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.
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.
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.