Fred Van Soest was uniquely suited to the profession of exhibit designer and entrepreneur. He grew up in wartime Indonesia and discovered that he had an affinity for illustration and painting. This talent allowed him to attend the Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam on a full art scholarship. He later found work as a set builder and decorator in the cabarets and theaters of postwar Holland. It was the early 1950’s and during this time he met a beautiful and vivacious dancer whom he would later ask to become his wife. Together, they produced a number of plays and shows that were more fun than profitable.
In 1956, with his wife that spoke no English and pregnant with their first child, they decided to immigrate to the United States. They were able to establish permanent residence status with the sponsorship of the Quaker Church of Wichita, Kansas. Pop was able to secure a job as an art director for a local television station. After five years, (and two more children) they grew tired of Wichita, and felt that California would offer more opportunities (and better weather). With his wife, three children, and no job, Pop moved the family to sunny Manhattan Beach.
Initially, California proved to be a struggle for the young family, after a number of odd jobs, (including selling Christmas trees) and free lance design work, Pop got his first opportunity to design a trade show exhibit at a small custom facility in Van Nuys, CA
Pop’s experience in theatrical and television set design, lent a fresh approach to his designs for Lee Displays. His natural sales aptitude and ability to draw designs on cocktail napkins during lunch meetings was instrumental in winning new clients for the firm.
Eventually, Pop’s entrepreneurial spirit took hold and led him to risk his secure position and begin a start-up venture. With the help of some investors, in 1969, Studio Soest was founded. Under Pop’s leadership, the new company, started in a small 1500 square foot shop in Van Nuys, would grow to build exhibits for clients as large and diverse as Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Sharp Electronics, Ricoh Electronics, Volkswagen, Western Electric, and Monroe shock absorbers.
Some unfortunate business decisions and the recession of the mid-1970s caused the company to fall under hard times and subsequently reorganized under new owners. Pop left his company to work for Exhibitgroup as designer/account executive. Once again, working for someone else, let alone a large company, was not suitable to Pop’s liberated way of doing things. He left Exhibitgroup after 2 years to become a successful independent designer/broker.
Meanwhile, the children had all grown-up, left the nest, and were pursuing other interests. Pop had always dreamed of having his children work for him, but for a while it seemed that it would never happen.
In the mid 1980’s, sons, Fred Jr. and Perry joined Pop in a venture to design and build exhibits using an aluminum exhibit system developed and in widespread use in Europe. This system had only recently begun to find a market in North America and Pop saw the potential of using this system for exhibit rentals. With no investment capital, and with only two clients, Soest & Associates was incorporated in 1987. Once again, a 1500 square foot mini industrial unit was the launching pad for a company, which now occupies a 42,000 sq foot facility in Torrance, CA Pop’s innovative and imaginative use of the system, lives on in a legacy of hundreds of hand-drawn designs. These drawings serve on as an inspiration to our designers who today reproduce and modify Pop’s original designs on a state of the art computer aided design and rendering system. Pop’s unique and imaginative approach to exhibit design, as well as his uncompromising dedication to customer service; are carried on to this day by his family and the employees of Soest & Associates.