Southwest Ohio and Chicago
In January, I had the pleasure of visiting Classic and Eco-systems distributors in Southwest Ohio and Chicago. Reid Sherwood was my tag team partner in Ohio (Thanks Reid). In Chicago, I met up with Jen LaBruzza, our Regional Sales Manager. On our last two days, we were joined by Colleen Crawford from Eco-Systems Sustainable. By that point, we were a pretty formidable superhero team.
It’s been a few years since I had to pack a suitcase for two weeks. I’ll be on the road again later this month. Then you’ll see me at EXHIBITOR. Oddly enough, my wife has been very encouraging. Let’s just say my suitcase was partially packed before I’d even checked my departure date and time.
So, what did I hear from these distributors? Industry trends, of course, which Jen covered in her excellent video post last week (I was the dude holding the camera). Allow me to share my perspective, while not stepping on Jen’s toes.
Honestly, I was a little surprised by this topic. But, then again, my perception is tainted by Classic Rental Solutions, which has been crazy busy for several years. Most distributors have embraced rentals, using internal stock and external vendors such as CRS. However, not everyone sees rentals as a viable alternative to purchase. Don’t misunderstand me. I get it. If your only experience with rentals is portables or General Show Contractor kits, then rentals are a lesser option.
If I had to guess, I would say that 20-25% of larger inline and island booths at major shows are rentals — extrusion, modular wall, or custom. And it makes sense. A trade show exhibit is a marketing vehicle, and just like a car, we often want to try it before we buy it. And in many cases, we don’t want to buy it at all. Leasing makes more sense. I read recently that nearly 40% of all vehicles are now leased.
With that in mind, I would encourage you to discover if your client prefers to purchase or to rent. Give them the pros and cons of both options, then they can make the best decision for their budget and their marketing goals.
Bull vs Bear Market
This topic was all over the board. Some distributors had more business than they could handle. Others were busy, but not overwhelmed. Others were chasing orders. However, there were no “boo hoo’s” about business in general. For many of us, the Great Recession is still visible in the rear view mirror (objects in the mirror are closer than they appear).
What I heard was a variation of two themes — “My clients are getting what they need. Not necessary what they want.” OR “My clients are finally getting what they want. Not just what they need.”
If I had to guess, and this is truly a guess, it has everything to do with a client’s commitment to trade show marketing. IMHO — When you know what you want to be successful, you get what you want. When you don’t, then you get what you need. Yes, that’s oversimplification. Clearly, every business is different. But you are either passionate about trade show marketing… or you are not.
Pat yourself on the back. You are a lot smarter than you used to be. Which means, you no longer focus all your efforts on trade shows. Some distributors are heavily into events. Others are designing corporate environments. Still others make as much on graphics, if not more, than selling or serving exhibits. More and more are storing crates. Or handling show services for their clients. You are selling lightboxes in retail or corporate environments, and pitching charging stations for lobbies and events. The list goes on and on.
It’s refreshing. Because as your business evolves, so does ours. We now do more retail, corporate, and event work than ever before. And we love it. Better yet, it rarely follows the same seasonality as the trade show business. June and July are busier. There’s a boost of business in September and October. We all win. Well, except for November which continues to suck.
Modular Wall Systems
This came up in every conversation with distributors. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had a case full of Gravitee Modular Wall panels and connectors. 😉 Modular walls are becoming the backbone of rental displays and many modular designs. We’re not naive. There are several systems in the market with a head start. Gravitee will have to earn your business largely through creative purchase designs and Classic Rental Solutions orders.
That said… Every distributor felt that Gravitee was the smartest, easiest, and best engineered modular wall system on the market. Now, that may sound like boasting and hyperbole, but I heard it again and again and again during the visits. No tools. OK. No loose parts. Really OK. No holes. Really, really OK.
We’ll win you over in time. We know that. We encourage you to see us at EXHIBITORLIVE. We will be featuring Gravitee. And if you are especially nice, you just might get a special treat. But, I’ll save that surprise news once we’re a little closer to the show.
Kick ass my friends. Business is good!