Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘modular exhibits’

Portable Modular Awards | People’s Choice Exhibit Designs

March 14th, 2023 COMMENTS

Not long ago, no exhibit industry publication or group recognized portable modular design. None. Zero. Zilch! So your vote for the EXHIBITOR Magazine’s Portable Modular Awards is less about winners and losers and more about supporting this segment of the exhibit industry.

Please VOTE! Click on the link:

Classic Exhibits | Portable Modular Award Finalists

  • Bristolgene – Conceptual Design
  • Halcyon – In-Line Exhibit
  • Tavant – In-Line Exhibit
  • Google – Island Exhibit 800 Square Feet and Fewer
  • Travel Portland – Island Exhibit 800 Square Feet and Fewer
  • Classic Exhibits – Best Use of Graphics

The PMA Awards ceremony will be held at EXHIBITORLIVE in Louisville on April 25. The ceremony begins immediately after show floor hours close. Approximately 3:00-3:30 start time.

Reconfigurable Custom Inline Exhibit

April 21st, 2014 1 COMMENT

All Custom. More Than Modular.

One of the most overused terms in the exhibit industry is “custom modular.” Too often, it means, “At some point in the future if you purchase more components, you can transform this display into another size, but you’re unlikely to do it any time soon.”

However, when done well, it truly means “custom” and “modular.” Here’s an excellent example of a custom modular exhibit, narrated by Charlie Shivel, a project manager at Classic Exhibits.

–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



Pajama Jockeys

June 10th, 2012 6 COMMENTS

When all you own is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.”  Abraham Maslow

Let's Build a Rocket Ship!

It Should be Humiliating . . . For Everyone

What I’m about to discuss will make some of you really mad and some of you really, really happy. I’m not sure whether to point the finger at the trade show industry, manufacturers, distributors, or exhibitors.

Over the years, I’ve written about trade show marketing from multiple angles. I don’t pretend to be an expert. Unlike you, I’m not on the front lines working with clients, nor am I attending a dozen trade shows every year. On the other hand, I have the luxury of seeing your projects and hearing about your orders from you, our designers, and our project managers.

What I’ve learned is that trade show marketing is tough. There are some easy answers, like clear, attractive graphics that address a problem and training your staff how to work a show, but most answers are not so simple. They require in-depth conversations with clients about what they want to achieve, who is their customer base, what is their budget, and what are their overall marketing goals. To get there requires forming a partnership where each side shares information and learns from one another. That takes time and trust.

PJ’s and Dabblers

That said . . . from time to time I run into what I’ll call “Pajama Jockeys” (or PJ’s) in our business. Now, let me qualify this before I get myself into too much trouble. I have no issue with Pajama Jockeys. Their business model works for them. It’s uncomplicated, straight-forward, and often cost-effective for their customers since their low overhead allows them to sell on tighter margins. The same can be said for “Dabblers.” Dabblers are small sign shops that list trade show exhibits in their bag of tricks.

I’ve found that Pajama Jockeys and Dabblers know enough to sell banner stands and basic pop up displays. Occasionally they’ll add Outdoor Displays to their mix. PJ’s are most often home-based businesses with one, perhaps two employees. They have a website, but not a showroom. Nothing gets shipped to them . . . ever! They know their products, and in general, they have satisfied customers. It’s a model that works. Products are sold, customers get what they order, and someone has a job and a business.

That should be enough, right? But it’s not. I’m always surprised when I discover the following:  a) They’ve never been to EXHIBITOR (or TS2 when it existed), b) They never attend trade shows, c) They are perplexed by terms like “modular,” “hybrids,” “silicone edge graphics,” and “cam lock construction,” and d) All their products come from one or two suppliers that pull boxes from shelves and print graphics. Their suppliers don’t build anything. And in many cases, don’t attend industry trade shows either because they don’t believe they’re worthwhile.

It’s Either a Profession or It’s Not

Now we’ve all been in this business long enough to know that most clients come to us with little to no knowledge about trade show marketing. Many are going to a show for the first time, or they are replacing someone who used to handle trade shows for the company. Nine times out of ten, the new person may understand marketing, but trade shows are a mystery. These people need guidance. So where do they turn — the web. The web is a glorious thing . . . if you do your research and explore all your options. Too often, we click whatever is on Page One, look at a site or two, and then start the buying process. That’s scary. We all know the path of least resistance is tempting. This site has hundreds of choices, most good, some really expensive. This other site has 25, all at prices that my boss will love.

"Booyah! That's four sales in the last hour."

I’d love to believe that the Pajama Jockey takes the time to consult with their new client. In other words, what are they trying to achieve, what have they done in the past, has it been successful, what’s the budget, etc. But, honestly, when every other customer wants a $99 banner stand or a $599 pop up, you learn not to ask too many questions. It complicates things, and it’s not financially viable or your model. It’s easier to be a clerk than an exhibit consultant in those circumstances.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Just last week, I attended a two-day show in Portland for a regional association. There were perhaps 130 exhibitors, all in 10×10 spaces. On principle, we work through distributors, but our local IT provider asked if we would work with them on a booth for this show. We agreed since they have been good to us over the years. We rented them a VK-1032 (iPhone) after meeting with them several times, reviewing their objectives, making recommendations, and then introducing them to a graphic designer with a background in trade show graphics.

I walked the show on the last day. How can I say this tactfully? I was embarrassed to be in the trade show business. Wobbly banner stands, broken pop ups, vinyl banners hanging from the pipe and drape, and something resembling shelving from Big Lots. Now this wasn’t a local arts and crafts fair or a home improvement show (which are often very creative), but a professional show. What kept crossing my mind was . . . “Did anyone consult with them and advise them of their options. Where did they buy this stuff?” Our client, on the other hand, told me, “We had 10 times the business we’ve ever had.” Why? Because their message was clear, the booth was professional looking, the accessories were appropriate, and they trained their staff.

Now, I’m fully aware that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Some exhibitors are going to make poor decisions based on stubbornness, budget, or stupidity. That’s their prerogative. What worries me is this:  Are these new exhibitors getting bad advice or no advice because the tool box they turn to consists of a hammer and nails? They don’t know any better, and the options they are offered are both inadequate and counterproductive.

Which brings me back to my earlier point. Who’s to blame here? I want an easy answer because that would make is simple. But it’s not simple. Yes, I hold PJ’s and Dabblers responsible for clerking rather than consulting, but we’re all culpable when we focus on the transaction rather than the interaction. In our haste to close a sale, we do a disservice to our customer when we fail to behave as exhibit consultants and professionals. That said . . . I know from experience how painful and frustrating it can be to care more about your client’s success than they do. But, that doesn’t excuse us from trying each and every time even if  they select a $99 banner stand and a $29 literature holder for their annual industry show.

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts . . . just count to 10 before hitting the enter button on your keyboard. 😉

— 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

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

If Trade Show Exhibits Were Celebrities, They Would Be . . . .

September 14th, 2009 8 COMMENTS

If Exhibits Were Celebrities

If exhibits were celebrities, Carrot Top would be a . . .

Some of these are “spot on”:   Tom Arnold, Carrot Top, Lindsay Lohan as trade show exhibits? Just use your imagination my friend.

Banner Stands (cheap, attractive, but not always reliable): Tara Reid, Andy Dick, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan

Custom Exhibits (talented, larger than life, but occasionally temperamental):  Meryl Streep, Orson Welles, Dame Judi Dench, Aretha Franklin 

Overhead Tension Fabric Signs (highly visible and stretched tight): Joan Rivers