Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for November, 2010

Shooting from the Hip — 15.10 (I am Thankful)

November 24th, 2010 COMMENTS
Shooting from the Hip (trade show tips)

Shooting from the Hip by Reid Sherwood

Things for Which I am Thankful

It has been a few weeks since my last blog post. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say, but I didn’t have anything to say that mattered. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I will reflect a bit on those things for which I am truly thankful. These are in no particular order except the last one.

I am thankful for volunteer firefighters — Many of you know the Sherwood clan had house fires in both October of 2008 and 2009. Nobody was hurt. We are grateful. Last Monday, our garage  burned to the ground. Right now, we are a bit shell-shocked and  scared to death of fire. But because of the quick work of a small volunteer department, the house was saved with only cosmetic damages.

I am thankful for freedom — Our school in town just re-dedicated a plaque to the students from Newaygo High School who served in WWII. A few of the veterans were there for the ceremony, and seeing them made the ultimate sacrifice paid by so many much more tangible. It was a time to reflect and remember why we have what we have.

I am thankful for my job — I am not looking for a raise. I am not even trying to blow any smoke/sunshine up anyone’s skirt. I am simply being honest.  Classic Exhibits has been very good to me. We have a culture in the office/shop that is very friendly. There are no self-serving egos. There are just a bunch of people with a common goal:  Enjoy your job so it is not really like working.  Mel, Kevin, and Roy – Thanks a million!

I am thankful for my customers — Many of the people we deal with every day at Classic are people I have been associated with for 15 or 20 years. We have watched our industry change drastically in the past 20-some years. What hasn’t changed is how we enjoy our time together.

I am thankful for the things I have been able to see and do — A little country guy from NW Michigan normally doesn’t have the luck I have had (excluding the fires). I have been to some of the world’s greatest stadiums, concert venues, and restaurants. I have had the fortune of watching the sun set at Mallory Square several times. I have eaten in Emeril’s kitchen in New Orleans. I have had a cocktail with Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Charles Barkley. I saw Jack Morris pitch a no-hitter against the White Sox in 1984. To some people these things mean nothing . . . to me . . . they are everything.

I am thankful for the little town I grew up in — Many of you who read this will understand. Newaygo has been so good to my family for a hundred years. It was good to my grandfather. It was good to my father. And it has been good to me. It has been a great place to grow up, go to school, raise your kids. I love this place.

I am thankful for my parents — Everything that is good and right in my life I owe to my parents. Everything that is wrong is because I didn’t listen to them.

I am thankful for my friends — They make the good times better and the not so good times a lot more palatable. I am going to name just a few: Ron A., Kevin C., Dave B., Gina P., Scott L., Scott B., Cindi C., Richie, and Raytard.

I am thankful for my family — I make more family jokes than most stand up comic . . . but they are jokes. I can’t possibly love them any more than I do. My wife is a saint. You may find this hard to believe, but I am not the dream to live with you might think. Thanks to all.

Ultimately – I am grateful for so many things. The list could to on and  on.

Have a great Thanksgiving and we will see you again Monday.

Until the next time,

–Reid Sherwood

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

November 21st, 2010 3 COMMENTS
Why we participate in the TS2 Show

Word on the Street by Mel White

Trade Show Industry Predictions 2011 . . .

(Kevin Carty is on vacation, so Mel White has graciously agreed to substitute this week.)

As we head into the holidays, I thought I’d put on my clairvoyant hat and peer into a crystal ball. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to know that 2011 is already on your mind. You’re wondering if the exhibit industry will plod along like a Clydesdale, sprint like Quarter Horse, or remain stubborn and unpredictable like a mule.

To ensure my predictions are accurate, I’ve checked the astrological star charts, turned over the Tarot cards, and consulted the Magic 8 Ball. And to protect your sanity, I’ll spare you any doomsday or apocalyptic scenarios. Frankly, my psyche couldn’t handle it after the past two plus years.

Anyway . . . here goes.

Graphics – Many distributors survived on graphic orders in 2009 and 2010, a trend that’s unlikely to change in 2011 with 50% of your volume coming from new or replacement graphics. You will see, based on our trend the past nine months, more silicone edge graphics (SEG) in towers, inlines, and islands. We anticipate a continued downward pressure on basic systems graphics, such as pop up panels and banner stands, because there is no margin left in the hardware.

Table Tops – Oddly enough, table top orders tanked over the past 26 months, whether $400 or $2000 table tops. The budget TT’s have yet to show a pulse, but the higher priced units such as Aero are no longer on life support. We expect modest increases in TT orders with even an occasional multiple quantity order. You can’t make a living on TT’s, but when you get a multiple quantity order it’s a nice break from the Ramen noodles.

The Magic 8 Ball Says . . .

Banner Stands, Pop Ups, and Basic Curve Walls — No change. We don’t expect an increase in sales for these displays even as the economy improves. As more and more customers return to the market, we anticipate a more balanced approach between customers buying pop ups/banner stands and customers moving slightly upstream to hybrids. Many distributors have all but abandoned the entry level market where distributors (online or offline) are trading dollars. We would encourage you not to throw in the towel yet. There are still mainstream corporate clients who value quality at a fair price over the 30 feet or 30 second displays.

Until someone invents the “add one drop of water and poof you have a 10 ft. display,” many customers will still demand displays that require minimal effort even at the expense of marketing impact. If we believe the Marketing and HR Departments, the Sales AE’s at most companies are more likely to use an assembly tool for scratching and picking than for putting a display together.

Portable Hybrids and Modulars – Three years ago, there were few players in the $4000 to $8500 inline market. The field has gotten more crowded, but for inexplicable reasons, the players are repeating the mistakes of the pop up market. Lots of look-a-like displays with very little innovation. There are some exceptions in design and assembly (yes boys and girls, I’m talking about Classic), but by and large customers are being handed a bag of parts, a tool, and asked to assemble a square with two wings.

This segment will see double-digit growth in 2011, but distributors will have to decide whether to sell or to clerk. According to our distributors, sales conversations are migrating from price first and design second to a more balanced approach. We’re not quite back to the world of “I’ll find the money if I love the design,” but design is no longer playing second fiddle.

2011 Predictions

2011 Predictions

Over $10,000 Inlines – In our business, over $10,000 inlines are the “canary in the coal mine,” indicating whether there is an economic gas leak. Distributors will see more interest in >$10K designs in 2011 as clients talk more and more about what they need rather than what they can afford. Many will still decide to purchase a less expensive display, but others will invest in display solutions that more closely match their true marketing goals.

Islands – They’re back. (note the period rather than the exclamation mark) Unfortunately, islands may be the least profitable segment as the intersection between expectations and price points has shifted. Customers are willing to pay between $50,000 and $75,000 for a modular display, but they expect that to include EVERYTHING. Yikes. That’s a tough sell. More than any other segment, we’ll need to work together as partners to land these orders. Give and take is the key with both sides willing to take smaller margins or find creative solutions.

We’ve seen significant interest in SEG solutions in the past 6 months. In SEG islands, the graphics play a more dominant role in the design than the structure. Re-configurability will continue to be in the design mix, even if it compromises the overall design (sadly).

Rentals — Without question, rentals have been the biggest beneficiary of the economic downturn. We saw double-digit growth in both 2009 and 2010, particularly in island rentals. And if the past two months are any indication, this trend is unlikely to change. Customers are turning to rentals as cost-effective answers to purchasing an exhibit and to maintaining their trade show presence. We suspect that many companies have now made the decision to never own an island exhibit again. And it makes sense in many circumstances. Rental designs have gotten more flexible and imaginative. Gone are the days when a rental had all the sexiness of granny panties.

Green Displays — You may find this surprising, but requests for Green Displays never went away. Just ask our sister company Eco-systems Sustainable Exhibits. The price points may have dropped but not the interest. Companies with a green focus or with green initiatives will choose an eco-friendly display every time as long as the price is somewhat comparable. We caution you not to ignore this category. You must be able to speak the language to sell these products. These customers can spot a fraud a mile away. Now is the time to learn the language before you get schooled by a knowledgeable client.

What are your predictions for 2011? Click on the Leave a Comment link (at the top of the page) to share your thoughts with your Classic colleagues. We’d love to hear from you.

On behalf of the entire Classic Family, have a safe and relaxing Holiday.

–Mel White
Classic Exhibits Network (LinkedIn)

FAQ — Design Monday Exhibits

November 17th, 2010 COMMENTS

Design Monday Exhibits

In Design Monday, you’ll see inlines and islands, portables and modulars, banner stands and hanging signs. Three new exciting designs each week from the best exhibit designers.

When it’s all about pushing the boundaries of creative design, everything is fair game. See what’s new every Monday.

Frequently Asked Questions . . .

1. What’s included in the Design Monday Gallery? There appears to be trade show displays of all sizes, shapes, and functions.

Design Monday is a very different gallery than the other galleries in Exhibit Design Search. Each Monday, we introduce two to three new exhibit designs. These can be islands, inlines, workstations, banner stands, or just about anything you would find in the other galleries.

Consider Design Monday our forum for launching new concepts. Many of these migrate to the other galleries and become kits, which is why you may see some duplication. If you want to see the newest trends, then Design Monday is the place to be.

2. Have these all been built?

By and large, yes . . . with some exceptions. Even if we haven’t built the display yet, no worries. We design them using standard components and engineer them to be structurally sound.

3. Are Design Monday designs more expensive?

Nope. We price them the same as standard kits.

Next, Counters and Pedestals FAQ.

10 Quick Tips for Any Trade Show Newbie

November 12th, 2010 3 COMMENTS

Trade Show Tips for Trade Show Novices

Trade shows can intimidate anyone new to exhibit marketing, but the best course is to dive into the pool. The following tips — from the shallow end of the pool — will get you started. When it’s time to swim laps or do a swan dive, go to Trade Show and Event Tips for 49 articles guaranteed to turn you into Michael Phelps (or Mark Spitz for those of us with gray hair).

10 Tips for any Trade Show Novice:

  1. A trade show is neither a vacation nor a death sentence. Although it may feel like a death sentence during tear-down.
  2. Be nice to the labor. They can solve most of your problems or create massive headaches. Try to follow the Golden Rule . . . until they piss you off. When they do, contact your I&D labor provider or show management. And remember that the laborers in your booth didn’t write the show hall rules. If you disagree with the rules, contact your I&D labor provider or show management but don’t take it out on the guy or gal assembling your display.
  3. Breath mints are more valuable than gold or platinum at a trade show.
  4. Comfortable shoes are more valuable than breath mints, unless you are wearing comfortable shoes but chatting with someone who clearly needs a 3 lb. breath mint.
  5. Rule of Three — This is a sad but true fact regarding labor at most trade shows. If three people are assigned to your booth, one person will be a star, one person will be average, one person will be a dufus. Hire nine people and you are guaranteed to have three stars and three dufasses. Sometimes you get lucky, and the ratio works in your favor. Sometimes not (I could name show halls where this is almost guaranteed to happen, but I’d have to check under my hood every time I start my car).
  6. No two shows are the same. Think of each show as a first date. Look your best and do your homework about the show, the attendees, and your competitors.
  7. Every exhibitor has a “Joe.” He drinks too much, he gambles too much, and he wanders around too much. He’s like the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, constantly circumnavigating the show hall. About a half a dozen times a day, you’ll wonder what happened to Joe. Five minutes ago he was sucking down his third espresso, leaning on the counter, and ogling anything with two X chromosomes. Suddenly he’s gone . . . AGAIN.
  8. Be ruthless about evaluating your show graphics. Everything else is secondary. Replace them BEFORE they need to be replaced.
  9. I Bet You 50 Bucks You’ll Forget One of the Following:  wire management for the exhibit, cleaning supplies, business cards, belt (happens to me at least twice year . . . two belts in Las Vegas = one mortgage payment), lip balm (again, crazy, ridiculously expensive in Vegas), phone charger, or your moral compass.
  10. FINALLY, work with professionals, whether it’s a graphic designer, an exhibit consultant, or a certified trade show manager. Trade show exhibit marketing is a craft learned the hard way through trial and error.  It’s easy to burn through a lot of money before you finally figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t stumble through a year or two of mistakes when you can rely on experts who can save you time, money, and embarrassment.

Bonus Tips:  For goodness sake, get some fresh air and a little sunshine once in awhile! Your mood will improve by a 1000 percent. And just once, put on the workout gear that you bring to every show and repack (unused) in your suitcase. Exercise is healthy.

— Mel White

Trade Shows as First Dates
Love on Aisle #600 — Trade Shows and Events
What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)

How to Save Money on Your Next Trade Show Display

November 11th, 2010 COMMENTS

Tips to Save $ on Your Next Display

Buy Value – Not Price. Too often, we focus on the price rather than the value. It’s human nature, especially when budgets are constrained. However, we all know the difference between a good value for the price and a low price on a shoddy product. If you have ever bought a cheap screwdriver, you know. It lasts about three jobs and then the tip deforms and the handle twists. A trade show display has to accomplish three basic goals:  look professional, assemble easily, and be durable. If it fails any of these, then it’s not a good value.

Understand the Channels of Distribution. In nearly every case, you will purchase your display from a distributor who represents an exhibit manufacturer. Some distributors represent a single manufacturer. Others represent multiple manufacturers. Still others are sub-distributors who must purchase their products through multiple channels. Shorter distribution channels generally reduce the overall markup. It doesn’t matter whether you purchase online or from a bricks and mortar business. What matters is whether the distributor is an authorized representative and whether the distributor has a solid history representing the product.

Buy the Right Graphics.  No one ever tells you this . . . but there are high-quality graphics and there are cheap-a$$ graphics. You may not be able to tell the difference when you see them apart, but put them together and the difference is astonishing. Greater resolutions, higher contrast, deeper color intensity, truer color matches. The other lesson comes after you’ve used them several times. Cheaper graphics do not hold up to the wear and tear of trade show (ab)use. They de-laminate, they curl, they fade, they fray.

You need to use your smarts here and recognize that $250 graphics are not compatible with $750 graphics. If all you need are disposable graphics, then the inexpensive version is perfect. If the expensive ones are too expensive, then negotiate. No one is going to send you to the timeout corner for asking for a break on the price.

Don’t Buy More Than You Need.  The most overused term in the exhibits industry is “modular.” Buy this and you can re-configure it to this or you can add-on to the display when you upgrade to a larger exhibit. From my experience, customers rarely re-configure and rarely expand their existing display. Now you may be the exception and kudos to you, but don’t buy a 20 x 20 that re-configures to a 10 x 10 and 10 x 20 if you don’t need it. Or if you don’t want to spend hours sorting through packaging identifying the right components for the smaller displays or discover that re-configurability compromises the overall design.

I’m going to take some heat on this, particularly since I work for a company that designs and build modular displays, but so be it. Here’s my suggestion:  choose modularity because you want something that is easy to assembly, not because you wanted the adult version of a Transformer.

Rental Displays

Consider Combining Rentals with a Purchase. Frankly, this is so logical that I’m embarrassed to list it. Yet, almost no one does it. I don’t know why, except that so many of us have this primal need to own stuff. In some cases, display customers fall in love with a design, which is fine, but don’t realize that there is a rental solution available at 1/3 the cost. You have to ask. That’s the key. And if the display representative or exhibit house doesn’t have the right rental solution, then go somewhere else. Not everyone has embraced customized rentals. You need to find the company or companies that have.

That said, rentals are not for everyone. Your marketing requirements may dictate a unique structure and capabilities, or you may plan to use the same structure for more than four or five shows. At that point, purchasing is cheaper. But you need to remind yourself . . . you have the option of renting some of the structure and purchasing other parts. It’s not an either/or situation. For more tips about when to rent, please see this article.

Beware of Purchasing Magic Beans. Like any industry, the exhibit industry is not immune to charlatans who want to sell you “magic beans.” Their system will save you 50% or increase your leads by 200% at the first show. Aren’t numbers fun, when you don’t have to document the results?

Honestly, there are no magic beans. Some displays are better than others. Some are MUCH BETTER than others. But in the end, what matters is the quality of the display and how you prepare for your show. Your show will be a success based on your preparation before, during, and after the show. It’s that simple. Having the right display will assist in that effort and present the right image to potential customers, but a good display can’t overcome laziness, a lack of preparation, and procrastination. Not even a six-pack of Red Bull can do that.

Quality Matters.  Admittedly, this is sort of repeats the first one with a twist. I know you don’t want to hear it . . . but you get what you pay for. Here’s a metaphor for pop up displays, which many folks now consider a generic product (they’re not, but that’s OK). When is the last time you purchased blue jeans? There are budget, mainstream, and designer jeans. The bargain basement jeans are sold for around $14.99. Have you bought those? I have. They fit (kind of) and they wear like toilet tissue. They may resemble Levi’s, Wranglers, or Lee jeans but that’s about it.

Levi’s, Wranglers, and Lee jeans cost about double the price of the cheap pairs, but you’ll own them for years. They may not have decorative stitching or funky pockets or the cache of designer jeans, but they are functional and attractive.

Then there are designer jeans at double, triple, or quadruple the price of the Wranglers. They are well made and will also last for years. And, they may get you noticed a little more, which sometimes is a fair trade-off. But in the end (no pun intended), what gets noticed and admired is the package and not the packaging. Now take everything you just learned about jeans and quality and apply it to displays.

Consider the Packaging. One quick tip: Don’t assume the packaging is first rate. It’s usually not. Ask to see examples of how the manufacturer packs their displays. Excellent packaging is expensive and that’s where some manufacturers and custom houses cut corners. That’s too bad because the right packaging will save you lots of time before and after the show and ensure that the display arrives at its next destination in perfect shape.

Finally, don’t forget to review the setup instructions. You may decide to ignore them when you assemble the display, but Wanda in Human Resources won’t when she uses it at the Employment Fair. I don’t know about you, but I never want to make HR mad.

Let me know if you have any questions and I welcome your comments.

–Mel White

See Also . . .

13 Common Trade Show Mistakes
What Smells? Top 10 Trade Show Odors

What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)