplace on Morena Blvd on how to program and operate a CNC machine which is exactly what we use to cut all of our parts to this day. I met a great teacher, Liz Brown and we cut and finished our first booth together. I then moved on to finding a larger cabinet shop in Northern California so that we could increase our production capacity, but that was too far away. We tried out a number of other shops in San Diego until we settled on one family run operation.

We produced our first client booth, and we were officially in business. Fast forward a year and a half and a ton of iterations later, and we are now in full production on several booths per month.

It has been a very long and winding road of peaks and valleys like any other business, but it feels good to be on the other side with a clear view of the massive opportunities in front of us. I can almost see our first production manager on the horizon waiting to be hired. 😉

Flatworks Displays – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?

We are transforming the trade show experience with customizable booths that set up in minutes — without a single tool — and pack down to the size of a small coffee table. We have clients that have spent two full days, with hired labor (as much as $200/hr), setting up their 20-by-20-foot space.

With our system, it takes one person less than two hours. The time and money saved are enormous. But it’s not just about money — the employees on the ground are happier and more productive when trade show season rolls around. I have tons of friends that are on the road for two months straight, twice a year traveling all over the country and some all over the world. A happy employee will result in a more successful trade show experience for everyone.

Our trade show system eliminates the need for expensive labor. They drastically reduce shipping costs (most times half the weight), as you move your booth from one show to the next; and they require minimal storage space between shows (one crate can fit in anyone’s garage without taking up any room.

Also… one of the biggest expense is the drayage (material & handling fees) at the convention centers. On average, they charge you $2 to move your booth from the dock to your booth and back and sometimes they are moving your booth 50 feet. The cost relative to the service is astronomical. That’s why our system is designed to be smaller than a pallet and weigh a fraction of other systems.

Our flatpack design is extremely durable — built in our Vista, CA shop using high-grade laminated plywood and expertly milled and hand finished. It is able to handle the heaviest merchandise. In fact, we easily loaded up 200 lbs of kettlebells on one of our 3’ wide by 8’ tall walls. That’s a lot of weight.

A 10-by-20 booth weighs just 500 pounds, sets up in less than 30 minutes, without a single tool, and the crate it’s shipped in can double as your marquee table top — no more waiting for that bloated booth box at the end of the show. “A booth in a box and the box stays in the booth” – this is a very big selling point. At the end of a show, you end up waiting for hours before you receive your crate… your basically held hostage by your crate. Our system solves several problems and ends up paying for itself after 1 or 2 shows.

What we’re most proud of is how customizable these booths are. Companies are telling us how much more unique their Flatworks setups feel, once they’ve picked their color, graphics, and configuration. These really are like mini storefronts they can be proud of.

In addition, we now have portable rolling cases so that our clients can use for some of the smaller regional shows and retailer/distributor shows. They can easily select less parts and add them to the cases and put them in their car and roll them in the front door. Now we have eliminated the freight and drayage at these smaller regional shows. This is huge!

Our team brings 25 years of manufacturing experience to the refinement of this revolutionary product. But, more importantly, we have walked the walk for decades and know all of the issues and problems of exhibiting.

Trade shows are a goldmine of opportunity, but they should also be exciting. It’s all about engaging with your customers, and our system allows you to set up fast and focus on what’s important… your customer!” I truly believe we’ve created a smart solution for large companies that currently attend trade shows with their own booths, as well as an unprecedented opportunity for smaller businesses that have been put off by the cost barrier to entry.

We listen to our clients and improve on our design with every booth we build. We are passionate about building businesses — not just our own but helping all entrepreneurs connect with as many potential customers as possible. Whether a company is still in start-up “pipe-and-drape” mode or they currently own a fleet of old-school booths, We have the refresh that will have an immediate impact on any size business and their bottom line.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on? We recently sold a booth to Rawlings Sporting Goods which is our biggest name brand client to date. It a brand most of us grew up with. I still have my first Rawling glove (Heart of the Hide). It was an honor to fly down to Dallas in early November to assist them in the assembly of their new booth at the BSN Sports sales meeting.


  • Portable 6×6 booths start at $3K and include shipping crate, graphics and lights

  • 10′ x 10′ booths start at $6K and include shipping crate, graphics and lights

  • 10′ x 20′ booths start at $9K and include shipping crate, graphics and lights

  • 20×20 booths start at $16K and include shipping crate, graphics and lights

Contact Info:

  • Address: 573 Second Street, Encinitas, CA 92024

  • Website:

  • Phone: 415-370-1780

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