Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for June, 2018

Thoughts from Shared Knowledge University | June 2018

June 30th, 2018 COMMENTS

What Makes Classic Exhibits Different? 

Returning home from our Spring/Summer session of Shared Knowledge University, I was struck by a quote from the airline magazine. It was an article on food. This particular restaurateur, when asked about the time and preparation that goes into making food for his customers, was quoted as saying, “We want to engage in life, not just a transaction.” Whoa! After spending two days engaging with an exceptional group of exhibit house and strategic partners, I couldn’t have described the experience any better myself.

It brings to mind something that I am often asked about, “What makes Classic Exhibits different?” It’s my opportunity to speak about our culture of sharing and creating. Sharing our innovation and production capabilities to help your clients engage their audience on the trade show floor is a primary focus for us. It’s never about rolling up to bin A12 and pulling a complete 10×10, 10×20, or island exhibit design off the shelf and sending it off to Las Vegas or Chicago. It’s about choices. Laminate, graphics, monitors, hanging signs, charging tables. The list for design and engagement opportunities goes on. I think we are hitting our stride in that way. The options for creating and building a design are vast. Helping our partners do this consistently, timely, and at a fair price is what we strive for.

Are there transactions involved? Sure there are! But we have the ability and I dare say the responsibility about making it so much more than “Show me the money!”

I can’t thank our partners enough for taking time out of their busy worlds to join us for SKU. It’s validating to say the least to have a group nod their heads and say, “Wow! This is exactly what you said it would be.” And to all of our partners who have yet to experience a Shared Knowledge University session… the November SKU is just around the corner! No seriously! It is!

Our sincere thanks to everyone who attended and participated in Shared Knowledge University. Wishing you much success in 2018. 

Jen LaBruzza
National Sales Manager
jen@classicexhibits.com 

How Three “Gutsy” Exhibit Companies Changed Their Businesses

June 26th, 2018 COMMENTS

Gutsy Business Decisions

I am fortunate. Nearly every day, I hear stories about trade shows and the exhibition industry. We all know the ones we’ve heard before, ones that vex our industry and that no one seems willing to change, like drayage. Then there are the stories that prove that people can make gutsy decisions about their business when force of habit and fear makes it nearly impossible. I love those stories. It reminds me that “grit, planning, and vision” are within the grasp of everyone if they choose to see a problem as an opportunity.

Allow me to share three examples. All three are Classic Exhibits Distributors who knew they had to change their business model and did. I’ve heard the same stories from others over the years who knew they needed to change… but sadly chose to head down the same well-worn path.

No names. And admittedly, Classic Exhibits benefited as well as the distributor.

Bottomline Displays

About a year before The Great Recession, Bottomline Displays was purchased. The new owner had a solid business background, but no experience in the exhibit industry. At the time, Bottomline sold mostly mid-line exhibits from several recognized large manufacturers. That changed from 2008 to 2016, when the focus shifted from trade show marketing to display sales. When you are fighting to save your new business, selling anything is what matters most.

What was a necessity became a business model, even as the economy improved. The owner and his team pushed to close every sale within 20-30 minutes, which meant selling on price, not on the customer’s trade show marketing requirements. It became a habit, learned year after year without a solid foundation in trade shows or a background in corporate exhibit needs.

One day, he called me. He said, “I need to move upstream. There’s no long-term future for me or my employees selling banner stands and $1499 10 ft. displays.” Honestly, I bit my tongue. I’d heard it many times before from other distributors, only to see them revert to the sales model they knew. I encouraged him to ask his clients about their tradeshow marketing goals and spend less time on showing them examples. I suggested he rely more on consultation and design, even if the solution ends up being a standard kit.

The turning point came several months later after losing an island opportunity. He asked for advice on a potential client with a $105,000 20 x 20 budget. We told him to arrange a phone meeting with a Classic Exhibits Designer, the client, and him. Then let the designer do what the designer does best. Ask questions. He sold it, and since then, has sold several more islands along with customized inlines. He still sells banner stands and $1499 inlines, but they are no longer his default sales.

$125,000+ Custom House

There are two variations. One starts with the rule, “Unless the client has $125,000 to spend on a project don’t waste your time on them.” There’s nothing subtle about this. And, nothing wrong with it. The custom exhibit house has decided to focus on projects with a sizeable trade show budget. The other variation requires Account Executives to handle smaller orders, primarily for existing clients but occasionally for those with long-term potential.

Both strategies seem reasonable, until they aren’t.

This custom house tried both approaches, not once or twice, but multiple times depending on the AE or the latest management team. Nothing worked. Customers were told to go elsewhere for smaller properties (and did, sometimes permanently). Or they received uninformed advice from an AE who didn’t know the products or the suppliers. In both cases, they were losing customers to more nimble distributors or providing questionable customer service to clients who needed more expertise.

The solution was relatively painless and straightforward. They hired an AE/PM to be the in-house expert on portable/modular/hybrid displays. It wasn’t a stepping stone to become a custom AE. They were given the same respect and responsibility. The only difference was that this AE/PM could earn a higher % on orders he/she initiated or a lower % percentage on referral orders from custom Account Executives. They were incentivized to focus on smaller display solutions.

Sales soared. Existing custom clients didn’t have to go elsewhere. They got what they needed along with the expertise they expected. AE’s had an in-house expert to assist them on products they frankly didn’t want to learn about anyway. Potential clients with smaller budgets (and potential) were introduced to the benefits of working with a custom house. Everyone got exactly what they wanted, including the suppliers who benefited from a dedicated contact who learned their products and processes.   

Here’s the funny thing. This custom house had tried this once before and it worked amazing well. Then the AE was recruited by another custom house. They didn’t replace the AE, only to have portable/modular sales plummet by $725,000. Four years later, the GM decided to try a “new approach.” She hired someone dedicated to systems sales. Not surprisingly, sales rebounded. 

Franchise Exhibits

You’ve heard about this distributor even if you don’t know them personally. Years ago, they hitched their business wagon to one manufacturer. It’s been a good ride and a safe one, despite the restrictions. But as business conditions changed, requiring a more flexible approach, the relationship between the manufacturer and distributor became more of a controlling helicopter parent than a partnership. Even worse, the child became a red-headed step-child to a host of fair-haired newborns.

For most distributors, it made sense to stay in this toxic relationship. The margins were good. The products and processes predictable. Just bite your tongue for another year and tell yourself “Why traumatize clients and employees? They depend on you. Stay the course and maybe something will change.” 

Franchise Exhibits eventually came to a different conclusion. The future wasn’t safe or predictable in the current model. To grow and to service their clients, they needed more options and greater flexibility within the trade show market. That meant trauma since everything had to change. New name. New suppliers. New products. New marketing. New processes. And in some cases, new people who weren’t onboard.

Mostly, it meant uncertainty, even with months of planning and preparation.

To minimize the impact, they did three things amazingly well. First, they talked to former Franchise distributors who had made the same decision years before. Those distributors told them how it would affect their business, negatively and positively, and how to address the change with employees and clients who may not understand why leaving a franchise model made sense. At the same time, they offered them advice on suppliers and how those suppliers differed from their current one.

Secondly, they planned. They were committed to making the decision on their terms. No knee-jerk decision. No scrambling for partnerships. They took a hard look at their business and decided what they could do, couldn’t do, and what opportunities they wanted to explore in this new model.

Finally, they set expectations and a path for success, not only within their organization but also with vendors.

Has it been successful? To be honest, it’s too soon to tell. But, the transition has been far less impactful than they expected on both their employees and customers. They’ve discovered that there’s more innovative products on the market than they were told. The biggest change… they are getting treated as a customer by suppliers who care about their success. They still flinch at times and there’s a lingering paranoia, but they will survive and thrive. Freedom tends to spark that in competent business people.

–Mel White
mel@classicexhibits.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite

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Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, hybrid, and custom exhibit solutions, including SuperNova LED Lightboxes. 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 www.classicexhibits.com.

What to Look for in an LED Lightbox Manufacturer

June 6th, 2018 COMMENTS

Rental Exhibits
Stroll through any airport, mall, event, or trade show and you’ll see hundreds of colorful LED lightboxes in every shape and size. Over the past few years, most have switched to Backlit Tension Fabric SEG Graphics. The reasons are obvious. Not only is fabric more durable than direct print graphics, but it’s also cheaper to ship and easier to maintain. And depending on the print process, the colors are vibrant and the details nearly photographic. 

It’s easy to assume that all LED lightboxes and manufacturers are similar, so the only real difference is price. Price matters of course, but there are other factors to consider.

8 Factors to Consider When Purchasing an LED Lightbox 

Hardness and Durability:  All LED Lightboxes start with an SEG aluminum frame. Every manufacturer engineers their frames using aluminum of varying hardness and durability. Less expensive lightboxes use softer aluminum because it’s cheaper. But cheaper aluminum scratches easily and tarnishes quickly. In addition, the wall thickness is often so thin that structural rigidity is compromised. For lightboxes mounted to a wall or assembled or disassembled at multiple trade shows, you will want aluminum with a 6063 specification. 6063 has better structural integrity and scratch resistant. If the supplier can’t answer that question, then you should be wary. 

Availability: Does the manufacturer have the extrusion, LED lights, hardware, and accessories in stock? And are there extrusion options depending on the situation, such as one-sided vs two-sided, freestanding vs. wall mount. What if you need multiple quantities or quick ship options? Can individual parts be purchased if they are lost or damaged? You don’t want a manufacturer who dabbles in lightboxes. 

Customization: Let’s say you need a width or height larger than the kits listed. Is it possible? If so, how complicated or expensive does it get? How about angles or shapes such as a hexagon? It’s easy to do squares and rectangles (for most manufacturers), but odd shapes and sizes are often a head-scratcher for those who only want to fulfill kits. 

Print Quality: Asking the right questions is essential. 1. Dye-sublimation printing is the best. This ensures the colors are infused into fabric, not just printed on the surface. Many suppliers brag about “fabric printing” but it’s not always dye-sublimation, which requires two steps  — printing to a paper material and then heat fusing the image to fabric. 2. Ask about the age of the printer. The dye-sublimation printer shouldn’t be more than two years old. Anything older than that means the print resolution is just OK, not photographic. 3. Just like clothing, the fabric quality can vary, which may not matter if the graphic is a throwaway and the resolution doesn’t matter.    

Sewing and Sizing:  Experienced manufacturers have this down to a science. They’ve done the calculations thousands of times with varying fabrics, and they know how to print, cut, and sew the fabric so it fits perfectly. Not too loose. Not too tight. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving a fabric graphic that doesn’t fit. 

LED Lights:  This could be a college course. Just understand the various color temperatures, lens, UL and ETL certification, module construction, etc. requires some research and patience. Like fabric, there are multiple ways to make LED lights cheaper, if cheaper is the only criteria. Skipping UL/ETL certification is shortcut. Using exposed connections or alligator clips is another. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to know what you are getting before you get the LED lightbox. However, in this case, the old adage rarely fails, “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.” 

Accessories: Most LED lightboxes are a one-trick pony. The are lightboxes.  That’s it. But what if you want to add shelves, an iPad, a literature holder, wings or headers? What if you want to connect it to other lightboxes or create a full inline or island display. That requires and exhibit builder who has engineered the extrusion to be multi-functional, stocks lightbox accessories, and has the in-house talent to customize. 

Assembly and Packaging: It’s easy to assume that your display will ship in high-quality cases and packaging. Sadly, that’s rarely true. Most manufacturers use disposable one-way shipping materials. Your lightbox arrives undamaged. Now you have to ship it to the next show or to another location, but there’s nothing to protect it or keep it organized. Insist on reusable shipping materials, which precludes cardboard, shrink wrap, and thin foam. All three will be destroyed after one use. See examples. While you may have to pay a little more, it’s an investment that keeps giving show after show, assembly after assembly.  

It’s important to remember that the pretty image you see on a website is just a rendering. What you receive is not. Ask the right questions and purchase your lightbox from a vendor you trust. Remember, your “may” be able to return the hardware, but the graphics, it’s yours whether you like it or not. Finally, keep in mind that you are buying a design, a marketing structure that represents your brand. It’s more than just an aluminum frame with graphics. 

–Mel White
mel@classicexhibits.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite

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Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, hybrid, and custom exhibit solutions, including SuperNova LED Lightboxes. 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 www.classicexhibits.com.

 

Classic Exhibits | Exhibit Management and Turnkey Services

June 6th, 2018 COMMENTS

Earlier this week, a Classic Exhibits Distributor asked us about our Exhibit Management program.  We thought it might be helpful to share our program and rates for anyone considering adding Exhibit Management/Turnkey Services. We would enjoy hearing feedback and suggestions from those already storing and managing their client’s assets. And should you need us to store and/or manage your client’s booth, please let us know. For Classic Distributors, as with all transactions, we do our best to remain invisible to your client.

All prices are wholesale. 

ASSET PREPARATION AND INSPECTION (OUTBOUND/INBOUND)

There are (3) levels of services offered. Our rates are:

  • $80 per hour for standard lead time (10+ business days)
  • $120 per hour for shorter lead times (less than 10 business days).

We request a minimum lead time of 10 business days, if not more, to prep your booth for any event. Overtime rates will apply for lead time less than 10 business days. Labor is billed to the nearest 1/4 hour upon the completion of each  project/show. Photos are taken at various stages can be made available upon request.

Below is a general overview of each level of service we can provide.

Level 1

  • Prep – Assets are pulled from their storage location, moved to loading dock, labeled for outbound shipment, and a bill of lading is created. The shipment is loaded onto the carrier for delivery to the specified venue: Average 1-2 hours
  • Check-in – Assets are returned to the warehouse. A quick visual inspection is performed on the crates to identify if there are any obvious damages. If there are damages, the client will be notified and further investigation will occur, otherwise the assets will be put into their appropriate storage location: Average 1-3 hours
  • Please Note – Level 1 service has a one-hour minimum billing for each Outbound and Inbound movement and is billed at a $80/hr minimum.

Level 2

  • Prep – Assets are pulled from storage shelf, and crates/cases are opened. Pieces are spot checked, counted, and checked for any noticeable damage; then they are moved to loading dock, labeled for outbound shipment, and a bill of lading is created. The shipment is loaded onto the carrier for delivery to the specified venue: Average 2-5 hours
  • Check-in – Assets are returned to the warehouse, and crates/cases are opened. Pieces are spot checked, counted, and checked for any significant damage. If there are damages, the client will be notified and further investigation will occur, otherwise the assets will be put into their appropriate storage location: Average 2-5 hours

Level 3

  • Prep – Assets are pulled from storage shelf, and crates/cases are opened. Full display staging is performed. All pieces are counted to ensure booth has everything required for the show. This also ensures all pieces are in good working order. Booth is disassembled, repacked, moved to loading dock, labeled for outbound shipment, and a bill of lading is created. The shipment is loaded onto the carrier for delivery to the specified venue: Average 4-8 hours
  • Check-in – Assets are returned to the warehouse and crates/cases are opened. Full display staging is performed, and all parts are counted, and checked for any significant damage. If there are damages, the client will be notified and further investigation will occur, otherwise the assets will be put into their appropriate storage location: Average 4-8 hours

Show Services Coordination

Upon request, we will coordinate the ordering of all show services (installation/dismantle, labor supervision, carpet, electrical, aerial rigging, data/phone, cleaning, audio/visual, lead retrieval, security, material handling, show photography, etc.). These services are based on exhibit specifications and client needs. Forms are submitted and confirmations sent to appropriate parties.  Our rates are:

  • The cost of services plus 25% for prepayment using the client’s credit card/funds ($150.00 minimum fee)

Ancillary Services, Repairs and Replacement PARTS, New PRODUCTS/GRAPHICS

We are equipped to handle other needs that may arise with your exhibit or event program, from training and exhibit reconfiguration to design services and event management. We are a full custom exhibit house, and can build and design new display items including new displays, banners, graphics, flooring, lighting, cases, crates, other packaging, and much more. We proudly sell and maintain Classic Exhibits brand displays, however, we are a distributor for a few other manufacturers as well. We will gladly work with our preferred manufacturers to order replacement parts and complete repairs on your display items. If we are unable to work directly with a manufacturer, we may require our client to step in and work as a liaison in those situations. If something needs to be done, we will make it happen. Our rates are:

  • $80 per hour minimum for standard lead time (10+ business days)
  • $125 per hour creative services labor rate, including graphic design
  • Exhibit fabrication per quote
  • Graphic production per quote

Storage

$.60 cents per cubic foot per month. Billed quarterly

Contact us if you have any questions or would like a formal quote for storage and/or exhibit management services. 

–Mel White
mel@classicexhibits.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/melmwhite

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Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, hybrid, and custom 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 www.classicexhibits.com.