Trade Show TalesBlog

Classic Exhibits Products + Services Summary Sheet

November 6th, 2023 COMMENTS

For years, we’ve joked that Distributors often describe Classic Exhibits based on their last order. We build “custom exhibits” or “portable displays” or “charging solutions.” Or we’re a “rental provider” … Which makes Jim Shelman very, very happy.

It’s not unusual to hear, “I didn’t know you did fill in the blank.” Which can be as simple as iPad Stands or as comprehensive as Sustainable Exhibits.

Core Products + Essential Services

To address this, we created a downloadable Products and Services Summary Sheet. Does it include EVERYTHING? No, but it’s close enough for fill in the blank.

If you’re wondering why there’s not an unbranded version, the answer is simple. This document is for you (Classic Distributors), not end-users. Franky, we don’t care if they know what we do. We only care that you know what we do. And now you do.

Please take a moment to download it. Let us know if you have an questions.

Classic Exhibits Products and Services Sheet
Classic Exhibits Products and Services Sheet

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As the largest private-label exhibit manufacturer in North America, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.    

Are You a Trade Show Gambler?

October 24th, 2023 COMMENTS
Trade Show Marketing and Gambling
What are your odds of succees on the trade show floor?

Ever wonder why so many trade shows are held in Las Vegas. Hint:  It’s not because Donny Osmond and Carrot Top are headliners. It’s gambling. Frankly, I love gambling, even if I’m not much of a gambler. The chance to turn $20 into $1000’s, maybe even millions of dollars, is scary seductive.

Gambling may also be the reason I love trade show marketing. It’s playing the odds. Trade shows, just like all games of chance, have very specific odds. While there’s always going to be some luck involved, it’s up to the trade show marketer to choose what “games” they play and how much they wager. Frankly, some of us choose wisely… while others do not. There are no guarantees, only choices based on experience, research, and hunches.

What kind of trade show gambler are you? See below.

Powerball/Mega Millions Lotteries

While not Las Vegas gambling, it’s gambling we know and understand. It’s hard to resist the lure of a lottery when the prize approaches $500 million. You bet $2 to $100 and continue buying tickets until someone wins the grand prize. The odds of winning are not good, actually terrible, but that’s OK. It wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t a lot, and you were going to the convenience store anyway to get an energy drink. Many lottery players don’t even bother checking their tickets if they’re not the BIG winner.

The Multiplier Marketer

You’ve met this trade show exhibitor. They buy an inexpensive display, participate in the BIG show year after year, put little effort into it, and toss away most leads. But next year… they’ll land that multi-million dollar order, and it will all be worthwhile. They’ve bought into the whole “you can’t win if you don’t play” philosophy, which sounds suspiciously like “We go because, we’ve always gone to the show.”

Trade Show Marketing and Slot Machines

Slot Machines

Who doesn’t love the noise, the lights, and the movement of slot machines? They’re fun and seemingly affordable. True, the odds aren’t great, but they’re better than the lottery, keno, or even roulette. The rules (if there are any) are easy to learn. Best of all, someone is always winning, because you hear the jackpots and the lights flashing. Keep at it, you’ll eventually break even if you just put another $20 into the slot machine.

Wonder Woman Marketer

Plug and play is hard to resist for many trade show marketers. After all, it’s the show organizer’s job to bring attendees to the show. Their hardest decision is which display to choose, and hopefully, the one they select (Wheel of Fortune) will have better odds than the other choices (Game of Thrones or Wonder Woman). Just keep playing you tell yourself and eventually (if you hold your head just right and wear your lucky shoes), you might land that one-in-a-million Progressive client.

Trade Show Marketing and Blackjack


In blackjack, you don’t control the cards, but knowing the rules and understanding blackjack strategy can improve your chances of winning. The casual blackjack player may win occasionally, but the professional blackjack player wins consistently. Skill and strategy will alter the odds just enough to give the expert a slight advantage over the house. And if they know how to count cards, then all bets are off for the house advantage.  

Splitting Aces Marketer

Unlike slot machines, blackjack skills can be taught and strategies learned. There’s a wide range of trade show marketers in this category, but most have a working knowledge of the rules and regulations and the time to study them. Great marketers tap into the knowledge of those who have been successful at trade shows for years. There’s still some luck involved, but they try to control what’s controllable. And just like blackjack, the “house” will occasionally change the rules to make winning more challenging. It’s up to the exhibitor to find creative ways to improve their odds which can mean shifting to another show if the odds are better.   

Trade Show Marketing and Poker


Unlike the games previously mentioned, the house makes its money by taking a rake, entry fee, or timed fee from the players. And just like with blackjack, knowing the odds and understanding poker strategy will improve a player’s chances of winning. Yes, there’s luck, but poker adds another dimension… reading people. In poker, it’s possible to have a losing hand and still win. Professional poker players study their opponents, not just while playing but also weeks or months in advance looking for “tells” that will give them an advantage. Preparation, focus, and decisiveness can be the difference between losing everything or winning not just the pot, but the tournament.

I’m All In! Marketer

The trade show marketer, who acts like a professional poker player, controls what they can control. That includes their exhibit, the show services, the location, the attendees, the pre- and post-show marketing, the staff, and the ROI or ROO. They recognize that a successful trade show is always possible if they improve their odds. They’re more likely to attract the right clients to their booth, provide them with a memorable experience, gather the appropriate sales information, and contact them promptly after the show.

But mostly, they’re in control. They don’t get distracted, and they don’t allow their team to play the slots when they should be sitting down for a game of poker.

Not Everyone Gambles

One important note: not everyone at a trade show is a gambler. Some don’t have to be because the “non-gamblers” control the games, set the odds, and determine the rules and regulations. They win the moment someone enters the building. It’s simply a matter of how much they win. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, we should all applaud any business savvy and smart enough to create a profitable strategy.

Always Bet on Yourself

As a trade show marketer, you have enormous power as an exhibitor. First of all, you get to choose which shows deserve your business. Not every show does, even if they’re The Major Show for your industry.  Secondly, you can negotiate or influence rates, sponsorships, and the fees and regulations of future shows. Will you always be successful? No. But saying silent means the answer is always No.

Finally, smart exhibitors assume their trade show success depends on them, not the show organizers, not the General Show Contractor, not other exhibitors. They control the outcome and do everything possible to manage their expenses, their exhibit experience, and their pre- and post-show marketing. In other words, while they gamble, they always choose games where winning is in their control.  

Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufactures portable, modular, hybrid, and custom exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


Custom Trade Show Displays: A Marketing Must-Have

October 3rd, 2023 COMMENTS
Custom trade show displays

You’re in the market for a custom trade show display. While searching, you may have seen phrases like Custom Trade Show Exhibits, Custom Trade Show Booths, or  Custom Trade Show Stands. Is there a difference between an exhibit, a booth, and a stand? Not really. They’re used interchangeably.  

What is and what isn’t a custom trade show exhibit? The answer isn’t tidy.  Custom design and custom construction have evolved in recent years. If you picture a custom display as a specially designed booth, tailored to your specific brand and marketing objectives, and built using wood construction, you would be right. However, it could also be built using aluminum extrusion, modular panels, light boxes, and fabric graphics. 

10 Benefits of Custom Trade Show Displays 

Imagine ordering a custom suit or wedding dress. The design, the materials, and the size will be tailor-made for you. It will reflect who you are and/or how you want to be seen. A custom trade show exhibit is very similar. Done well, it’s an advantage on the show floor. 

Here are 10 benefits of a custom trade show display:

  1. Visibility. A custom, well-designed trade show exhibit will increase your visibility compared to your competition and attract more attendees to your booth. 
  2. Brand Identity. Trade shows are an uber-competitive space. Increasing your brand identity and building awareness of your products or services is critical. Design your exhibit to communicate your brand’s values, mission, and unique selling proposition.
  3. Targeted Audience. A custom trade show exhibit allows you to target your message to a specific audience. You can select colors, fonts, and images and incorporate product demonstrations, interactive displays, and giveaways.
  4. Sales Leads. Generating leads and sales is the #1 goal for most exhibitors. Custom exhibits traditionally attract more attendees. 
  5. Networking. Trade shows are a great place to network with other businesses and learn about new trends and developments in your industry. When you have a custom trade show exhibit, you will have a space where you can meet and talk with other professionals in your field.
  6. Education. You can use your custom trade show exhibit to educate potential customers about your products or services. You can hand out brochures and product samples, and you can have staff on hand to answer questions. You can also use your exhibit to host educational workshops or seminars.
  7. Enhance Relationships with Existing Customers. When you have a custom trade show exhibit, you can create a space where customers can come and learn more about your business and your products or services. You can also use your exhibit to host events and promotions that will help you to connect with customers on a more personal level.
  8. Competitive Advantage. A custom trade show exhibit can give you a competitive advantage over your competitors. With a well-designed exhibit, you can create a more professional and sophisticated image for your business.
  9. Reinforce your Brand Messaging. Your custom trade show exhibit can create a consistent brand experience for your customers. Your exhibit can communicate your brand’s values, mission, and unique selling proposition while showcasing your company’s personality and culture.
  10. ROI/ROO. A custom trade show exhibit can be a significant investment, but it can also be a very good return on investment (ROI) or Return on Objectives (ROO). When you design your exhibit carefully and use it effectively, you can generate leads, sales, and brand awareness. This can lead to increased revenue and profits for your business.

Overall, a custom trade show display is a powerful marketing tool that can help you achieve your business goals. If you are serious about trade shows and trade show marketing, then a custom display is a worthwhile investment.

trade show custom displays

The Evolution of Trade Shows and Trade Show Displays

Trade shows, trade fairs, and expositions have a long and rich history, dating back to the Middle Ages. The earliest trade shows were known as fairs, and they were held annually or on specific days a year, usually at geographically favorable locations and in conjunction with a religious festival in order to benefit from the rush of the public. The tradition of trade shows in the spring and fall continues today. 

Beginning in the late 1700s, industrial exhibitions in Europe and North America became more common because of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 1800’s, annual industry-specific trade shows gained traction, spreading from European manufacturing centers to North America. By the 20th century, trade show companies came into existence to manage the trade show industry, and permanent trade show grounds or convention centers were established as venues that featured a rotating calendar of trade shows.

Notable trade shows in history include

  • The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London was the first truly international trade show and attracted over 6 million visitors.
  • The Paris Exposition of 1889 featured the Eiffel Tower and other iconic landmarks.
  • The New York World’s Fair of 1939 showcased the latest technologies and innovations from around the world.
  • The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been held annually in Las Vegas since 1967.
  • The Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been held annually in Barcelona since 2006. There’s also a Las Vegas MWC

The modern history of trade shows is one of growth and evolution. In the early 20th century, trade shows were primarily used to showcase new products and services to buyers and distributors. However, over time, trade shows have become more sophisticated and now serve a variety of purposes, including

Launching New Products and Services. Trade shows are ideal for introducing new products and services. Businesses use trade shows to generate leads, build brand awareness, and demonstrate their products and services to potential customers.

Networking with Potential Customers and Partners. Trade shows bring together people with shared professional or personal interests. This can lead to new sales opportunities, partnerships, and joint ventures.

Learning about the Latest Products and Services. Trade shows are a showcase for the latest innovations. Walking the show hall is an excellent way to learn about new technologies and trends. 

Gaining Market Intelligence. There’s no better place to gain insights about your competition and the overall market landscape than at a trade show. You can see what your competitors are doing and identify new opportunities for your business.

Recently,  trade shows have also become more interactive and experiential. Businesses are using a variety of technologies and marketing tactics to create engaging experiences for attendees. For example, some businesses are using virtual reality to give attendees a preview of new products or services. Others are using social media to connect with attendees before, during, and after the show.

Emerging Trade Show Display Trends

Technology. Technology is playing an increasingly important role in trade shows. Businesses are using a variety of technologies to create engaging experiences for attendees, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.

Experiential. Trade shows are no longer just about showcasing products and services. Businesses are now focused on creating engaging experiences for attendees. This could include interactive exhibits, demos, and networking events. This could be as simple as casual cornhole contests to competitive video games. More and more exhibitors recognize the blending of education and entertainment as the key to creating meaningful interactions with potential clients. 

Fabric Graphics. The fabric graphics, specifically SEG fabric graphics, rule trade shows. In the past, large fabric graphics were expensive, labor-intensive, and fragile. Not anymore. Nearly all exhibits include expansive vertical or horizontal fabric graphics and are often backlit with LED lights (see below). 

LED Video Panels and Lighting. The introduction of LED lighting and video has elevated trade show exhibits from the smallest tabletop to huge double-deck islands. This transformation is still evolving as exhibit builders incorporate LED lighting in both dramatic and subtle touches throughout their designs. Expect to see more and more LED video walls as the cost declines and the exhibitors feel more comfortable creating compelling content. 

Aluminum Modular Walls and Modular Design. Walk any trade show floor during installation and you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands, of aluminum modular walls. These lightweight panels often replace or augment custom wood construction by doing the “heavy lifting” of creating the flat or curved walls necessary for any inline or island exhibit. Combining these with custom wood structures not only reduces the overall weight of an exhibit but also allows exhibitors to redirect the budget into design features or activities that directly impact attendees in their booth, like presentation stages, casual seating, LED video panels, and interactive demos.   

custom displays

Custom Displays vs. Standard Displays 

To some extent, any and all displays can be customized. That customization may be as minor as your graphics on the structure. While that may seem a stretch (pun intended), in reality, graphics are almost always the most important visual element of your display. So what do most industry “experts” define as a standard display? Let’s segment them into 5 categories. 

1. Pure Budget Portables. Pure Portables are typically inexpensive displays, like banner stands, pop-up displays, or basic tube systems with pillowcase fabric graphics. They’re functional, lightweight, and some would say “disposable” since if they break, it’s rarely worth the cost or the effort to fix them. 

2. Portables. Higher-quality portable displays may have accessory options like shelves, monitor stands, and counters. They don’t necessarily appear much different than Pure Budget Portables, but they’ll perform longer and include better packaging. 

3. Portable Modular. If you like options, then you’ll love portable modular displays. These offer mix-and-match frame shapes, a wide assortment of accessories, and durable yet lightweight construction. The Symphony Portable System is a good example of this category. 

4. Modular Wall Systems. Traditionally, custom wood exhibits are built using wood panels that attach with camlocks. The surface typically has a laminate finish and may include vinyl graphics. Modular Wall Systems are double-sided lightweight aluminum panels that can be finished with direct print Sintra graphics or SEG fabric graphics. Not only are they lighter than wood panels, but they come in flat and curved shapes and can be stacked to create towers and ceilings. Modular Walls are also the ideal building block for custom rental displays. 

5. LED Lightboxes. If you were to identify the most important changes to exhibit design over the past 5-10 years, LED lightboxes (and LED lighting in general) would be #1 on the list. Not so long ago, lighting was expensive, the options limited and fragile, and the installation tricky.  Lightboxes are now available for tabletop displays, inline portables, modular systems, custom wood displays, and hanging signs. 

trade show displays

Classic Exhibits: Your Partner in Custom Trade Show Displays

How do you create a custom trade show design you love without multiple meetings and revisions? Get the designer and the decision-maker to talk to one another. It works! The designers at Classic Exhibits have held thousands of design meetings with clients over the years. We’ve developed a detailed process that quickly identifies your trade show objectives, brand requirements, and budget. 

For 35 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As the largest private-label exhibit manufacturer in North America, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.

Your Guide to Designing a Custom Trade Show Booth

September 29th, 2023 COMMENTS
Custom Trade Show Booth

So, you’re considering a custom trade show exhibit. Perhaps it’s a 10 x 20 inline or a 30 x 40 island. While you may be a seasoned veteran of trade shows or a newbie who has never purchased any displays, the steps are the same regardless of your experience. 

Start by keeping an open mind about what a “custom trade show exhibit” is. There’s often an assumption that it’s large or expensive or heavy or complicated. And, it can be all of those, but it doesn’t need to be. On its most basic level, custom simply means that it’s custom or customized to your exhibit marketing needs. Traditionally, a custom trade show exhibit is a wood or aluminum structure designed and constructed specifically for a particular company or brand. When done well, it’s intended to be a more immersive, engaging, and memorable experience for attendees.

Custom Trade Show Booth Essentials 

Forget about how your custom exhibit is going to be built or what materials will be used. Those details can come later. It’s all about the why, what, who at this point. Why trade show marketing? What are your goals? Who’s your audience? And what’s your budget? Does your brand have a specific identity and does your company have a well-defined personality? And what’s worked or not worked for you in the past? 

You need to be prepared for these questions because an exhibit designer can’t (and shouldn’t) begin creating your custom exhibit without these details. Design without details is a waste of everyone’s time and money. 

Brand Identity: Your custom trade show exhibit should be an extension of your brand identity, with consistent colors, fonts, and visual elements. It’s critical to share your brand guidelines with the designer to ensure that they have a clear understanding of your brand’s look and feel.

Target Audience: Who are you trying to reach with your trade show exhibit? Keep your target audience in mind when designing your booth, and make sure that your messaging and visuals are relevant to their interests.

Marketing Goals: What do you want to achieve with your trade show exhibit? Do you want to generate leads, promote your brand, or launch a new product? Once you know your goals, you can start to design a booth that will help you achieve them.

Functionality: Your trade show exhibit should be both visually appealing and functional. Make sure that there is enough space for visitors to move around comfortably, and that your displays are easy to access. You should also consider providing seating or lounge areas for visitors to relax and learn more about your products and services.

Budget: Custom trade show exhibits can be expensive, so it is important to set a budget before you start planning your booth. Once you have a budget in mind, you can start to work with a designer to create a booth that fits your needs and budget.

Custom Trade Show Booth Design: Tips from the Pros 

Do you want a successful, even award-winning custom trade show exhibit? Then be open-minded, actively involved in the creative process, and trust the exhibit professionals to design and build your custom booth. No exhibit house wants a client who isn’t responsive, doesn’t offer advice, or is simply wishy-washy about suggestions. You know your company, your culture, and your objectives. Your exhibit house knows display design, experiential trends, and building materials. Consider the following:  

  • Finishes, Textures, and Colors. Your brand matters. For many exhibitors, the brand’s color and finish are the base coat of any successful design. 
  • Layout (Maximize Space). While inlines are inlines and islands are islands, don’t let the rectangular or square footprint of a booth space be a limitation. Your layout should fit your objectives. Do you need presentation areas, meeting rooms, demo stations, reception counters, and interactive games or activities? Strive to optimize the space without adding clutter. Sometimes what looks good on paper or a computer screen can feel cramped or impractical on the show floor. 
  • Graphics. Too often, exhibitors spend weeks fussing over the structure and days designing the graphics. Usually in that order. The exhibit structure and the graphic treatment should proceed hand-in-hand during the design process. Graphics often change from show to show so what makes sense at Show #1 may not be appropriate at Show #2.   
  • Display. Many custom exhibits are built using modular walls, both wood and aluminum. Your custom display should look like it was built specifically for you, and not just a display rebranded with your logos.
  • Accessories and Interactive Elements. A custom display should seamlessly integrate into all the other elements in your booth, like counters, workstations, and furniture,  and enhance the overall experience. This can be done with Audio, Video, Lighting, and Interactive Elements like games or touchscreens.
  • Experiential. How you engage with attendees will determine whether their experience is memorable or simply one more forgettable interaction on the show floor. Those experiences should support your strategy and brand while providing your guests with solutions they’ll remember and an experience they’ll share with others. 

The Latest Trade Show Booth Design Trends 

Trade Show Booth Design has undergone significant changes over the past 10 years. Not only has technology contributed to those changes, but also an increased emphasis on personalization and experiential games, presentations, and interactions. In addition, exhibitors are more focused on their Return on Investment or Return on Objectives, so measuring and maximizing their success has become much more important. Below are some emerging trends in exhibit design. 

Emerging Design Trends:

  • Sustainability and Eco-friendly Design
  • Natural Finishes and Materials
  • LED Lighting and Backlit Images
  • Large Format Fabric Graphics
  • Modularity (Reconfiguring Designs) 
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Social Media Integration
  • Experiential Games and Activities
  • Meeting Rooms and Casual Seating 
  • Custom graphics and visual storytelling
  • Blending Rental with Purchase Elements for Greater Flexibility
  • Custom Flooring Including Printed, Inlay, and Raised Flooring 

5 Stunning Custom Trade Show Booth Examples 

custom exhibit fabrication
Custom Modular Island w/ Seating

custom trade show booth design
Custom Island Exhibit with Lightboxes and Hanging Sign

custom trade show booth manufacturer
Inline Display with Custom Product Shelves
trade show booth design
Custom Trade Show Booth with Dining Area
custom trade show design
Custom Modular Display with Touchscreens and Storage

Finding the Right Custom Trade Show Booth Manufacturer

Trade shows, trade fairs, conventions, and expositions have existed for hundreds of years. And yet, the trade show industry in the United States is somewhat invisible to most people. Just the trade show portion was forecast to reach 11.8 billion in 2023. Include events and the number doubles to over $23 billion!

This means, there are custom exhibit builders and manufacturers throughout the United States. Most have one location, but many have sales or manufacturing facilities in multiple cities. 

Finding the perfect custom house will depend on your objectives, personality, and location. Some exhibitors want to work with a custom house where they’re the big fish in a small pond. Others are less concerned about size and more about capability, creativity, and services. 

When choosing a custom exhibit house, consider the following: 

Location: From a practical standpoint, most exhibitors work with an exhibit house near or somewhat near them. While video conferencing, file sharing, and texting/email make proximity less important, we’re still more comfortable meeting face-to-face, even if only occasionally, and inspecting our booth in person. That said, location doesn’t always matter especially if someone on your team has a solid working relationship with a specific builder.  

Services: Not all exhibit builders have the same services. Some have large rental inventories, A/V production teams, direct and/or fabric printing, I&D labor, and a comprehensive team of account managers, project managers, designers, event coordinators, welders, carpenters, millwrights, and assemblers. Others have all those but on a smaller scale. Finally, size, whether small or large, doesn’t equate to better service. 

Personality/Fit:  We’re all different, and some exhibit builders better match your needs and personality. Often, there’s no one reason. It just feels right. And that’s OK. 

History: History and relationships matter. It’s not unusual for exhibitors to have a multi-decade relationship with their exhibit house. They’re a team. They know what works, the exhibitor’s show schedule, and how to accomplish the impossible together. It means the exhibitor can focus on strategy and execution rather than the mundane tasks of ordering show services, pre-show booth staging, packing promotional products, or arranging freight. 

Price/Budget: A custom exhibit is a purchase. Large companies are often required to send RFPs (request for proposals) on capital expenses like the building, storing, and maintenance of a custom exhibit. Whatever the final decision on which exhibit house to choose, cost is a factor. And it should be. How much price weighs in the overall decision depends on the company.  

Meet Your Custom Trade Show Booth Partner: Classic Exhibits! 

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As the largest private-label exhibit manufacturer in North America, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.    

Finding My Way into the Trade Show Biz and My First Sales Call

September 25th, 2023 COMMENTS
Harold Mintz, Regional Sales Manager

I was recently asked to share memories of my very first sales call. I had to blow the dust off many layers of memories to find my way back to the early 80’s.

People usually find their way into our industry via two different paths: your family member owns an exhibit house in which you spend your youthful summers schvitzing away in a sweltering shop (I’m looking at you, Nick Carty!) or like most of us… you trip into it by accident.

For me, it was accidental. Please allow me to share some snippets from the early chapters in the Book of Harold.

First Job. First Big Mistake.

Fresh out of college, I somehow managed to get a gig as a copywriter at a local ad agency. I was writing 5 ads a day/5 days a week — TV, radio, newspaper. I wrote all the ads. Whatever the client or my boss asked for, I wrote it.

One day my boss says, “We have a new client (The Washington Times newspaper). They need to see some radio copy. Go write me five spots by the end of day.” As he was leaving my office, he tossed out one more instruction… “Don’t be funny. This is a serious client who is attempting to plant a serious flag. Don’t be funny.”

Sounds simple enough, right? Five ads before the end of the day. No funny. Gotcha. But here’s the problem. After doing my research on this new daily paper, I honestly felt they could use some humor to get people’s attention.

So after penning five straight (rather boring) radio spots, I decided to do one more… for extra credit. And it was funny. Really funny. Might have been one of the best ads I’d ever written. I was quite proud of it actually. So, when I went into my boss’s office that afternoon, I presented the five assigned “not funny” ads and proudly placed my extra credit copy right on top of the stack. MISTAKE!

This is the boss who showed me the door. Notice the hat? The Washington Times

He began to read. After a few seconds, he balled up the copy and tossed it into the trash can. There was no way he’d read the entire ad! My young and inexperienced emotions bubbled to the surface and before I could zip my lip, out it came… “FXQZ You!”

After he stopped laughing, he said, “Okay. You know you’re fired, right?” He continued, “And just a suggestion, it’s probably not a good idea to say ‘F You’ to your next boss.” 

My Next Job.

Harold Mintz
Who the heck would buy anything from this head of hair?

I was once again on the streets looking for a job. I sent out resume after resume. Bupkus. I even got my hair cut (at my father’s strong suggestion).

After a month of scouring the want ads, one of my buddies said, “Why don’t you go see my brother? He owns an exhibit house, and he’s looking for someone to write a client’s annual report.”

An exhibit what??!! Didn’t know. Didn’t care. I was out of work and needed money. I booked the appointment.

I was hired and after six weeks, I completed what I’m sure remains one of the world’s most boring annual reports ever written.

But during those 6 weeks, I noticed odd things around the shop and I had questions. Lots of questions.

“What’s that?”

“That’s a piece of moon rock. We’re making a display for the Smithsonian.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s a calligrapher. He’s illuminating (hand penning) diplomas for Mt Vernon College.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s a sign painter. He’s painting posters for the local department store.” (Listen youngsters — Vinyl machines didn’t always exist. Before Gerber made the first vinyl plotter/cutter, all signs were either hand painted or silk-screened.)

This all looked like great fun! So I asked if there was a permanent spot for me on the Blair, Inc Team. There was. In sales.

Sales? No kid that I know says, “When I grow up I wanna be a salesperson. Ewww!” But I needed the job. I didn’t know it at the time, but Scott Jackson, owner of Blair, Inc had just given me my first sales gig in the trade show industry. (By the way, Blair, Inc is still kicking butt in Northern Virginia, currently enjoying 72 years in business.)

So there I was — young, inexperienced, and probably not much more knowledgeable about trade show exhibits than my future prospects. Although I had tagged along on a few sales calls with my boss, I didn’t feel like I was prepared to go solo yet. Doesn’t matter. The call came in, and I went out.

My First Prospect

All I knew about the prospect was that they were an engineering firm and that they were a two-hour drive from our shop. I arrived about half an hour early. Always good to be early. But I screwed up the time. The appointment was set for 2:00 pmNOT 3:00 pm.

I walked in thinking I was 30 minutes early, but in reality, I was 30 minutes late. No time to visit the restroom to unload the 20 ounces of coffee I had been slogging down.

I was ushered into the conference room where there were seven men staring at me. Remember… I’m a rookie. Instead of starting by asking the questions I now know are critical to capturing a prospect’s needs, I proceeded to make my presentation all about my company, my team, and ME. After about 10 minutes of non-stop blabbing, I finally pulled out my newfangled “pop-up exhibit.”

Nomadic Display’s corporate headquarters was just down the road from Blair, Inc and they had recently given us some demo Instand frames to show clients. I popped open the frame and the room full of engineers went nuts. They immediately jumped up and said, “Do that again!” At the time, nobody had seen Ted Ziegler’s pop-up technology before. They were astounded and wanted to know everything about it.

There was time when pop-up technology was astounding to everyone who saw it. Revolutionary!

No longer nervous, I taught them how to open it. They were sooooo into it!

I told them everything I knew about “Instand pop-ups,” which took all of two minutes. But they were engineers and started asking me questions. Lots of questions…

“Can the shelves hold 30 pounds?” “Sure.” No they can’t. They don’t even HAVE shelves.

“Is it reconfigurable?” “Of course… Don’t be silly.” Liar!!!

“Can we get it by Friday?” “Absolutely.” Nope.

They couldn’t have been more excited, and I couldn’t have been more worried. I spent the return two-hour drive freaking out. Oh my gosh! What if they actually BUY this display and find out it that it can’t do ANY of the things I’d promised?!

I needn’t have worried. Never heard from them again. As impressed as they were with the technology, they had also detected my rookie-ness on display and had decided to go with a more seasoned (smarter, more knowledgeable) salesperson.

I wasted their time and mine. I crashed and burned on my very first sales call — badly. But I did learn some big lessons.

Lessons Learned

1. Get There Early – Never, ever, ever be late for a meeting. Get thereearly. Get their WAY early. But never be late. In Hollywood I learned this ditty… “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re fired.”

2. Engineers – I know it’s stereotyping, but in my experience, engineers tend to like details. All the details. They also tend to want to put WAY too much copy on exhibit walls that nobody will ever read except maybe other engineers.

3. IDK — If a prospect asks you something that you don’t know the answer to, say “I don’t know!” Tell them you’ll find out and get back to them ASAP. And then find out and get back to them ASAP.

The Family Business

I mentioned up top about the two ways that people find their way into our industry: by family or by accident. While reminiscing about my early career, I realized that most of the companies that I’d worked for were all family houses:

Blair, Inc – son-in-law took over from father-in-law

Shy Greenspan, Founder of Blair, Inc and Scott Jackson, my boss and still the Owner of Blair, Inc.

Nomadic – daughter took over from father

Susan Mintz, Judy Watson (daughter) and Ted Zeigler (father and inventor of the Instand and the self-locking pop-up technology) and me.

HW Exhibits – son took over from father

Howard and Scott Walode

Last week, I was in Texas and had the pleasure of sitting down for a cup of coffee with Danny Kent/5D Show Services ( Danny’s dad, Rick Kent and industry icon Larry Crumlish started The Exhibit Store in Dallas many, many years ago. Danny shared with me how he spent his youth at The Exhibit Store learning from the ground up. It was emotional for both of us listening to him wax poetically as he reminisced about the early days and people no longer with us.

For all those who swam into our industry via their family’s gene pool, good for you.

And for all the rest of us who found it by accident… how lucky are we?

–Harold Mintz (