Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for April, 2017

What a Mel Meltdown Looks Like

April 21st, 2017 4 COMMENTS

Exhibit Design Search

Twelve years ago, we coined the phrase “Exhibit Design Search.” Back then, it was exactly that — a simple way to search through our product galleries for kit numbers and features.

At the time, it didn’t occur to me, or anyone at Classic Exhibits, to trademark or copyright Exhibit Design Search. After a few years, Exhibit Design Search and by extension EDS, became synonymous with Classic Exhibits and our distributor-branded versions. I assumed that others would make that same assumption.

As with anything successful, there are bound to be copycats. Other display vendors and distributors have attempted to replicate Exhibit Design Search. Some have done OK on a superficial level, but no one has ever duplicated the depth of EDS. Who can blame them. It would require 10s of thousands of hours and an IT and programming budget beyond the reach of nearly every company in our industry.

Islands on Exhibit Design Search
Frankly, I respect anyone who embraces the challenge. I know how difficult it has been to build and maintain EDS. Every single day there are multiple changes. Tony Bennett, our web guru, devotes a huge percent of his time each week to improving the functionality and aesthetics of Exhibit Design Search. On a bad day, it’s a never-ending monster hungry for more information. On most days, however, it’s a work of art. The website manage tools alone are breathtaking.

Am I proud of our work? Of course. Which brings me to a rub. From time to time, I stumble on a website that has appropriated “Exhibit Design Search” as a menu, page, or function. I’m not on a mission. There’s no daily Google search for EDS as a term. I just find it, and it makes me mad for 5-10 minutes. Then I suck it up and move on. That is, until it happened last week on an updated display manufacturer’s website.

It’s not that the overall search design was elegant. It was basic. Nor that it looked like EDS, although there were some minor similarities. It was the header:  Exhibit Design Search — in all caps and a similar font. It wasn’t exactly the same but it wasn’t different. It was a conscious decision, which is the crux of my annoyance. Point two, it’s not like there aren’t other variations of EDS that would have been equally descriptive as a phrase. For example:

  • Design Search
  • Exhibit Search
  • Display Search
  • Search for Displays and Exhibits
  • Display Finder
  • Rat Bastard Display Search for Designs

You get my point. What bothers me is the lack of imagination and the gall. I want to believe it wasn’t a conscious decision. That it just happened. But that would make me naive once again.

I’m not in the midst of a meltdown anymore. Writing this has been my therapy session. Perhaps I should be honored on behalf of Classic Exhibits and every Classic Exhibits Distributor with a branded EDS site. But I’m not. If you happen to chance upon this website, consider that someone made an ethical decision about something as minor as a phrase and a design, which easily could have been something else. Remember, it’s almost always the little things that reveal a company’s personality and moral character, not the big things.

I’m better now. Mostly. Unless I visit that website again.

p.s. Just in case there’s any doubt regarding our history and use of EDS, the following URLs are owned by Classic Exhibits:

–Mel White


Your Spring “Shared Knowledge University” Invitation (SKU)

April 14th, 2017 COMMENTS


Quit pretending. You want to attend Shared Knowledge University (SKU). You know it. We know it. Heck, your colleagues are sick and tired of hearing you talk about it. Just do it! (as another much more famous Portland company would say).

Will you learn a lot? Yes. Will it be exhausting? Yes. Will you want to leave Portland on Wednesday morning? No. But as former SKU graduates have discovered, we’re going to take your sorry, broken, hypnotized, and dehydrated body to the airport whether you want to leave or not.

Space is limited and openings fill fast. Contact Jen LaBruzza ( to reserve your spot on June 12-13 (Monday and Tuesday). Embrace your chance to add the SKU logo to your LinkedIn profile.

Click on the image below to view the happy SKU video.

Shared Knowledge University, Spring 2017

–Mel White


The People’s Almanac of Trade Show Knowledge

April 6th, 2017 COMMENTS


In 1975, David Wallechinsky and his father Irving Wallace published The People’s Almanac. Two more followed — one in 1978 and another in 1981. I bought them all. These were not your grandparent’s Farmer’s Almanacs with weather predictions, quotes, and gardening tips. The TPA was a big fat book with obscure facts, lists, and esoteric information. Reading it made you feel smarter, dangerously so at parties, family gatherings, and bars. If you had any social skills, you quickly learned that a 20-year-old know-it-all isn’t endearing.

Knowledge is NOT the SAME as Expertise

I’m reminded of that all too often. Recently, a distributor asked me an exhibit design question. I’m not a designer, but I feel comfortable answering basic design questions. This question, however, required the expertise and knowledge of 3D exhibit designer.

If I was cocky, I would claim that 20+ years of experience makes me qualified. It doesn’t. I have exhibit design knowledge, but that doesn’t make me an exhibit designer.

Trade show questionsYour Ego, My Ego, the Client’s Ego

We all love working with an informed client about trade shows and trade show marketing. They ask our advice. We give it. Sometimes we state facts. The booth guidelines for an inline space in North America are XYZ. Sometimes we offer opinions. It’s better to hire the Exhibit-Appointed Contractor than the GSC labor. If you are like me, you occasionally wade into information quicksand, and then keep talking until you are way over your head. I would encourage you not to make that mistake. Defer to the experts, like those listed below.

Exhibit Designers

You probably knew I would start with this one. It’s a pet-peeve of mine. Having a pen and a napkin doesn’t make you a designer. It means you can (and should) share your design advice based on your experience. But at some point, you should seek the advice of a professional. That’s why every exhibit house and display builder hires folks who do nothing but design exhibits. They understand current design trends, materials, and accessories. They know how to translate “this is what we do and these are our goals for the show” into a stunning 3D structure.


Now this just seems obvious… but just because you made a bread board in woodshop, it doesn’t make you a carpenter, mill-worker, or electrician. I speak from experience. I see their craftsmanship every day in our shop. We design and detail every project, yet they find ways to improve these projects in both big and small ways.

Show Labor

Whether you chose labor from the GSC or from an Exhibit-Appointed Contractor (EAC), you can be sure the crew has done it at least 1000 times more than you. Not necessarily your exhibit, and sadly not necessarily every laborer. It’s been my experience that they know what they are doing and are amazing at problem solving. You’ll be rewarded if you respect their skill set, provide them with helpful supervision, and don’t freak-out when they take their required breaks. They deserve them.

Trade Show People on the floor

Account Executives and Project Managers

You probably know them the best. They guide you through the exhibit buying experience. They assist you with show regulations, shipping, repairs, and trade show marketing. They are the ones who pester you about the next show, graphic files, collateral, and promotional products. They want you to succeed because then you are happy. When you are happy, you continue to invest in trade shows.

Consultants, Talent, Service Providers

Our industry has a wealth of seasoned professionals with insider knowledge about improving your trade show ROI. There are trade show consultants, booth staff trainers, in-booth presenters, lead capture specialists, A/V gurus, models, international exhibiting experts, etc. The list is vast and the talent impressive. I’ve learned over the years that we can only know so much about trade shows. We do a disservice to our clients when we don’t steer them to someone who has the talent to elevate their trade show return.

trade show freightFreight

No offense, but do you really want to spend time learning about freight and logistics? No you don’t. You want to go to your grave with the least amount of information regarding freight, wait times, LTL, and the Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Find someone who thinks about it on weekends and holidays and offer them your first-born child. Think of it as your contribution to a better world.

Clearly, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experts in our industry. Graphic designers, detailers, show organizers, etc. all have unique skills acquired through specialized training or on-the-job skills. Too often, we delve into areas best left to those with more knowledge. While it’s flattering to be “the source” for all trade show questions, it’s smarter to be the one “who knows the person who knows.” That’s not something I learned from The People’s Almanac.

–Mel White