Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for April, 2011

Should a Custom House Care about Portables?

April 27th, 2011 4 COMMENTS

Damn it Jim, I’m a Custom House!

“I’m a Custom House Damn It!”

While I’ve heard that exact phrase, I’ve heard many variations over the years. They include, “It’s my job to keep the saws turning.” Or, “We can’t be bothered with any job less than $100,000.” Or my favorite, “Why would I want to sell a $20,000 portable modular display when I could sell a $250,000 custom exhibit?”

It’s hard to argue with that logic, particularly when the economy was humming. But nearly three years into the largest recession since the Great Depression, not everyone can afford to be a snob anymore. As one Account Executive at a well-know Custom House told us about a year ago, “I woke up this morning and realized that if I wanted to feed by family that I had to become a portable modular salesperson.”

For the past 15 years, I’ve been walking into Custom Houses pitching the benefits of adding “systems” to their bag of tricks. And for 15 years, the message has been embraced, tolerated, or dismissed depending on the custom house leadership. No one topic reflects the overall attitude of senior management more than their acceptance or disgust of portables. It trickles down to every person in the organization.

But the recession put a dent in that dismissive attitude, at least for those folks who saw their custom business decline by 70-80%. Suddenly the arguments that made no sense two years ago are now logical, brilliant, and very customer friendly.

So let’s take a moment to list the pros and cons of adding “systems” solutions to the overall product assortment of a Custom House.


  • Purchasing from a systems manufacturer means the business isn’t being done “in house” (the saws are not turning).
  • The price points are generally less than a custom build.
  • Portables and modular displays take time and the overall dollar return is less (i.e., it’s a distraction).
  • Our clients are too good for portables. Which translates to, “We’re too good for portables.”


  • The margins are almost always higher for far less work.
  • All Custom customers need portables, whether it is banner stands, pop ups, hybrid displays, or hanging signs. Why would you turn that business over to someone else? Someone who is a potential long-term competitor?
  • All Portable customers are potential Custom customers. It’s like investing in the stock market. You can choose to invest exclusively in the Fortune 500 companies or you can take a risk and look for greater returns in NASDAQ.
  • Storage fees are storage fees and prep work is prep work. Do you really care if it’s for a 10 x 20 inline hybrid or for a custom inline?
  • Systems manufactures are willing to do all the heavy lifting – design, project management, and construction.
  • Blending custom with portable/modular components has never been easier. Custom houses build the elements that make sense for their shop and system manufacturers add the elements that add value. Gone are the days of the folding fabric system and pop up as the all-in-one answers. Engineered aluminum extrusions and tension fabric graphics now allow an exhibitor to get a relatively custom look but at a more affordable price.
  • Many systems manufacturers have made it easy to add their products to any website by offering a distributor-branded interface (ex. Exhibit Design Search).
  • Finally, many system manufacturers offer custom and customizable solutions at prices and margins that many custom houses can’t approach.


If you’re surprised that the arguments are stacked heavily in favor of adding portable, modular, and hybrid exhibits to the mix, then allow me to direct your attention to the logo at the top of the screen. It was never intended to be a fair fight.

I will offer a piece of advice based on my 15 years of experience. Even Custom Houses that “get it” are not all equally successful with these products. The ones that consistently do several million dollars, year in and year out in portable/modulars, have something in common. They recognize that not everyone can or should know everything about “systems,” but every designer, every account executive, and every project manager needs to lean on someone who does. Those houses have a “systems” team. That team fields all questions, interacts with the manufacturers, and processes all orders. They make it easy on the custom house because they understand the products, the manufacturers, and the custom house customers.

So . . . the next time an exhibit customer requests an affordable, attractive display for less than $15,000, don’t send them away. Embrace them. It’s $8,000 in your pocket and that $15,000 may eventually turn into a project with one or two more zeros.

What’s your take? Let me know.

–Mel White

Exhibit Specials in May and June

April 27th, 2011 COMMENTS
Magellan Display Special

Magellan Specials

It’s time for a Miracle or perhaps just a little MOR. In May and June, every Magellan Miracle, MOR, and Mirror kit is on sale. Save 10 percent on these already affordable portable hybrid displays. Choose from (24) 10 x 10 and 10 x 20 inline displays.

What’s not to like about these Classic Displays:

  • Lightweight Aluminum Frame
  • Easy Knob-assisted Assembly
  • Large Format Tension Fabric Graphics
  • Reusable Die-cut Foam Packaging
  • Portable Roto-molded Cases with Wheels
  • Counter, Pedestal, and Workstation Options

Click on the Exhibit Specials button in Exhibit Design Search to see the full assortment.  The sale is effective immediately and runs through June 30, 2011. Have questions? Give us a call @ (866) 621-2100.

Magellan Miracle and MOR Trade Show Displays

Word on the Street — April 18th thru April 22nd

April 24th, 2011 1 COMMENT

Happy Easter!

I’m taking a week off from my typical social media entry. 🙂  For a change of pace, I encourage you to view our newest product video on the SEGUE Sunrise. Very well done!

I hope you all had a great Easter Weekend with your family. And hopefully the EB left your little ones lots and lots of fun gifts and candy treats.

Next week, I am working on an entry about “Hiring a Project Manager” — What to look for and what to avoid. See ya next week.

Be Well!

–Kevin Carty

What Did We Learn from the Recession: Word on the Street — April 11th thru April 15th

April 17th, 2011 COMMENTS
What Have We Learned

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

It’s Been Over Two Years. What Did We Learn?

I’m curious what you/we learned over the past two years about our industry, your business, and our customers? Here are my thoughts. Please share your thoughts as well and “Leave a Reply.”

First, it goes without saying that the last two years have been hard:  on people, our industry, as well as our customers. But it sure feels like we are all much stronger in so many ways. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. Supplier and partner relationships are more important than ever.

For Classic, this has never been truer. Whether it’s sharing costs on large inventory buys or representing one another on distributor visits, partnering with our suppliers is a key component of our (and their) success. We rely on them for advice, for business, and for another set of eyes and ears in the marketplace.

Thank you 2. You would be wise to respect and thank those folks in your own organizations who helped you get through the recession. They, as well as you, worked very hard and are sure to be working even harder now.

Classic Exhibits is fortunate to have a dedicated, long-tenured staff both administratively and in production. Without their dedication, their creativity, and their patience, we would not have survived and succeeded during the recession!

3. At some point, convention centers in the United States will be engaged in hand-to-hand combat just to survive as state and local subsidies decline. Only then will there be pressure on the General Contractors to play fair with Exhibitors.

In our humble opinion, something has to change. We cannot continue down this path. Eventually, exhibitors will simply refuse to attend or participate in trade show marketing.

Head in Sand Approach

4. Those who took the past two years to innovate in design, manufacturing, marketing and sales are reaping the early benefits as sales continue to increase!

A “Talk to the Hand” mentality may have worked in 2008 when dealing with your customers (a philosophy that Classic has never ascribed to). Customers are not going to, nor should they, put up with that attitude! No one wants to wait while you wade through your “waiting period” or put up with your “do it our way” attitude.

We know many other companies that lived on their “brand” and their “presence” leading into 2008. But never did the light shine so brightly, and poorly quite frankly, on those companies than during the recession. We were all struggling and the last thing you wanted was any sort of non-sympathetic, non-customer centric attitude from your supplier only moments after reviewing your weekly cash projections.

6. There is no guarantee the recession is over!

Turning a blind eye to the possibility that we might slide backwards again would not just be foolish, but it would clearly indicate that you lived with your head in the sand, or somewhere else the past two years.

What was your first car?

What was your first car?

7. Cheap pop-ups and banner stands did not destroy the industry! Rather, they brought new customers that are or soon will be moving upstream into larger more dynamic exhibit needs as their sales and marketing budgets increase.

Remember we all had a “first” car. Mine was a 1970 Datsun B1200 (deluxe mind you). And you know what, it was what I could afford at the time. Then as I began to earn more money, I got nicer cars, etc. etc. etc. By the way, that was not my plane in the background.

8. Social Media is a “tool.” And like any tool, you can use it wisely or misuse it and take your chances.

I don’t need to mention the number of Group Discussions on LinkedIn that that have gone a bit sideways, leaving some folks wishing they had not said quite as much as they did. And then there’s the one person who always has to have the last word.

Bad Service 9. Anyone who tells their customer that you MUST follow their procedures and process or we can’t take your order should be shown the door. Flexibility is key! And trying to operate without it will kill your business in the end.

Take a look back at my blog a few weeks ago regarding trying to order a sample that a vendor had on their shelf and being told that it would take five days due to their process and procedures as a “BIG” company. You get the picture.

10. Design, Features, Message and Price. They are all the same components that every customer needs and considers. Its the order in which they need them that sets one customer apart from the other.

Vacation with the Griswolds

Vacation with the Griswolds

11. We are not all crazy! We all just need a vacation. So take one. You deserve it for staying in business over the past couple years. Kudos!

Those are just a few of many of our observations. How about you? Please share your thoughts and or comments. What did you learn?

I hope you had a great weekend and even better week ahead

Be Well!

–Kevin Carty

SEGUE Sunrise Hybrid Display Animation

April 13th, 2011 COMMENTS

Our compliments to Mike Swartout, our Design Director, for another fantastic product animation. This time he put on his BIG BOY CREATIVE PANTS for the SEGUE Sunrise video. It’s excellent!

The SEGUE Sunrise Portable Hybrid is an affordable trade show exhibit designed as an alternative to a traditional pop up display. The aluminum frame assembles without tools using attached quick-turn knobs. The vibrant fabric graphics slot into the frame using a silicone edge beading.

Enough chatter . . . . You paid good money to attend the premiere, so sit back and enjoy.

Why choose a SEGUE Sunrise?
* Easy, fast assembly
* Durable aluminum extrusion frame
* Large tension fabric graphic
* Convenient packing and shipping options

Stand out from the pop up crowd at your next show with a SEGUE Sunrise.

–Mel White