Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for February, 2010

Word on the Street — February 22nd thru February 26th

February 28th, 2010 COMMENTS
Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Sometimes Getting a Bloody Nose Can Be a Good Thing

Not literally of course, but every now and then we overlook the obvious, or we get too comfortable with the status quo.  When that happens, it’s how a company or an individual reacts that defines who they are or where the future leads. At least you hope so.

This week we were faced with a client frustrated with a feature (or absence of a feature) in Exhibit Design Search. And if you know Mel and me, you know we hold Exhibit Design Search near and dear to our hearts. Mel especially and rightfully so . . . it was his brain child and is his baby.

That being said, you can sort of put your armor up when someone critiques your baby right!?

But we would both agree, after taking the time to listen to this customer and their reasoning why they were frustrated with a recent experience.  It really opened our eyes to how we can improve EDS and make it an even better tool for distributors and for their customers. It’s not a major change, but it will be a time-consuming one.

Sorry I am being vague about the issue, but we plan to implement the changes immediately.  But I will say that it really highlights what can happen when you become ingrained in something. You become blinded to solutions that are obvious to others, especially others that are new to our side of the trade show business.

So, while you may never know the issue or the client, let me say this — this is one of those punches in the face you need every now and again. So thanks! 🙂

Click on the comment link and share your thoughts.

–Kevin Carty

That Annoying Plastic Screw is Gone

February 23rd, 2010 COMMENTS
A10 Knob for Sacagawea, Magellan, P10, and Visionary Designs

A10 Knob for Sacagawea, Magellan, P10, and Visionary Designs

Let’s take a quick and entertaining quiz:

Question:  What’s the name of the part that holds the plex wings on Visionary Designs, Sacagawea, Magellan, and Perfect 10 displays?
Answer:  A10.

Question: What do you dislike most about the A10?
Answer:  The annoying plastic tension screw that requires a flathead screwdriver (or dime) to tighten.

Final Question:  How much would you love us if we eliminated that annoying tension screw?

Effective immediately, the annoying plastic screw is gone . . . unless you want it for an island display. We have replaced it with a clear plastic knob that requires neither tools nor spare change. We have black version as well, but if you want the black knob you’ll have to request it. Our default choice will be the clear one unless you tell us otherwise. Should you want to order replacement knobs for your current A10’s, they are available at $2 retail per knob. Contact Customer Service for details.

Why did it take us so long? Fair question. It was not for a lack of trying. On and off for nearly three years, we searched North America and Europe for an off-the-shelf knob with the correct thread and knob head. About six months ago, we finally found one in the Netherlands but at a price, even buying in bulk, that would have made gold a better investment. So, we did the honorable thing. We bit the plastic bullet, designed a custom knob, and paid for a mold.


Yes, it’s a small change but an important one. One more incremental improvement at Classic made with you and your customers in mind. Now you no longer have to borrow a dime on the trade show floor or request a screw driver from the labor pool (and get hit with a four hour minimum).

Now, say it with me, “I Love the knob. I Love Classic.” Thanks. That’s very sweet.

–Mel White
Classic Exhibits Network (LinkedIn)

Word on the Street — February 15th thru February 19th

February 21st, 2010 1 COMMENT
Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Most Companies Fall Into One of Three Camps

Have you ever noticed that most companies fall into one of three camps when it comes to change?

  • They never change.
  • They make constant incremental changes (they tinker).
  • They make big changes every year or two or three (the grand gesture), but generally stay pat until then.

Now I need your perspective here. I see Classic Exhibits as falling in the second camp. We are constantly making small changes to our products, our services, and our marketing. Little by little, we move the bar forward. Occasionally, we have a big announcement, but those, quite honestly, don’t happen very often. For example, the introduction of the Perfect 10 Portable Hybrid was a big deal when we introduced it almost two years ago. It took portable hybrid design into a dramatically new direction. Our other line introductions have had less fanfare, such as Magellan and Sacagawea, but have been equally successful. If you spend any time following P5D, you see a constant stream of orders for Magellan, P10/20, Sacagawea, along with the ever changing array of counters, pedestals, and workstations.

people_changeWe have a slight advantage (or disadvantage) over our competitors in how we communicate changes. We take a slow, steady, and subtle approach, rather than make big announcements. We show you new designs in Design Monday, such as the PS Series in Design Monday this week and last. We send an e-broadcast about a design or product launch, but that happens three or four times a year at most. We update P5D every business day. Once or twice a month, we post a blog related to product changes. But, because so many of our changes are incremental and are introduced “casually,” I worry that we don’t get credit for them.

So, I’m going to take a moment to list some of these changes over the past nine months. How many do you recognize?

  • Sacagawea T, P, and PS Series.
  • Updated Exhibit Design Search User Interface and Features
  • New Base Plate Designs
  • Knob Assembly for Magellan and Sacagawea (backwall)
  • Upgraded Lighting for All Portable Hybrid Lines
  • Silicone Edge Graphic Designs and SEG ClassicMODUL TSP Extrusions
  • Expanded Rental Inventory
  • Addition of Eco-systems Sustainable and Optima Graphics products in Exhibit Design Search
  • Expand Use of Reusable Dye-cut Foam Jigging on All Hybrid Products
  • New Look to the Classic Exhibits Website (just happened this week)

I suppose our approach reflects our corporate personality. We are by nature “tinkerers and doers.”  When we see a challenge or an unmet opportunity we gravitate to it like a moth to a light bulb. That approach permeates our culture whether it’s in Production, Project Management, Design, Marketing, or Accounting. Obviously, we have to prioritize opportunities, but these opportunities tend to energize us since they represent something to “fix” or “improve” or “reinvent.”

change_classicPlease don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that “Big Announcements” are ineffective. Too often however, we see big announcements in our industry that are, in all honesty, incremental improvements. Or, even worse, are announcements that should have been made two years ago when they were relevant or on the cutting edge. Instead they are just sad and pathetic.

For companies in the other two camps . . . think about the message you are (or are NOT) sending to your customers. Companies that NEVER change appear stagnant or worse irrelevant in the market. Whether that is a fair statement or not, it’s the perception and perception matters. And for those who opt for BIG announcements every couple of years, why would you expect your customers to wait?

In my opinion, clients left “waiting and wanting” start to stray. I can’t tell you how many times I have conducted a presentation with a potential distributor and within 10 minutes the owner, designer, or AE will say, “Man did you ever arrive at just the right time. We have been looking for something like this or asking for something just like this from our existing vendor for the past year . . . and you have it right here. Perfect!”

As one of the faces of Classic Exhibits, I love getting that “WOW” reaction, but I also appreciate knowing that week after week and month after month, it shows that we are reacting to the market and making changes. Those changes rarely make it into press releases in EXHIBITOR or the other trade magazines, but that’s OK.  What’s important is that you know that we are constantly tinkering.

Which camp do you fall in? How about your current vendors? We would love to hear from you about how we can improve our communication with you.

Click on the comment link and share your thoughts.

–Kevin Carty

Introducing the Sacagawea Portable Hybrid PS-Series

February 17th, 2010 COMMENTS
Sacagawea Portable Hybrid Display

Sacagawea Portable Hybrid Display

Classic Exhibits announces the new Sacagawea Portable Hybrid PS-Series, a design addition to the very popular Sacagawea Display line. The PS-Series designs split the backwall into two distinct tension fabric sections while adding both depth and curves to the overall appearance. And like the existing P and T-Series, the PS includes options such as monitor mounts, workstations, pedestals, brochure holders, and standoff signage.

The backwall assembles with attached knobs, and the entire display packs in portable roto-molded wheeled case(s) with reusable dye-cut foam packaging.

Features include:

  • Stylish Hybrid Design
  • Portable Knob Assembly (backwall)
  • Large Format Tension Fabric Graphics
  • Lightweight Aluminum Frame
  • Header and Standoff Signage Options
  • (3) 10′ x 10′ Kits
  • (3) 10′ x 20′ Kits

Sacagawea VK-2117

Normally, we don’t “toot our own horn,” but in our humble opinion, the new PS-Series may be the most attractive and functional portable trade show display EVER INTRODUCED. It has it all . . . looks, portability, durability, large graphics, and practical accessories.

Click on the links below to see all six kits:

  • VK-1235 (backwall)
  • VK-1236 (backwall, workstation, brochure holders, standoff signage)
  • VK-1237 (backwall, workstation, brochure holders, standoff signage, and pedestal)
  • VK-2115 (backwall)
  • VK-2116 (backwall, workstations, brochure holders, standoff signage)
  • VK-2117 (backwall, workstations, brochure holders, standoff signage, and pedestals)

We’d love to hear your reaction to the newest sibling in the Sacagawea line.

The Basics of Business Entertaining and Building Friendships

February 16th, 2010 COMMENTS
Reid Sherwood, National Sales Manager

Reid Sherwood, National Sales Manager

Entertaining customers has changed a great deal over the years. During the 50’s and 60’s, most business entertaining was done over lunch and olives were usually involved, along with gin or vodka and a bit of vermouth. Lunches lasted at least two and sometimes up to four hours. Times are different now.

First, let me state for the record that I have almost always been the vendor, and rarely the customer, so my perspective reflects the person who is paying and not receiving.

Two Primary Reasons

There are really two primary reasons to entertain for business: to reward or thank customers for their existing business, or to attract new business from prospective customers. Ultimately, the goal is not all that complicated. We want to make new friends or to strengthen existing friendships. I know that selling is often seen as a cold and calculating transaction, but that’s not my style. The goal for me is create new friends and lasting friendships with our customers.

Meals Make for Great Entertaining

Here is my personal breakdown about business meals.

Breakfast — Breakfasts are usually one or two person meetings. Much of the discussion is about business. It is often a much shorter meal so not a lot of personal “stuff” gets talked about. Breakfasts are ideal for new or potential customers. The meals are usually inexpensive, by comparison, and it’s a good option when you know your customer is trying to juggle kids, sports, and business. The only time I get nervous is when someone orders cocktails at breakfast

Lunch — Lunches are always a good option when there are lots of people and you still want to conduct business. There are a couple of ways to pull off a great business lunch. Set your meeting for 10:30 or 11:00 and gather your crowd for your presentation. When pizza arrives a few minutes before noon, everyone is very happy to sit and casually discuss your offerings from the presentation. Quite often, you can get involved in some good-natured office politics and good old teasing. You probably won’t make a great deal of personal friends like this, but you will have a chance to understand the dynamics of the organization. It’s also easy to pick the local sandwich shop and have everyone gather there. Again, it’s easy to keep the cost down because there usually are not a lot of people ordering cocktails or beer at lunchtime.

Drinks and appetizers for a late afternoon meeting is a great way to get some time away from the office and engage in some friendship building. The employees usually have a local “watering hole.” We meet there, have a couple of drinks to unwind and some chips and salsa to eat .

Just a quick word of caution: be careful about the drinks. Make sure that nobody gets out of control, or if they do, make sure there is somebody is taking care to get them home and not let them drive.

Dinner – Dinners are usually saved for more important clients. The “dinner” client is usually someone you have been doing business with a while and are reasonably close personal friends.  It doesn’t have to be 5-Star dining. What I prefer is a local favorite. Please don’t suggest Outback, Olive Garden, Chili’s or the other chains. I can go to those at home. Let’s pick something different. The best burger, great Thai, seafood (in a seaport town), this is where I want to go and where I’ve found most clients want to go to as well. We can have a nice calm dinner. Many times by this point, business isn’t even talked about. We talk kids, sports, hobbies.  Yes this is going to be a bit more expensive if you go to a nice meal and have wine and cocktails with dinner, but this is about potential: either potential reached or new goals.

Other Activities

Fishing for Business

Fishing for Business

Beyond the standard “drinks and meals,” other activities that I found to be rewarding include golf, fishing, concerts, and hunting trips. The rationale is really simple. Golf gives you four plus hours in a cart with your customer, uninterrupted. You learn a lot about a person during a round of golf. It has been a real eye opener on a couple of occasions. If I see you get frustrated and throw your clubs, I can understand why customer service people cringe whenever they hear your name. Although there is usually a bit of business conversation sprinkled in with golf, it is relationship building time.

Concerts are great for building friendships. If you like the same performer, you have an “inside track” on the friendship of your customer. The downside to a concert is obvious. There are not as many opportunities to chat. Some of my best friends are “Jimmy Buffett customers.” I have seen Jimmy Buffett in seven cities with seven different customers. There is a kinship, a fraternity that goes deeper than business could ever hope to. These folks are my friends.

Hunting and fishing are one way to thank customers in a big way. Quite often, they come from suburban areas where they just don’t have access to these kind of things. So, if you are planning a hunting or fishing trip, make sure it is a blast. Where I live, there are no 5 -Star Hilton or Marriott vacation resorts. There is, however, one of the best trout and steelhead rivers in America. By the time you factor in the fishing and dining time, a two or three day trip can give you dozens hours of alone time with customers . . . especially if you fish winter steelhead. You are in a boat, in the middle of the river, in the dead of winter . . . there’s no place to go!

Over the years, I’ve taken a couple of groups to South Dakota for pheasant hunting which has taken our friendships to a new level. I am pretty careful about guns and even more careful about who has a loaded weapon anywhere near me. So, like me, be smart about who you invite. The company has provided the guides, food and drink, and equipment, and the customers paid for their travel expenses. It worked out to be a wonderful time.  Again, you have to be choosy about who goes because everyone has to be able to get along and enjoy themselves, but it is something they will remember for a many years.

Be creative with your customers. Everyone has something to offer. Make friends with your customers, and expect your sales to grow with you.

Till the next time,

–Reid Sherwood