Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘tradeshow tips’

Seven Questions You’ll Never Ask About Your Trade Show Display

October 13th, 2015 COMMENTS

Do you believe the expression “There’s no substitute for experience”?

Let’s say you live in Topeka, KS. You’ve tried all the pizza shops in Topeka and have concluded that Johnny’s Pizza is the best pizza — anywhere. I could be wrong, but I suspect there are a few New Yorkers, Bostonians, or Chicagoans who would disagree. But what do they know… they haven’t tried Johnny’s Pizza.

We’ll concede that you know Topeka pizzas. Now, it’s time to buy a trade show display. Unlike lawn mowers, cameras, or smartphones, there’s no Consumer Reports and your experience is limited. So, you do your research on the web, and if you are smart, you consult with a trade show exhibit professional. You ask the right questions about design, assembly, and how much it weighs. You even ask to see the warranty.

However, there are questions you won’t ask. How do I know? Because no exhibit manager has ever asked me these questions… and they should.

Q1. Will the Metal Look the Same After 10 Shows?

Engineered Aluminum Extrusion

Have you ever bought a screwdriver at a discount store only to have the tip twist? So you throw it away and realize that a Kraftsman isn’t a Craftsman. About 60-70% of all trade show exhibits have a skeleton of aluminum extrusion. Sometimes it’s visible, sometimes not. The dirty little secret is that it’s cheaper to use low quality extrusions with thin walls and a sub-par finish. Over time, it distorts, mars, and looks tarnished. Your new booth becomes a used booth before you’ve wrapped-up your current marketing campaign.

Ask about the manufacturer of the extrusion? There are recognized names and then there are Kraftsman. You may not recognize the name but that’s the beauty of Google. If someone tells you, “an extrusion is an extrusion,” walk away.

Q2. What’s the Quality of the Fabric Graphics

The rise of Fast Fashion has revolutionized the apparel industry (think H&M and Forever 21).  There’s a market for disposable fashion. It’s cheap and attractive. But no one expects it to last or have the attention to detail of high-quality apparel.

Fabric for graphics, like clothing, is not all the same. Most inexpensive displays are shrouded with thin, stretchy fabric made with low quality zippers or cheap velcro. And yes, there’s a pecking order to hook and loop as well. The fabric graphic is meant to be disposable… even if it’s not sold that way. You can feel the difference. Trust your hand.

Q3. What’s the Quality of the Fabric Printing

Backlit Fabric Graphics

One ever thinks about this but they should. Dye-sublimated printing, the predominant type of printing for fabric graphics, is a high-tech process. And with any technology, the latest and greatest is old news in about 12-18 months. The previous generation of dye-sub printers get sold to second or third-tier printers. If you’ve ever seen the difference between an HD dye-sub graphic and a 4-color one, you know what I mean. Skin tones are more realistic. Black is black not dark grey. There’s no color banding . You get the picture.

Ask when was the printer was manufactured (not re-manufactured or purchased). And even if it’s only been owned by a little old lady in Pasadena and stored in a garage, it’s still an AMC Hornet.

Q4. Is the Packaging Material Reusable?

Reusable Foam Packaging

You just bought a new pair of Beats by Dre headphones. They sound great, but you’ve decide you want them in black and not fushia. Good luck getting it back in the packaging. It was meant for marketing, not for re-marketing. Far too many trade show displays are packed to prevent damage before the first show. But what about damage after the second, third, or thirty-third show?

High-quality reusable packaging costs more than bubble wrap and thin foam. Smart, well-engineered packaging is like finding $20 in your wedding, funeral, and holiday party pants. It’s an unexpected miracle that keeps on giving.

Q5. Are Replacement Parts Available? 

Folks send me photos asking me to identify a part. That’s rarely an issue if it’s from a major display manufacturer. However, it’s usually from a $699 pop-up or tube structure. Let’s be honest. There are no parts. There never were any parts. It wasn’t sold to have replacement parts any more than a $17 toaster.  It’s meant to go into the landfill after a half-a-dozen uses.

Now if that idea appalls you, then ask your supplier if quality replacement parts are available, what is the cost, and how quickly can you get them? Oh… and if they are only available through Smiling Sammy’s Display Store, then that’s a really, really bad omen. He’s gotta a guy who knows a guy. Good luck with that.

Q6. How Do You Handle Wire Management?

Wireless Charging

There’s no middle ground on this. It looks good or it looks really, really bad. Those electrical and A/V cords have to go somewhere. More often than not, the cord management for most exhibits resembles a hairball. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You have to share what electrical devices will be in the booth and where they’ll be located with your supplier, and that includes anything you maybe renting. Ask your supplier about their solution for lights, monitor cords, etc. If they stumble — run. It means the solution is likely to resemble white twist ties from plastic garbage bags.

Q7. What are the Designer’s (Exhibit and Graphic) Qualification?

Everyone is creative. To a point — chainsaw sculpture, toilet roll cozies, saw blade paintings. I’m not here to judge. Well, maybe a little. Most of us are out of our element when it comes to exhibit and graphic design. And like wire management, there’s no middle ground. Great exhibit designers have years and years of experience working on a variety of projects (custom, portable, modular) with collaborative input from other exhibit designers. That’s how they get experience, perspective, and context.

The same is true with graphic designers but with a twist. They must have experience designing graphics for trade show displays. That’s the key. It doesn’t matter if they are Rock Stars with web design or print advertisements. You don’t want an occasional trade show designer to be the lead designer. If you have an in-house designer familiar with your brand, then make the design process collaborative. Graphic design for trade show displays is a craft. Trade show designers have learned what works and what doesn’t to attract attendees on the show floor.

These questions may make your trade show exhibit supplier uncomfortable. Good. That’s how you’ll know if you chose the right one.

–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


What is Your Most Powerful Trade Show Tip? (Excellent Discussion in Linkedin)

October 15th, 2013 3 COMMENTS

I’m a Linkedin fan. Mostly I read the discussions, but occasionally a topic or a discussion prompts me to contribute. Oddly enough, I often find the most interesting discussions about trade show marketing are in marketing groups, not trade show groups.

Recently, in the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Network, Vicki Judge of Judge Advertising, posed the question — “What is Your Most Powerful Trade Show Tip.” I’ll share a few of the 63 responses, but I would encourage you to read the entire discussion thread. Excellent stuff.

Sharon Gee
CEO & CMO, Circle Dot Marketing, LLC

A big part of the success of a tradeshow is to make sure you have abundant communication regarding your presence at the show in the form of media relations, social media, and internal and external partnership communication. Pre-show blogs, press releases, social media posts, email campaigns, internal motivation communication pieces, and more help spread the word that you’ll be in attendance at the tradeshow.

Pierre-Antoine Thiebaut
VP Field Marketing at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

I think the “WHY question” is the major criteria of the GO/NO GO decision.

My personal experience and most important tip: Don’t waste your time, money and energy if your Sales teams are not fully align with the decision and if you don’t have their total involvement (with their own blood) to make this event a success.

Tim Hill
Marketing Consultant/Owner; Lexington Young Professionals Board Member

Once you’ve found the right trade show for your company, I would advise to be a consistent exhibitor every year and also join whatever association is hosting the show. I’ve gotten more business for my clients from exhibitors and attendees outside of the show than at the show. For small to medium size businesses I would suggest to look bigger than you really are. Have professionally designed displays, handouts, brochures, business cards, and swag and not something that was put together by a secretary with MS Paint. Sometimes it’s the little details that can cause a potential customer to notice you over your competition.

Craig Lindberg
Digital Marketing Executive-Inbound/Social/Integrated

A lot of excellent advice here already so what I would suggest is to put the trade show in the context of a larger prospect/client engagement process. Use it as a reason to engage before and after the event; make a pointed effort to get on the schedules of those you most want to meet with either at the booth or offsite. Make the overarching theme of your presence complimentary to your brand to continue building equity and mindshare, re-purpose event content for incorporation into your inbound program including CTAs to measure response and interest before, during and after the show. Use the actual event as topic for blogging, video and post show topics of interest that are tethered to your lead nurturing.

Scott Yaw
Competitive Business Strategy

Having an established set of objectives (plan A) for what you need to achieve and the flexibility to vary it (plan B) when things don’t go your way.

Steve Reichenstein
CEO, Biomart Global Technology Transfer

Trade shows are about access … access is 2 way. Show them senior management commitment by showing senior management.

Traci Browne
Trade Show/Expo Consultant, Freelance Writer and B2B Storyteller

In my experience the number one place companies screw up the show is in the booth staff selection. I don’t care how much strategic planning you do, how great your booth looks. Your staff is the single most important component to your success. Yet what do companies often do? They send people who don’t want to be there. I will never understand this.

The other thing I will never understand is why companies waste so much time and money on terrible booth staff training. If your training program involves 90 minutes of booth etiquette your wasting everyone’s time. If your training involves 10 minutes of booth etiquette your wasting everyone’s time. Booth etiquette can be covered in a short email. There are so many more important things you should be doing with you booth staff that will ensure they are prepared and motivated.


–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