Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘pop ups’

10 Common Myths about Trade Shows

December 27th, 2022 12 COMMENTS
10 Myths about Trade Shows

If you’ve ever attended a trade show, you have an opinion about trade shows, trade show marketing, or exhibit design. I won’t try to dispel every myth, but here are 10 Common Myths about Trade Shows.

1. Trade Show Marketing is Marketing.

Yes and no. If you are a skilled marketer, you will grasp the nuances of trade show marketing, but it will take time. Most marketing managers gravitate to their strengths by focusing on the structure, the graphics, or the show promotion and planning. Intellectually, they know these are interconnected, but they may not know how to maximize their results. Work with professionals, whether it’s a graphic designer, an exhibit consultant, or a certified trade show manager. Trade show exhibit marketing is a craft learned the hard way through trial and error. It’s easy to burn through a lot of money before you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t stumble through a year or two of mistakes when exhibit experts can save you time, money, and embarrassment.

2. Trade Show Labor is Hostile, Incompetent, and Expensive.

10 Common Trade Show Myths

Again, yes and no. No one will dispute that trade show I&D can be expensive, particularly in certain well-known venues. However, most I&D contractors are very competent. They can solve almost any last minute trade show display crisis. You may disagree with the show hall rules regarding labor regulations, but the actual laborers in your booth didn’t write them. If you disagree with the rules, don’t take it out on the person assembling your display. Contact your I&D labor provider or show management.

This is a sad but true fact regarding show labor at most trade shows. If three people are assigned to your booth, one person will be a star, one person will be average, and one person will be a zombie. Hire nine people and you are guaranteed to have three stars and three zombies. Sometimes you get lucky, and the ratio works in your favor. Sometimes not.

You have the power to control your labor costs, beginning with exhibit design. Consider assembly and packaging during the design phase. Are the components labeled, can it be packed without relying on a 20 page manual, and are the packaging materials reusable?

3. Anyone Can Staff a Booth.

Too often, companies send the wrong folks to work the trade show booth. Even worse, they don’t train them. Not everyone has the temperament, the knowledge, or the discipline for a trade show. Here’s my rule:  Find those employees with previous retail sales experience who love assisting customers with product or service solutions. It doesn’t matter if they are in Sales, Marketing, Engineering, or Production. What matters is their attitude and their knowledge.

Want to know who not to send? “Joe.” Every company has a “Joe.” He drinks too much, he gambles too much, and he wanders around too much. About a half a dozen times a day, you’ll wonder what happened to Joe. Five minutes ago he was sucking down his third espresso, leaning on the counter, and ogling anything with two X chromosomes. Suddenly he’s gone . . . AGAIN!

4. Trade Shows are One Big Party.

For some companies, that is true. They wine and dine customers to excess, party until daylight, and don’t attend any show sponsored events.

Inevitably, those are the same companies that grumble about their trade show ROI. They spent “X” but can only measure “Y” sales from the show. When you ask them about their pre-show promotions, their lead qualification, their client meetings at the show, and their follow up with prospective customers, you get a big “DHuh?”  They didn’t plan their trade show marketing program, and now it shows.

5. Trade Shows are a Waste of Time.

If you love sitting in a cubicle all day creating spreadsheets, then trade shows make not make sense to you. You fly to desirable locations like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Orlando, New York, New Orleans, or Chicago. You have to meet people, listen to their needs, talk about your company, stand on your feet, and generally be helpful, pleasant, and knowledgeable. Even worse, you may have to join clients for breakfast, socialize with them after show hours, mingle with potential suppliers, and attend educational seminars about your industry. That’s really tough

You either embrace the opportunity to build sales and learn something new, or you grumble about the airport, the food, the hotel, and the hassle of time away from the office. It’s all about your attitude.

6. Trade Show Displays are Expensive (Part 1).

Very true, but so is almost any investment in capital equipment or advertising. Let’s explore this from another perspective. Let’s say your company purchased an $18,000 inline display (10 x 20). Then, let’s assume your company participates in four trade shows a year and you expect the booth to last five years. Now, take the average cost per show including show space, literature, airfare, hotels, meals, entertainment, transportation, and labor. If you are frugal, you’ll spend:

Exhibit Booth Staff Tips
  • $25,000 per show
  • Multiply that by 20 shows (4 shows x 5 years) = $500,000
  • Then divide the booth cost $18,000 by the $500,000 in expenses
  • = 4.3% which is the display cost to total expenses

Let’s take it to the next step. Your company takes trade show marketing seriously (and you should). You conduct pre-show promotions, you send the right folks to the show, and you aggressively follow up on all leads. You expect the show to generate sales (or you wouldn’t be participating). On average, you demand $150,000 in new sales from each show. $150,000 x 20 shows = $3,000,000 in sales.

Based on those numbers:

  • $500,000/$3,000,000 = 16% trade show cost to sales
  • $18,000/$3,000,000 = 0.6% display cost to sales

I don’t know about you, but those numbers look pretty good to me. And unlike magazine, television, or direct mail advertising, they’re measurable if you put the right metrics in place.

7. Trade Show Displays are Expensive (Part 2).

Probably 60 percent of all trade show displays never go to large, industry shows in Las Vegas, Orlando, or Chicago. The owners take them to Chamber of Commerce mixers, local business shows, corporate events, regional industry shows, and hiring and recruitment fairs.

At these shows, you won’t see island exhibits, but you will see pop ups, table tops, banner stands, and lightweight hybrids. These displays range in price from under $200 for a basic banner stand with graphics to $8000 for an upscale portable hybrid. Considering the cost of most advertising, buying a trade show display is a bargain that you’ll use for years and years.

8. All Shows are the Same.

Really? If your experience has been that “all shows are the same,” you may be approaching every show EXACTLY the SAME. Not every show has the same audience. There may be similarities, but the attendees vary even in shows focusing on the same industry.

If you are serious about trade show marketing, then contact show management and request attendee and exhibitor data. Have them describe the goals, mission, and audience of the show. Then go to the next step and ask for exhibitors who have been loyal to that trade show for many years. Assuming they are not competitors, contact the Marketing Manager or Trade Show Coordinator. Ask them why they attend, how they tailor their message to the audience, and how that message differs from other shows. And then do what professional marketers do . . . create a message, design appropriate graphics, and plan a pre-show, show, and post-show campaign.

9. Trade Show Leads are a Waste of Time.

Trade Show Leads

Leads can be a waste of time if:  a) You collect business cards in a fishbowl for a cool product giveaway like an iPad, b) You don’t qualify the attendees who visit your booth (or jot down their needs), and c) You don’t contact them until a month or two after the show.

More than anything else you do at a trade show, your lead quality is a byproduct of your pre-show planning, booth staff training, and timely post-show follow-up. There is a direct correlation. A trade show is a salesperson’s nirvana, namely a captive audience that spent money to see you.

Now, you may get lucky and acquire a game-changing customer while sipping coffee, clipping your fingernails, and chatting with co-workers. But that’s rare. Finding good customers takes time, enthusiasm, knowledge, and patience. You have to be at your best because they can (and will) walk down the aisle and find another solution.

10. Virtual Trade Shows will Replace Real Trade Shows.

There is a place for virtual trade shows just as there is a place for dating websites. But at some point, you have to meet in person. And unless you’re looking for a mail order spouse, you’re not going to get any action unless you shake hands, look one another in the eye, and share your story face-to-face.

Want to learn more about trade shows, trade show marketing, and displays? Click here for more than 80 expert articles.

–Mel White

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

Bye Bye Pop Ups? Hello Hybrids!

March 9th, 2011 1 COMMENT

ExhibiTrends 2011

Distributor Open House

I attended a Distributor Open House recently, where the distributor invited customers to see the latest trends in trade show marketing (ExhibiTrends 2011). Over 20 exhibit-related companies participated, ranging from portable manufacturers to lead-generating companies, and from flooring suppliers to graphic providers. The event was well-organized and extremely successful.  About 300 current and potential customers walked the event.

I don’t know how many of your are planning to attend EXHIBITOR, but I thought I’d pass along my observations from the Open House since I expect (and hope) they echo what we’ll see in Las Vegas in about three weeks.

I spoke with about 90 end-users that day. For the most part, these folks had portable/modular displays and were considering newer options.

End-user Feedback:

  1. Several vendors, including Classic Exhibits, showed Silicone Edge Graphics and SEG displays. Most end-users had never seen this graphic treatment, but quickly understood how it worked and the benefits. We showed  the SEGUE Sunrise and the VK-1900 . . . two very different displays at two very different price points.
  2. The SEGUE Sunrise, in particular, appealed to those customers with pop up displays who wanted something new at about the same price and the same setup time.
  3. Knob-Assembly.  Here’s where I’m going to show my ignorance. Why is Classic the only display manufacturer with knob-assisted assembly for their portable hybrid lines, such as Perfect 10, Sacagawea, and Magellan? The end-users at the event loved it!
  4. Almost every customer interaction went like this . . .
  • The Look. They loved the curves of a portable hybrid, like the Miracle, MOR, and P10. Nearly everyone said it as a more custom, more high-end look than their current displays. Oddly enough, and I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised, there was no one design the group liked best. Their preferences were evenly divided among the six displays.
  • The Feel. Most had no experience with tension fabric graphics or engineered aluminum extrusion. It only took a minute or two for them to recognize the benefits once they touched the frame, the graphics, and the knobs.
  • The Price. Obviously, prices vary on our hybrid systems. These end-users saw a $3000 Sunrise, (2) $6500 Magellans, a $7500 Perfect 10, a $2000 SEGUE lightbox, and an $11,000 SEGUE. Here’s where I was surprised — No one balked, no one flinched, no one objected to the prices! After two years of hearing, “It’s TOO MUCH!”, it was a pleasure to see sanity return to the exhibit market.

Toward the end of the event, I walked the floor to see the other exhibits. I saw one pop-up, and it was for a lighting company. Not one display manufacturer was showing a true pop up. Optima Graphics had an Xpression, but I’m not counting that as a traditional pop up. Everything else was a hybrid, a modular, or a tube structure with pillowcase graphics. I’ll be curious, and I invite you to do the same, to count how many pop up displays are shown at EXHIBITOR.

Don’t misinterpret me. I’m not predicting the demise of the pop up. Goodness knows, we sell LOTS and LOTS of Quadro EO and Quadro S kits. However, we may be witnessing a tipping point in conjunction with the end of the recession. Customers who have deferred purchases for two to three years are back in the market. They are willing to spend money, however cautiously. When they purchase, they want something different. Something with most of the benefits of a pop up display, but without the ho-hum, been-there, done-that look. If those end-users are a guide to what we can expect to see at EXHIBITOR, then expect to see lots of interest in portable and modular hybrids, especially those that do more than simply mimic the look of a pop up.

Best of luck to everyone at EXHIBITOR. Please visit us at booth #1455. We’ll show you our latest island configurations, rental designs, Eco-systems Sustainable Displays, and, of course, the best portable and modular hybrids in the industry.

–Mel White

Word on the Street — November 15th thru November 19th

November 21st, 2010 3 COMMENTS

Why we participate in the TS2 Show

Word on the Street by Mel White

Trade Show Industry Predictions 2011 . . .

(Kevin Carty is on vacation, so Mel White has graciously agreed to substitute this week.)

As we head into the holidays, I thought I’d put on my clairvoyant hat and peer into a crystal ball. It doesn’t take a fortune teller to know that 2011 is already on your mind. You’re wondering if the exhibit industry will plod along like a Clydesdale, sprint like Quarter Horse, or remain stubborn and unpredictable like a mule.

To ensure my predictions are accurate, I’ve checked the astrological star charts, turned over the Tarot cards, and consulted the Magic 8 Ball. And to protect your sanity, I’ll spare you any doomsday or apocalyptic scenarios. Frankly, my psyche couldn’t handle it after the past two plus years.

Anyway . . . here goes.

Graphics – Many distributors survived on graphic orders in 2009 and 2010, a trend that’s unlikely to change in 2011 with 50% of your volume coming from new or replacement graphics. You will see, based on our trend the past nine months, more silicone edge graphics (SEG) in towers, inlines, and islands. We anticipate a continued downward pressure on basic systems graphics, such as pop up panels and banner stands, because there is no margin left in the hardware.

Table Tops – Oddly enough, table top orders tanked over the past 26 months, whether $400 or $2000 table tops. The budget TT’s have yet to show a pulse, but the higher priced units such as Aero are no longer on life support. We expect modest increases in TT orders with even an occasional multiple quantity order. You can’t make a living on TT’s, but when you get a multiple quantity order it’s a nice break from the Ramen noodles.

The Magic 8 Ball Says . . .

Banner Stands, Pop Ups, and Basic Curve Walls — No change. We don’t expect an increase in sales for these displays even as the economy improves. As more and more customers return to the market, we anticipate a more balanced approach between customers buying pop ups/banner stands and customers moving slightly upstream to hybrids. Many distributors have all but abandoned the entry level market where distributors (online or offline) are trading dollars. We would encourage you not to throw in the towel yet. There are still mainstream corporate clients who value quality at a fair price over the 30 feet or 30 second displays.

Until someone invents the “add one drop of water and poof you have a 10 ft. display,” many customers will still demand displays that require minimal effort even at the expense of marketing impact. If we believe the Marketing and HR Departments, the Sales AE’s at most companies are more likely to use an assembly tool for scratching and picking than for putting a display together.

Portable Hybrids and Modulars – Three years ago, there were few players in the $4000 to $8500 inline market. The field has gotten more crowded, but for inexplicable reasons, the players are repeating the mistakes of the pop up market. Lots of look-a-like displays with very little innovation. There are some exceptions in design and assembly (yes boys and girls, I’m talking about Classic), but by and large customers are being handed a bag of parts, a tool, and asked to assemble a square with two wings.

This segment will see double-digit growth in 2011, but distributors will have to decide whether to sell or to clerk. According to our distributors, sales conversations are migrating from price first and design second to a more balanced approach. We’re not quite back to the world of “I’ll find the money if I love the design,” but design is no longer playing second fiddle.

2011 Predictions

2011 Predictions

Over $10,000 Inlines – In our business, over $10,000 inlines are the “canary in the coal mine,” indicating whether there is an economic gas leak. Distributors will see more interest in >$10K designs in 2011 as clients talk more and more about what they need rather than what they can afford. Many will still decide to purchase a less expensive display, but others will invest in display solutions that more closely match their true marketing goals.

Islands – They’re back. (note the period rather than the exclamation mark) Unfortunately, islands may be the least profitable segment as the intersection between expectations and price points has shifted. Customers are willing to pay between $50,000 and $75,000 for a modular display, but they expect that to include EVERYTHING. Yikes. That’s a tough sell. More than any other segment, we’ll need to work together as partners to land these orders. Give and take is the key with both sides willing to take smaller margins or find creative solutions.

We’ve seen significant interest in SEG solutions in the past 6 months. In SEG islands, the graphics play a more dominant role in the design than the structure. Re-configurability will continue to be in the design mix, even if it compromises the overall design (sadly).

Rentals — Without question, rentals have been the biggest beneficiary of the economic downturn. We saw double-digit growth in both 2009 and 2010, particularly in island rentals. And if the past two months are any indication, this trend is unlikely to change. Customers are turning to rentals as cost-effective answers to purchasing an exhibit and to maintaining their trade show presence. We suspect that many companies have now made the decision to never own an island exhibit again. And it makes sense in many circumstances. Rental designs have gotten more flexible and imaginative. Gone are the days when a rental had all the sexiness of granny panties.

Green Displays — You may find this surprising, but requests for Green Displays never went away. Just ask our sister company Eco-systems Sustainable Exhibits. The price points may have dropped but not the interest. Companies with a green focus or with green initiatives will choose an eco-friendly display every time as long as the price is somewhat comparable. We caution you not to ignore this category. You must be able to speak the language to sell these products. These customers can spot a fraud a mile away. Now is the time to learn the language before you get schooled by a knowledgeable client.

What are your predictions for 2011? Click on the Leave a Comment link (at the top of the page) to share your thoughts with your Classic colleagues. We’d love to hear from you.

On behalf of the entire Classic Family, have a safe and relaxing Holiday.

–Mel White
Classic Exhibits Network (LinkedIn)