Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘Hybrids’

Did You Miss Out? SKU & You Webinars are Online

June 30th, 2012 COMMENTS

Three Great Webinars From Classic Exhibits

A few weeks ago, Classic Exhibits hosted three educational webinars about silicone edge graphics (SEG), hybrid exhibits, and trade show island designs. The response was extremely positive. For those who missed these webinars, here’s your chance to experience them via the magic of YouTube and GoToWebinar. We hope you enjoy, and we welcome your comments.

classic modul website designer tips hybrid SEG CE website CE website

Open Letter to Custom Houses: Word on the Street — Feb 6th thru Feb. 10th

February 12th, 2012 1 COMMENT
Open Letter to Custom Houses

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

An Open Letter to Custom Houses

This week, I want to address a particular group: Custom Houses.

Classic Exhibits has been in business since 1993. Over those years, Custom Houses have been some of our best customers, not only for Classic Exhibits, but also for ClassicMODUL and Classic Rentals. For that we are very thankful. But I have a question for this group — How do you view “system sales” and manufacturing as we roll into 2012? Whether it’s simple systems like a pop-up, modular systems like the Euro LT Laminate, or more complex systems like custom hybrids?

I had a conversation this past week with someone whom I respect not just professionally but personally. He owns a well-respected custom house on the East Coast, and I feel fortunate to call him a friend.

We were talking about adding a new employee to his organization. This person would be responsible for handling system sales for their existing accounts as well as regional outreach to new sales. In the course of our call, we chatted about the current impression of “systems” with his AE’s as well as within other custom houses in his area. His comments were both refreshing . . .  as well as bewildering.

As the owner, he was interested in adding someone to lead systems sales in his company. His reasons? First, he views 10×10, 10×20, and 20×20 sales as foundational business, meaning, in his words, “Someday that client will grow with our help and will need a large custom build.” Secondly, because custom AE’s will often take a lead on a smaller exhibit but not pursue it aggressively, he needs someone who would — especially for their in-house clients. Just that week, one of his custom AE’s got three system leads on Monday but hadn’t contacted them by Friday. Thirdly, you never know when one of your in-house clients will go elsewhere for their smaller exhibit needs. The “elsewhere” may be able to handle their larger custom needs as well. Then he loses the client entirely.

I don't get it!

Confused and Bewildered

I’ve been at this for 17 years. During that time, I have grown to appreciate our custom house distributors. Not just for the business they bring to Classic, but also for the challenges they bring us, challenges that force us to think outside the box and grow our manufacturing capabilities. But I have also always questioned the mentality that says a 10×10, 10×20 or small island is not a viable sale for a custom house because “that’s not what we do.” That bewilders me particularly when looking back at the past 36 months.

So, respectfully, I ask why? Why not see the value in smaller sales? For revenue purposes, current client retention, and/or new client development? I know many of you know what I am talking about because you do see systems as valuable. But some of you don’t, so I am curious why?

I’m going to offer some advice, not because I’m smarter than you, but because I’ve worked with more than 100 custom houses over the past 17 years. If you own a custom house, manage a custom house, or simply work for a custom house, AND you care about retaining your customers and you care about selling display solutions, regardless of the size, here’s what I’ve learned from those custom houses that are successful.

Rule #1:

I know this is going to rub some folks the wrong way, but margins are margins. Successful custom houses want to make money and recognize that 40 percent for doing very little such as processing a $9000 portable hybrid is $3600 they didn’t have before. Plus, if they store the exhibit, the money just keeps rolling in. I’ve never fully understood the logic of turning away business if the business doesn’t “turn saws.”

Rule #2:

Closing a sale, whether it’s a custom sale or a portable/modular sale, takes expertise. You have to know what you’re talking about, and you have to engage the client. Successful custom houses designate someone in-house as the “systems expert.” That person either does the selling or serves as the project manager for system sales. They know that the Perfect 10 assembles without tools, and that Aero Table Tops pack in a lightweight shoulder bag. They understand the difference between a Quadro S and a Quadro EO. It’s their job to know and that knowledge makes portable/modular sales painless and profitable.

Those custom houses that expect a custom AE to know about portables . . . and to care about portables . . .  always fail. We’ve seen it time and time again. I can show you example after example where an in-house systems expert leaves and annual sales plummeted from $800,000 to $80,000. Some days I think I could make a living just consulting custom houses on how to make $600,000/year just by hiring a $55,000 sales person.

Rule #3:

Relationships matter with your manufacturer. Many custom houses view portable/modular manufacturers as necessary evils. They don’t respect what we do, and frankly, that attitude is insulting. It’s our job to make your job easier. Truly. We want you to sell our products, which is why we provide you with free design services, project management, and comprehensive marketing tools. When you bounce around from manufacturer to manufacturer, tossing an order to this one or that one, never learning the products or developing a working relationship, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Systems sales become bothersome and hard.

Yet, they aren’t. Those custom houses that work with us all the time tell us that we make their lives easier. We get to know them. They get to know us. The communication shortcuts develop and the work is fun. Over time, they rely on us for rentals, aluminum extrusion, economical custom components, and systems. We become partners.

Rule #4:

We’re not all the same, any more than custom houses are all the same. Each company has a distinct culture as well unique products and designs. You need to find a company that matches your culture and your client’s needs. We hope it’s us . . . but it may not be. We can’t be all things to all people, nor does our style fit all custom houses. That’s OK.

Rule #5:

This isn’t really a rule, but a promise. We work our asses off every day. Our designers are creative, our project managers organized, personable, and smart, our production team inventive and caring, and our administrative staff loyal, knowledgeable, and helpful. We can’t convince every custom house to see us as “partners,” but we can (and do) operate our business as if they are partners. That’s our promise. That’s who we are.

I would love to hear from you whether you agree with me or not. Please share your comments.

Let me leave you with something someone said to me at TS2 in Chicago back in 2009. I asked them how business was and how they were still maintaining sales in the recessionary economy. At the time, they managed one of the largest locations for a National Custom House. The answer, “I woke up one morning after we had lost a few big opportunities to shrinking budgets, looked in the mirror and said ‘I am a systems sales person’. And it was hard, but if we were to maintain sales levels I knew we had to do it.”

Many of the clients they gained during that period now have larger budgets and are buying very large custom programs in the new recovering economy!

Hope you all had a great weekend!

–Kevin Carty

Should a Custom House Care about Portables?

April 27th, 2011 4 COMMENTS

Damn it Jim, I’m a Custom House!

“I’m a Custom House Damn It!”

While I’ve heard that exact phrase, I’ve heard many variations over the years. They include, “It’s my job to keep the saws turning.” Or, “We can’t be bothered with any job less than $100,000.” Or my favorite, “Why would I want to sell a $20,000 portable modular display when I could sell a $250,000 custom exhibit?”

It’s hard to argue with that logic, particularly when the economy was humming. But nearly three years into the largest recession since the Great Depression, not everyone can afford to be a snob anymore. As one Account Executive at a well-know Custom House told us about a year ago, “I woke up this morning and realized that if I wanted to feed by family that I had to become a portable modular salesperson.”

For the past 15 years, I’ve been walking into Custom Houses pitching the benefits of adding “systems” to their bag of tricks. And for 15 years, the message has been embraced, tolerated, or dismissed depending on the custom house leadership. No one topic reflects the overall attitude of senior management more than their acceptance or disgust of portables. It trickles down to every person in the organization.

But the recession put a dent in that dismissive attitude, at least for those folks who saw their custom business decline by 70-80%. Suddenly the arguments that made no sense two years ago are now logical, brilliant, and very customer friendly.

So let’s take a moment to list the pros and cons of adding “systems” solutions to the overall product assortment of a Custom House.


  • Purchasing from a systems manufacturer means the business isn’t being done “in house” (the saws are not turning).
  • The price points are generally less than a custom build.
  • Portables and modular displays take time and the overall dollar return is less (i.e., it’s a distraction).
  • Our clients are too good for portables. Which translates to, “We’re too good for portables.”


  • The margins are almost always higher for far less work.
  • All Custom customers need portables, whether it is banner stands, pop ups, hybrid displays, or hanging signs. Why would you turn that business over to someone else? Someone who is a potential long-term competitor?
  • All Portable customers are potential Custom customers. It’s like investing in the stock market. You can choose to invest exclusively in the Fortune 500 companies or you can take a risk and look for greater returns in NASDAQ.
  • Storage fees are storage fees and prep work is prep work. Do you really care if it’s for a 10 x 20 inline hybrid or for a custom inline?
  • Systems manufactures are willing to do all the heavy lifting – design, project management, and construction.
  • Blending custom with portable/modular components has never been easier. Custom houses build the elements that make sense for their shop and system manufacturers add the elements that add value. Gone are the days of the folding fabric system and pop up as the all-in-one answers. Engineered aluminum extrusions and tension fabric graphics now allow an exhibitor to get a relatively custom look but at a more affordable price.
  • Many systems manufacturers have made it easy to add their products to any website by offering a distributor-branded interface (ex. Exhibit Design Search).
  • Finally, many system manufacturers offer custom and customizable solutions at prices and margins that many custom houses can’t approach.


If you’re surprised that the arguments are stacked heavily in favor of adding portable, modular, and hybrid exhibits to the mix, then allow me to direct your attention to the logo at the top of the screen. It was never intended to be a fair fight.

I will offer a piece of advice based on my 15 years of experience. Even Custom Houses that “get it” are not all equally successful with these products. The ones that consistently do several million dollars, year in and year out in portable/modulars, have something in common. They recognize that not everyone can or should know everything about “systems,” but every designer, every account executive, and every project manager needs to lean on someone who does. Those houses have a “systems” team. That team fields all questions, interacts with the manufacturers, and processes all orders. They make it easy on the custom house because they understand the products, the manufacturers, and the custom house customers.

So . . . the next time an exhibit customer requests an affordable, attractive display for less than $15,000, don’t send them away. Embrace them. It’s $8,000 in your pocket and that $15,000 may eventually turn into a project with one or two more zeros.

What’s your take? Let me know.

–Mel White