Trade Show TalesBlog

8 Ways Show Organizers Can Support Exhibitors (to Keep Them Coming Back)

September 1st, 2016 COMMENTS


By Robyn Davis, Trade Show Strategy Specialist at WINH

Recent statistics show that the annual retention rate of exhibitors is 76%.

Now, regardless of whether you think this is a good number or not, I’m confident we can do better! In fact, I’ll share eight ways to improve your exhibitor satisfaction and retention rates by focusing on what you can do (as an event organizer) to support your exhibitors.

Note: This article was inspired by an interview I did for IAEE-TV. If you’re short on time or prefer to learn via video (instead of text), click here to check it out.


There are three big themes. They include:

  • Set yourself apart from other competing organizations/activities (by becoming the best version of yourself),
  • Respect your exhibitors as the awesome professionals they are, and
  • Help them get more value out of their investment in participating in your event.

Specifically, these are the eight suggestions I shared with CNTV for IAEE-TV (International Association of Exhibitions and Events).

1. Add Value During “Off Hours”

Show2A motivated exhibitor will find a way to fill as much of his schedule as possible, but, due to the timing of official activities, a few gaps may remain. Organize alternative activities (like relevant training opposite educational sessions for attendees or bonus networking time after set-up ends, but before the conference officially begins) as an option for exhibitors who want to go above and beyond.

Why? For exhibitors, time is literally money at trade shows – they’ve invested in the opportunity to participate and they’ve had to put a hold on their typical money making activities while away. Even short bursts of wasted time weigh on exhibitors heavily and, in many cases, cloud their opinion of your event overall.

2. Set a Good Example

The golden rule (treat others as you wish to be treated) certainly applies to trade shows! Keep this in mind as you set your expectations for exhibitors:

If you want exhibitors to participate on social media, set a good example by getting the conversation started and mentioning them personally.

If you want exhibitors to prioritize the deadlines you’ve set and read your communications, make sure that you’re reading their messages and responding to their requests in a timely manner as well.

Why? It’s easier for exhibitors to follow your positive example than to try and set their own (it’s your show, after all). Also, once you’ve made an effort to treat them with respect, exhibitors will feel obligated to return the courtesy.

3. Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

trade-show_1When possible, spend time on your show floor, blending in as much as you can to experience your event as your exhibitors do. Or, if you can’t immerse yourself in your exhibitor’s environment at your own trade show, seek out opportunities to attend the events they attend (for example: EXHIBITORLIVE, HCEA Connect, or E2MA’s Red Diamond Congress). Get to know them as people and listen attentively to their stories. Work to understand what they go through on a day-to-day basis and what they want, not just from your event, but from their work and life too.

Why? Without experiencing an exhibitor’s challenges (and triumphs) first hand, it may be difficult to understand their reactions or anticipate which accommodations will be mean the most to them (and which ones won’t). Many conflicts can be avoided with a little extra empathy and many hearts can be won the same way.

4. Be Transparent

Especially for new exhibitors, the policies and requirements of a trade show can be a bit of a mystery. Look for opportunities earlier in your interactions with exhibitors to share the reasoning for your decisions (especially surrounding any seemingly unfriendly policy updates) and provide “sneak peeks” at the little things you’re working on for them (from introducing the staff member who answers their emails to demonstrating how you assemble all of the materials they’ll pick up at registration, etc.).

Why? Exhibitors are reasonable people. Once they can see that there’s a good reason for any inconveniences they encounter (or at least that you are a real person, who is doing your best to support them), they’ll be more understanding of the situation (even if it’s challenging) and happier to work within the guidelines presented.

5. Encourage Collaboration

Point out opportunities for exhibitors to get to know one another (perhaps even during their “off hours,” as above) or, better yet, organize a special mixer or extra exhibit hall hours that are dedicated exclusively to partnering. To make this time as effective as possible for exhibitors, teach them to focus on connecting with the other exhibitors who serve the same segment of your audience, but aren’t in direct competition with them (then, they can recommend one another to outside contacts or make appropriate introductions during/after the event).

Why? Although exhibitors come to your events to meet qualified attendees, they can also benefit from the expertise of each other, as well as more concrete joint efforts in support of their common goals. Realizing this opportunity exists can be game changing for individual exhibitors and, on a larger scale, when they take advantage of the opportunities, your industry as a whole will flourish.

6. Pursue Collaboration

ExhibitJust as your exhibitors can benefit from the right partnerships, so can you. Use your understanding of yourself (strengths/weaknesses) and your exhibitors (needs/goals) to identify others (individuals or organizations) that can complement your efforts. Don’t be shy in approaching the professionals your exhibitors need you to know! Instead, do your homework and present your proposal confidently, finding an opportunity that benefits each party in a meaningful way.

Why? Many event organizers are strapped for time and cash, so it makes sense that 81% outsource to other service providers when they need “special skills” (instead of trying to obtain that expertise for themselves)… you can do this too, to improve the experience your exhibitors enjoy and the value you’ve equipped them to obtain.

7. Listen

When you ask for feedback from your exhibitors, what do you do with the information they provide? Show exhibitors that you hear them (by responding personally, in a timely manner) and use the input they provide to shape your future decisions (again, noting the reason you’re making changes – in this case, due to the feedback you’ve received). That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they ask, but a little compromise (or “inspiration”) can go a long way towards future good will.

Why? Exhibitors won’t take the time to provide their feedback if they don’t feel like you’re listening to it; however, in order to improve your events, you need their help (as it will be much easier to give the exhibitors what they want, when you’re completely clear as to what that is). Showing that their feedback is heard is a good first step.

8. Be Brave

Trade shows are an iterative process… but not just for exhibitors. Just as they should be constantly looking for opportunities to improve their performance, you should too. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you to incorporate new activities and ideas – keeping up with new technology, trying out the latest trends, etc. Your job is to keep things fresh, so feel free to get inspired by those around you, test an idea, and then reassess for next time.

Why? Without a little risk, life can be very boring. Many exhibitors find themselves falling into old habits, which can be detrimental to their success. If you push yourself to continue growing and changing, you will keep their attention and may inspire them to try harder too.

In conclusion, if you care about your exhibitors, which I have no doubt that you do (as you wouldn’t be working in this role, let alone reading this article, if you didn’t!), heed the advice above and share any successes to inspire your colleagues over on LinkedIn. If you need help doing so, please reach out… I’m here.

Banner Image for Robyn DavisABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robyn Davis is a Trade Show Strategy Specialist and the Owner of When I Need Help (WINH). Robyn works with event organizers (as a speaker, trainer, and consultant) to help them help their exhibitors squeeze even more value out of each event. To learn more about Robyn and her most popular exhibitor education programs, please visit the WINH Website, request to connect with her on LinkedIn, or tweet to @Robyn_WINH.

Classic Exhibits | Our New Home Page

August 28th, 2016 2 COMMENTS

Classic Exhibits Home Page

Launching a new website/webpage should be anti-climactic. It’s 2016. Around the world, thousands of new websites are created every day. And yet… When we launched our new home page last week, I was giddy. That’s a rare sight. Just ask Jen or Reid.

The new home page is beautiful, practical, and efficient. Our previous home page was focused on products and resources. The new site adds secondary layers showing our story, capabilities, and values. Anyone who visits Classic, whether for a tour, product preview, or Shared Knowledge University, realizes that the Classic Story is so much deeper than just our 1400 products. It’s special in a way that is hard to translate without being here. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be done on a website. But we knew it would be challenging.

Our Approach

We adopted the current website design of “banding” — i.e., horizontal layers stacked in a vertical scroll. There are seven bands, excluding the header and footer.

  1. Company Video w/ a Short and Long Version (click on the speaker)
  2. The Shared Success Formula (Values Statement)
  3. Key Menu Blocks
  4. Classic Rental Solutions
  5. Recent Work — Past Five Days (Scroll)
  6. Products Updates and News
  7. CE Website Links

Classic Exhibits Home Page

This layered approach attempts to show website visitors “What We Do” and “Who We Are.”  As a Classic Distributor, you may not delve into the “Who We Are” sections more than once or twice. However, our website traffic has increased significantly over the years. Search engines see us as a content-rich destination for anyone interested in trade show marketing, industry news, and designs. It’s those visitors who will see, hear, and feel the big picture message on the home page.

Additional Changes

Printable, Downloadable Trade Show Literature
In addition, we’ve added a literature image link. Clicking on it will take you to a webpage where product sheets can be reviewed and downloaded. Second, we’ve reorganized the drop-down menu items so they’re easier to navigate.

More changes are coming, particularly in Exhibit Design Search (both Classic and the branded versions). You’ll see those in the next month or two.

As always, a huge thanks to Tony and Glenna, who did the real work, and to everyone at Classic who reviewed the beta site and offered their advice and suggestions. Shared Success… it’s how we continue to thrive.

We’d love to hear from you about the home page modifications. Your suggestions are always welcome and encouraged.

–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 Takes an Alaskan Cruise

August 24th, 2016 COMMENTS


Recently, I took a much needed vacation from the trade show world and visited southeastern Alaska via a cruise ship.

Spending a day at sea heading out of Seattle was perfect for clearing my head of the constant stresses that we all live with each and every day. The soothing calmness of the water and the subtle waves rocking this ship ever so slightly was ideal to catch up on reading and much needed rest. This was the perfect setting for me to reflect on the first half of this year and my life overall (which is pretty fantastic).


Upon arriving in Ketchikan, Alaska, I noticed the sea planes taking off and landing. I thought to myself, “I bet they don’t miss waiting in line at red lights during their commute to and from work” or worse yet “waiting through green lights when your vehicle doesn’t quite have the space to inch across the intersection without blocking the cars perpendicular to you.” Nope, Alaskans don’t stress such a thing. In fact, red lights themselves are probably few and far between.

What do they stress about up here? In all of the rugged, raw beauty, everywhere I looked, there must be a catch. The COLD! Yes, the cold harsh Alaskan winters must be horrible and miserable with most of the non-winter months spent planning winter survival and keeping warm. Whew, for a brief second I thought I found paradise and the simple life, a stress free happily-ever-after place, free of all of the industry-related trade show variables and issues that arise every day in our world. Moving to Alaska would bring on a life stressing the COLD.

Would that be so bad? How cold does it really get? I set about investigating this thought over an Alaska Stout beer near the pier. Beer would surely help ease the pains of winter in this part of the world! Problem solved – a stress free life surely awaits me in Alaska! Time to hop back on my floating hotel for the week and find a place to fantasize about living in.

Next Stop Juneau

I was excited to visit Juneau by the time we arrived. I had heard of a glacier, Mendenhall, that was only a short bus ride away. As we made the trek through the quaint little town of Juneau, our bus driver spoke of all the wonderful bears, eagles, and salmon that called the area home. He advised us to take the Nugget Trail up the falls for a better view of the glacier.

Upon exiting the bus, I grabbed my day backpack and approached the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in search of the trail. Never mind the visitor center. I wanted to see the chunk of ice!!

In my typical turbo style, I hiked the 1.1 mile trail in a handful of minutes with my heart racing and adrenaline pumping the whole way. Wow! An amazing and jaw dropping view as I came to the end of the hike. So much beauty with the whole spectrum of the color blue on display along with an impressive waterfall right next to me. Like a child, I had to bend over and touch the water to see how cold it really was. As I bent down, a small mini iceberg lapped up on shore and I shouted with excitement! I picked up that football sized piece and took a few pics with my very own baby iceberg. After spending a half hour or so enjoying the gaze, I headed back down the trail to the visitor center.

This time I actually went inside the visitor center and was astonished to learn that the Visitor Center was built right in front of Mendenhall Glacier in the 1930s. The photos on the wall looked like a different piece of ice. Today, the glacier is over a mile away and has been shrinking at a furious pace over the last 60+ years. The lake in front of the glacier didn’t exist when the Visitor Center was built. GULP!

Climate Change

At that moment, all the talk of climate change became a reality. A huge lump formed in the back of my throat as I witnessed first-hand what climate change means. It means a lot for Alaskans. Their environment is experiencing more drastic effects than what we are experiencing in the lower 48 states. I thought that I had found a paradise with a life involving only a little bit of stress (staying warm during the winter Alaskan months), but in reality, Alaskans are stressed about the rapid change occurring in their environment. As I became more aware of the impacts that they are feeling, I began to sympathize with them and wondered how can I really help the situation. I’m not going to turn into a tree hugging, save the planet hippie, but I will surely think twice about my footprint on this planet.

In our industry, we can certainly help steer clients towards eco-friendlier exhibit options. At Exhibits Northwest, we offer recyclable fabrics for our displays and use recycled aluminum. I’ll end my sales pitch and invite you to peruse the photos in this post. Yes, a Caribbean cruise is nice, but I encourage you to take the Alaskan trip soon. The clock is ticking….

John Zipay
GM, Exhibits Northwest Portland and Seattle

The Life Cycle of a Portable Hybrid Display

August 16th, 2016 2 COMMENTS


I need to gripe… so I can move on.

Quality Cycles

As you know, all products have cycles. No surprise there. However, one cycle that’s rare discussed is the quality cycle.

In general, first generation (new) products are introduced with mid-level quality. Meaning, while the materials may be of a higher quality, there are always bugs, features, etc. that lessen the “perceived” value. Those are remedied quickly, and the quality improves. Think first generation smartphones, cars, or footwear.

If the product is successful, then others rapidly enter the market. Some add features at the same quality level, but others look for ways to cut costs and the selling price. That may include improving production, increasing volume (and lowing their margins), or the tried-and-true method of making a cheaper version with less optimal or alternative materials. These products may look the same, but rarely perform as well as the higher-quality versions.

What Do We Do?

As customers, we experiment with the look-a-like cheaper versions, ex. shoes, lawnmowers, jewelry, or BBQ grills. We discover that price is usually a good indicator of quality. That doesn’t mean we won’t buy a less expensive suit or dress, for example, but we understand that it won’t perform at same level as the more expensive one.

You know this, intuitively. In our business, exhibitors are often confused by a product that appears to be the same but is less expensive. Pop Ups and Banner Stands fit this pattern. You know that and are able to describe the differences to your customers based on your experiences with those products.

Can you do the same with Portable Hybrid Displays? That’s much harder.

1202_render_1bEarlier this week, I saw a 10 ft. hybrid backwall for $1,759. It included plex wings, a fabric graphic, lights, and a case. Great price on a kit that looks similar to a Sacagawea Portable Hybrid at around $4000.

I often see the bargain imported hybrids on the trade show floor, so I thought I’d share what I see as the major differences. These are not obvious, especially if your only point of reference is an online rendering.

1. Much lower quality aluminum (softer) with thinner walls, less internal ribbing, and minimal anodizing. Meaning it will dent, scratch, distort, and discolor after two or three shows. Do you recall when pop ups displays always featured “aircraft grade” aluminum? It matters.

2. Hinky hardware connections (yes, I said hinky!). I can’t tell you how many I’ve seen leaning like the Tower of Pisa. Most of the time, the connections are not repairable on the budget hybrids.

3. First or second generation dye-sublimation printing on low thread-count fabric. The images are muted, and the fabric is more prone to ripping and distorting. It’s clearly not HD quality. It’s like buying a shirt at H&M. You don’t expect it to last.

4. Minimal packaging. Basic foam and tape for one-time use. This increases the chances of damage and lost pieces — significantly.

5. 100% tool assembly and caricature-like instructions. Makes me appreciate IKEA instructions.
Plus limited upgrades and accessories.

6. Low quality roto-molded cases. The plastic walls crack, buckles break, or handles snap after several shipments. You know you’re in trouble when the case is held together with duct tape.

7. Lastly, the warranty is laughable. Not happy? Want to return it? Now you are just making my sides hurt.

Let’s Not Kid Ourselves

There is a market for these basic hybrids. And there should be. But as exhibit professionals, we shouldn’t present them as comparable to higher-quality portable hybrids, especially to our corporate clients who want a durable, attractive, and easy-to-assemble display.

Allow me to put this in perspective with a personal example. Quite a few years ago, I purchased a $169 lawnmower. It lasted four years and did an OK job, except for the wheels always falling off. Then I bought a Toro for $325. It has lasted 10 years and does an AMAZING job, and I expect it will last another 5 years. My all-to-friendly neighbor agrees.

Your customer will always buy based on their budget. And you are going to sell them what they can afford. No complaints here. However, as the “tactful professional” is important for them to understand what they are getting (and not getting) on any display purchase.

I’m better now. And I’ll move on. Comments? Please share.

–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


Trade Show Tips to the Beat of the 2010s

August 15th, 2016 1 COMMENT


The Keys to a Successful Trade Show:  The Follow-Up

Advicertainment by M. Christine Delea

The two biggest mistakes regarding trade shows? People not planning ahead of time, and people not following up once they get home. Some people claim trade shows aren’t worth the cost — but if you don’t continue the relationships you start at shows, you haven’t fulfilled the potential of the show. No wonder some people get so stressed out.

Your Lips are Moving

lipsSo open your email, pull out your phone, and say hello to those people you met a few days ago. No hard sell, just a friendly greeting. Get your lips moving and connect with potential customers — remind them who you are. Send an actual handwritten note to loyal customers. I’m not the only one who will tell you that leaving a blank space is a huge mistake. Nothing fancy is necessary. Just get ahead of the wave, and you will stand out.

The fact that business tools are changing is one of the few rules of business that doesn’t change. Use every aspect of technology at your disposal to show off how incredible you were at the trade show and to reconnect with people who attended as well as those who did not (those who had to stay home can get some cheap thrills vicariously, as well as learn from your great photos and notes).  As usual, all of your business correspondence should have as its underlying principle: I would do anything for you.


Act as if there is a countdown clock for the ideas and inspiration you learned at the trade show, and share those as soon as possible with colleagues who weren’t there. Tell them everything at once if need be. Shared ideas can spur more innovations, and you need to look ahead to the next trade show.

And speaking of those colleagues, be sure you thank and congratulate all those who made the trade show so successful. It’s not tacky to let folks know that you really like them. Everyone likes to be appreciated.

Make your trade shows pay off. Follow up and follow through once you get home. You can be the Queen or the King of trade shows if you keep up with others after the show is over. Your customers will appreciate you remembering them.

Posts in the Series:


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