Trade Show TalesBlog

After 30 Years in the Exhibit Industry — Kevin Carty

July 15th, 2024 1 COMMENT
Kevin Carty, Classic Exhibits Inc.
Kevin Carty, Classic Exhibits Inc.

On July 8, 1994, 30 years ago, I was offered a job by a friend (now my brother-in-law) to work for his father’s new business. At the time, I was working overnight shifts at a supermarket from 11 pm to 7 am. Then I’d head to college until about 3 pm. It was summer break from college, but I jumped at the chance for a normal work schedule and shift to evening classes in the fall.

Aside from the schedule, joining the small (5 people) team at Classic Exhibits was super intriguing to me. I knew it would likely grow and that I could be a part of that growth. What I didn’t know at the time was that the decision to “get off the night shift” would have a meaningful impact on my life, both professionally and personally.

Accepting the offer from Lowell Nickens at Classic was a real tipping point for me. Not only did Lowell become my first professional mentor, to whom I still lean on at times, but he also became my father-in-law in 1999. Accepting this job set off a course of life events that 30 years later includes having met my wife, having an amazing set of 17-year-old twins, and developing many friendships in this industry.

We all often muse about wanting to work with friends in a family environment with like-minded people. I have been truly blessed when it comes to ALL of that! 

I was asked recently by my mother what my favorite part has been. The answer was/is simple — the people. 

  • All of you (you know who you are) who have impacted my life professionally and personally. 
  • All of you who have not been afraid to tell me what I need to hear… even when I don’t want to hear it.
  • All of you who have spoken into my personal life along the way.

Sincerely grateful,

Kevin Carty
kevin@classicexhibits.com


For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As North America’s largest private-label exhibit manufacturer, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see www.classicexhibits.com and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.

Join Us at Connect Marketplace in Milwaukee, WI

July 10th, 2024 COMMENTS

Are you headed to Connect Marketplace 2024 in Milwaukee, WI? We’ll be there too! Look for Classic Exhibits in the show hall. We’ll be featuring a Symphony Portable Display, along with messaging about our private-label services to exhibit and event companies.

To schedule an appointment, contact Mel White, VP of Marketing and Business Development (mel@classicexhibits.com). Or stop by the booth from August 27-29.

Connect Marketplace 2024

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As North America’s largest private-label exhibit manufacturer, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see www.classicexhibits.com and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.

The Secrets Behind the Best Trade Show Booths

June 27th, 2024 COMMENTS
best trade show booths

No one starts the exhibit design process with the goal of building an “OK” trade show booth. You want the best trade show booth possible. So, how do you achieve that goal whether you’re in a 10 x 10 inline space or a 40 x 60 island? 

The secret to designing an award-winning custom trade show booth isn’t complicated. A healthy budget helps, which shouldn’t be surprising. But, all too often, complacent exhibitors with large budgets are no more successful at a trade show than energized exhibitors who have a targeted, well-executed strategy. In other words, the exhibit is merely one component, albeit an important one, of a successful trade show marketing program.   

Let’s explore how you can create one of the best trade show booths ever!

What Sets Apart the Best Trade Show Booths? 

According to Matt Kleinrock from Rockway Exhibits, “A well-designed booth guarantees you nothing other than people telling you they like your booth. The booth should tell a story, deliver a message, or make a statement. The “secret sauce” to exhibition success is a well-designed booth rooted in goals, objectives, and a strategy to carry those out through customer engagement.” 

Probably the most basic, yet essential question to ask is, “Why do you want to exhibit at this show?” After all, there are hundreds of ways to spend your marketing dollars. In the process of answering that question, consider the following:  What do you want to achieve at the show? Is it lead generation, brand awareness, product launch, or relationship building? 

At the same time, conduct research on the show. Understand the audience demographics, who attends and who exhibits, and finally, if you have the right product or services for this audience. Once you’ve done your research AND created goals, a strategy, and a budget, then it’s time to consider the trade show booth design.  

Here are some essential elements of the best trade show booths:

Branding:

  • PROMINENT BRANDING: Make sure attendees can easily identify your brand from a distance.
  • CONSISTENT GRAPHIC DESIGN: Maintain a cohesive visual identity that reflects your brand.

Visuals:

  • ATTRACTIVE GRAPHICS: Use high-quality images and graphics to grab attention and showcase your products or services.
  • CLEAR MESSAGING: Keep your text concise and easy to understand.

Functionality:

  • BOOTH SIZE: It should be large enough to accommodate attendees and showcase your offerings, but not so big that it feels empty.
  • SMART USE OF SPACE: Create an easy flow for visitors to navigate your booth.
  • LIGHTING: Strategic use of lighting can highlight key products and create a desired ambiance.

Engagement:

  • INTERACTIVE ELEMENTS: Consider incorporating interactive displays, demos, or contests to engage visitors.
  • PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS: Offer brochures, flyers, or business cards for attendees to take with them.
  • TECHNOLOGY: Use tablets, screens, or other digital tools to showcase your products or services in an interactive way.
  • PROMOS & CONTESTS: Consider including product samples, giveaways, or contests to attract and incentivize visitors.

Essential Elements of the Best Trade Show Displays 

Often, the conversation about trade show design skips one of the most important elements of what differentiates a good display from “the very best trade show booths.” The audience. To truly resonate with an audience at a trade show, a display needs to go beyond just basic elements. Here’s how to craft a display that speaks to them:

Know Your Audience:

  • Research: Before designing, understand the demographics and interests of the typical attendee. What are their pain points? What kind of information are they seeking?
  • Tailor Your Message: Use language and visuals that resonate with their interests.

Focus on Needs, not Features:

  • Benefit-driven Messaging: Don’t just list features of your product or service. Explain how it solves their problems and improves their lives.

Appeal to the Senses:

  • Visuals: Use high-quality images, videos, or product demonstrations to grab attention and showcase your offerings in action.
  • Interactive Elements: Incorporate touchscreens, demos, or games to engage visitors and make the experience memorable.

Create a Welcoming Environment:

  • Open and Inviting Layout: Design a booth that’s easy to navigate and encourages people to come in.
  • Friendly and Knowledgeable: Have enthusiastic staff members who can answer questions and make visitors feel comfortable.

Showcasing 2024’s Best Trade Show Booth Designs

The 10 x 20 inline was designed for the Black Hat USA trade show. The exhibitor wanted a memorable and welcoming exhibit that invited conversation, not product pitches. The mid-century approach with modern touches included teak slat accents set against LED lightbox graphics.  

best trade show displays

Even a modest 10 x 10 design can shine. This booth was designed for the RMA Securities Finance and Collateral Management – Risk Management Association Show. The company’s premium brand was projected through the use of highly textured materials including a raised tile floor, wood-grain laminated, 3D signage, and a reception counter with accent lighting. 

best trade show booth designs

Designed for the American Organization for Nursing Leadership Conference, this 10 x 20 exhibit simulates an environmental ecosystem using living walls and lightboxes. The natural theme extends to the curved wood grain panels and graphics with leaf venation patterns. To facilitate presentations, the display includes 50 in. monitors.

award winning trade show booths

This larger 30 x 60 island occupied the largest exhibit space at the Compost Conference trade show. Positioned near the exhibit hall entrance, the booth attracted attention not only from attendees entering the show hall, but the large hanging signs ensured maximum visibility throughout the venue. The exhibitor demonstrated their services via interactive screens, a video wall, and an onsite composting machine.  

best trade show booth examples

Having a presence at a trade show is often a combination of size, graphics, and the right accessories. This 30 x 30 island, which debuted at the International Council of Shopping Centers, featured a large video wall, monitors, backlit graphics, and 3D logos, to showcase the high-energy nature of this brand.  

best trade show displays

The Association of College and Research Libraries Show was the site for this 20 x 20 island exhibit. The company wanted a clean, modern aesthetic reminiscent of a library interior. The light wood tones, white textured furniture, blue backlit graphics, and pendant lights were a perfect match for the intended audience. 

best trade show booth designs and tips

This 20 x 20 design debuted at the American Society of Association Executives. The exhibitor wanted to present a multi-sensory experience of Portland showcasing its vibrant culture, arts, food, bicycling, festivals, and nightlife. Replica, iconic signs gave the design an iconic Portland vibe. 

award winning trade show booths

At Cisco LIVE, the exhibitor’s primary objective was to engage with current clients in a 20 x 30 booth with clean lines and clear branding. The design emphasized their extensive product range using multiple interactive screens, which also served to demo their software and as digital signage. 

award winning booths

Practical Lessons from a Designer and Builder of Trade Show Booths

For over 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building trade show exhibits. Our customers are custom houses, portable/modular distributors, event companies, and marketing agencies. They work directly with clients on both the design of the exhibit and their trade show marketing strategy. We serve as a private-label manufacturer for our customers. 

As you can imagine, we’ve handled a wide range of projects, clients, timelines, and expectations. We’ve seen flawless projects from start to finish. We’ve also experienced projects with some unexpected bumps along the way. How can you avoid those bumps? Here are some practical lessons we’ve learned over the years as a designer and builder of trade show exhibits.

  1. Define Your Goals and Strategy:  Trade shows are expensive, really expensive. Successful exhibitors know precisely what they want to achieve and have a game plan for meeting or exceeding those objectives. Without goals and a strategy, you’re basically throwing darts at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold. 
  2. Create a Timeline: Designing and building an exhibit, including designing and printing graphics takes time. Think weeks and months. Not days. Rush decisions invariably lead to mistakes, compromises, and added (and avoidable) expenses. 
  3. Ensure Internal Cooperation and Buy-in: Often, companies assign their trade show project to one person or one department, which is smart since someone or some department should be in charge of the project. However, other departments shouldn’t have input and buy-in. We’ve seen smooth projects go off the tracks when Sales, Engineering, or even Senior Management gets involved late in the process, even as late as the staging of the exhibit. 
  4. Partner with an Exhibit Professional: Yes, you can purchase a trade show display online:  point, click, and pay. Trade show marketing, however, is more than the display, and trade show professionals can guide you through the exhibition industry maze. More importantly, they’ll shorten your learning curve and save you money both in the short- and long-term.
  5. Avoid the Breadcrumb Approach: Designing and building an exhibit requires hundreds of details, like laminate colors, crating requirements, lighting specifications, graphic designs, etc. Sharing that information in breadcrumbs, rather than in a loaf of bread (to complete the metaphor) makes it challenging to document and track. As a result, details may fall through the cracks and mistakes may happen.
  6. Ask Questions and Expect Answers: You’re the client. You have a right to ask questions about your project and expect clear and timely answers. In fact, the project can’t be successful unless you are curious and engaged. 
  7. Deciding Between a Purchase vs. Rental Exhibit: Both have pros and cons. Your exhibit professional can explain why one might be a better choice over the other for your unique situation or for a particular show. But, it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Many exhibitors are doing both and there’s a growing trend to mix and match purchases with rental components. 
  8. Learn from Your Mistakes:  There’s no perfect strategy or perfect trade show exhibit. You’re going to make a mistake or two, no matter how many times you’ve planned and participated in a trade show. What you learn is important, but how you use that knowledge in the future will make you an invaluable resource to your company.  

Classic Exhibits: Building the Best Trade Show Booths Since 1993

Trade show marketing takes time to learn, including how to design the best trade show booth. That’s why having an expert available to your team is so important. 

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As North America’s largest private-label exhibit manufacturer, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see www.classicexhibits.com and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.

The Symphony Portable Display Tour

June 24th, 2024 COMMENTS

For years, you asked us to create a Symphony Portable Display Demo… and we resisted. Here’s why:

  • How do we show you the simple tool-less connections?
  • The 8 frame shapes?
  • The 20+ accessories, including 8 portable counters?
  • The reusable packaging, numbered components, and detailed instructions?
  • The SEG engineered aluminum structure?

We can’t. Yet, despite our stubbornness, Symphony has become the most successful new product in Classic’s 30-year history.

You win. We designed a Traveling Symphony Display. Actually two, which are available by request from Gina Porcaro or Harold Mintz. These show how Symphony assembles, how accessories connect, and how the floating graphic attaches. The single and double-sided version packs in one roto-molded case.

Discover why Symphony isn’t just another portable display. It’s The Professional Portable!

Symphony Portable Display Tour

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As North America’s largest private-label exhibit manufacturer, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see www.classicexhibits.com and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.

Finding & Working With a Trade Show Booth Designer

June 24th, 2024 COMMENTS
trade show booth designer

It’s showtime baby! Trade show time that is. Whether you’re planning to purchase a new exhibit or simply upgrade your current booth, you’ll probably work with a trade show booth designer at some point. Trust me on this. You’ll want to work with an exhibit designer. Not only will they save you time and money, but they’ll also assist in refining your messaging and creating an attractive and efficient structure to showcase your brand. 

Find a trade show booth designer to help you navigate the complexities of creating an effective exhibit. Trade show booth designers are creative professionals who specialize in designing the booths that companies use at trade shows. They are essentially the architects of a company’s temporary storefront on the trade show floor. In short, they help companies create a memorable and impactful presence at trade shows, with the goal of generating leads, sales, and brand awareness.

Understanding the Role of a Trade Show Booth Designer

Let’s start with the obvious. Trade show booth designers are not mind-readers. Nor are they experts about your company, your industry, or your competitors. You’re their source for that information. In other words, they know custom exhibit design and exhibition trends, which they’ll gladly transform into a spectacular display based on what you share with them. The more you share, the better the ultimate design. It’s that simple. 

They will ask you a series of questions (see below). Those questions will be the first steps in both narrowing the scope of the project and expanding the design opportunities. For example, the size of the booth, your past trade show experience, your marketing objectives, and your budget. BTW… while increasing sales is a worthwhile objective, it’s not a particularly helpful one to a designer. 

Think of a trade show exhibit as a set of tools. Each tool has a specific purpose. In an exhibit booth, those tools may include meeting rooms, demonstration stations, video monitors or LED tiles, storage, large backlit graphics, furniture, and hanging signs. An exhibit designer then places, transforms, and in some cases, invents new tools to optimize the exhibitor’s success on the trade show floor.   

Their knowledge and talent combined with your information and goals is more often than not remarkably spectacular. It’s mind blowing actually. But it all comes down to sharing, specifics, and intent. 

Benefits of Hiring a Trade Show Designer 

Building a trade show exhibit is unlike building any other structure, primarily because it has to be assembled to be deconstructed, packed in crates, and shipped securely. In addition, a trade show exhibit has to attract visitors in a highly competitive environment, communicate a clear and compelling message in seconds, and serve as a practical sales tool for the booth staff and attendees. 

Trade show booth designers have spent years specializing in booth design. And in most cases, they’ve worked with other companies that have exhibited at the same or similar trade shows. They know what’s worked. And what hasn’t worked for that audience? For example, a food show, like Natural Products Expo West, requires a very different booth than a display at a construction show, like Conexpo

The benefits of working with a professional trade show designer go well beyond their creative skills. Here are more advantages:

Expertise and Creativity: A professional designer has the knowledge and experience to create a booth that is visually appealing, on-brand, and functional. They can translate your company’s message into a compelling design that will grab attention and stand out from the competition.

Save Time and Resources: Designing and building a trade show exhibit can be a time-consuming process. By hiring a designer, you can free up your internal team to focus on other aspects of the trade show, such as sales training and lead generation.

Cost-Effectiveness: While there’s an initial investment in design, it can save you money in the long run. A designer can help you avoid costly mistakes, like choosing the wrong materials or exceeding space limitations. They can also source materials and fabrication services efficiently.

Compliance with Regulations: Trade show venues have specific rules and regulations regarding booth size, materials, and construction. A designer with experience will ensure your booth adheres to all guidelines, preventing last-minute scrambling or even disqualification.

Technology Integration: Many designers are familiar with incorporating interactive elements and digital signage into trade show booths. This can enhance the visitor experience and make your company appear more innovative.

Project Management: Often, a designer will handle the entire project, from the initial concept to the final installation and breakdown. This takes a significant burden off your shoulders and ensures a smooth and stress-free experience.

Overall, hiring a trade show exhibit designer can significantly increase your chances of success at a trade show. Their expertise can help you create a booth that effectively attracts leads, builds brand awareness, and ultimately delivers a positive return on your investment.

Trade show designer

The Process of Working With a Trade Show Exhibit Designer 

You’ve contacted a trade show booth designer and you’re ready to get started. But before diving into the deep end of the design pool, the designer needs you to spend time in the shallow end. Below are 15 questions a designer would ask before designing your project. The basics matter. And those basics will not only provide a foundation for the design, but they will also create a path toward meeting (and exceeding) your expectations.

15 Essential Exhibit Design Questions

1. Does your company have branding guidelines/logo or graphic files/website address? Can you share these files?

2. What size is the exhibit? Do you plan to reconfigure the exhibit for other shows? If so, what sizes?  Knowing this will guide both the design and the choice of materials.

3. What is the budget? This is essential. Still undecided about an exact budget? The next best option is a workable budget range. No exhibitor wants to be surprised with a beautiful booth outside their budget or underwhelmed by a booth designed for a lower budget.

4. Do you want to purchase or rent? Or a combination of both? This assists the designer in choosing materials and designing to a specific budget.

5. What physical properties does the exhibit need to have? For example, workstations, counters, Slatwall, semi-private or private conference areas, monitors, storage, etc. This information allows the designer to create a functional trade show design.

6. What type of display have you used in the past? Are you looking for something similar or different? What did you like or not like about the previous booth?

7. Are there any materials or construction methods you prefer? Are you looking for something similar or different? Many experienced exhibitors have a strong attraction or aversion to specific materials.

8. Are there any unusual dimensional restrictions? Can you provide show regulations? Some shows have unusual restrictions for the height of the booth or setbacks from the aisle.

9. Do you show product(s)? What are the dimensions and specifications? How do you prefer to show the products? Display cases, countertops, shelves, hooks, etc.?

10. Does the display need to be portable or modular? Does it need to ship via FedEx or UPS or are you OK with packing in custom crates? This will guide our use of materials.

11. Who will assemble the display: show labor or your team? We have great solutions for both scenarios.

12. Do you have any images of design elements you like? Even if these “inspiration images” are not trade show related, they are very helpful. For example, architectural elements, finishes, colors, natural elements, retail environments, etc.

13. Design Due Date? Typically, designs are completed within a few business days. However, every project and every client has their own timeline. We do our best to accommodate the requested timelines.

14. Show Opening Date? So very important! Creating the design and building it depends on the time frame. Designers can make material selections which will go a long way toward meeting a three-week vs. a three-month window.

15. Are there any descriptive words you use to describe your company? What do you want visitors to your booth to “feel” about your company? From “opulent” to “bad-ass,” we have heard some interesting descriptors, and this gives the designer the insight to craft a personalized, experiential space.

Trade show exhibit designer

Best Practices to Get the Most Out of Your Partnership 

How do you create a design you love without multiple meetings and revisions?

Get the designer and the decision-maker to talk to one another. It works! It’s why the designers want to be on phone calls with the client. All too often, clients don’t know what they want. The reasons vary: 

  • They’re new to trade shows and have an unclear understanding of how to maximize the potential of trade show marketing
  • They don’t have a well-defined marketing strategy, either in general or for trade shows.  
  • Sales want one thing. Marketing wants something else. Engineering has some ideas, but no one is listening. And Customer Support wasn’t asked for their opinion. 
  • The C-Suite isn’t engaged, which means surprises are guaranteed late in the design process
  • Budget? What budget? Having a budget either narrows or expands the design scope. 

The best outcomes are (not surprisingly) based on clear and timely communication with a well-defined strategy and outcomes. Building an exhibit takes time, especially larger structures. Ideally, you should start working with an exhibit designer at least 6 months before the show. That gives everyone time to ask questions, get answers, ask more questions, and make any changes. 

If your goal is to maximize your trade show budget and your sales, then starting early, rather than rushing to design and build a booth at the last minute, will save you money. Not just in design fees, but also with booth, shipping, and early bird show service charges. 

Here are 5 (ish) Requests Guaranteed to Make a Designer Furious:

  1. BTW – I need the design by tomorrow for a meeting
  2. Hmmm…. I’m not good with details, but I’ll know if I like it when I see it. 
  3. Can you show me 5 different designs? Again, by tomorrow.
  4. If I like the design, I’ll find the money in the budget to buy it
  5. You’re the creative person so design whatever you think is best. 
Trade show booth design companies

Hire a Graphic Designer and a Trade Show Booth Designer 

Here’s a secret. DESIGNING FOR TRADE SHOW DISPLAYS IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN ANYTHING ELSE! Hiring a graphic designer with trade show design experience is one of the most important decisions. Why? They’ve already made the mistakes that a novice at trade show design would make. 

Here’s another secret. Exhibit design and graphic design are two different skills. Some designers are experts at both… but most are not. The graphics are as important as your physical display, if not more important, and they can make or break your trade show’s success.

If you need help with trade show graphic design, start with your trade show exhibit company. A good partner will either have internal resources or partners with extensive experience in large format, trade show exhibit design.

Tips for Hiring a Graphic Designer or Design Firm

If you are hiring a designer or design firm to create your trade show graphics, consider the following suggestions:

  • Ask for references from your agency of choice for large format, trade show exhibit design clients.
  • Check their website. A bullet item that says they do trade show booths or graphics, doesn’t mean they excel at trade show graphics. Ask them for examples of previous trade show work. 
  • Is most of their work digital marketing, web design, and social media marketing? Find another designer. Your bank account will thank you. Your patience will thank you.
  • Create a library of your marketing assets, logo source files, high-resolution images, etc. 
  • If you don’t speak graphic design, then find someone who does. It’s a highly technical field and knowing the lingo will make everyone’s life easier, more efficient, and save you money.

Ready to Hire a Trade Show Booth Designer? 

Every exhibit project starts with one or more intake meetings where the client shares details about the show, their budget, and most importantly, their marketing vision and objectives. From there, the trade show booth designer will create renderings based on the discovery meetings. Classic Exhibits Distributor Partners are experts at exhibit design, whether you’re looking for a 40 x 60 custom island exhibit or a 10 ft. portable display. They’ll take the time to ensure your exhibit attracts visitors and maximizes your sales potential. 

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As North America’s largest private-label exhibit manufacturer, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see www.classicexhibits.com and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.