Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for September, 2015

Three Clever Trade Show Infographics

September 29th, 2015 1 COMMENT


I’m a sucker for a clever, creative, well-designed Infographic. It reminds me of my childhood browsing through over-sized books about history, science, geography, or sports where the graphics engage and educate.

I don’t have the patience or the talent to create infographics so when I find one that hits a bulls-eye about trade show marketing, I feel compelled to share. This week, I hit the jackpot and discovered three, all created by Megan Lemmons at Mostre Design/Advent Exhibits. My thanks to Megan for sharing with the Classic Exhibits Network. Enjoy!

Colour Color Colore

Colour Color Colore



Why You Should Have a Coffee Bar at Your Next Trade Show

Why You Should Have a Coffee Bar at your Next Trade Show



Five Easy Ways to Be the Star of Your Next Trade Show

5 Ways To Be the Star of your Next Trade Show 3

–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

Controlled Chaos: Word on the Street — Sept. 21st thru Sept. 25th

September 24th, 2015 COMMENTS


Chaos vs. Controlled Chaos

If you have kids like me, you know the difference between “chaos” and “controlled chaos.” Here is how I explain it as a parent:  You know those big trampoline havens? The indoor trampoline park has quickly replaced Chuckie Cheese as THE place to have a birthday party.

Well, these trampoline parks are located in massive warehouses. But within those spaces are sections or what I call Kiddie Play Prisons, divided into areas with guards. Instead of wielding a gun, they are armed with a smile and a walkie-talkie to communicate with the other guards.

KiddieprisonEach little “prison yard” is different. One is for dodgeball, one is for dunking a basketball off a trampoline, one is a huge foam pit. You get the picture. Regardless of what activity is happening in each area, the kids are pretty much allowed to loose their gourds while inside each space (or have fun as they would say).

But… outside each area, there is no running allowed, and there are tables for food, etc. Basically a place for parents to get away from the chaos.

To me, this represents the best in “Controlled Chaos.” It’s the illusion of “willy-nilly” behavior for the kids within a controlled environment. But imagine the same building without sectioned off areas, no guards manning their posts, and God forbid, no Parent Zones! Then you would have pure chaos in its truest form. No controls… and these places give your kids Mt. Dew (or Liquid Speed).

I joke… but in this crazy trade show and event business, we experience something similar during specific times of the year. This being one of them as we are in the thick of the BUSY season. And we all walk that fine line of managing the chaos.

Lead Times

Lead_timeFor Classic Exhibits and Classic Rental Solutions, managing lead times is a big part of our day. We post lead times in Exhibit Design Search in order to manage expectations for you, your clients, and us. And, as you know, we are fairly aggressive on our lead times, meaning they are often shorter than other manufacturers in our industry.

Most of the time, we beat our standard lead times by a day or two, which allows us to be flexible when you request shorter lead times. Typically, we don’t charge a rush fee. We believe that it doesn’t make sense if we don’t incur extra costs. We have always been very passionate about this because we know that karma will work in our favor. When we need you and your client to be flexible on a published lead time, you typically accommodated us.

Classic Exhibits_August_1As you may have heard from our Project Managers, we are currently running at standard lead times. We’re not behind, nor are we asking for additional days, but we are not able to produce your orders under our lead times. We understand that can be frustrating. Just today, a distributor said to me, “Why can’t you ship that 20 x 30 in 10 days? You were able to do it last May.” That’s true. We were. But in September and October (two of our busiest months), we handle nearly triple the volume we do in a month like May or June.

I am proud of our ability to manage chaos in the “controlled” variety. It’s been a hallmark of our operational success over the years.

We are in the heart of the “season” right now. We thank you for the business. Keep it coming. Please know that we will continue to be flexible, but during the busiest times, we have little choice but to hold to our standard production lead times.

Be well and have a great weekend with your families.



The Sale That Got Away

September 10th, 2015 10 COMMENTS


Many moons ago, I worked for a high-tech startup in Portland. You know the one. Free food. Massage appointments in the office every Thursday. Stock options. Beer and wine at brainstorming sessions. It was exciting. It was enticing. Best of all, I was going to be fabulously rich.

A year and a half into the gig, after chasing a large media conglomerate for months, I landed an appointment for our CTO and CEO to present the software. We needed the order. The startup was running on fumes and getting additional investor funding depended on a firm contract. Well, a week later, the startup cratered after burning through about $28 million (or so I was told).

From time to time, I wonder what would have happened if I had secured that appointment four weeks earlier. The software was a good fit, but we simply ran out of money. Knowing that… could I have done anything differently that would have changed the outcome?

SalespersonSales are funny that way. We are so conditioned by “sales success” that we tend to ignore “sales failure.” So we congratulate ourselves on what we did right to land the order — Not on what we did wrong that prevented us from getting it. We create excuses. We blame the situation or a person.

As an exhibit account executive who lost a sale, you may not have been able to change the decision. The client may have wanted to work with a vendor 20 miles away rather than 200 miles away. Or, you didn’t have exhibit storage services and your competitor did. As with most decisions or outcomes, it’s nearly always the little things, both said and unsaid, that matter.

Ask Yourself

#1. Homework. Have you done your homework? Have you studied their website? Have you read any recent business articles about the company regarding trends and new products? No one expects you to be an expert, but the moment a potential supplier says to me in my conference room, “What do you do?” I’ve already checked them off my list.

#2. Attention. Does your customer have your full attention with every email, every call, every meeting? In reality, you’re on a business date, hoping to get married and have a couple of kids. [OK, this may be a quickie instead.] Either way, you’ll be successful if you are fully present and not checking out the tall redhead with the plunging neckline that smells like sea breeze and cinnamon. Hmmm… what were we talking about?

#3. Questions. Are you asking the right questions? Seems obvious but asking the right questions means two things:  1. Shutting up and not talking about yourself, and 2. Doing your homework before the meeting and asking the right questions.

Taking Notes#4. Notes. Want to be a sales superstar at your next meeting? Take notes. Then use those notes to ask questions and clarify any points? Even if you think you understand, ask anyway so they know you understand their business and their objectives. You may be impressed by a server who takes your order without writing anything down. In a business meeting, winners tap and scribble. You can quote me on that.

#5. Tactful, Persistent, Professional. You can divide poor salespeople into two camps. Those who drive 50 miles an hour in the left-hand lane when the speed limit is 65 or those who take every corner way too fast. I’m always impressed by the salesperson who can read a person and know exactly how and how often to contact a client. They don’t rely on a formula. They ask, they learn, they persevere, and they are unfailingly polite. They are quite simply the tactful, persistent professional.

So ask yourself, “What could I have done better or different with the one that got away?” Was it really out of your hands or did you hand it to your competitor on a silver platter.

–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



John Zipay: Six Month Update (or What I Did During My Summer Vacation)

September 4th, 2015 1 COMMENT


Wow! I can’t believe it has been six months since I joined Classic Exhibits as the General Manager for Exhibits Northwest! Either I have been super busy, or I’m getting older and time is accelerating beyond comprehension. Either way, I wanted to share some insights about my professional life as a newbie at Classic Exhibits.

Where to begin…

The Northwest is fantastically beautiful with postcard views in every direction. The folks are down-to-earth, extremely health, and environmentally conscious. Professionally, my daily challenges haven’t changed very much, and the overall industry feel is more or less the same. Just like you, we use our experience to recommend the best exhibits and services to our customers. We want them to succeed as exhibit marketers, and it’s our goal to be an extension of their business, if they are receptive to this approach. If not, well, then we guide them to an exhibit that meets their trade show or retail needs.

IMG_6747In my previous job, I used Exhibit Design Search, but now that I’m part of Classic, I have a renewed appreciation for this research tool. I am amazed at the vastness of the catalog of exhibits and accessories. I see firsthand how Mel and the Classic Design Department are constantly updating and adding designs, graphic dims, setup instructions, and refining the user experience.

My team at Exhibits Northwest has closed more than a handful of deals simply by walking a client through EDS and identifying elements such as lightboxes, workstations, presentation areas, etc.  On several occasions, the client has chosen an Eco-Systems Sustainable Exhibit based solely on design without realizing its eco-friendly benefits. This gives us an opportunity to discuss those benefits. All that would have been far more difficult without EDS.

In my former tradeshow life…

We would personalize a design and then hope our price point was in the ballpark. Next, we would check in periodically and use a call to action (general contractor or advanced warehouse deadline) to nudge the client into making a decision. In my new role with Exhibits Northwest, we take a different approach. Since pricing is visible on EDS, we can confirm a price range based on specific kits or design elements. Then we schedule a time when the prospect can tour Classic’s manufacturing facility with us.

IMG_5813Honestly, I wish every Classic Distributor had the ability to tour Classic Exhibits with their clients. The facility is impressive. Clients see how raw extrusion and wood are transformed into a finished exhibit via production workstations, CNC equipment, and skilled technicians. Each display goes through multiple quality control checkpoints along the way.

Whenever an ENW prospect takes a guided tour, we know at some point we’ll hear, “It’s such a pleasure to see a strong, organized US manufacturing facility in our own backyard.” I then direct their attention to the Peek-a-booth cameras and let them know that they can log-in and watch their exhibit being assembled from their desk.

IMG_0725Make no mistake…

As a former Production Manager at a point-of-purchase display division of Weyerhaeuser Corp in Charlotte, NC, I love seeing an organized, streamlined, and efficient manufacturing facility with highly skilled, motivated laborers producing well-made American products. Classic has the equipment, skilled labor, project management, and design staff to handle any trade show need from an inline Perfect 10 to a large custom island assembled entirely from wood and laminate.

I have worked side-by-side with the heavy hitters in our industry, and I have also worked with small husband and wife companies whose needs are much different than the big kids on the block. I have learned that Classic has the talent to compete with the best skilled custom exhibit builders in the country, yet they can handle the needs of smaller display distributors as well.

With a partner like Classic, I am able to focus on what I was hired to do… manage the culture and growth of Exhibits Northwest! BTW — having a record sales month in August certainly helped the cause!

I would love to hear from you. And I always look forward to meeting Classic Distributors when they visit for a preview or during Shared Knowledge University. The next SKU is November 9-10.  Set aside the dates and I hope to see you then.

John Zipay
GM Exhibits Northwest


Share, Rent, Borrow, or Buy Your Next Display?

September 2nd, 2015 2 COMMENTS


As a parent, you teach your children to share — share their toys, their candy, their whatever.

Sharing used to be a cultural necessity in America. Not every farmer could afford a harvester, nor every homeowner the latest tools. So the farmers and neighbors would share. It made sense. Then we saw less of that… until the recession. Suddenly, sharing became a necessity again. And the need to “own it” became less important.

Renting is a form of sharing, whether it’s a backhoe, banquet tables, or a trade show display. For example, I’m a suburbanite with a modest yard on a property with older trees. I use a chainsaw about twice a year. I could buy a new chainsaw for about $200 or a used one from Craigslist for about $90. But I rent it instead for about $35.

If you do the math, it doesn’t make sense. But it does for me. I don’t want to maintain it, store the oil, do the sharpening or the annual tune-up. Nor do I want another tool in my garage. I have enough. I could borrow one from a neighbor, which I do with some tools (and they in return), but certain items should be rented and not borrowed.

At Classic Exhibits, we’ve seen this rental trend since 2008. At first, it was driven by necessity. Exhibitors were committed to a show and/or committed to trade show marketing and their budgets were slashed. Now, however, that trend has less to do with slashed budgets and more to do with personalization, capacity, ownership, storage, and design.


Here’s what we’ve learned. Rentals can’t simply be a single function tool in the toolbox — practical but generic. Exhibitors have the same expectations for rentals as they do for purchase displays. They want it personalized. Rental exhibits should reflect their branding and their exhibit marketing requirements… and it needs to look new.


It’s difficult for a small exhibit house to make the necessary investment  and to maintain a large unblemished rental inventory. But when you are the manufacturer supporting 180 distributors the scale becomes easier to swallow. It’s very common for distributors to offer a modest selection of in-house rental designs and count on manufacturers to fulfill client requests beyond what they own. Exhibitors understand these partner relationships, and typically have no problem with it. In fact, they’re usually thrilled that they’re being offered a solid engineered solution.


A lot of exhibitors don’t want to own their exhibit. They prefer to have the flexibility that’s offered by renting. With rental exhibits, they can change the design from show to show to better match their target audience and market,  rather than feeling obligated to stick with the same design for multiple shows and/or multiple years. Less pressure. More flexibility.

From a cost standpoint, custom rental components are very affordable. Exhibit houses and manufacturers will often include custom elements below their cost, knowing they can re-rent them.


We can all relate to the challenges of not having enough storage space, whether it’s at home or at our business. Exhibitors have to consider whether it makes sense to storing their exhibit. Do they have the available space? Do they have someone with the time and experience to maintain the exhibit and arrange for potential repairs and updates? Or does it make more sense to pay their exhibit house a monthly storage fee, plus pull and prep fees to take care of everything for them? With rental exhibits none of that matters, because all of that’s taken care of, and they start fresh for every show.


It’s amazing how far we’ve come with rental exhibit designs. They used to be like a McDonald’s. You could spot one a 1/4 of a mile away. Today, it’s very difficult to differentiate a rental from a purchase. Custom rental designs  used to be the exception but now represent a significant percentage of what exhibit houses offer. Savvy customers know they can choose to rent over purchasing without the fear of design limitations.

Today it’s all about design solutions, whether a purchase or rental exhibit. And it usually goes back to the question of flexibility and ownership to determine the best option. A combination of purchase and rental components is quite common as well. For example, it often makes sense to own a central tower with storage, knowing that it will always be needed, but rent the workstations and charging stations, because those needs change from show to show.

In the end… Rental or Purchase? Which avenue offers the best opportunity for an exhibitor to achieve their objectives for upcoming shows? Listen closely to what the exhibitor is telling you. You may be surprised at what they are sharing.

Jim Shelman
GM Classic Rental Solutions