I joined Classic Exhibits in 2019 after a 10-year hiatus from the trade show industry. One of my first assignments was to walk Natural Products Expo Westin Anaheim. I was tasked with reporting on how exhibit design had changed over the previous decade. As it turned out, I discovered that the basic rules of trade show design had remained constant — bright colors, bold lighting, and high contrast never go out of style.
Last week I walked the floor of Natural Products Expo West once again, and I couldn’t be more pleased to report that the place was jam-packed. Lots of exhibitors, lots of attendees, and lots of tasty little snacks to sample as I strolled the floor.
Attention Grabbing Exhibits
The first booth that grabbed my attention was a 10’ backlit booth (Rambler). I couldn’t help but stop and take it in.
I LOVED how
the backlit orange simply ignited the backwall. And the stacks of
product along the sides of the booth showed their clean, crisp packaging while
eliminating the need for significant storage cabinets – a serious challenge in
a 10’ booth.
Bright colors kept grabbing my eyes demanding that I look their way.
Then I started noticing displays that put graphics against a black background. Anything on black jumps right out at you.
The same can almost be said for graphics with a white background. It’s hard not to look.
Lighting demands attention as well. Check out this booth. It’s hard to tell from the picture but the three lightbulbs shown as part of the “hanging lamps” are actually lightbulbs that have been inserted into the cut fabric. Bright lights, breaking the plane of the fabric. Nicely done.
This one as well.
BOTOX YOUR BOOTH!
I told myself that I wasn’t going to capture images showing examples of bad graphics at Natural Products Expo West. We all know when we see graphic designs that don’t work. No need to poke hard-working designers.
But wrinkles… wrinkles are not caused by designers. Wrinkles are easily fixable if I&D teams are prepared for them. And there is no excuse NOT to be prepared for them. I’ve done my best to crop out any identifying logos. I saw dozens and dozens and dozens of examples. PLEASE tell your I&D crews to be prepared. BOTOX YOUR BOOTH!
This might just be the best booth I saw all day – MYNTZ
With over 200 Distributor Partners throughout North America, there’s a Classic representative closer by. Contact us today whether you need a durable hand sanitizer stand built to last, a rental display guaranteed to attract trade show attendees, or a custom 30 x 40 exhibit with all the bells and whistles. We’re not just different. We’re better.
Tim Patterson, aka TheTradeshowGuy, interviews Tom Beard and Harold Mintz about Classic Conversations on his Monday Morning Coffee program. Very well done! For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook the other day when I came upon one of those “what if” questions an old high school buddy posted: “If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, what would you say?”
Personally, I’m not a fan of these “what if” posts. What’s the point? Facebook is for showing others how sunsets look from your backyard, not for turning the clock back 10 years to address things you have no ability to change.
And then destiny stepped in… “Ding!” It’s an email from Mel White.
You have a unique perspective regarding your visits with Distributors because of your 10 year gap in the industry.What would you say are the biggest differences between your meetings 10 years ago and your meetings now?
I am very curious.
When destiny speaks, Harold listens. Time to look back 10 years and identify “What’s Different.”
Most of the folks I’m meeting don’t know me. Maybe they’ve heard my name, but most are unaware of me or my experience in the industry. This is a constant reminder of the old axiom, “What have you done for me lately?”
I have minimal street cred with many Classic’s Distribution Partners so I am often starting off new. It’s up to me to build those relationships and earn their trust, confidence, and business.
I Swear… You’re the Only One!
It’s 2020. Dedicated Distribution is a thing of the past. Back in the old days when I visited a city, it was to meet with our sole distributor who represented that territory.
Times have changed, and I understand why but it requires a mental adjustment for me.
Today I plan my visits to see multiple Classic Distributors that either sell our products or that might sell our products in that territory. Some are primarily custom houses. Others portable modular. And then there are agencies who tap into Classic for special projects.
The Person Who Said, “You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression” Wasn’t a Regional Sales Manager.
When I visited Distributors ten years ago, I’d share our latest headlines: “What’s new? Check out our new widget! Cool, right?” Show and telling our newest products and services was of prime importance to keep our extended sales force informed and up to date.
And while I still do that, there is greater emphasis placed on discussing all of the things Classic provides rather than simply the newest toys in our box. Faster and constant turnover of Distributor employees is one of the primary reasons. “Where’s Jim?” “Jim? Get with the program. Jim left 3 months ago. But meet Billy. Billy’s the new Jim.”
It’s like I’m starting all over with every visit. So I get LOTS of chances to make a first impression for better or for worse.
I Love the Pix my New iPhone Takes. Wait a Minute… Are You Telling Me It Can Make a Phone Call Too?
That tiny little computer I carry around in my back pocket does SO much more than make phone calls. It’s a robust and multi-faceted tool. Same with Classic. Many Distributors think of us as the company that only provides whatever it is they last purchased from us.
Ten years ago, most of our Distributors knew exactly what we offered. Today, some Distributors know us as the company that rents highly customized booths. Others think of us as an extension of their own shop floor during the busy season capable of building exhibits straight from their designers’ renderings. And yes, some of our Distributors think of Classic as the company to turn to for high quality, affordable portable/modular exhibits, charging stations, or iPad stands.
Regardless of which niche you put us in, we do more than that.
AE? AM? AP? Sure, I’ll Meet with You!
I used to meet almost exclusively with Account Executives when visiting a Distributor. Geez… how old am I?! Today decisions about which vendor to use are made by lots of folks in addition to Account Executives, like Account Managers, Purchasing Agents, Designers, and sometimes a guy named Joe with no title.
Our internal contacts at Distributors have not only increased but have also gotten a bit confusing. Sometimes the internal contact changes based on the client (which makes sense). Other times it changes because it’s a custom project or a rental or a portable modular order. All that makes my job both more challenging and interesting.
The Smithsonian Called… They Want Your Showroom
Most Distributors used to have a showroom. Ha! Today there is more space for previewing a Client’s new booth than there is for a showroom. One of the obvious reasons is that most Distributors are selling to clients from all over the country and not just from ”the neighborhood.”
As I talk to Classic Distributors, they tell me a showroom isn’t as important anymore. And with square foot pricing always on the rise, space has to be allocated appropriately. When visiting Distributors. I regularly ask, “How many of your Clients are located within an hour of where we’re standing?” The answers are quite telling — less local, more national.
It’s worth noting here that I am regularly being asked for freebies, loaners, and BIG discounts on showroom units. Showrooms still exist. And some are stunningly beautiful. They’re just becoming an endangered species. #savetheshowrooms #givetoyourlocalshowroomfoundation
Extrusions are Like Opinions. Everyone’s Got One But Few are As Good as Mine
Ten years ago, Distributors were ramping up their rental inventory with pallets of metal extrusion. Octanorm. AGAM. beMatrix. Aluvision. All had a place on select shelves. Today I still see examples of all four with beMatix leading the way.
For obvious reasons, Distributors ask their sales teams to promote the system sitting on their shelves. But more and more Distributors wish they could turn the clock back on their extrusion investments. Their reasoning is quite simple. It’s tough to compete against other exhibit houses when everyone is usingthe same building blocks. We’re seeing design saturation on the show floor with many booths looking the same just with different graphics. And clients are noticing.
When I share info about Gravitee, Classic’s tool-less extrusion system, Distributors take notice. Tool-less means no tiny connectors to lose and best of all – much faster set up!When you combine the money saved on I&D with the refreshing look of unique designs, many Distributors are wishing they could turn the clock back 10 years.
Some Things Never Change
The last one has nothing to do with trade shows or exhibitions. But seriously, “Why is cilantro still a thing?” I would have hoped that this disgusting herb would have gone the way of dedicated distribution. But alas, it still thrives. Blecch.
I entered the exhibit industry back in 1980 when I took a
job with the Electronic Industry Association’s Consumer Electronics Shows. To
put that in perspective, the big thing at the first CES I attended was the
launch of RCA’s Videodisc. For those unfamiliar with a videodisc, picture a DVD
the size of a record. For those of you unfamiliar with records, see your
I am in my first year with Classic Exhibits but with 30 years of industry experience. I took nine years off (2010-2018) to play in Hollywood with a childhood friend. And while that turned out to be a fun-packed excursion for me, the pull of the exhibition industry lured me back. And so here I am.
Recently, my friend Jason Cornatzer from 2020 Exhibits invited me to attend this year’s Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2019 at the Anaheim Convention Center. I accomplished two things by attending the show. First, I saw what is happening on the front lines of the exhibit industry. Second, that inspired me to share my thoughts with you about what worked and didn’t work. So here goes. I hope you enjoy.
#1. Parking Fees at Convention Centers Should Be a Budget Line Item
“Please take your ticket with you for validation.” Translation. Feel free to overpay us inside the convention center before returning to your car or we’ll make you wait for 20 minutes to overpay us in an exhaust-filled deck structure where your satellite radio doesn’t work.
#2. I Was Never a Fan of Homework
As I was preparing to attend PMA, I needed some direction. How was I going to spend a full day on the show floor? What was I looking to accomplish? What trends were worth tracking?
When I mentioned to Mel White at Classic that I was attending PMA, he asked me to look for charging stations in the booths. Is this still a hot trend, not only in islands but also inlines? And are charging stations specific to some shows and not others. Mel was also curious if any 10 x 10 portable/modular exhibitors along the floor perimeter were finding cool new ways to attract attention.
At Mel’s suggestion, I contacted Katina Rigall Zipay, Classic’s Creative Director, to get a designer’s take on my homework assignment. Katina suggested checking on the use of lightboxes, cool rental designs and if graphic wings are still a thing?
With my car securely parked and my homework assignment in hand, I was ready to hit the floor.
#3. Bright Colors and Creative Illumination Reign Supreme
Let me start by stating something obvious… If it grabs your attention from an overcrowded aisle, it’s probably a good thing. Every time I found myself stopping to notice a particular booth it was bright yellow (thank you, Chiquita), a backlit booth (yes, Katina, lightboxes are still a thing), or a graphic that made use of high contrast graphics (colorful fruits and vegetables against a white background was quite the popular look).
#4. Trade Show Rules Were Meant to Be Broken
The best salespeople don’t always make the best booth staffers, and the show floor has its own set of unique rules and regulations. First, all staffers should fully understand what the goals of attending this particular show are. Are you demoing your latest widget? Are you trying to book future appointments? When the show is over and you’re back home, how will the boss measure the success of this particular show?
Seems simple enough, but it’s still one of the rules ignored by many companies at every show. How do I know this? It’s obvious when you see soooo many booth staffers sitting behind a toll booth (any table that stops me from entering the booth), on their smart phones with their heads down, or the biggest sin… booths left unattended with no sign of life.
#5. Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane….
Some booths take full advantage of the third dimension. While most get it right, some are still a work in progress. And when it’s “right,” the results can soar!
#6. Engagement? That’s Got a Nice Ring to It.
If you can engage your attendees with something that makes them stop, notice, and hang around for a bit, it gives staffers the time to capture appropriate information. And in this case, a nice show souvenir.
#7. Think A/V is Expensive? Sometimes It’s More Expensive NOT Using It.
How many fully grown men can we pack around a 13” computer screen? Maybe the real question is how many more you could have harnessed had you listened to your exhibit house and splurged on the 50” monitor?
#8. Use It or Lose It.
Look at what these two companies did to utilize the backside of their booths. One transformed it into a company timeline while the other said, “We can never have TOO much yellow in our booth.”
#9. Honorable (and a Few Dishonorable) Mentions
All these booths have something notable to share.
Finally, My Homework Assignments
After spending the entire day walking up and down the aisles of this year’s PMA at the Anaheim Convention Center, I was able to answer my homework assignments. And realized I’m a little outta practice walking show floors (very sore feet).
Charging Stations. I saw very few charging stations inside the show hall. Hardly any, actually. I did, however, find about 80 charging outlets outside the show hall provided by the Anaheim Convention Center. Interestingly, I had a hard time finding an open spot where I could recharge my phone after snapping all these pics. With so many people utilizing all those charging ports outside the hall, you’d think that some exhibitors would’ve been able to take advantage of bringing a few inside their own booth for attendees in need of a fresh charge. Good ideas don’t fade away. They just get forgotten about.
Portable/Modulars Along the Perimeter. Yes, Mel, some of the perimeter booths certainly grabbed my attention. But not always for the right reason. Remind your clients that they’re at the show for a reason. Best to share those reasons before the show and every morning before the show opens. Maybe even offer a Starbucks gift card to the Boother who “wins” the day’s goal count.
Grabbers. Same as it ever was (thanks, David Byrne). Backlighting.
Colorful Graphics. Engaged Attendees. Accessible Booth Space. Graphics Up Top. And
Good Exhibit Design. The basics are the basics for a good reason. They work.
So while I’d been out of the industry for almost 10 years, some things haven’t changed. The only way to keep your eye on trends is to walk a show floor every now and then. Make it one of your annual goals. Spend a few days during the year walking show floors and observe what catches your attention. Because if it captures YOUR attention, chances are it’ll capture THEIR attention.
Classic Exhibits Inc. announces the addition of Harold Mintz to the Classic Family. As a Regional Sales Manager, Harold will work alongside Jen LaBruzza, the National Sales Manager, to support the Classic Distributor Partner Network throughout North America.
Harold brings over 20 years of trade show and event experience to Classic with previous leadership positions at custom houses, a portable/modular manufacturer, and a graphic printer. More recently, he worked in the entertainment industry for seven years as the Communications Director for Shady Acres Entertainment.
According to Kevin Carty, VP, “On behalf of the entire Classic Family of companies, we are excited to have Harold join us. Harold brings not just a wealth of industry knowledge, but also a great creative and inquisitive approach to relationships. He will compliment Jen LaBruzza and her efforts in creating, building, and maintaining our partnerships in North America.
On a personal note, I have known Harold for 20 plus years — first as
friendly competitors which then quickly developed into a friendship. When asked internally about Harold, I tell my colleagues, ‘He is one of us’ meaning he fits our culture and how we view the relationship between Classic and our Distributor Partners. I am excited to work with him professionally.”
Harold states, “The trade show industry is chock full of creative, talented people. Classic has all that, plus a supportive, dynamic culture. I believe my background in sales, politics, training, and public speaking combined with Classic’s capabilities are a perfect fit. I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the Classic Family. I look forward to working with the Distribution Network.”
On a separate note, for those who know Harold, you are familiar with his passion for organ donation programs. He states, “I donated my left kidney back in 2000. It was one of the best and most impactful things I’ve ever done. I often speak to groups large and small about the life-saving benefits of organ donation.”
Classic Exhibits Inc., based in Portland, OR, designs and manufactures trade show, retail, and corporate environments for over 200 independent distributor partners. For the past two years, Classic Exhibits has been named a Find It Top 40 Exhibit Builder by EXHIBITOR Magazine.