Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for July, 2011

Is The Great Recession (TGR) the New Normal?

July 31st, 2011 6 COMMENTS

I enjoy a challenge. Not a Darwin Award challenge or a Mexican Drug Cartel challenge, but a normal middle-class, just risky enough to be an interesting kind of challenge. Three years ago, I thought that meant hiking the Appalachian Trail for a week or installing laminate flooring in three rooms or attending an extended family reunion and not passing judgment on my Appalachian cousins. They were manageable challenges, which had a start date and end date. Or, at the very worst, I could decide to opt out mid-stream.

Three years ago, the U.S. economy lurched into what my peers are calling “The Great Recession” (TGR). We all knew from the get-go that it was going to be bad. How couldn’t it be after nearly every U.S. citizen contributed in some measure to the collapse, either by living beyond their means or by allowing our political and corporate leaders to convince us that laissez-faire meant being lazy about our responsibilities. We forgot that humans can be benevolent and altruistic 49% of the time, but at our core we are self-centered and greedy. That’s why we have religion and governments and clans and tribes to keep us connected and restrain our worst instincts. At the same time, we forgot what it was like living in America in the late 19th Century or post WW1 to 1927. Somehow we thought were smarter than history because we had computers and miracle drugs and sweat-wicking clothing.

What we didn’t know about TGR was that it was going to last three years and counting. We thought it would mimic the recessions we’d know in our lifetimes: severe and painful but limited to a year or two. About every month or so, the government or the press would tease us with quasi-good news about unemployment, manufacturing numbers, the stock market, interest rates, etc. We would each fixate on different economic indicators, depending on our individual circumstances.

Economic Ray of SunshineLately, the new normal was becoming more normal, like finally coming to terms with a five-to-eight year prison term after wrestling with it for three years. We were making the best of a bad situation, and using the time to become a better person or a better company because you might as well use your time wisely. While I can’t and won’t speak for most Americans, I can at least say that there seemed to be a window of hope, a promising patch of sunshine on a cloudy grey day. The economy was improving, and those companies that were nimble and resourceful were doing well.

Left, Right, or Center

Now, all that is threatened. Regardless of your political leanings, left, right, or center, you have to be frustrated by the intransigence of our politicians. They have become ideologues, narrow-minded and uncompromising. And who can blame them. Based on the noise from their loudest constituents and wealthiest patrons, they are being told to take impossibly rigid positions, positions that once announced will be recorded and replayed again and again in future elections. Goodness knows, we don’t want our politicians to be “flip-floppers” who change their minds depending on which way the political wind blows (at worse) or based on the most logical arguments (at best). We have become what we criticize in other countries — narrow-minded, fanatical, and illogical. Slaves to our media, religious, and corporate talking heads who claim to want what’s best for our country, but who seem to thrive in a system that promotes chaos and benefits their financial pocketbook.

Perhaps, just perhaps, our federal government has become too transparent, too 24/7. Our politicians no longer have the luxury to befriend their rivals, to negotiate reasonable tradeoffs, to make mistakes. Don’t misunderstand me. The ethically challenged still get elected, as well as the just plain stupid. But, we need to give our leaders, the representatives, senators, and President, the opportunity to be leaders and not just politicians. We didn’t get into this situation overnight. We won’t get out of it overnight. Yet, there seems to be the “necessity” to fix it with either a machete or a vibrator. All pain or all pleasure.

That said . . . I don’t have an answer. And, if you think you do, then frankly, you’re delusional. But, what we can all agree on is that the ray of sunshine is fading quickly, and TGR is about to become the New Normal. We need a reasonable approach from the left, the right, and the crackpots.

A county judge once told me during a mediation session that he knew he’d done his job when both sides left unhappy about the final outcome but shook hands anyway.

Folks, it’s time to suck it up and do what’s right for the entire country, not just for those screaming the loudest. While I like challenges, I’m getting a little weary of this one. I bet you are too.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.

Silicone Edge Graphics (SEG) as Wall Murals and Displays

July 28th, 2011 COMMENTS

To Classic Exhibit and ClassicMODUL Distributors

We all know that floor space is limited in most of your showrooms. Yet, you need a way to show the clean, uncluttered look of Silicone Edge Graphics (SEG). Here’s a solution. Chances are you have wall space available, or you’ve finally decided to replace that motel art you bought at the State Fair back in 1983. Exhibits Northwest Portland, a division of Classic Exhibits Inc., faced the same dilemma. They were getting requests for SEG displays and frames, but only had a 1 ft x 1 ft frame to show how SEG slotted into the ClassicMODUL aluminum extrusion frame. Clients kind of understood the concept, but only vaguely.

So, they made two inexpensive investments. First, they purchased TSP 10 frames from ClassicMODUL and had SEG showroom graphics printed by Optima Graphics. Then they mounted these frames on the walls between their offices. They chose images familiar to their Northwest clients, i.e., scenic views of Oregon. See below.

Silicone Edge Graphics (SEG) Wall Murals

Next, they added a SEGUE Sunrise to their showroom. The Sunrise measures 7.5 ft and 7.5 ft, assembles without tools, and packs in a SEGUE Sunrise Trade Show Displayportable, roto-molded case. It allows clients to see how a large format silicone edge graphic maximizes the visual space by minimizing the visible extrusion. It gives them a starting point with SEG exhibits, whether they choose a SEGUE Sunrise or an island kit with extensive silicone edge graphics like the VK-5075.

At a minimum, we believe that every trade show distributor should have several wall mounted SEG murals. They will attract attention, have a functional purpose, and are an inexpensive and practical additional to your showroom.

Bottom line . . . Even though you cry whenever you glance at the portrait of “Baby Girl” in your lobby, even Baby Girl, the poodle who meant everything to you, would want you to move on with your life and replace the portrait with an SEG mural. Those flowers you place on her grave every month cost money!!! Time to sell a display.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.

First-Timer Stories: Word on the Street — July 18th thru July 22nd

July 24th, 2011 COMMENTS
First Timers

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Stranger in a Strange Land

Three months ago, we embarked on a new relationship with an IT vendor, and it has been nothing short of stellar. The vendor, Convergence Networks, has quickly vaulted into one of our best relationships. because they are responsive, knowledgeable, and totally customer focused.

Last month, Convergence came to Classic Exhibits asking for our assistance. They had agreed to be the main sponsor of a business-to-business event organized by the Portland Business Journal. This would be their very first trade show of any kind, which made their sponsorship commitment even scarier. Needless to say, we were delighted to guide them through the maze that is trade shows.

It proved to be an interesting experience for both Mel and me. Like many veterans of this business, we tend to forget what it must be like going to your first event. What we have all come to assume as second nature is actually totally foreign to those new to the game. Just having to traverse through all the rules, regulations and complexities that come with attending a show meant learning a new language and a new business model for them, one that doesn’t always seem transparent and logical.

Confused by Trade ShowsFor example, navigating your way through the exhibitor manual can be daunting. Recall the first time you read through that manual and attempted to complete those forms. It’s a nightmare. At one point, I asked Convergence if they knew how much electricity would be provided for their booth, which was the largest space in the show. Had we not asked, they would have had just enough juice to power a Crest Spinbrush or a cell phone charger.

Even for us, there were surprises like the move-in and move-out schedule. Except for Convergence, everyone had a 10 x 10′ (but more on that in a moment). We built them a 10 x 20 Visionary Designs Hybrid Exhibit with two computer counters along the front aisle. All packed into a small crate. You can imagine our surprise when we noticed that the move-in was limited to 5-7 p.m. and that there were no drayage services! This important fact was not shared with them when they paid for their sponsorship. Maybe show management thought that they could conjure up a display using a magical incantation and then levitate it into their show space. 🙂

Anyway, I am not beating anyone up here. In reality thanks to DWA Tradeshow Service (the general contractor) everything came together very nicely. And Convergence was the class act of the show by having a custom hybrid exhibit with tension fabric graphics, counters, lighting, and carpet. Everyone else had banner stands, posters hanging from the pipe and drape, or a pop up. They were the McMansion on a street of manufactured houses. Convergence really stood out as the title sponsor, which brought them lots of leads. The owner told me that he expects to recoup his investment many times over and put much of the credit on their “presence” at the show.

Please share your example(s) of helping a First Timer with their first trade show experience. What did they learn (or not learn) and how did those experiences influence how you assist other First Timers. I know you “old timers” have many humorous, painful, and interesting stories to pass along to the Classic Distributor Network.

Have a safe and restful weekend.

–Kevin Carty

The $500K Question: Word on the Street — July 11th thru July 15th

July 17th, 2011 1 COMMENT
Winning the Lottery

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

What You Would Do if You Won the Lottery?

I remember a couple of years ago when Powerball was up to some crazy amount like $280 million. Or how someone from a small town in Washington State won Mega Millions for $380 million. If you are like me, you always wonder, “What would I do if I won the lottery?”

There are the obvious answers like pay bills, buy a new house, make sure all your kids, relative’s kids, and friend’s kids get money for college. Or you could be like my step-dad who seriously had a plan. Which caught me off guard because he is a real no nonsense guy, yet he seriously had it all planned out as if he had already won. And he only plays the lottery when its over 100 million dollars because then and only then does it seem logical to buy a ticket. We all know people like that. Heck, I am one for that matter. For some silly reason, a meager 50 million dollar jackpot is not worth $1. 🙂

But let’s shift gears a bit and put this into a more practical scenario.

What would you do if you came into work on Monday and there was a $500,000 check made out to your business waiting for you to deposit? It was not for a job or for anything other than for you to invest into your business. What would you do with it? How would you spend it? Really think about it. It may not be a lottery windfall, but it is a substantial amount of money. How would you get the biggest bang for your buck.

My answer comes from from something I heard on a reality TV show called Shark Tank. In the episode, there was an entrepreneur with an already successful product and business. It was a no-brainer for any of the potential Shark Investors to invest in. Until they started asking some tough, thought-provoking questions. You see, the product was already successful and doing quite well at a 200% markup. Yet the business plan, should entrepreneur get the investment funds, was to make a lower cost/lower margin version of this niche product in order to bring it the larger market. So the investment dollars would go towards developing a mass market version.

The Shark Investors all started saying no to the opportunity because, in their wisdom, they realized that the entrepreneur was missing the big picture. Meaning, he already had a great niche product that reaped a better than average profit margin. So, why not take the investment dollars and grow those sales by broadening the sales footprint, whether by hiring more regional sales reps or creating a better web presence for people to access the product. As one investor said and I paraphrase, “In the end, I would rather have a 1.5 million dollar niche business/product that sells for a 200% profit margin than a 3 million dollar business that produces a 25% margin.”

Which leads me to what I would do if I had the $500,000 to invest. I would invest in Human Capital such as Sales Reps, Designers and PM’s. And of course Marketing personnel.

The thought being, we already have what I would consider some of the best products and production capabilities, including all the CNC technology you could want. Along with that, we have a solid reputation as a good company and a great place to work. We are a company that firmly believes in the power of relationship sales backed by great product lines. So I would invest in the Human Capital to help grow the business:  Designers to keep us on the leading edge of design, Sales Reps to increase visits with distributors, and Project Managers to fulfill the sales process and to continue to improve the customer experience. And Marketing folks to create additional education and web-based tools for distributors.

So . . . take the challenge. If you suddenly had $500,000 to invest in your business, what would you do with it? Would you invest in people, technology, showroom displays, or something else. Share your plan . . . And flying to Las Vegas and putting it all on the roulette table doesn’t count. This isn’t a Chevy Chase movie.

Have a safe and restful weekend.

–Kevin Carty

When Imitation IS NOT the Sincerest Form of Flattery

July 13th, 2011 3 COMMENTS

Magellan MOR VK-1078

Under the Heading of “Are You Friggin’ Kidding Me?!”

This week, we received a booth for storage, which is a service we offer through our Exhibits Northwest division. Like normal, we assembled it to determine if there were any issues. Now, here’s where it gets really interesting.

The display was built by ‘Blue” (and you know who I mean). Frankly, we have a great deal of respect for “Blue.” They have been market leaders for over 20 years in design, marketing, and product innovation. They know trade show marketing, and they know how to sell design. As a leader, you expect them to be trendsetters, not imitators. Certainly, you don’t expect them to copy iconic designs from other manufacturers. That wouldn’t make sense. They are “Blue,” and “Blue” doesn’t even acknowledge that there are other system manufacturers. But I digress.

Over three years ago, Classic Exhibits introduced two distinctive display designs, both in response to the recession. The designs were the Magellan Miracle and Magellan MOR. These designs were intended to offer customers a sexy hybrid look, but at a more affordable price than upscale hybrids like Visionary Designs. There were fewer bells and whistles, but the Magellan kits included large format tension fabric graphics, curved metal, monitor, and counter options. These designs have been successful because they are engineered well, they assemble quickly, and they pack in portable roto-molded cases with die-cut foam packaging.

Too often, success breeds envy (or so we’re told) and the itch to imitate that success is often overpowering. Well, the display we assembled, as you can tell by the photo, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Magellan MOR VK-1078 and VK-2099.

Our first response was to be angry at “Blue” for copying our design. But, then we examined the display more closely and got really, really pissed off. It’s one thing to copy a design. It’s another to copy a design and butcher it. We felt sorry for their customer who went to “Blue” with a Classic rendering and the hope of a lightweight, easy-to-assemble, and attractive display . . . but got this.

At the risk of giving our competition a leg up, we’ll share with them what they got wrong.

  1. The Magellan MOR’s design is based on a smooth lightweight aluminum profile with a horizontal S-curve. We use the MODUL Z 45 extrusion. The metal should frame the graphic, not compete with it. The “Blue” design uses a large 50 mm grooved square profile, which is both physically and visually heavy. We hesitate to use the term unattractive. It’s not. Instead, think of it as an awkward teenager — no longer a cute child and not quite a confident adult.
  2. When you bend metal, the bending can create roller marks or cracks in the clear anodizing. Since you don’t want a customer who’s spending $8K or $16K to receive a less than perfect display, you have to re-anodize or powder-coat the metal. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s the right thing to do. Guess what didn’t happened to this display? Yep!
  3. Portable displays are supposed to be easy-to-assemble, which is why we designed the Magellan (and the Sacagawea and Perfect 10) with knobs. While a few components may still require the hex key tool, such as counters or base plates, the goal is to make it easy and intuitive. We do. Our doppelganger twin did not.
  4. Here’s an easy one. Graphics should fit. There’s a reason they’re call “tension fabric graphics” not “shower curtain graphics.”
  5. Finally, make it easy for show labor to assemble and disassemble it. When they don’t understand how something should assemble, they use a sledgehammer when a screwdriver would be appropriate. Or in this case, they used a drill and a hammer again and again and again.

Next time, just ask us for assistance. While we won’t deny that we’re proud of our designs and our engineering, we’d much rather know that a customer got a display they’ll love for years and years, even if it’s not built by Classic Exhibits.

Happy Exhibiting!

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100.