Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for December, 2011

Small Can Be Beautiful

December 29th, 2011 2 COMMENTS

Pintos, Gremlins, and Vegas

I can already hear the chuckles and see the smirks. Anyone who knows me, knows it would be a stretch for me to be chosen as a forward or center on any basketball team. I barely qualify as a guard on most middle school teams. But this is not about my height. It was inspired by an article in The New York Times about the unloved small car trio of the Pinto, Vega, and Gremlin (Import Fighters? No, Just Punchlines).

Chevrolet Vega

Chevrolet Vega

While many of my friends owned Pintos and Gremlins, I owned a 1975 white notch-back Vega. I loved that car. By 1975, GM had fixed the most glaring problems with the Vega, including seal leaks and a tendency to rust whenever dark clouds appeared. I bought the car used (less than 12,000 miles) from a father who worried the car would die somewhere between WV and FL where his daughter was attending college. 130,000 miles later, the car finally left me stranded on the side of the road outside of Versailles, KY.

With one or two exceptions, small cars in the 70’s and 80’s, whether domestic or foreign, were designed for the frugal, the poor, or the seriously brain addled. Or in my case, all three. You prayed they would last 75,000 miles. You accepted the fact that no one would ever give you a thumbs up at a stop light, and you set your sights on a girlfriend or boyfriend who respected “value” and “inner beauty.” Small cars were unloved, and the manufacturers did very little to make them loveable.

The history of portable trade show displays is not much different. Through much of the 80’s and 90’s, they were functional rather than beautiful. Pop ups were lightweight and convenient, and if you could afford mural graphics, often attractive (if at times fragile). Folding panel systems were more durable, but regardless of how many detachable graphics, lightboxes, shelves, or backlit headers were added, they were folding walls with carpet. And they were heavy. Laminate modular systems upped the ante a bit since they mimicked many custom features. These were an improvement, but the prices were no longer portable.

Times Have Changed

Perfect 10 VK-1507

Over the past 7-8 years, trade show display manufacturers have evolved, much like the auto industry. Smaller products come in far more designs, in a wide range of price points, and can be basic or upscale. No display category speaks to that more than “hybrids.” Hybrid displays are much sexy than pop ups or panel systems, without necessarily sacrificing the benefits of portability or modularity. Hybrids combine engineered aluminum extrusion and large format tension fabric graphics with just about anything else that makes sense. And because metal can be bent, hybrids move beyond squares, rectangles, and 90 degree corners. Curves elevate simple designs into alluring, attractive, and lightweight displays.

Does that mean hybrids are custom displays? Not necessarily yes, but not necessarily no. The very nature of a hybrid display makes it somewhat of a chameleon. For example, they can be simple 10 ft. kits between $4k to $8k, or ground-up island designs between $60k to $160k. It’s their upscale look and adaptability that make them popular choices. Hybrids can pack in portable roto-molded cases or ship in custom crates, all depending on the complexity, scale, and features of the exhibit.

What Makes Them Different?

So what makes similar hybrids different from manufacturer to manufacturer? Design for one. In that respect, it’s very similar to buying a car. There are certain looks that appeal to us, and others that don’t. Features are another. For example, you may need locking storage, a large monitor option, or an iPad solution. Not all manufacturers or designs will address those requirements. Finally, there’s assembly, packaging, and quality. Except for design, this is where you’ll find the biggest difference between hybrid manufacturers.

  • Assembly:  You have a choice. There’s the ‘bag of bolts” approach, where assembling a hybrid requires multiple tools, loose parts, and generic instructions. Unfortunately, there’s no rule of thumb since price doesn’t dictate ease of assembly. It depends on whether the manufacturer values easy assembly and custom instructions. Manufacturers who value easy assembly design their systems with attached knobs and connectors. This approach limits the number of loose parts, and all components are numbered (and referenced in the instructions). There’s a night and day difference between a “bag of bolts” vs. “knob and attached connectors.”
  • Packaging: Few exhibitors think about packaging when purchasing an exhibit, but they should. Quality manufacturers sweat the details. They make sure that packing is just as easy as unpacking. They remove the guesswork. They don’t rely on bubble wrap and lightweight disposable foam, but die-cut foam packaging, fabric lined crates, and permanent jigging.
  • Quality: You know it when you see it. It reveals itself in hundreds of tiny, seemingly insignificant ways. Is everything labeled? Has the exhibit arrived clean? Is the case protected? Are the instructions specific to your display? Does the exhibit look remarkable after 10, 15, 20 shows? When shopping for a new display, ask your exhibit consultant to compare the quality of one system to another. There’s a reason why one costs $4k but another one $7k?

Exhibit Design SearchIf you are shopping for a new display, we invite you to browse through Exhibit Design Search, the world’s largest database of exhibit designs. In addition to pop ups, banner stands, table tops, and hanging signs, you’ll find over 500 portable, modular, and custom hybrid displays. Each one can be customized to your unique trade show marketing goals.

And if you’re still exhibiting with the trade show equivalent of a Pinto, Gremlin, or Vega . . .  it’s time to get a new ride. Times have changed and Small is Now Beautiful.

–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 or

Happy Holidays from the Classic Family

December 23rd, 2011 1 COMMENT

Classic Exhibits Holiday Greeting

Happy Holidays from Classic Exhibits

Trade Show Display Videos on YouTube

December 15th, 2011 COMMENTS

Trade Show Display Videos

For several years, Classic Exhibits has posted trade show display videos on our YouTube channel. It just makes sense. After all, we’re in a visual marketing medium so why not take advantage of videos. Most are product assembly animations showing Perfect 10, Magellan, SEGUE, Sacagawea . . . in addition to other Classic product lines.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are a few . . . all in the hopes of sparking comments about what videos you would like to see in the future.

Enjoy! And let us know what if there are any videos you would like us to create.

Perfect 10 Portable Hybrid Display

SEGUE Lightbox

SEGUE Sunrise Portable Display

Sacagawea PS Series Portable Hybrid Display

Aero Overhead Hanging Sign

Aero Portable Table Top

Quadro EO Pop Up Display

Sacagawea P Series Portable Hybrid Display

Classic Exhibits / ClassicMODUL Shop Tour

Finally, if you haven’t toured our facility, here’s a 10 minute “unscripted” video showing some of our production capability. The video is not narrated and excludes the offices, the rental division, exhibit storage, and our metal inventory. You’ll see examples of CNC metal bending, milling, assembly, and wood fabrication.

–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.

Why We’ll Never Be the Cheapest

December 14th, 2011 4 COMMENTS

The Cheapest

Back Off Scrooge!

Back Off Scrooge!

Anyone who sells a product or provides a service will invariably get asked at some point, “Why aren’t your prices lower?” That’s a tough question because the answer isn’t always what the questioner wants to hear. Frankly, everyone thinks everyone else charges too much. It’s the nature of buying and selling.

At Classic Exhibits, we get asked that question from time to time. Typically, it’s by a distributor who’s competing against an online display website like or Their prices are cheaper, sometimes significantly cheaper on basic products like pop ups, banner stands, etc.

We could apologize . . . but we won’t. We’re not selling products of similar quality and design or offering the same “take it or leave it” service.  So, why are our prices our prices?

1. Better Products. Better Designs. Whether it’s a hybrid display, a table top, or a pop up, our products are meant to survive a typical trade show schedule for years. In addition, they blend practical performance with upscale design and innovative accessories. We don’t copy. We create.

2. Customized Set-up Instructions. Except for a basic Quadro or Intro, every customer receives detailed, customized set-up instructions for their display, including individually numbered components. These instructions are available 24/7 as PDF downloads from the Classic website should they ever be lost or misplaced.

3. Customized Packaging. The thought of wrapping a display in bubble wrap and jamming it into a box gives us the heebie jeebies. Nearly every product is packaged in customized packaging which includes die-cut foam packaging for Sacagawea, Perfect 10, and Magellan. Even our crates are full lined with fabric and jigged for most components.

4. Complimentary Design. It’s a service you expect in order to be competitive.

5. Flexible Production. We build displays. We don’t just pull boxes from shelves. Building displays requires that you build to your client’s requirements, even if it starts with a basic kit. Our experienced production team averages eight years of service at Classic Exhibits.

6. Project Management. That’s an important concept. Our PM’s complete detailed CAD drawings, create graphic dim sheets, and manage the order from inception until it ships. They are responsible for approving the final product and working with you in a timely and professional manner. They are not clerks. They are project managers. None have fewer than four years of experience as a trade show PM. One has 20 years and another 10 years of experience.

7. Marketing. We’re not attempting to create a national brand by advertising in airline magazines or on random websites. We advertise a bit in some industry publications and support industry organizations like EDPA, TSEA, and participate in EXHIBITOR. Most of our marketing budget goes toward creating tools for distributors like Exhibit Design Search. And we offer this at a discount ($300) for an online tool that has cost Classic over $450,000 to develop and maintain. Why? We want to build your brand in your market. EDS is an effective tool for our distributors and for Classic, and it’s hope that it engenders loyalty and increased sales for everyone.

8. Made in the USA. This may or may not matter to you or your customers, but nearly all of our products are made and/or assembled in the United States.

9.  Reliable Partners. We are loyal to our partners, like Optima Graphics and Eco-Systems Sustainable. You expect consistency and quality from Classic Exhibits, and we expect the same from our vendor partners. That’s not always possible when you are always chasing the lowest prices just for the sake of the lowest prices.  It’s always possible to get something cheaper. And we are always researching better options, but not at the cost of quality or reliability.

10. We’re not Assholes. If we screw up, we fix it. We don’t ignore you, blame you, or gouge you. We fix it. If you make a mistake, we work with you. When it comes to prices, we refuse to play the “bait and switch” game. Our prices are clear with “includes” and “excludes” noted.  There’s no attempt to show the “full meal deal” but list a “dollar meal” price. Why play that game unless you know it’s the only way you can attract attention? Let face it. We all know a few companies who love to dangle the deal, only to jerk it back once you read the mouse print.

Yes, it’s true. We aren’t the cheapest, but we’re also not the most expensive compared to our competitors. We sit in the comfortable middle, providing high quality products, exceptional service, and remarkable design at a reasonable trade show price. It’s who we are. We’ll never compete with, but it’s not our market or our customer. Nor, for the most part, is it yours.

Let us know your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you.

–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.

EDPA Access 2011 Review: Word on the Street — Dec. 5th thru Dec. 9th

December 11th, 2011 1 COMMENT
EDPA Access 2011

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

EDPA Access Review

Success! The one word that describes EDPA Access this year!

This year’s event was set at the beautiful J.W. Las Vegas Marriott Resort and Spa. It not only provided a beautiful setting, but also a nice venue for the Supplier Showcase, the networking events, and the conference sessions.

Kudos to everyone responsible for pulling the event together.

Day One started with the golf outing and the fishing event. While I did not participate in the fishing event, I heard it was very successful and that Lake Mead was beautiful. I did, however, participate in the golf outing and the TPC Las Vegas was quite the golf course. And congrats to Chris Clark playing in the group behind me. He hit a hole in one! Stealing away any chance for my “Closest to the Pin” prize. 🙂

Later that evening I had to leave the event, heading home early for the 5th birthday of my beautiful twins, but Mel, Reid, and Jim stayed to take in the rest of the event. And from their accounts and the accounts of countless others, it was the best EDPA Access ever.

Highlights included the Speed Networking Event. A cool idea in which, like speed dating, you get two minutes with another attendee to get to know one another and learn about their business. Several sessions focused on doing business with Chinese companies both in America and in Asia . Many attendees found these sessions very insightful with the growing trend of Chinese companies participating in shows in the States. At the Silent Auction benefiting the EDPA Foundation, I heard from organizers that they raised much more than they had expected. Thanks to all of you who helped out and donated. Overall education still remains the primary focus of the Access event and this year the curriculum as a whole was by far the best in recent history.

EDPA Access 2011Just to mention a few of the sessions:

  • Management Issues Forum
  • Building and Maintaining Your Sales Pipeline
  • Social Media 201
  • A Dozen Technologies to Bet On
  • Designing and Installing Retail Experiences
  • Global Design Trends to Bet On

There was a terrific session moderated by Jay Burkette about “New Systems and the Hybrid Trend” which generated a lot of conversations about hybrid trends, the definition of “hybrid,” and whether aluminum extrusion is a fad or a long-term fixture in our industry.

Networking is always a big focus at EDPA Access. In addition to the golf and fishing outings, networking events included:

  • First-timer’s Reception
  • Welcome Reception
  • President’s Gala
  • Poolside Reception
  • Breakfast Roundtables

The only criticism I heard was that  the venue was too far from the Vegas Strip. And to that all I can say is . . . That’s the point!

On Tuesday afternoon, I attended the EDPA Board meeting. As a proud member of the board, I really appreciated the time we spent together reviewing what I can only say is a very healthy industry on a really positive growth pattern. Building quality partnerships with other associations both here in the States and in Europe and Asia to broaden the reach and depth of the EDPA and its members.

Thanks to all the Classic and ClassicMODUL distributors who came to this year’s event. I hope and trust that you found the event educational and beneficial for you and your organizations. You represent a very important and growing segment of the EDPA membership. Please share your experience with others who have been on the fence as it relates to attending this annual event.

Mark your calendars for next year. The meeting will be held in Palm Springs, CA at the Renaissance Resort and Spa the week after Thanksgiving. And it is sure to  even better than this year’s event.

Thanks again to Jeff Provost, Kelly Cingari, and Anna Lawler to name a few for all the hard work they put in to making the event a huge success!

If you attended, please share your thoughts of the event.

Be Well.

–Kevin Carty