Trade Show TalesBlog

What You Don’t See at a Trade Show

November 7th, 2014 12 COMMENTS


It’s Human Nature

We ignore the familiar. After a while, the pile of messy papers doesn’t exist, and the big coffee stain is invisible. Then, someone comments on it, and we can’t not look at it. Until it disappears — again.

Trade show exhibits are no different and maybe even worse. Do you remember your first show with a brand new display? Everything was packed neatly. You took your time to install the graphics perfectly with clean hands. You wiped down every surface and vacuumed the carpet, not once but three times. The brochures were neatly arranged. The promotional products organized. If you had a drink, you hid it from view, either behind the display or tucked away in a counter.

Three days later . . . you’re standing in your booth drinking a latte from a 30 oz cup with a half-eaten crumb cake on the counter. The brochures are dog-eared, the monitor screens are smudged, and the carpet looks like it smells. Now multiple that by fifteen shows and you begin to see what others see.

To be fair, if you are reading this post, you are not that person. You care on Day 1, Day 3, and Show #7.  However, what you see when you walk the show hall probably makes you cringe. So let’s take a stroll and visit a few of our neighbors on the show floor.

Wash MeBooth #1172. Are those fabric graphics or dirty hand towels from the men’s room?
Booth #980. Wow! You really can create an entire backwall graphic with an HP Deskjet printer.
Booth #1067. Who knew they made carpet in a 3.2 oz grade?
Booth #1388. Excuse me. What’s the score of Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers game?

Booth #712. They must sell used coffee cups and candy wrappers.
Booth#213. Is that pop up display waving at me?
Booth #405. Two possibilities. They crushed a truck, disassembled it, and built an island booth from the scrap metal. Or, the exhibit should have been recycled in 2002.
Booth #1677. Do you think they would share their curry chicken with us?

Booth #214. Pardon me. Over here. Now above my waist. A little higher. Perfect.
Booth #2105. Cool ink pens, stress balls, chip clips, and green calculators. What was the name of that company again?
Booth #113. There must have been a family emergency on Day 3 at 2 pm. Tragic.
Booth #884. Options to consider for the next show: No electricity. No carpet. No display. One big vinyl graphic with grommets. Five folding chairs. Five staffers in a 10 ft. booth. Seated in a circle. Jeans, t-shirts, 8 smartphones, and a bag of Cheetos.

shamwowguyBooth #1862. Hmmm . . . Keeping all your cases and crates in the booth would save time on the dismantle.
Booth #307. NOW I UNDERSTAND why the printer wanted a HIGH RESOLUTION image!
Booth #1436. Isn’t a hanging sign supposed to be hanging?
Booth #853. Four 42″ monitors. I understand the effect can be very impressive . . . when on.

Booth #103. Say again. What? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the music and the Shamwow dude pitching your products.
Booth #1473. Answer:  Sunglasses, wrinkled clothes, large coffee, breath mints, forehead cradled in palm. Question:  How to spot a hangover on the show floor?
Booth #614. I’ve seen more padding in a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Booth #2007. So it leans a little to the left. And a lot to the right. What’s the big deal?

Booth #777. Can you make the magician disappear? I’d like to learn more about your company.
Booth #666. Remember the old saying, “The devil is in the details”? Obviously not.
Booth #747. Is that a display or the Inflatable Escape Ramp they stole from their flight?
Booth #4077. The only thing missing from this mess is blood, funny doctors, and Klinger.

Finally . . .

Booth: #970. “Did you literally mean ‘Line of Sight’? I thought that was just a suggestion.”

It’s easy to be the casual critic of others. But addressing our own marketing shortcomings takes courage, self-awareness, and most of all, caring. How often do we walk the trade show floor and say to ourselves, “They clearly don’t care or their booth wouldn’t look like that.” Or, “How can they let their exhibit staff act that way?” Someone has to care. It might as well be you.

Share your comments. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about trade show marketing and perhaps some less than kind (but constructive) comments as you walk the imaginary show floor.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or



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12 Responses to “What You Don’t See at a Trade Show”

  1. Jocelyn says:

    Mel, this is REALLY funny and so true.

    LOVE the graphic at the top!!!

  2. Lori says:

    Mel, David and I walked a local medical device show last week. These are supposed to be industry leaders, progressive, developing technologies and products that may save my life some day. Their booths are horrible! Duct tape, paper clip, paper graphics, cheap banner stands, banner stands with “lipstick” on them to make them look “good”. It scares me for my health and is an embarrassing representation of the industry. I have been working on this very blog post for a couple of months now. Maybe I’ll just share yours.


  3. Susan Coppola says:

    Good one Mel. I’m sure you’ve seen it all.

  4. What a list! Unfortunately, I think I’ve seen them all at some point …
    (Just shared this on FB by the way!)

  5. g Camarato says:

    You can’t make this stuff up. Great stuff!

  6. You must have just walked the LVCC. We also found where all the old truss goes

  7. Mel says:

    Many thanks for your positive comments.

    Also, kudos to Kevin, Reid, Jen, and Mike for their contributions to the show floor observations in the post. You’ll have to guess which one(s) match the personality. Oddly enough, a male did not write the Victoria’s Secret one.

  8. Mel says:

    Lipstick on a banner stand? Sounds like some extracurricular activity got a little out of hand.

    You’re right Lori. Of all folks, they should know … and they have the money to do it right!

  9. Renate Spilger says:

    I laughed so hard… but yes each one of them is at every tradeshow

  10. Chris G says:

    Great article, Mel :-).

    And as always, spot on accurate!

  11. Mel says:

    Chris, with your I&D background, you could probably quadruple the list in no time. What you see, I can’t imagine.

  12. PK says:

    My team and I worked 750 trade shows last year and I can tell you that at each one of them were all of these and more: just SEMA is below (booth numbers changed to protect the guilty)

    Booth SH2176: Digging for dignity in the back of your pants?

    Booth 1541: Excuse me I’ve been standing here for 5 minutes while you ogle the booth bunny sitting on the fancy car

    Booth 35781: So you don’t know what new products your company is showcasing at this show? ohh you’re a model.

    Booth 5511: Drink much?

    Gigantic Booth 1742, 1743, 1842, 1843: Bueller? Bueller? Hmmm must be selling led light columns.

    and to the person who said it must be the LVCC .. you are correct, sir! LOL

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