Article

Trailblazers

Time-tested Companies that Shaped Utah’s Past and are Defining its Future

By Tom Haraldsen

September 9, 2013

“The first thing most new businesses do is look for an accountant,” he says. “And business owners here tend to be loyal to their accountants as long as they are getting good service. We are focused as a staff on continuing education about new laws and regulations, so we can pass that knowledge on to clients through our work and help them plan for their futures.”

 

Modern Display

Established: 1940

William Vriens was just 13 years old when his family moved to Utah from The Netherlands. He soon got a job at a drug store in the Avenues area of Salt Lake City, delivering prescriptions and helping set up merchandising displays from manufacturers in the store. That’s where he was “discovered” by a local businessman named Nephi Reynolds, who hired young Vriens to work for his display company.

“Over time, my grandfather was paid with pieces of that company,” recalls Taylor Vriens. “He realized the company was more or less his, and that’s when he began to take it to the next level.”

Today, that company is Modern Display, now celebrating its 73rd year in business. Taylor, the company’s president and CEO, along with his brother Spencer, are the third-generation owners and operators of this trailblazing company.

Since 1940, Modern Display has provided a full retail line of home décor, from decorative statues and fixtures to amazing floral arrangements. The company is also widely known regionally and nationally for its events and exhibits division. When Salt Lake City got its first true convention center in 1969 with the construction of the Salt Palace, the Vriens family began venturing into what is commonly known as the “pipe and drape” business—setting up exhibition booths for a wide variety of trade shows, conventions and similar functions.

In a highly competitive environment for both home décor and events/exhibitions, Taylor attributes Modern Display’s continued success to two things:

“A lot of it is hard work,” he says. “Our family has always had a strong work ethic. Even up to the time that my grandfather passed away, he was still involved, would still come in and sometimes sweep and help clean up. He never took a day off. I’d say hard work is certainly something that has defined the company.”

He also says honesty is key. “You have to have that first and foremost. We are the largest home-grown exhibit company in Utah, and we are competing with national companies who used to hire us to subcontract with for their shows. Now we go head-to-head with them on bids. But there is a strong sense of loyalty in this industry. If you treat your customers right, and do what you say you’re going to do, they’ll come back to work with you and they’ll tell others about you. That’s allowed us to continue to grow.”

The company’s exhibition division has done thousands of shows from coast to coast and into Canada.

Modern Display started on Social Hall Avenue in downtown Salt Lake City and moved to its current location on 700 East in 1963. The showroom and backroom areas have been added upon several times, and during the Christmas season in particular, Modern’s large window displays of colorful decorations draw in customers from throughout the area. Though the company has decorated for weddings, parties, high-end corporate events and special celebrations such as the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games, Taylor says the fourth quarter holiday business “is really our niche, something we can hang our hat on.”

Modern Display is also very philanthropic, probably getting a half dozen requests a week for donations for charitable causes and nonprofit organizations.

“We try to support those as often as we can,” Taylor says. “This is our community and these are our neighbors. We like being a part of it all.”  

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