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Avoiding Exhibit Buyer Remorse | 10 “Must Ask” Questions

June 2nd, 2016 COMMENTS

Trade Show Exhibit Buying Remorse

It’s common to express remorse after a big-ticket purchase. Typically when the purchase is infrequent, such as a home, car, or expensive equipment. We know our knowledge is incomplete, even when we’ve conducted research. So we roll the dice… and then cross our fingers.

Buying a trade show exhibit is that type of purchase, especially a corporate inline or island exhibit. It may be your first time buying a display. Heck, it may be the first time for your company. There’s a lot to learn. So, how do you avoid second guessing your decision? Honestly, a lot depends on your exhibit house. It’s important to choose one that understands your marketing goals, your budget, and your available resources. Most exhibit houses make their living by keeping customers long-term. They want to work with you on your exhibit design, your trade show strategy, and your ROI goals. It’s a cliché, but your success at a trade show is their success.

10 Questions to Ask

1. What services do you provide? This can vary from designing the ideal display to providing you with storage, I&D services, exhibit training, and graphic design. You’ll need to decide what services you need based on your budget and your trade show marketing goals.

2. How much do those services cost? Unlike auto repair, there’s no “book” which serves as a guide for time and materials. Prices vary depending on the region, the size of the exhibit house, and the services they value or don’t value.

Buyer's Remorse3. Can you provide me with 3-5 references? No brainer, right? Yet, so often we are reluctant to ask for customer references. Ask for customers who have purchased a similar size/price exhibit to the one you’re considering.

4. Will the exhibit include reusable packaging?  Unlike the headphones you bought last week packed in tamper-resistant plastic, an exhibit has to unpack and pack again and again. Smart packaging will save time, money, and frustration. Ask to see examples.

5. Does the exhibit include detailed setup instructions with numbered components? And, can the instructions be modified if we have suggestions after the first or second show? Detailed, logical instructions will save you thousands of dollars each year. Sometimes at a single show. Ask for examples.

6. What if my exhibit is damaged or if we need to replace lost parts? It’s going to happen no matter how careful you are. A true test of an exhibit builder is how they respond when you need a replacement part or a laminate repaired. Do they treat you the same as when you purchased your exhibit?

7. What is the warranty? This question shouldn’t be followed by a verbal dance. It’s an easy question. It should be an easy answer.

8. How much time/labor will be required to set up the exhibit the first time? The third time? This will vary particularly on a custom exhibit. Less so for a portable/modular display. You’re looking for a range. Then you need to compare the range to your experience on the show floor. Admittedly this will depend on your experience, your labor crew, and a 1000 other factors.

9. Who is my primary contact(s)? Who do I contact when I have questions about exhibit design, graphic design, shipping, I&D, storage, etc. Who is my emergency contact if there’s an issue at the show? What matters is not the person(s) but the answer. What’s the tone and do they have a plan?

10. How would you describe your best customers? What do they do right? There’s no such thing as the “self-made” successful trade show marketer. We all learn from others. Taking the long-road can be expensive and in some cases, a career killer. Look for shortcuts and the best advice comes from trade show warriors. Trade show are like landing on Neptune and encountering aliens. You don’t want to be the first one. You want to learn from those who didn’t get zapped or eaten.

What most exhibitors know about buying an exhibit could fit in a Ziploc baggie. They know just enough to get themselves in trouble. So be smart. Ask questions. Lots of questions. Pretend you are four years old again and ask the endless series of “Why’s” and “What’s” and “When’s” that drove every adult insane. You won’t regret it.

–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


Classic Exhibits… By the Numbers

March 15th, 2016 4 COMMENTS



In business, as in life, we celebrate milestones. This morning after adding an article to Trade Show Tips, I decide to count them — 74 articles. It’s more than I thought, but 74 isn’t 740 or 7400 so the number didn’t freak me out.

Having started down this path, I decided to look at other numbers. For example, how many blog posts have we published in Trade Show Tales? WordPress makes finding that number easy — 704 posts (counting this one). Now I have to be honest with you — that did freak me out a bit. We publish 6-8 posts per month with the first one in 2009. So by the numbers, that’s about right. However, that doesn’t make 704 seem any less daunting. That’s a lot of words and images over the years. I’m not sure whether we should pat ourselves on the back or apologize to you (“Way to go team!” or “Sorry everyone”).

What Is This Anyway?

The First P5D Photo. What Is This Anyway?

So, you may be wondering how many photos are in Past 5 Days. P5D was launched on September 9, 2006 with this image. It’s an odd image for the first P5D, but we didn’t know what we were doing back then. According to Tony, our resident web guru, we’ve published 5840 photos. Most are linked to kits in Exhibit Design Search.

I’d be impressed, but I’m actually more exhausted thinking about how each photo had to be resized, saved for the web, and described. The upside is that P5D is the third most visited section of the Classic website, after the Classic and the EDS home pages (according to Google Analytics).

Which leads us to EDS. It’s a big number so let’s filter it a bit. Some kits are shown in multiple galleries. I’d estimate around 140. Our count won’t include inactive designs (we’ve killed probably 400+ kits over the years). We won’t count the Cases, Lighting, and Flooring (149 entries).

031116 MOD1430_aTotal = 1554. Let’s put that number in perspective. Some galleries have grown substantially the past two years, such as the Rental, eSmart, and Island Galleries (because of double-digit growth). During that same time, charging stations, tablet stands, and lightbox kits were added. Plus, the Quadro Floating Graphic System is new.

Twice a year, we delete slow selling kits, or give them a second chance by redesigning them. And then there’s Design Monday, which serves as constant design funnel for Exhibit Design Search.

I’ll spare you all the numbers for Design Monday except to say that back in December we hit the 560th week. DM, more than anything else in this list, makes my head hurt.

You are probably wondering if there’s a point to this blog post, other than reaching blog post 704? Whatever you think about Classic Exhibits, you have to give us credit for persistence, communication, and creativity. That alone should tell you who we are as a company and how much we value you as a Classic Distributor. Give us a break. We have a lot to share!

Is it really time to post another P5D? Sigh.

–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


Annual Letter from Kevin Carty, VP of Sales

January 19th, 2011 1 COMMENT

Kevin Carty, VP of Sales

Happy New Year!

Thank you very much for your continued support of Classic Exhibits, Exhibits Northwest and ClassicMODUL! The Classic Exhibits Inc. team appreciates your orders, suggestions, and support.

As a company, we weathered the economic storm of late 2008, 2009, and early 2010 by introducing new designs, improving our customer service, and making strategic purchases. Our 2010 sales increased 20 percent. All things considered, we’re happy with that increase, and based on conversations with many of you, your sales have improved as well. Excellent!

SEGUE Launch

We ended the year on a high note by launching a new SEGUE system – the Sunrise. All SEGUE hybrid displays feature Silicone Edge Graphics. The new SEGUE Sunrise is an inexpensive exhibit for customers who want a high-class, high-quality display that expands to a 10 x 20 inline. It’s competitively priced (starting at $2575 retail) and engineered for simple, no-tools assembly. It’s the perfect alternative to a pop up.

Sunrise VK-1905

Speaking of portable hybrids, Sacagawea sales have been off the charts. Clearly there is a HUGE market for inexpensive hybrid displays. Go figure . . . introduce a simple, lightweight, hybrid design at a competitive price and it sells like cherry snow cones at the state fair.

Rentals Rentals Rentals!

Kudos to Jim Shelman and his crew at Exhibits Northwest in 2010! Their dedication to providing creative yet affordable rental options meant that a lot of Classic Distributors did very, very well this year. 95 percent of all rental orders were creative hybrids, ranging from 10 x 10’s to Double Deck Islands. Amazing stuff! And while they offer rental kits, nearly half of all orders were new designs or kit modifications.

Eco-sytems Sustainable Exhibits

In June of 2010, we announced our partnership and ownership stake in Eco-systems Sustainable Exhibitsthe Leader in Sustainable Exhibits. We are proud to put our name side by side with a display company that shares our core values. Eco-systems’ innovative displays are designed by Michael McCord using ClassicMODUL profiles as its backbone. We encourage you to contact Eric Albery or Tim Morris if you have not worked with them. No one knows sustainability better than Eco.

Marketing Efforts

Those of you who know Mel White, our VP of Marketing and Business Development, know that his mind never stops. This past year was no different as evidenced by some of the great things he developed and implemented in 2010.

Peek-a-Booth:  It’s not just a catchy name, but an effective webcam tool at the fingertips of every Distributor and End-user alike. With Peek-a-Booth, you can preview booths live as they are constructed, and with the pan and zoom capabilities, you can see and critique the final set-up. Be sure to contact your Classic project manager about how to access the two webcams on your next order.

Exhibit Design Search Changes/Improvements:  This is Mel’s baby! And it shows in the constant tweaks and improvements he makes to this amazing web-based tool. Last year, Mel, with the help of Edie, Anne, Charlie, Wade, Bob, Tim, and Mike, added videos animations, photos galore, and even more graphics dims and set-up instructions. In addition, Exhibit Design Search now includes Eco-systems designs, flooring options from Brumark, and even more products from Optima Graphics. Expect to see another gallery by Q2, featuring products from a well-know industry supplier.

We encourage you to browse through Exhibit Design Search. You will be amazed by the comprehensive nature of this online tool. I wasn’t sure it could get much better . . . boy did it ever! Give Mel a call if you haven’t added Exhibit Design Search to your website.

Webinars:  Last year, we dipped our toe in the water on webinars. This year we’ll dive in head first. In 2010, we conducted sessions on Tips and Tricks of Exhibit Design Search in addition to sessions on Social Media and Blogging (hosted by Tim Patterson). Expect a webinar on Classic Hybrid Displays in Q1, which will present the features and benefits of Visionary Designs, Sacagawea, Magellan, Perfect 10, and SEGUE.

Trade Show Tales Blog

Blog:  We started blogging in late 2009, but in 2010 we took it to the next level. Trade Show Tales was initially centered around my weekly column, “Word on the Street,” but the blog has really grown far beyond my ramblings. It now includes Mel and Reid’s ramblings! Ha! Seriously though, it really has become an effective tool for communicating product and service updates and the pulse at Classic every week. Thanks to those “Twits” and “LinkedIn” folks out there for posting, reposting, and tweeting the blog postings so frequently. Not to mention all the comments we receive. Please keep them coming in 2011

Industry Boards and News

On a personal note, I am delighted to announce my appointment to several industry posts. I was appointed/elected to the EDPA Board, the Exhibitor Show Advisory Committee, and the HCEA Advisory Committee. I am honored by the appointments, and committed to improving our industry.  Thank you for the opportunity.

Speaking of shows . . . EXHIBITOR is our next big event. And I hope you are ready. We have two very exciting things on tap. First of course is our stunning exhibit design for the show. I personally can’t wait to share that with you all as soon as we flesh out all the details. Secondly, is something I will just refer to simply as “THE EVENT.” Stay tuned, we have something really fun in store in partnership with several strategic partners. Be patient. There’s more to come.

On another note, as the Advisory Board Chairman for the TS2 Show, I am deeply saddened by the announcement to cancel the event for 2011. While I understand the decision and support it in many ways, as someone who has been doing this for 16 plus years, I am nevertheless disappointed. As a company, Classic fully supports the plan to “re-tool” TS2 and re-launch it in 2012. TS2 has always been a very successful event for us.

Vendor Partners and ClassicMODUL

Visionary Designs Island

I know this sometimes feels like a bit of a love fest when I talk about our partners, but there is good reason. Like in life, a business is only as good as its people and the companies it surrounds itself with. To that end, I want to extend my gratitude to Brumark, EliteXPO, Display Supply and Lighting, Momentum Management, and most importantly Optima Graphics. Thanks again for helping make Classic and its network of distributors the best. You are all a huge part of our success.

Big news from ClassicMODUL. In early February, ClassicMODUL will officially open its Southeast USA Extrusion Depot! I am very excited about the opportunities this presents for ClassicMODUL, Classic Exhibits, and our customers in the Southeast. More to come when the depot opens in February.

Before signing off, I would be remiss if I did not mention the CMT docu-drama my friend and co-worker Reid Sherwood has endured once again this past year. He and his family experienced a 3rd house fire in the course of approximately 26 months. Unreal! In all honestly, I truly admire the way Reid, Vickie, and the girls have endured over the past several months. It has been truly inspiring to see how they banded together during such difficult circumstances. However, I do have one favor to ask of you all. When you see Reid next, please comment on his new cologne, “Ode de SOOT.” Tell him it smells good. The poor guy is self conscience enough as it is.

Cheers to a great 2011. See you soon.

Kevin Carty
Vice President of Sales
Classic Exhibits Inc.

Word on the Street — September 26th thru October 1st

October 3rd, 2010 COMMENTS
Why we participate in the TS2 Show

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Survey Results and Responses — Part 2 of 2

Once again, thank you for participating in our recent survey. This week, I’d like to share some of the numbers from the survey in addition to answering many of your comments and questions.

Quantitative Data

“How would you rate the response time from Classic Exhibits (compared to competitors)?”

Much Faster 16.0%
Somewhat Faster 33.3%
Comparable 35.6%

“How would you rate the overall customer service from Classic Exhibits (compared to competitors)?”

Much Faster 13.7%
Somewhat Faster 43.6%
Comparable 34.4%

If we weren’t Classic, we would view these numbers as positive since you rated us 85% and 91% Faster or Comparable to our competitors. But given our history of consistently responding faster than our competitors, the 35% Comparable numbers are troubling. I’ll respond specifically to this a little later in the blog since we received a comment on this topic.

“How often do you visit the Classic Exhibits website?”

Several times a week 56.3%
Once a month 28.7%
Once a year 1.1%

These numbers are encouraging and gratifying since we’ve devoted considerable time, effort, and money to our website over the past five years. When you visit our website, you told us you use the following features most often:

  1. Exhibit Design Search
  2. Product Pages
  3. Rental Displays
  4. Trade Show Tales Blog
  5. Past 5 Days
  6. Exhibit Specials

On a follow up question, we asked, “Which features of Exhibit Design Search do you use? Check all that apply.” Again, in order, you said:

  1. Photos
  2. Filter and Sort
  3. Design Details
  4. Additional Images
  5. Email Designs
  6. My Gallery
  7. Product Videos (when available)

Finally, in the response to the question, “How would you rate Classic Exhibits on the following?”, you rated us Excellent or Above Average on these (with the corresponding percentage):

  • Ease of Purchase — 77%
  • Manufacturing Flexibility — 76%
  • Setup Instructions — 82%
  • Cases and Packaging — 85%
  • Product Quality — 86%
  • Exhibit Designs — 84%
  • Distributor Communication — 76%
  • Marketing — 82%

Comments and Responses from the Survey

Classic has long been the fastest at getting quotes, orders, and designs turned around as it relates to the industry as a whole. In the past few months this has slipped a little. Why?

Answer — Let me start off by saying that this is not something that we like to hear. However, it is also a reality, and it is by no means the fault of any one PM or Designer. Rather, it is quite simply due to market conditions. We (Classic) do not have as many people working in those departments as we did two years ago. And that is not an excuse, but from a transparency standpoint, we want to be honest with you.

Our PM’s and Designers are doing as many quotes and designs as always, but the orders are smaller than they were 24 months ago. Therefore, you have fewer people trying to do more. Having said that, we need to set more reasonable expectations on turnaround times. Over promising and under delivering is never a good thing. We realize that. And as a management team, we are addressing it.

Can your Design Team and Project Management Team communicate better at the “hand-off” stage? Meaning when a design is sent to Project Management for quoting?

Answer — While this was not an overriding theme in your survey responses, it was mentioned and deserves a response. Communication has been a consistent theme at Classic over the past four years, both internally and externally. Hearing that we are failing with some of our distributors is troublesome. Some of it may be a direct reflection of asking fewer people to do more. I know that occasionally causes people to cut corners to meet existing time expectations. However, when proper communication does not happen, it causes us to go back and forth more often which lengthens the turnaround time. I promise you that we are working on this, and we will get better.

Can you include Distributor News and Updates in Design Monday along with new designs?

Answer — Yes. And to some extent we already do. Several years ago, we discontinued our monthly newsletter because we felt we were inundating you with email broadcasts. Instead, we shifted those routine updates on products, services, and specials to periodic emails, Design Monday (via “Word on the Street”) and postings in the Trade Show Tales Blog. Please let us know if you would like us to resume the monthly newsletter. In the newsletter, we would be very happy to discuss Classic updates as well as information in your world — whether it is new hires, current projects that you wish to share, or other pertinent news as it relates to the industry within your local markets.

Classic needs to do a better job of Customer Appreciation and Acknowledgment.

Answer — Ouch! That really hurts. While I feel like we do a good job of this “on the fly,” for the most part, I do agree that we need to do this more publicly. And more often. Our management team will make this a focus moving forward. You are our lifeblood. No one can deny that, and I am sorry if we have not done a good job of acknowledging that daily, monthly and quarterly.

ClassicMODUL is great. The variety of extrusions and accessories are unmatched. Why do you not promote the variety more in your Classic Exhibits designs and broadcasts?

Answer — At first I thought this comment may have come from Tom Jones, who manages our ClassicMODUL division. 😉 But it didn’t. I spent a lot of time thinking about this. In looking through past Design Mondays and other e-broadcasts that the Classic Exhibits division has sent over the past several months, it is clear that while we use a variety of extrusions and accessories in our broadcasts, we do not always “highlight” them. Recently, we have been promoting the TSP profiles which hold Silicone Edge Graphics, but we do need to do a better job of describing the extrusions in particular designs so that you gain a deeper and better sense of what is available from Classic and ClassicMODUL. Great suggestion. Thanks!

In conclusion, we have work to do and some issues to resolve. Thank you for your feedback, and we sincerely appreciate your constructive criticism.

And thank you for the many, many kudos we received as well in the survey (which we elected not to share). I am not going to lie, hearing that “Classic Rocks!,” that the “Customer Service Team is Wonderful” and that you appreciate coming to work each day knowing that you get to “Work with friends,” makes me not just happy, but exceptionally proud of our team.

Thanks again!

–Kevin Carty

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

February 21st, 2010 1 COMMENT
Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Most Companies Fall Into One of Three Camps

Have you ever noticed that most companies fall into one of three camps when it comes to change?

  • They never change.
  • They make constant incremental changes (they tinker).
  • They make big changes every year or two or three (the grand gesture), but generally stay pat until then.

Now I need your perspective here. I see Classic Exhibits as falling in the second camp. We are constantly making small changes to our products, our services, and our marketing. Little by little, we move the bar forward. Occasionally, we have a big announcement, but those, quite honestly, don’t happen very often. For example, the introduction of the Perfect 10 Portable Hybrid was a big deal when we introduced it almost two years ago. It took portable hybrid design into a dramatically new direction. Our other line introductions have had less fanfare, such as Magellan and Sacagawea, but have been equally successful. If you spend any time following P5D, you see a constant stream of orders for Magellan, P10/20, Sacagawea, along with the ever changing array of counters, pedestals, and workstations.

people_changeWe have a slight advantage (or disadvantage) over our competitors in how we communicate changes. We take a slow, steady, and subtle approach, rather than make big announcements. We show you new designs in Design Monday, such as the PS Series in Design Monday this week and last. We send an e-broadcast about a design or product launch, but that happens three or four times a year at most. We update P5D every business day. Once or twice a month, we post a blog related to product changes. But, because so many of our changes are incremental and are introduced “casually,” I worry that we don’t get credit for them.

So, I’m going to take a moment to list some of these changes over the past nine months. How many do you recognize?

  • Sacagawea T, P, and PS Series.
  • Updated Exhibit Design Search User Interface and Features
  • New Base Plate Designs
  • Knob Assembly for Magellan and Sacagawea (backwall)
  • Upgraded Lighting for All Portable Hybrid Lines
  • Silicone Edge Graphic Designs and SEG ClassicMODUL TSP Extrusions
  • Expanded Rental Inventory
  • Addition of Eco-systems Sustainable and Optima Graphics products in Exhibit Design Search
  • Expand Use of Reusable Dye-cut Foam Jigging on All Hybrid Products
  • New Look to the Classic Exhibits Website (just happened this week)

I suppose our approach reflects our corporate personality. We are by nature “tinkerers and doers.”  When we see a challenge or an unmet opportunity we gravitate to it like a moth to a light bulb. That approach permeates our culture whether it’s in Production, Project Management, Design, Marketing, or Accounting. Obviously, we have to prioritize opportunities, but these opportunities tend to energize us since they represent something to “fix” or “improve” or “reinvent.”

change_classicPlease don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that “Big Announcements” are ineffective. Too often however, we see big announcements in our industry that are, in all honesty, incremental improvements. Or, even worse, are announcements that should have been made two years ago when they were relevant or on the cutting edge. Instead they are just sad and pathetic.

For companies in the other two camps . . . think about the message you are (or are NOT) sending to your customers. Companies that NEVER change appear stagnant or worse irrelevant in the market. Whether that is a fair statement or not, it’s the perception and perception matters. And for those who opt for BIG announcements every couple of years, why would you expect your customers to wait?

In my opinion, clients left “waiting and wanting” start to stray. I can’t tell you how many times I have conducted a presentation with a potential distributor and within 10 minutes the owner, designer, or AE will say, “Man did you ever arrive at just the right time. We have been looking for something like this or asking for something just like this from our existing vendor for the past year . . . and you have it right here. Perfect!”

As one of the faces of Classic Exhibits, I love getting that “WOW” reaction, but I also appreciate knowing that week after week and month after month, it shows that we are reacting to the market and making changes. Those changes rarely make it into press releases in EXHIBITOR or the other trade magazines, but that’s OK.  What’s important is that you know that we are constantly tinkering.

Which camp do you fall in? How about your current vendors? We would love to hear from you about how we can improve our communication with you.

Click on the comment link and share your thoughts.

–Kevin Carty