Trade Show TalesBlog

Don’t Pity the Pop Up Display

February 2nd, 2015 11 COMMENTS
Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

Over the years, I’ve had a bit of an obsession with trade show pop up displays. I started my career working for a pop up manufacturer in the mid-nineties back when pop ups still elicited WOWs! and most fabric units sold for $3600.

Back then, I could talk about the idiosyncrasies of one frame vs. another frame, the strengths of one channel bar vs. the competitors, and the nuances of a magnet-to-magnet vs. a magnet-to-metal panel connection. Frankly, we were in a brutal pop up war based on features and benefits, and took delight comparing fiberglass to aluminum, skinny to square tubes, and my favorite, the difference between self-locking to connector-locking frames. Even the cases were part of the daily sales battle.

Those Days are Long Gone

Many customers are not concerned about the features and benefits of pop ups. They are shopping exclusively on price; they want it to last a few shows, and they are less concerned about all the bells and whistles or whether the frame has a lifetime warranty. But they should. Good pop up display systems are amazing. They are versatility, portable, durable, and offer remarkable graphic impart. However . . .

Treat Me with Respect. I've Earned It.

Treat Me with Respect. I’ve Earned It.

The pop up, once the pride and joy of any portable trade show program, has lost its luster. Where we once treated it like a dress from Saks Fifth Avenue, carefully hanging it in plastic and sending it to the dry cleaners, many now treat it like a skirt and blouse from Ross and wash it with our dirty underwear and towels. They wear it after it has faded. They wear it wrinkled. They wear it after it’s missing buttons. They continue wearing it because it’s comfortable and convenient, not because it’s flattering.

You still see pop ups everywhere, but they are often assembled haphazardly, showing their age, or leaning precariously like a hillbilly shack.

Frankly, seeing them saddens me because I know, as do you, that pop ups can be attractive and effective displays, particularly when combined with the right accessories, such as shelves, shadowboxes, monitor mounts, and headers. But it’s rare to see them with these accessories since the budget pop ups have all but abandoned them. That’s a mistake. No other display does more than a pop up for the price. No other affordable display has more accessories or more visual impact — dollar for dollar. However . . .

Walk on Any Trade Show Floor. You’ll See the Following:

1. The Flapper:  A good 50 percent of the pop ups have at least one end panel waving at attendees.  Apparently, attaching an end panel has become either too labor intensive for many exhibitors, or to be fair, something has broken making it impossible to attach them. And fixing it is too much trouble.

2. The Old Lady:  We are a society obsessed with youth, except when it comes to pop up graphics. Wrinkles, creases, and de-lamination are perfectly acceptable. I’ve seen graphics so battered and abused that I involuntarily looked away in embarrassment.

3. The Hurler:  The setup instructions for most pop up displays have apparently changed. You stand 6 feet away from the frame and toss the panels on the channel bars. Wherever they land, that’s where they stay.

4. The Barn Door: We all know the expression, “Your barn door is open.” You’re just one crossed leg away from giving everyone a freebie they don’t want.  In the past month, I’ve seen two pop up displays with missing front panels. When I asked one exhibitor about it, she said, “Yea, we lost it about a year ago and the owner doesn’t want to pay to have it replaced.”

4. The Muscle Shirt: Do you have a male relative who wears a sleeveless muscle shirt to every gathering, including Thanksgiving Dinner? This same “dude” was last seen standing in front of a pop up display without end panels. Yes, it’s an acceptable look for tension fabric pop ups like Xpression, but not traditional pop ups. It’s tacky.

5. The Cripple:  I know. I know. That term isn’t PC anymore, but we’re talking about a pop up not a person. These pop ups have broken connectors, missing channel bars, bent frames, and snapped hanger pins. Duct tape is visible. Plastic security ties are considered hi-tech repairs. If this was a loved one, you’d give it an overdose of morphine just to put it out of its misery.

6. The Creatively Confused: Now I can’t attest to seeing this, but a distributor told me about it last week. The exhibitor had managed to attach the pop up panels to the convex/reverse side of the curve frame. He then complained that the pop up wasn’t as attractive as the one he’d seen in the showroom. I believe his booth was next to to guy in the muscle shirt, who coached him through the setup.

Make My Day!

Make My Day!

7. The Just Passing Through: Every pop up exhibitor should purchase the case-to-counter wrap. They’re brilliant and practical particularly when combined with a graphic. But there’s always the booth with just the case . . . the battered, scarred, and naked case holding brochures, business cards, or a fishbowl. This person is so anxious to leave the show that even hiding the case behind the display or converting it to a case-to-counter unit is too much trouble. I’m guessing that Golden Corral once ran out of shrimp when he didn’t arrive by 5:15 pm after a show. Well . . . that will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!

Perhaps, I’m simply getting sentimental, but I miss those days when pop ups were respected and coddled. I yearn for those exhibitors who carefully put their graphic panels back in the plastic sleeves, and whose eyes widen with wonder the first time they opened the frame.

I’m still in awe of pop up displays. They do so much, and the good ones, the really good ones, have the power to transform a simple 10 x 10 space with large graphics, shelves, and a monitor (or two). I still see them on trade show floors. When I do, I can’t help but smile, and invariably, I find myself stepping into the booth and complimenting the exhibitor on their 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.

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11 Responses to “Don’t Pity the Pop Up Display”

  1. Carlo Seta says:

    Great article Mel,

    My favorite pop-ups are the old tempo fabric (fabric peeling of course).
    Blank Mauve wall with the show provided name sign hanging over the top!

  2. Well put, Mel! Guess what those exhibitors don’t realize is that their “Flapper,” “Hurler” or “Barn Door” is speaking far louder than whatever is on the remaining graphic panels. If they’re not willing to either maintain or replace their display, perhaps they should re-evaluate if there’s any reason to be exhibiting at all. A trade show is all about how you present yourself, and that certainly isn’t presenting a professional image!

  3. Bill Miller says:

    Great article. I’ve seen every one of these booths at the shows I attend as well, with the exception of the Creatively Confused – but I will keep my eyes out in order to complete the set. The flapper and the muscle shirt are by FAR the biggest culprits in my experience.

    It’s almost like the people don’t think anyone will notice (feel free to substitute “hope” and / or “don’t care if” for the word “think” as needed). More likely that people notice and just don’t say anything to the exhibitor about it as they don’t want to be rude, or they just want to get their hands on the squeeze toy or free pen – so they get through the show and THINK no one noticed. But what really happens is that the attendees make the mental note regarding that exhibitor that they don’t have attention to detail or pride in their work. Like it or not – the trade show exhibit is their first impression of the company, and if it is a mess, then they make the connection that the company itself is a mess.

    And the funny part is, exhibitor will walk away saying – “I don’t know why I go to these things. I just don’t get any business from them.” A self-fulfilling prophecy as it turns out.

  4. Janice Breuer says:

    This is a great list, Mel, and #7 is the BEST! I can just see it now – like putting on your jacket inside-out. At my last company a few years back, we had a fleet of pop-ups. We treated them with some respect and they served us well for a long time. No matter what type or size display you are sending to a show, it deserves the time and attention of inspecting, repairing or replacing between shows. Anything less just comes off looking like you were unwilling to put forth the required effort.

  5. Dennis says:

    Hi Mel,

    Funny article. I enjoyed reading it. You forgot my favorite, “The Short Pants with Black Socks pulled up to the knees while wearing sandals” Pop Up. This is when a company uses the Pop Up with all fabric panels and places random detachable graphics on it instead of taking advantage of the beautiful full mural graphic capability. The old saying, “Penny saved, Pound foolish” comes to mind.

  6. mel says:

    Don’t get me started on the abuse of detachable graphics. It’s possible for them to look tolerable, but not on copy paper printed on a $49 inkjet printer.

  7. Jaime says:

    Here is a good one. When I was selling actually one of the best Pop-Up displays in the market place, one of my clients (Financial industry) took the fabric case cover and used it for carpeting the booth 10 x 10 area. Classic, nothing seems to amaze me any more.

  8. Might add two more, Mel, just to round up to a nice even 10…

    THE WICKED STEPCHILD: This is the popup that has been passed around from division to division, has had so many field reps that have been told to handle the setup and repack themselves that, like the brakes of a car that wear out too fast with multiple drivers (can’t you hear the metal-to-metal squealing now?), this unit has multiple “issues” that you’ve described above, not just one. It’s been so so overused, that it’s been orphaned…and no division will take “ownership” of the upkeep of it any more.

    THE MCFLY: We still see that occasional exhibitor out there that has traveled back in time, whereby the velcro attached roll-on header is accompanied by (4) 20″x30″ evenly-spaced detachable graphics (usually copy panels) and a literature shelf. The McFly is in decent shape…the hardware is just fine. However, its the design that has “worn out”, yet the exhibitor feels that if they somehow lay these graphics perfectly flat, with an anal-retentive eye to spacing these sticky graphics, somehow it will still communicate an image of professional, capable and worthy of your business, to Mr. and Mrs. Attendee.

    Call Vice Principal Strickland, Biff. This exhibitor needs detention.

  9. mel says:

    Chris — I should not have read your post while drinking a pop. There’s now Diet Coke all over my keyboard . . . McFly! Hilarious.

  10. DeWayne says:

    This post is hilarious, keep up the good work.

  11. Amy says:

    This made me laugh out loud – hilarious post!

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