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Archive for July, 2014

E2MA Red Diamond Congress | Day 2 Notes

July 31st, 2014 2 COMMENTS
Photo courtesy of Deja Views

Photo courtesy of Deja Views

Day 2 (RDC Innovation Day)

It was a day of epiphanies about the trade show industry. Bob McClintock, COO of SMG, gave the morning keynote:  A New Facility Model: Facility as Service Provider. I know. The title sounds pretty boring, but the topic and the speaker were anything but. SMG manages McCormick Place, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and 70 other venues.

A. Evolution of Convention Center Service.

  1. Originally convention center managers were “Landlords.” And Convention Center design could be described as “prison architecture,” or in the trade as “Boxes with Docks.”
  2. Competition has forced them to adapt to become “Service Providers” with the goal of Hotel Quality Experiences.
  3. Those include local, fresh, and healthy culinary experiences, shopping and dining experiences, and updated, contemporary buildings. The new model is designed to keep attendees in the building.
  4. Labor changed as well, adopting a service provider mentality instead of a rights holder attitude.
  5. Finally, he shared three in-progress success stories:  Cobo Center, McCormick Place, and Philadelphia.
  6. I even learned a new acronym to describe the new business model:  WISMBR — What’s in Sight Must Be Right.

As with Day 1, there were more sessions than I could attend, but let me touch briefly on three. Here’s a link to the full Day 2 Schedule.

Photo courtesy of Deja Views

Photo courtesy of Deja Views

B. The Event Forecasting/Measurement Tool, by Bob Hughes. Bob’s company, The Hughes Group, has developed a new event forecasting and management tool that not only allows marketers to validate their exhibit and event spends, but also provides instruction on how marketing, sales, and operations can collaborate to optimize exhibit and event outcomes. It’s a deceptively simple online tool with a powerful database and analytical tools. It’s still in final stages of development, but I’ll let you know when it’s ready. It’s perfect for any trade show manager who wants a clear path to measuring ROI and collaboration with sales and marketing.

C. Driving Business Using Social Media, by Glass Mountain Media. Just a couple of comments from the session and then a very entertaining video about digital media.

  1. Social Media must tell a story about your business and reinforce your culture.
  2. Social Media must have a purpose and data to measure to its effectiveness.
  3. All companies must think of themselves as publishers in a world dominated by digital content.
  4. Quote:  It’s never been easier to reach customers. It’s never been harder to engage customers.
  5. Encourage, not discourage, your employees to use Social Media, but coach them on how to use it for your company.

D. Closing Keynote:  Enhancing Exhibitor Value Enables Show Growth, Amanda Helgemoe and Sue Huff. There’s no possible way I could do justice to this enlightening and informative presentation about the ongoing economic pressures in our industry. Let’s just say that not everyone takes a long-term view about creating a healthy, sustainable face-to-face community. Take time to review the slide show (click on the image). You will see an obvious disparity in rising costs. You will and you won’t be surprised by the results (hint: see the chart below).


Last but not least, a generous thanks to Jim Wurm and his team at E2MA for a terrific conference. If you didn’t attend, you missed something special.

–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


E2MA Red Diamond Congress | Day 1 Notes

July 30th, 2014 COMMENTS

red_diamondDay 1

I’m in Chicago this week for the E2MA Red Diamond Congress. For those unfamiliar with the Exhibit and Event Marketers Association and the RDC . . .

The E2MA is a community of exhibit and event marketers driven to benchmark the value of face-to face marketing. By facilitating discussions among all industry stakeholders, the E2MA’s Red Diamond Congress develops actionable ideas and solutions that can provide for industry growth and success.

What makes the RDC different from other exhibit industry events is the blending of exhibit managers, show organizers, labor contractors, union associations, and exhibit builders and distributors. There are no silos. The RDC brings everyone together to discuss shared concerns. In an industry with a history of finger pointing, it’s a refreshing and practical conference.

For those not here, I took a few notes. Not great notes admittedly, but notes.

WP_001962A. Exhibit and Event Issues:

  1. Competition for marketing budget dollars is increasing, which is . . .
  2. Creating evolving strategies
  3. Mixing tradeshows and events (48% of companies are doing private events)
  4. Forcing cost reduction pressures
  5. Putting even more focus on measurement and ROI

B. Research shows that the more engagement on the show floor, the more successful the purchase intent. Not a surprise.

C. Overall Exhibitor Retention — Average 80% (which means 1 of 5 exhibitors don’t return)

D. Exhibits and Events represent 42% of media spending for companies, second only to digital. That was a surprise to me.

E. 15 consecutive quarters of industry growth with attendance as the leading metric. Good news.

F. Average international attendance at North American shows — 15% of all attendees (at major shows). Is your client prepared for this attendee?

G. $80 billion dollar industry in the U.S.

WP_001959Kudos to the All Industry Panel. A very informative session (which could have been twice as long). It was beneficial to hear the perspectives of these industry leaders.

  • Skip Cox, Exhibit Surveys
  • Jeff Provost, Exhibit Designers and Producers Assn. (EDPA)
  • Brian Casey, Convention and Exhibition Research (CEIR)
  • Larry Arnaudet, Exhibition Service Contractors Assn. (ESCA)
  • Mike Pennington, Healthcare Convention and Exhibition Assn. (HCEA)
  • David DuBois, Intl. Assn. of Exhibits and Events (IAEE)
  • Lew Shomer, Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO)
  • Jim Wurn, Exhibit and Event Marketers Assn. (E2MA)

Special kudos to the Bridging the Generational Gap breakout session hosted by Amy Yag, Amanda Helgemoe, and Pat Friedlander. It was a lively and interactive session on how Baby Boomers, GenX, and Millennials communicate and in particular, how Millennials view the workplace (i.e., corporate culture is big, collaboration is even bigger, and they need and want a clear job description and career path).

The RDC afternoon schedule featured multiple breakout sessions, including the Generational Gap. See the link for the full Day 1 agenda. I attended Developing Your Team and DIY Research, which were both well-presented and informative.

Finally, to my fellow “Dinner with Strangers” at Seasons 22, thank you for the enjoyable evening. I’ve already done a search on the FBI Most Wanted list. No one is in the Top 10 . . . yet.

Day 2 begins in about two hours.

Oh yes, most of the sessions are being recorded, so I’m assuming they’ll be available on the E2MA website at some point.

–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



20 Short and Impactful Years: Word on the Street — July 21st thru July 25th

July 25th, 2014 5 COMMENTS


Back in 1994, specifically in July 1994, I was working the 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift throwing overnight freight at a grocery store in Lake Oswego, Oregon. A co-worker/friend of mine had been telling me about this other job working for his dad’s business. One day, seeing that I was growing weary of the job, he asked if I was interested in coming to talk to his father about an opening. I jumped at the opportunity, if for no other reason than I wanted to see the light of day rather than sleep through it.

After a quick meeting with Lowell Nickens, the founder of Classic Exhibits, I accepted his job offer. July 8, 1994 was my start date at Classic Exhibits.

So this month is my 20th anniversary with Classic. 20 years still seems to boggle my mind, so I had to go back and think about what was going on in 1994.

Classic Exhibits_1In 1994, the Sony Playstation (first edition) was released. Netscape released the first real consumer web browser, the Mosiac 0.9., which allowed us to begin surfing the web at turtle-like speeds. The TV show Friends first aired in 1994. The long awaited Chunnel in Europe was opened, and Pearl Jam released their much acclaimed 3rd studio release album Vitalogy (one of their finest).

Thinking about that really makes me feel old. And I suppose I have aged a bit. But more than anything, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my professional experience at Classic Exhibits. One that I am very grateful for and one that could not have happened if my now brother-in-law hadn’t introduced me to my now father in-law (Lowell Nickens), and he in turn gave me an opportunity to see the light of day.

Life is Truly an Interesting Thing

And I am a person who believes that our lives, in large part, follow a pre-written script. One that is filled with choices, but choices that ultimately lead us down a given path. And this “opportunity” that I was given some 20 years ago is directly responsible for darn near every GREAT thing that has happened to me since.

You see, my friend Eric led me to this job. In doing so, he and I became closer friends. Which led to me meeting his sister. Who is now my beautiful wife. And she in turn gave me two amazing children. Which makes me go back and think . . . Had I not listened to his offer to meet his father in the first place, I likely would not have ever been blessed with my wife and my children.

And this job has afforded me the opportunity to meet some of my best friends and mentors. Ironically, just this morning I was speaking to Rob Cohen from Display Supply and Lighting, someone I consider a great friend in life and business. In that conversation, I happened to share with him the names of some people that I consider to be more than work friends in our industry. And it made me think once again that without this job, I would never have had the opportunity to benefit from their guidance and friendship.

SKU1In the many congratulations I’ve received, people have made comments about how Classic Exhibits has really grown and flourish in part to my contributions. And while I appreciate that, my response has been simple. A good friend once said to me, “The key to building a successful business is to work with as many friends as you can.” And he was/is right. I look around each day at the shop or at any of our other offices and I see people who I genuinely enjoy working side-by-side with each day. People who I appreciate knowing and knowing their families and their life stories.

I Can’t Imagine Anything Else

The idea of coming to a place every day where I just punch a time clock and work beside people who I have no interest in knowing or who have no interest in knowing me seems like Hell on Earth.

So, to our family here at Classic Exhibits, Exhibits Northwest, Classic Rental Solutions, ClassicMODUL, Eco-Systems Sustainable and to all our vendor partners, I want to thank you for giving me a place, filled with great people, to come to each and every day. One that feels like family and allows me to work with people who I am proud to call friends.

Specifically, I want to thank Lowell Nickens (my father-in-law) for giving me an opportunity 20 years ago. And for showing/teaching me so many of the foundational “ism’s” that I have been able to apply in my work and personal life over the past 20 years.

And lastly to Mel White. Thanks for embracing the “Odd-Couple” nature of our partnership. I am pretty sure we have Oscar and Felix beat in many ways my friend. And I appreciate them all as well as your friendship and partnership.

Well, how is that for a sappy Word on the Street?  🙂

Off to vacation I go. I hope you all have a great finish to your July. And I look forward to working with you the remainder of 2014.



A Humbling Lesson About 10 ft. Displays

July 23rd, 2014 COMMENTS

520-10X8-2Safety in Numbers

Over the years, I’ve learned a humbling lesson. There’s safety in numbers when it comes to 10 ft. inline trade show displays. Most exhibitors choose the predictable over the bold, the safe over the dramatic. And while I understand, I also don’t understand. Yes, budget is a factor. Fear too. No one wants to make the wrong decision when purchasing a display. It’s easier to choose something you’ve seen on the show floor rather than a design that’s unfamiliar.

Too often, I’m disappointed when I walk the trade show floor and review the inlines. I see banner stands pretending not to be banner stands. I see weak, pixelated graphics on pop up displays. I see boring pillowcase frames with fuzzy 4-color graphics and cheap hybrid displays with gaping parts and pieces. Sadly, most arts and craft fair exhibits are more creative than the typical corporate inline display.

Now before you think I’m picking on low-cost displays, I’m not. A similar trend can be found in more expensive displays, where the quality is better but design still takes a backseat to predictability.

Taking Chances

So, why the reluctance to take chances? Is it because, as someone once told me, “No one ever got fired for buying a pop up.” That said, I’m going to take a chance, albeit one that’s a bit self-promotional. Below are displays from Exhibit Design Search that do not fall within the “safe zone.” I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts about these designs, understanding that none are below $8000. Some considerably more. These design sell, but not in the same numbers as Sacagawea, Magellan Miracle, or a VK-1321.

Put your customer glasses on, share your thoughts from a buyer’s perspective, and vote for your favorites. In this election, it’s OK to vote for more than one. 😉


Please share your comments. Thanks.

–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


It’s a Partnership that Works — Eco-Systems

July 18th, 2014 COMMENTS

It’s a Little Complicated

Eco-SysWithTaglineThe Classic Exhibits and Eco-Systems Sustainable relationship started about six years ago. In the beginning, we supplied them with ClassicMODUL metal. A couple of years later, we assisted them with design and manufacturing. Then, we agreed to be their exclusive contract manufacturer. It’s a partnership that works, and we’re very proud of the amazing progress they’ve made in design and operations.


Think about it. Over the past six to eight years, there have been any number of new display suppliers, all opening price-point focused, all basically importers. Many no longer in business. Only one did three “really, really smart” things while remaining true to their core principles, even during the recession:

  1. Concentrate exclusively on sustainable materials
  2. Focus on mid-priced, design-focused displays, and
  3. Manufacturer in the United States

Late last week, Eco-Systems took another big step — redesigning their website. For those who have gone through that ordeal, you know how arduous it can at every stage. There are no easy tasks when it comes to website redesign, organization, graphics, and coding. Allow me to commend three people who were immersed in the task for two months:  Eric Albery, the VP of Marketing and Business Development, Glenna Martin, Graphic Design Manager, and Tony Bennett, Classic’s web guru who has created most of your Exhibit Design Search websites. They did an amazing job!

What’s New:

  • Responsive Design. Adjusts to your smartphone, tablet, or desktop screen.
  • Horizontal Layout. It’s silly not to use all the available real estate, and, frankly, an 800 x 600 layout screams “outdated.”
  • Photo Portfolio. Take a stroll through photos of past projects.
  • Search for Setup Instructions. Never fear if you’ve lost your instructions. Starting with January 2014, they are all online.
  • Kit-to-Custom Gallery
  • Easier and Faster Search Options
  • Design Services Template

I invite you to stroll through the new Eco-Systems website. Take your time. You are in for a treat.

–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