Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘pop up displays’

Display History — Portable Pop-Up Display

February 2nd, 2019 COMMENTS
A Brief History of Pop Up Displays

My first job in the trade show industry was with a portable pop-up display manufacturer in the mid-1990s. By then, there were half a dozen major manufacturers. To put this in perspective, the original pop-up display was introduced in 1975 by Ted Zeigler, who founded Nomadic Display.

The Pop-up Display War

At the time, there was a fierce sales battle based on the features and benefits of pop-up displays. It was war, and the side you took was fought with a take-no-prisoners approach. And lest we forget, those were the days when your salesperson would arrive at your office and demo the pop up with a certain theatrical flair.

This may seem a bit silly now. However, at the time, pop-up displays, nearly all designed and built in the United States, were an amazing invention. They made life for trade show exhibitors in 10 x 10 and 10 x 20 spaces much easier (and they were fun to open and assemble).

They shipped in portable cases, greatly reducing drayage, and could be assembled quickly and with minimal instructions. Plus, you could choose between fabric panels with Velcro graphics or spend more and have mural graphics. Prices ranged from $3600 for a basic 10 ft. with fabric panels to nearly $10,000 with graphics, shelves, lights, and a case-to-counter conversion. It seemed like a bargain compared to traditional custom wood exhibits. And it was.

Quadro Pop Up Displays Made in the USA
Pop-up Displays with Mural Panels

So, what were the differences between the various systems that seemed so important at the time?

Aluminum vs. Fiberglass

Most pop up displays were made with aluminum. Some with round tubes. Others with square tubes. And even in the round tube community there was bickering about the quality of the aluminum (aircraft grade vs. non-aircraft grade) and the diameter of the tube. One manufacturer took a different approach and make their frame with fiberglass rods.

Self-Locking vs Connectors

There was no middle ground on the connector feature. The self-locking frame zealots included the original and most well-known brand. Anyone who demo’d it made sure to emphasize the “magic” when opening it. And frankly, if you hadn’t seen it before, it was pretty darn impressive. All other frames had connectors which gave the frames rigidity. The number of connectors varied — some having as few as six to others having as many as 15. Then there was the battle of which connector was easier and more durable, which was valid if often overstated.

Channel Bars

As if the frame differences weren’t enough, then there were the channel bars, which are the vertical bars that hold the fabric and graphic panels. This was a financial goldmine for intellectual patent attorneys as manufacturers engineered changes to address or negate their competitor’s perceived advantages. In short, the differences fell into three camps: individual channel bars, attached channel bars (using fabric or elastic), and folding or sliding channel bars.

In addition, salespeople would sing the praises of whether the channel bar was steel, aluminum, or plastic and whether the panel connection was magnet-to-magnet or magnet-to-metal. If you believed them, it really, really mattered and making the wrong (or right) decision could alter the course of your life.

Roto-molded Portable Cases

This came down to three distinctions:

  1. Does the 10 ft. pop up pack in two smaller (and lighter) cases or one larger case.
  2. Does the internal packing have all the bells and whistles to keep at the parts tidy or more basic packaging to save cost.
  3. Do the case(s) allow for a case-to-counter conversion option and how easy was the conversion to assemble.
Floating Graphic Pop Up Display
Floating Graphic Pop-up Displays

In 2022

Let’s jump ahead to 2022. Are there the same differences among pop ups on the market? Yes. But they don’t seem to matter to most exhibitors. It’s really about features, price, and whether the exhibitor wants to make a short-term or long-term investment in their pop-up display. Even that depends on how often they use it every year.

Fortunately, exhibitors no longer have to settle for a basic 10 ft. curve. There are now pop up frames with tension fabric graphics, backlighting, and even SEG, along with LED lights and robust shelving options. And as you can imagine, price points vary widely depending on features and quality.

It pays to ask questions even on the less expensive models, especially if the price seems too good to be true. We live in a find-and-click world, but a display purchase should always include a conversation or email/text exchange with a knowledgeable professional to make sure the display will fulfill your trade show marketing goals. Things break. Will the display last multiple years? Are replacement parts available? Where do you go when you need new mural panels?

Let us know if we can assist you with your next display purchase, whether it’s portable, modular, or custom. See the links for more information about the FGS and Quadro Pop Up Displays. Happy Exhibiting!

–Mel White


Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, hybrid, custom, rental 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

Don’t Pity the Pop Up Display

February 2nd, 2015 11 COMMENTS

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

Over the years, I’ve had a bit of an obsession with trade show pop up displays. I started my career working for a pop up manufacturer in the mid-nineties back when pop ups still elicited WOWs! and most fabric units sold for $3600.

Back then, I could talk about the idiosyncrasies of one frame vs. another frame, the strengths of one channel bar vs. the competitors, and the nuances of a magnet-to-magnet vs. a magnet-to-metal panel connection. Frankly, we were in a brutal pop up war based on features and benefits, and took delight comparing fiberglass to aluminum, skinny to square tubes, and my favorite, the difference between self-locking to connector-locking frames. Even the cases were part of the daily sales battle.

Those Days are Long Gone

Many customers are not concerned about the features and benefits of pop ups. They are shopping exclusively on price; they want it to last a few shows, and they are less concerned about all the bells and whistles or whether the frame has a lifetime warranty. But they should. Good pop up display systems are amazing. They are versatility, portable, durable, and offer remarkable graphic impart. However . . .

Treat Me with Respect. I've Earned It.

Treat Me with Respect. I’ve Earned It.

The pop up, once the pride and joy of any portable trade show program, has lost its luster. Where we once treated it like a dress from Saks Fifth Avenue, carefully hanging it in plastic and sending it to the dry cleaners, many now treat it like a skirt and blouse from Ross and wash it with our dirty underwear and towels. They wear it after it has faded. They wear it wrinkled. They wear it after it’s missing buttons. They continue wearing it because it’s comfortable and convenient, not because it’s flattering.

You still see pop ups everywhere, but they are often assembled haphazardly, showing their age, or leaning precariously like a hillbilly shack.

Frankly, seeing them saddens me because I know, as do you, that pop ups can be attractive and effective displays, particularly when combined with the right accessories, such as shelves, shadowboxes, monitor mounts, and headers. But it’s rare to see them with these accessories since the budget pop ups have all but abandoned them. That’s a mistake. No other display does more than a pop up for the price. No other affordable display has more accessories or more visual impact — dollar for dollar. However . . .

Walk on Any Trade Show Floor. You’ll See the Following:

1. The Flapper:  A good 50 percent of the pop ups have at least one end panel waving at attendees.  Apparently, attaching an end panel has become either too labor intensive for many exhibitors, or to be fair, something has broken making it impossible to attach them. And fixing it is too much trouble.

2. The Old Lady:  We are a society obsessed with youth, except when it comes to pop up graphics. Wrinkles, creases, and de-lamination are perfectly acceptable. I’ve seen graphics so battered and abused that I involuntarily looked away in embarrassment.

3. The Hurler:  The setup instructions for most pop up displays have apparently changed. You stand 6 feet away from the frame and toss the panels on the channel bars. Wherever they land, that’s where they stay.

4. The Barn Door: We all know the expression, “Your barn door is open.” You’re just one crossed leg away from giving everyone a freebie they don’t want.  In the past month, I’ve seen two pop up displays with missing front panels. When I asked one exhibitor about it, she said, “Yea, we lost it about a year ago and the owner doesn’t want to pay to have it replaced.”

4. The Muscle Shirt: Do you have a male relative who wears a sleeveless muscle shirt to every gathering, including Thanksgiving Dinner? This same “dude” was last seen standing in front of a pop up display without end panels. Yes, it’s an acceptable look for tension fabric pop ups like Xpression, but not traditional pop ups. It’s tacky.

5. The Cripple:  I know. I know. That term isn’t PC anymore, but we’re talking about a pop up not a person. These pop ups have broken connectors, missing channel bars, bent frames, and snapped hanger pins. Duct tape is visible. Plastic security ties are considered hi-tech repairs. If this was a loved one, you’d give it an overdose of morphine just to put it out of its misery.

6. The Creatively Confused: Now I can’t attest to seeing this, but a distributor told me about it last week. The exhibitor had managed to attach the pop up panels to the convex/reverse side of the curve frame. He then complained that the pop up wasn’t as attractive as the one he’d seen in the showroom. I believe his booth was next to to guy in the muscle shirt, who coached him through the setup.

Make My Day!

Make My Day!

7. The Just Passing Through: Every pop up exhibitor should purchase the case-to-counter wrap. They’re brilliant and practical particularly when combined with a graphic. But there’s always the booth with just the case . . . the battered, scarred, and naked case holding brochures, business cards, or a fishbowl. This person is so anxious to leave the show that even hiding the case behind the display or converting it to a case-to-counter unit is too much trouble. I’m guessing that Golden Corral once ran out of shrimp when he didn’t arrive by 5:15 pm after a show. Well . . . that will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!

Perhaps, I’m simply getting sentimental, but I miss those days when pop ups were respected and coddled. I yearn for those exhibitors who carefully put their graphic panels back in the plastic sleeves, and whose eyes widen with wonder the first time they opened the frame.

I’m still in awe of pop up displays. They do so much, and the good ones, the really good ones, have the power to transform a simple 10 x 10 space with large graphics, shelves, and a monitor (or two). I still see them on trade show floors. When I do, I can’t help but smile, and invariably, I find myself stepping into the booth and complimenting the exhibitor on their display.

–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.

Summer Crush Specials — Savings on Quadro EO and iPad Kiosks

June 5th, 2012 COMMENTS

Quadro EO and iPad Kiosk “Summer Crush” Savings

The Summer Crush Specials feature the Quadro EO Pop Up combined with the newly released iPad Kiosks MOD-1312 and MOD-1314. The savings are ginormous. Literally GINORMOUS!

Download the unbranded Summer Crush PDF.

Those who saw the units at EXHIBITOR 2012 know that the Classic iPad Kiosks are the real deal. They combine function and value never before seen in an iPad kiosk with a lockable clamshell case, integrated wire management, an internal power strip, and powder-coated steel and aluminum construction. Plus, it wouldn’t be a Classic without accessory options like graphic wings, graphic clamshell halos, literature holders, and a nifty keyboard shelf. Check out the links below to see all the great options.

But my personal favorite . . . the clamshell case with an extrusion connection similar to how Literature Brochures attach to our hybrid systems. This gives you the ability to add an iPad to any new or existing hybrid inline or island from Classic Exhibits (and a competing extrusion line as well).

Kudos to Mike Swartout for the great demo video. Pay special attention to the cool theme music. I love it!!

See the details in the Exhibit Specials gallery. But like all summer crushes, this one is 2 Good 2 Last 4 Ever.

For the iPad Kiosk Product Sheet and Price List, click on the links.

— 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

How to Win a Gold Medal at Your Next Trade Show

May 21st, 2012 COMMENTS

Stand on the Podium

Yeah for Me!

The Sochi Winter Olympics is just around the corner. We love watching the competition — who wins, who loses, and the  inspiring stories about athletes who participate but do not win a gold, a silver, or a bronze medal. Athletes want to win, even if they know it’s a long shot, so they plan, prepare, and train for a chance to stand on the podium. No one prepares for the Olympics just to win a participation trophy.

Trade shows are no different. For anyone new to trade show marketing, here’s an important tip no one’s ever going to share with you (except me). You can waste LOTS and LOTS of MONEY participating in trade shows if you don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t care how smart you are. You are going to make mistakes. Lots of them, but the key is to minimize them from the get-go. The trick — learn from the folks who have already made those mistakes and who have stubbed their toe(s) more times than they want to be reminded.

Here’s what they’ll tell you.

#1. What’s Your Goal. Why are you participating in a trade show? To build the brand, increase sales, meet new customers, find new markets. All are legitimate reasons to exhibit at a show. Bad reasons . . . Going on a whim, because it sounds like a good idea, or because your dog Rex tells you to go (What a bad boy!). Without a goal you have no way of measuring your success. Get a goal. Write it down and share it with your team. Then and only then should you consider trade show marketing.

#2. What’s Your Budget. If you say, I don’t know then fold up your tent and go home. The number doesn’t matter, except as a baseline for what you can and can’t do. It’s all relative. $10,000 will get you one thing . . . . $250,000 will get you something else.

Visionary Designs VK-1319

#3. Do Some Preliminary Research. It’s easy. It’s called Google. Is it going to confuse you? Hell yes. You’ll see stupid numbers like $79 for a banner stand and $1.5 million for a custom exhibit. Imagine walking into a new car lot not having seen or driven a car before. You need a point of reference, but you don’t need to be an expert. That’s impossible. You just need to get a sense of what’s on the market and how much displays cost. That’s it.

#4. Work with a Seasoned Exhibit Professional. Why? Why not! I’ve never met anyone in this business who wants a customer to buy the wrong display. You’ve got a budget, right? That will narrow the choices. During the initial meetings, an exhibit consultant will spend more time talking to you about your goals, your message, and your shows than they will about what display to buy. The display is important, but it’s simply a tool. They want you to succeed. Then you’ll come back and buy more. Yippee! It’s a win-win.

#5 What Shows. Now you may already know which show(s) you must attend. Every industry has a trade show. That’s the first step but hardly the only step. Are their other shows you should attend because you want to expand into other markets? How about local shows where all you need is a table top display or a pop up. Ask your vendors which shows they attend. Or use one of many online tools like the Or, here’s a thought — ask your exhibit professional to assist you.

#6. Plan, Plan, Plan. I know. It’s boring. But, apart from identifying your trade show marketing goals, nothing is more important. You need to put in the work. You need to complete the required paperwork on time. You need to conduct pre-show marketing to get potential clients to your booth. You need to create a project list and check and double-check every last detail. You’ve heard it a million times, but this time it’s true:   Fail to plan, then plan to fail. Planning makes the difference between pouring money down a rat-hole and complaining that trade shows don’t work and becoming the next CEO of your company. Well, that may be a little exaggeration (but not much).

#7. Who’s Going to the Show. Working the booth is neither a punishment nor a vacation. It’s a job. There’s no in-between. The folks who work the booth have to understand that. They must know the products and services, possess outstanding customer service skills, and be willing to meet clients before, during, and after the show. They must know the difference between entertaining clients and a felony. They must understand the distinction between social drinking and detox. If they don’t, no matter how charming they are, leave them home.

#8 Train Them. Yes, train them. Before the show, meet with your team and review the goals, the schedule, and the products


and services. Who handles which product line? Who’s the expert on specific services? Who greets clients as they enter the booth? How do you plan to handle leads? Are there meetings and presentations in the booth space? Who cleans in the morning? Who cleans in the evening? How do you handle competitors who enter your booth? There’s a lot of questions and situations that can happen during a one to three day trade show. Do not leave them to chance!

#9. Leads. Treat them like a credit card. You never know if the limit is $500 or if you found an American Express Platinum with no limit. There are really three keys to managing leads. First, qualify the lead and take lots and lots of notes. You may think you have an eidetic memory, but trust me, unless you are Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, you don’t. All the details you capture only increase your odds exponentially of making a sale. Knowledge is power on the trade show floor. Second, review the leads with the team at the end of the day. Don’t leave the booth and head for the bar UNTIL you’ve reviewed every single lead. Those that need immediate action should be handed to the right person that day. Third, they are sales leads, not confetti. Too many companies treat them like scraps of paper which can be tossed at the end of the show. How you treat leads tells the potential customer everything about your company.

#10. Post-show Analysis.   All too often, when the show is over, the show is over until next year. Big mistake. We learn from our successes and our failures. The trade show team should conduct a “post-show” review within a week. These ideas need to be captured and recorded so the lessons learned can be implemented at the next show. Even better, meet with your trade show consultant as well. He/she can offer advice based on their experience with other clients and show you how you can improve your trade show marketing and save money.

Don’t be shy. Put in the effort and plan ahead and you will be standing on the podium wearing a little gold.

— 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

Jumping on the Bandwagon: Imports are the Problem!

August 18th, 2010 2 COMMENTS

Let's Blame the Imports

It’s ALL their fault — those inexpensive imports of dubious quality. They are ruining the exhibit industry for everyone. How do we possibly compete?

If you shouted “Hurray!” or “You are SO right my friend!” you’re going to find this article disappointing. It’s easy to blame imports. They have lowered prices on many common display products, and they have introduced “disposable” banner stands, pop ups, signs, etc. to hundreds of thousands of customers. In short, they have changed expectations. I would contend, which many of you may disagree with, that that’s not such a bad thing. Here’s why:

1. Price: Lower prices on banner stands, pop ups, portable canopies, and outdoor signage have expanded the market for these products. Seven years ago, you saw them at trade shows and events. Now you see them everywhere:  retail stores, arts and crafts fairs, meetings, conventions, even churches. Lower prices means more customers who will buy more products and will have a better understanding of event and trade show marketing.

And, while you may bemoan that many of these products are coming from overseas, they are mostly being sold by domestic distributors.

In time, as their marketing goals change, these customers will explore other options – such as hybrid exhibits, modular displays, even custom exhibits.

2. Quality: Admit it. Not every imported display product is “junk.” Like any product, you get what you pay for. There are cheap, disposable banner stands, and there are high quality ones. How do customers know the difference? Customers don’t. They rely on exhibit professionals to explain the differences and their options. In the end, they are adults. They will make a decision based on their circumstances and their personality. Sometimes it’s a wise decision. Sometimes it’s a foolish one. All we can hope is that they learn from their mistakes.

Here’s a personal example. At Classic Exhibits, we offer two pop up display systems:  the Quadro EO and the Quadro S. We manufacture the Quadro S at our plant in Oregon. The Quadro S is a high quality pop up with literally hundreds of options and nearly 100 kits. It can do just about anything, including holding multiple monitors, shadowboxes, waterfalls, and shelves in curve and flat configurations. It will perform flawlessly in hundreds of shows, and it’s priced competively.

The Quadro EO is a self-locking pop up display that we import from China. To tell you we looked at quite a few models from quite a few manufacturers would be an understatement. We saw good pop ups, bad pop ups, and ridiculously bad pop ups. The EO was by far the best one. It’s a lightweight pop up with minimal accessories in three frame styles:  10 ft., 8 ft., and a 6 ft table top. We manufacture the fabric panels and roto-molded cases in the USA. So you may be asking . . . Why import a pop up when we already manufacture one? Simple, our customers requested a high-quality, lightweight system that could be sold for several hundred dollars less than the Quadro S. They’re our customers so we responded.

3. Innovation: I don’t need to tell you that competition sparks innovation. You already know that. Too often, the folks who grumble about unfair competition are the same ones who refuse to tinker and innovate. They may make superficial changes, but they resist rethinking the underlying premise of their products, their services, or the marketplace.

Now I’m not naïve. Unfair competition exists. Every government subsidizes certain industries, and many companies manipulate the market, suppliers, or governments to gain an unfair advantage over competitors – domestic or foreign.

You need to be realistic. You’re not going to stop the imports. And relentlessly cutting prices and your margins only gets you so far. You have to find a niche(s) where you excel, where you can move faster than the imports and faster than your competitors. At Classic, we’re never going to be cheaper than an identical Chinese import. But, we don’t have to be.

Sacagawea VK-1222 Portable Hybrid

Let’s take hybrid displays as an example. In the past two years, we’ve seen lots of basic extrusion backwalls. You know the ones: wings, canopy, large tension fabric or vinyl graphic, and workstation counter(s).  It’s a familiar shape, one that customers seem to like as an alternative to a pop up or curved push-button connector display. These basic hybrids used to be over $10K. You can now find imported versions for $2K to $5K.

Classic Exhibits specializes in hybrid displays, so you’d think we would be concerned. We are and we’re not. Six years ago, we recognized that we could manufacture designs that others couldn’t, and we could react much faster to the market. The Sacagawea System is a good example. The Sacagawea Portable Hybrid competes with the imported versions — very successfully. Why? It has five advantages over imports:

  1. Die-Cut Packaging:  Every piece has a home. There’s no guesswork, and packaging is upscale and reusable for years. Customers love our packaging.
  2. Knob Assembly:  About 85% of the connections are attached knobs for faster assembly.
  3. Curves:  The combination of straight and curve extrusion makes the designs distinctive.
  4. Options:  Counters, workstations, headers, canopies, monitors, shelves, literature holders, and an array of laminate, plex, and Sintra colors.
  5. Set-up Instructions: Every part is labeled, and the set-up instructions are unique to your configuration. Plus, the instructions are available online 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Do imports make our lives tougher? “Hell Yes!” Are imports to blame for lower margins and lost sales? Perhaps. However, before we jump on the “evil import” bandwagon, consider the alternative in this difficult market. And, consider your opportunities as the market rebounds. You can be darn sure your competitors are – foreign and domestic.

–Mel White
Classic Exhibits Network (LinkedIn)