Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

Custom exhibit

Are You Ready For A New Exhibit?

How do you know when it’s time for your company to invest in a new exhibit? While the answer will vary from company to company, there are a number of common factors that can help answer that question.

Is your current exhibit old? In the exhibit world, a tradeshow booth is old somewhere between 5-7 years. Now, that doesn’t mean you should automatically replace your booth as soon as it hits that age, or if it’s older. But an older exhibit is a sign that it might be time to consider upgrading. Of course, some companies use the same exhibit for decades. Yup, seen it happen.

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What do your main competitors’ booths look like? If your company has stayed put while most of your main competitors have invested in new booth properties, it can make you look a little old and out of touch. In some industries, that’s the touch of death. In others, not so much.

Has your company’s exhibit needs changed significantly? One client I worked with found that their target market had matured to the point they were no longer needing to display so many products, but instead needed to assist those distributors with other things. That meant downsizing the booth to accommodate those needs. If you have new products or services that are not getting the notice they deserve, that may mean an upgrade is needed.

Has your company grown significantly? Some companies need a booth to match their market presence, which means a larger booth. It also means keeping up with the Joneses.

Is your current exhibit stretching your shipping budget because it’s very heavy to ship? Shipping and drayage for wooden crates and booths can eat up a significant portion of your tradeshow marketing budget. Unless heavier materials such as wood and metal define your company’s looks, it’s worth considering a lighter approach. Fabric graphics, aluminum frames and structures and the like can significantly cut your shipping costs for years to come. With fabric graphics that are easily changed for different exhibiting needs, a new lightweight booth may be just what the doctor ordered.

Beyond these items, you may have another reason to put a new company tradeshow booth into place in the near future. I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment!

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Essentials of Tradeshow Booth Design: Slide Deck

If you got a chance to see the webinar I did recently with Handshake, thanks! I hope you got something useful out of it. I’ve had a handful of requests for the slide deck so people can review it closer. Here’s the deck:

If you’d like to see the replay, click here.

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Top 8 Ways to Justify The Cost of a New Exhibit

What are the indicators that tell you when it’s time to invest in a new tradeshow exhibit? What does it take to justify the expense, which can often be very large?

Naturally, there’s no single answer that applies across the board. However, if you, as a tradeshow marketing manager, feel it’s time to make a major upgrade, you’re put in a position of having to sell the investment to management. Here are a few things that you might consider in the process.

1. Can you point to tradeshow marketing as a consistent method of bringing in leads? And are you turning those leads into clients? If that’s true, the question may be: why do you need to fix it? Isn’t it already working?

It may indeed be working. But if you’re consistently running into issues such as growth, lack of space, too many visitors in such a small space, it may be that you are in need of a bigger space and hence, a bigger booth. One way to determine this is to track visitors by counting, or by anecdotal evidence from your booth staff.

If tradeshow marketing is a solid and consistent business driver, it’s likely that the people with the purse strings may be sympathetic to the request.

2. Consider the prospect of NOT doing anything. What would happen if you did NOT invest in a new booth? Are you satisfied with holding firm with the current booth property? The questions that come up around this question include how old the current assets are, and how is being perceived by your staff and clients at the show.

Another part of this conundrum is this: what are your most direct competitors doing? If the top three competitors in your market have upgraded and upsized their booth properties in the last two or three years, the perception will be that you’re losing ground to them. And in a competitive market, perception is critical.

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3. Do your research. What are your competitors doing? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from within and without? A simple SWOT analysis can tell you a lot about where you are and where you might go from here.

4. Ask yourself if a new booth is really the answer. What about investing in your booth staff instead or in pre-show marketing and post-show follow up? Support your staff with training and education that allows them to more properly interact on the show floor with attendees by asking the right questions. Maybe a booth isn’t really right yet, but a smaller investment in the staff may yield good results without the larger booth investment, which can then be put off a year or two or three.

5. If a new booth is the answer, spend some time assessing how to understand the investment of capital, what’s involved and when it will be delivered and how it will happen. This will likely mean talking with booth designers and fabricators to get an idea of how much time and money it would cost to develop a design and construct the booth.

6. Once these items are assembled, they should be presented in the context of the life of the booth. Do you plan to use the booth for three, five, or seven years before considering major upgrades? In the case of one client who had committed to a 30×30 island booth in 2012, they had an opportunity to upgrade the space and the booth in 2015 to a 30×40, and decided the investment was worth it.

7. Determine how the new booth will change those who are tasked with the logistics of setting up and dismantling the booth, staffing it for the shows and inviting more clients for one-on-one meetings. In my experience, upgrading to a larger booth will modestly impact the marketing staff, giving them more opportunities to meet more clients and spread the word about the booth. Costs for set-up and dismantle will rise. Shipping costs will rise. Stepping up to a new booth is a major commitment, but it can often be well worth it in the return on that investment.

8. Now it’s time to present the final proposed cost. You’ve assembled a design and fabrication team that is capable. You have a reasonable price range for the project. While the bean-counters will want to justify the case in a hard dollars won vs. dollars spent, in addition to showing how the cost will be justified by the return with new business, detail the ‘soft’ return. These soft reasons to spend the money may include increased business opportunities due to a larger booth, more visibility at the shows, easier and quicker set-up times, perception of being bigger and better than your competitors, better branding opportunities in your booth, and so on. Be as specific as possible. For instance: “our new booth will give us a 300% increase in visible graphic display area to show off our brand and products compared with our current display.”

Use whatever combination of these methods you deem appropriate for your situation. Need help? Give me a call or drop a note and I’ll be glad to chat!

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Lifecycle of a Tradeshow Booth

Where are you in the life cycle of your tradeshow booth? What impact would it be to your company to upgrade at this point vs. waiting another year or two?

The life of a tradeshow booth generally goes something like this:

  1. Realizing your company has outgrown the old booth and making plans for a new one.
  2. Designing a new booth based on current company needs.
  3. Brand new booth and loving it!
  4. Year 1 – 2: It doesn’t exactly fit your needs but you’re still doing fine.
  5. Years 2 – 4: Making small adjustments and liberal use of on-site repairs. You feel like MacGuyver.
  6. Making bigger adjustments and repairs as time goes by. The thing is starting to rival Frankenstein’s monster.
  7. Realizing that you’re about to outgrow the booth in so many ways, like that old bathing suit from when you were a teenager.
  8. Finally putting a budget together for a new booth.
  9. Repeat every 5 – 7 years.

Admittedly, every company and booth experiences the booth lifecycle in its individual way. Some companies want a new booth every couple of years, and others are proud that they’ve used the same booth for nearly twenty years! True! I’ve talked to them!

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Once the booth crates or cases make it to a floor, they run into hundreds or thousands of other companies trying to setup their booths as well. Forklifts run wild. Ladders fall. Screwdrivers are dropped. Graphics and other pieces don’t fit as advertised and are hammered into place.

You can see why, given the somewhat destructive nature of how a booth ‘lives,’ it’s no surprise anyone that they need constant attention, repair and TLC.

So how can you extend the life of a tradeshow booth and when can you tell it’s time to move to something completely new?

One simple recommendation is to update graphics regularly. Refreshing the look of a booth with re-skinning it with new graphics is an economical and quick way to makeover the booth. The skeleton, or the main structure, of the booth, usually is good for five to seven years. By dressing the skeleton in new clothes regularly, the life cycle of the booth can be extended.

If you purchase a booth that’s designed to be expanded by using modular components, it doesn’t take much to expand that 10’ inline booth to a 20’ or 30’ or even a 20’ x 20’ island. That way you aren’t really buying a new booth, you’re just adding to your existing property. A good exhibit house will discuss these options with you when you first consider a new booth. That way the initial investment is a part of the booth as its given new life.

Maintaining longevity means being flexible. It means being willing and able to adapt to changing needs in your company. If you purchase a 10’ x 30’ booth that can also be setup as a 10’ or 20’ inline, you have the flexibility to attend several different shows with different layouts. If your designer is aware of your long term needs (any good designer will be by asking good questions before starting a design concept), flexibility will be built-in from the very beginning.

Add to that flexibility by adding and subtracting items such as counters, iPad kiosks, workstations and more depending on the needs of a specific show. Change out fabric graphic panels, add wings to the walls or a swoopy thing here and there to draw attention.

Getting the most out of your investment is key to increasing the usability and life cycle of your booth, not to mention increasing the overall ROI of your investment.

Tradeshow marketing takes place in a challenging environment. The more you can plan and prepare for the longevity of your booth, the further you’ll extend the dollars you are investing.

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Tradeshow Exhibit: Rent or Buy?

It’s an oft-asked question: Should we rent or buy a new display?

Purchasing that brand new booth might bust your budget quickly, especially if you are new to tradeshow marketing and still exploring how best to get involved. Yet renting can save money.

If you’re at the decision stage for a new booth, here are some thoughts that should help you compare buying versus renting.

  • How many times a year do you plan to exhibit?
  • How important is the function of the booth?
  • How important is the ‘look and feel’?
  • Will a rental booth provide you with the custom look you want?
  • What is your realistic budget for the project?
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Cost: Most experts agree that if you plan to exhibit multiple times you should lean towards purchasing your display. The rule of thumb is that for each three rentals you’ll have paid for the cost of a new booth. And depending on the booth and the graphics and other elements that need to be customized, it may be that for each two times you rent you’ll have spent the same as purchasing a new booth. So if you plan to exhibit the same booth at least four or more times in a year, purchasing will likely be a better financial choice.

However, money isn’t everything, right? Renting a booth can give you some advantages that purchasing a custom booth won’t. A rental booth is usually less worry. Maybe not completely worry-free, but close, and you usually don’t have to worry about damage done during transit.

Flexibility: Renting a booth can also mean more flexibility, such as waiting longer and closer to the show before major decisions are made. Since you’re choosing a rental from a catalog, even with some customizations, the exhibit house you work with is equipped to handle them within the parameters of the rental structure. A custom booth that you’re purchasing requires more time to design and more thought and input from more people to make it work.

Renting may also work if you want a turnkey approach. If all of the handling, set-up, shipping and assorted details are too much, you can have the exhibit house organize all the details. You just show up and sell.

Renting a booth gives you the opportunity to try out a style before making the purchase. You can test the look and feel, as well as function (storage, meeting space, etc.). And when the show is over, you just ship it back and don’t have to worry about having a place to store it.

Purchasing means a longer-term commitment. Not only are you investing more money, you’re committing to a longer run with the booth, so the design has to fit your brand as well as possible. But the good thing about that is once you’ve made the decision on the look and feel for your booth, the cost-per show drops dramatically vs. the cost of renting at each show when the purchase cost is amortized over the length of ownership. You may also have some tax advantages when using funds to purchase a depreciable capitol asset. To find out for sure if this applies to you, talk to your tax expert as I don’t even play one on the internet!

Want more information? Pick up the phone and call us at 503-507-4110 or drop an email. You can also check out our rental exhibits here.

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“Why Do Exhibits Cost So Much?”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard the comment, whether directly or implied.

“Why do exhibits cost so much?”

That question comes up with potential new clients who are in a growing company and want to make a big splash at their next show, so they’re looking at getting a new custom booth.

It also comes up with companies that have been hand-crafting their booths for years, but are ready to have a better look with their brand, along with well-planned and executed storage, meeting, product display and demo areas in the booth.

But when they’re told the price of those potential exhibits, that question lingers: Why do they cost so much? At least that’s their impression. But it is true? Do exhibits really cost a lot?

It’s not a hard conclusion to come to, especially if you’re not familiar with average costs in the exhibit industry. After all, when you learn that companies can spend a quarter of a million dollars on a custom 40 x 40 tradeshow booth, you think, “I could build a heckuva house for that money and it would last a hundred years!” That exhibit might last five years, or seven or ten, depending on the company’s needs and budget and other factors. And if it does, that company has certainly gotten their money out of their investment.

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And make no mistake; a new tradeshow booth is an investment. But with a custom booth (and even with more modular ‘off-the-shelf’ booths) a lot of different people have their hands in the creation. Just like that 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with a double garage that requires a general contractor, architect, electrician, plumber, roofer, etc., an exhibit needs a booth designer, graphic designer, production/fabrication team, marketing team and a project manager to guide the project from start to finish.

Costs add up, and typically the biggest cost is labor. Things don’t just happen by themselves. Graphics don’t magically appear; designs don’t hop out of bunny holes. Everyone on the project gets paid. It’s a good bet that when you hire that team, you get access to expertise that adds up to dozens if not hundreds of years of combined experience in design, fabrication, project management and production.

But still, you say: a 10-foot inline exhibit that can cost anywhere from five or ten to twenty thousand dollars brand new? How is that possible?

As you go through the process, you’ll be looking at custom materials, printing, design and the labor to put it all together. And chances are in the US you are hiring domestic talent, which will be higher priced than importing a pre-built exhibit from overseas that you found on the internet. Of course, you could buy a lower-cost version of the same exhibit and save ten, twenty, thirty percent or more. But what happens when something breaks down on that imported booth and you need to replace a part? It’s probably much easier to call up your exhibit house or rep and ask than it is to track down a manufacturer in China or South Korea. So now where does that savings apply? You spent less on the exhibit, but you have a short warranty (or none) and a difficult process to take care of the repair or replacement.

What if you simply can’t spend that kind of money on an exhibit? Then what? You do have several options, such as putting up a low-cost, high-impact graphic back wall, or renting an exhibit at one-third to one-half the cost of purchasing a new custom booth. Or you get creative with a minimalist approach in the space and make something else happen there that attracts visitors and generates leads.

New exhibitors looking to buy should take a look at industry averages, which will help prepare you when you go shopping. For instance, according to the Exhibit Designers & Producers Association 2012 survey, custom exhibit costs average $138 – $154.50 per square foot. So that brand new custom 30×30 booth (900 square feet) will run in the neighborhood of $124,200 – $139,050. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a 30×30 for under a hundred grand. Or course you can. It means communicating your needs and budget clearly to your exhibit house, and letting them use their experience and expertise to bring you a cool booth for your budget.

Finally, your exhibit needs to be designed and fabrication so that it can be dismantled and packed into custom-jigged crates for shipping and protection. Your house usually doesn’t need that!

All of those items – design, fabrication, graphic design and production, crating and the rest of the ball of wax – means that yes, your exhibit can end up costing “a lot.” But if you are prepared you can budget for that great exhibit and get it when you can afford it. If you need something sooner, work with an exhibit house and a limited budget to get what you need and make it fit your budget. Or invest in pieces over time so that those upgrades happen more gradually.

In any case, the more prepared you are with valid and realistic pricing information and a decent budget, the better your exhibit and the better your tradeshow marketing experience.


Click here to grab my Tradeshow Follow-up Checklist

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7 Ways to Make Sure Your Tradeshow Exhibit Experience Sucks

Naah, I don’t want your tradeshow exhibiting experience to suck. But if it does, perhaps its because you did one of the following:

  1. Don’t have a plan. Next time you walk a tradeshow floor as an attendee, try to determine which exhibitors actually know what they’re doing there and why. If they have a fishbowl and are giving away an iPad to some random visitor that tosses a business card into the bowl, you can be assured they really don’t have a plan. If they say something simple and innocuous to passersby, such as “hi, how are you?” it becomes apparent they haven’t put any thought into what they actually want out of the show. Instead, make specific show goals (number of leads, counting visitors, number of demos, etc.) and come up with a strategy and plan to accomplish those goals.
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    Don’t train your booth staff. If those staffers at the show that you’re still walking through are sitting at the back of the booth, talking amongst themselves, or chatting on a cell phone or texting somebody or eating, you know for a fact they have not been properly trained. Eating in a tradeshow booth is still the number one turn off to visitors and will pretty much ensure that anyone wanting to stop in at the moment will keep going. And probably not come back.

  3. Don’t do any pre-show marketing. If you don’t let people know you’re at the show, you’re leaving much more to chance. By working the phones, sending out emails, postcards, contacting media, doing PR, and more, you’re increasing the chances that people will make their way to your booth, no matter where it is.
  4. Don’t let your staffers know what’s going on other than the bare minimum. This is somewhat different than booth staff training, but falls under the same umbrella. If you don’t make sure your staff knows everything you can tell them about the products, service and specific show goals, they won’t fully grasp the reason(s) you’re at the show. On the other hand, if your staff has full knowledge of show goals, products, services, company hierarchy and other pertinent information, you’ll come a lot closer to being able to let visitors know as much about the products and services you offer as possible.
  5. Don’t have a booth that accurately and fully represents your brand. Too many exhibitors think that any ol’ booth will do. No. A booth is a statement. It’s a physical representation of your brand, from the materials, the graphic messaging, to the layout and the look and feel of the booth. If you’re a rootsy, eco-friendly, vegan pancake company, what are you doing with a high-tech booth that looks like it should be selling software? Visitors should be able to see your booth and instantly get a feel for your company that accurately reflects your products, attitude and mission.
  6. Don’t have a specific lead generation system in place. Think of it: you have a limited time at the show to capture information from potential clients or customers. If the show is a three day show and the floor is open just 7 hours a day, that’s 21 hours. If there are 30,000 visitors, that’s a potential of 1,428 visitors per hour IF they all walked by each booth once. We know that won’t happen, but if you get 100 visitors an hour and 20% of those visitors are ‘hot’ leads, what’s your method of capturing a lead’s specific contact information, along with follow up details? If you haven’t figured this out before the show – and your show goal is to capture as many good warm leads as possible – this will pretty much guarantee that your tradeshow exhibiting experience will suck.
  7. Don’t have a good follow up system in place. If you’ve gotten this far – planned a show, trained your staffers, have a good brand-representative booth and captured a plethora of leads – it will all be for naught if you don’t follow up properly. Still – in 2014! – surveys and statistics show that nearly 4 out of 5 tradeshow leads don’t get a follow up call or email. Eighty percent! Really! Do your job and make sure that all leads are tracked from the point of collection to the various touches over the next few weeks and month that lead to a sale. Because once you’ve made a sale, that’s when the fun begins and you’ve got a new client. And it all came from your tradeshow appearance.

But not if you suck at any of these seven items.

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Tradeshow Marketing Analysis, Part 5: The Booth

This is number 5 in a series. Check the previous articles here:

  1. Where to Start
  2. Budgeting
  3. Pre-Show Preparation
  4. Which Shows to Attend

Let’s tackle the BIGGEST part of your tradeshow strategy – at least in terms of potential cost.

The BOOTH.

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We can agree that booths come in all shapes and sizes. We can also agree that they usually cost a LOT MORE than you anticipated, right?

Let’s leave the cost and size up to your particular company’s available budget, goals and marketing presence. For some companies, a 20×30 booth would be a huge investment, more than they could possibly justify. For others, a 70×100 might be smaller than they’re used to. So for now we’ll dispense with the actual size and cost and focus on other important elements.

Let’s start with the BRAND. Your booth should convey, at a glance, the look and feel of your brand. For some, that’s a natural wood look. For others, it means a high-tech look straight out of Star Trek. That doesn’t mean that a rootsy, earth-mama brand couldn’t get away with an aluminum structure with fabric graphics. Those decisions are typically made through long and detailed conversations with a 3D booth designer, the company’s marketing team and a booth fabricator. But still, the goal should be that when a visitor sees the booth and the company’s name, it evokes a FEELING that is in congruence with what the company wants the visitor to feel. If not, somebody messed up.

Secondly, your GRAPHICS MESSAGING should be planned so that a visitor’s eyeballs will follow it to its proper conclusion. Usually this means the hierarchy works like this:

  1. Company Name or Logo
  2. Positioning Statement or Bold Challenge
  3. Supporting Statement

However, if your company is not well know, this typical hierarchy might change a bit:

  1. Bold Statement or Challenging Question
  2. Company Name or Logo
  3. Supporting Statement

And on somewhat rare occasions, the company name might drop all the way to third place, if it’s an unknown company or if the company name is really insignificant:

  1. Bold Statement of Challenging Question
  2. Supporting Statement
  3. Company Name or Logo

If your company name is unimportant in the sense that a product or brand is important or more recognizable than the company name, that might go first:

  1. Brand
  2. Tagline or Positioning Statement
  3. Supporting Statement

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for graphics on tradeshow booths that covers all companies or situations. Instead, your goals, products and objectives should help determine how the graphic hierarchy is displayed. The main thing to keep in mind is that visitors pass by booths quickly and they all become a blur. Imagine your booth is a freeway billboard and you have 2 – 3 seconds to catch someone’s attention.

Next up: BOOTH FUNCTION.

From a 10×10 booth to the larger island booths, the function of a booth must be carefully thought out and discussed, and it will be determined largely by your show goals and objectives, the number of booth staff and how you want to interact with visitors. If you’re doing product demonstrations, for example, you’ll need to make sure the booth is big enough to accommodate the presenter or demonstrator and a small audience. If you’re sampling edibles, perhaps all you need is an easy-to-reach sampling table.

Every booth is different, every show is different and every company’s goals and objectives are different. Other questions to settle: Do you have enough storage? How many meeting areas do you need? Should the meeting areas be completely private or only semi-private? What products and/or services are you promoting at this show? Do you need video monitors, or an iPad kiosk to help visitors interact?

Take the time to address all of the functions that your booth needs. Those needs can be determined by the experience you’ve had at past shows as well as conversations with company staff that are involved.

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And no matter what functions you detail and prepare for in your booth, chances are good that once you’ve lived in the booth for a few days, you’ll notice things that need to be changed for the next time. For example, one of our clients wanted a meeting space for their clients in a 20×30 booth, so one end of the booth – about a 10×20 space – was covered and mostly inaccessible to the casual visitor. However, after 2 – 3 times exhibiting in the booth, it became apparent that client meetings didn’t happen as often as they thought, and booth staffers found it to be a quick and easy place to hide out. So the covered meeting space was removed and the space was better utilized as product display and visitor interaction.

Of course BOOTH FUNCTION also includes things such as storage, meeting areas and traffic flow. While planning a booth you’ll want to take into account these three critical things. Not to say that they’re often – or ever – overlooked, but it’s not out of the ordinary for them to be miscalculated. For instance, traffic flow: do visitors have easy access to the booth? Or do you even want them to have easy access? Some companies design booths so that only desired visitors are allowed inside, limiting access to casual passers-by. Others want any and all visitors to step inside the line.

Storage needs to be considered: personal items (coats, purses, laptops, briefcases, etc.), products so samples can be replenished and more. Do you have enough space? Make sure you have enough, but try not to overdo it: space is at a premium at tradeshows and every cubic inch needs to be considered.

Finally: meeting areas. How many staffers will be meeting with clients or media types at the booth? How often? How many meetings are already scheduled ahead of time? How many do you anticipate to happen randomly?

Truthfully, it’s quite possible that the needs of each show will shift slightly from previous shows. The best approach seems to be to pay attention to how the booth is used at each show and make adjustments as budget and goals shift.

Finally, let’s touch on LOGISTICS, SET-UP AND DISMANTLE. In recent talks with a new client, they first mentioned the most important aspect of their new booth: it HAS to ship in a case small enough to go by UPS of FedEx. The large 4x4x8 wooden crates were a big NO-NO. So every possibility that came up from then on had to ultimately meet that objective.

To them, set up meant having a couple of booth staffers arrive a day or two early at the show, set it up with a minimum of fuss and tools, and avoid the double-whammy costs of pre-show staging and arrival at the advance warehouse, and having to hire show help to set up the booth.

Other companies don’t mind the extra cost – they try to minimize it, of course – but it’s more important to show their audience a great booth. Even if it means the booth is a 40×40 that requires a day to set up with hired help, and takes a dozen crates to ship.

Any good company will be aware of your desires in these areas, and determine what’s most important.

Best Case Scenario: having a booth that a) immediately conveys your company’s BRAND, 2) your GRAPHIC MESSAGING is clear and relates to this show’s goals and objectives, 3) is built to FUNCTION properly with room for meetings, storage, product/service display and 4) meets your company’s objectives when it comes to SET-UP and DISMANTLE.

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Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Recap (and Awards)

Outdoor Retailer is so big sometimes I wonder why it’s not in Vegas. But no, Salt Lake City is the perfect setting for this fun, extravagant and energetic national tradeshow. With mountains only a short drive away, SLC is positioned perfectly to host this confab of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country (and around the world). There’s so much going on in the outdoor industry that they hold the show twice a year: once in winter and once in summer.

The recent OR Summer Market took place the week of August 4th at the Salt Palace Convention Center. On Tuesday, attendees were invited to an Open Air Demo at Huntsville, Utah’s Pineview Reservoir, tucked neatly in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest just down the road from Snowbasin Ski Resort. The OAD was packed with 100-plus small exhibitors crouched under branded canopies, many of them offering free tryouts on kayaks, paddleboards and more. After a brief downpour mid-morning, the rest of the day turned into a fun, engaging and playful event.

As for the tradeshow itself, several acres of floor space at the convention center are occupied by the biggest show of the year in Salt Lake City, resplendent with top-notch exhibits, some as large as 100’ x 70’ that dominate the area. Keen, Merrell, Thule, Timberland, The North Face, Cascade Designs, Mountain Hardwear, Columbia and more came to Outdoor Retailer ready to show off their new goods – and no doubt spent a pretty penny with HUGE exhibits.

So what caught attendee’s eyes? For me, it was solar power. Lots of solar chargers: foldable, portable and powerful. Solar power is coming into it’s own and in the next half a decade or so it should explode as the cost of creating a kilowatt of power via solar will continue to plunge below that of the cost of typical energy. It seems that every time I turned a corner there was another solar-powered gizmo.

And the booths? Well, let’s have a little fun with some awards, shall we?

Best brand representation: Keen Shoes. Yes, this is a category with a lot of tough competition, but Keen is so over-the-top with recycled pallets for walls, recycled windows, hand-made booth elements and funky swagger that how can you NOT give this award to Keen?

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Walking Dead Re-birth: Kelty. Yes, the Walking Dead were used as inspiration for having to carry around a crappy backpack, so you’d better get fit with a really good Kelty Pack!

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Best Use of Stuffed Dogs to Show Off Your Products: Ruffwear. You might be surprised, but there were a LOT of stuffed dogs used to show off gear. Ruffwear managed to do it with style with gear made exclusively for dogs. Talk about focus!

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Best Tent Campground. Lots of tents at OR, but The North Face took over nearly a quarter of an acre with tents. Lots of tents. It felt vaguely like a Grateful Dead concert, missing just the tie-dye and herb.

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Best use of Brick: Carhartt. The faux brick surface made it look like the two-story booth that represented a storefront had been built one brick at a time. Beautiful.

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Best ‘Stop Dead in Your Tracks’ Booth: Brunton. Use of bright colors, back lit panels and shapes that grab your attention did indeed stop people in their tracks. Hard to capture in a photo, but I gave it a try.

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Best Product Demo Video: Coast Portland. It took a little patience, but after viewing the video shot near Oregon’s Coos Bay showing off the company’s flashlights, you came away convinced that they were the best you could buy.

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And finally, Most Iconic Use of an Icon: Leave No Trace’s Bigfoot, who posed for photos and invited attendees to tweet selfies for a chance to win footwear!

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I spent two days of the show jotting notes on my clipboard, doing booth assessments: subjecting almost two dozen booths to a closer exam that I call the Tradeshow Booth Performance Test. I’ll be sharing that information with those companies in the few weeks – always a great learning experience for both (I hope!).

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Expo West 2014 Tradeshow Guy Booth Performance Awards

Just returned from Expo West in Anaheim where I had a number of tradeshow booth clients, including Bob’s Red Mill, gDiapers, Aisle7 and Hyland’s. One of my goals at this particular show was to do informal assessments of a couple of dozen booths, including booths that I picked at random, and those of companies that responded to my 2-minute video I posted about ten days before the show.

Since I have a handful of client booths at the show, I am disqualifying them from winning any awards (although I think they all were top-noth projects)!

Before getting to the awards, a few comments: first, these are for fun only. Nobody actually wins anything substantial except a mention in this blog. Second, while I spotted a number of booths that would qualify for awards such as ‘Most Cluttered,’ ‘Most Confusing’ and ‘Shouldn’t Even Be Here Because Mom Didn’t Approve it’ the point is not to speak ill of booths that should be improved. Hey, I can’t help everybody, right?

So, without furthre adieu, let’s begin:

Cleanest Look & Most Pristine Representation of a Brand: R .W. Garcia. Not a custom booth, but an aluminum frame-and-fabric construction, nonetheless this captured my attention with its attention to detail. The graphical heirarchy was clean: company name at the top with secondary bullet points describing the company’s products. The back wall graphic was dominated by images of chip bags, so there was no doubt about the company’s products.

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Most Iconic Use of an Icon: Guayaki Brand Yerba Mate. Okay, I only caught one photo of this, but the use of a life-size cutout of the Pope drinking tea stopped me in my tracks and made me want to have Yerba Mate with His Holiness.

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Best Story on a Booth: Amy’s Kitchen debuted their new booth in 2013, and this 30×30 island clearly captures the company’s natural image, including a back wall section with photos and captions detailing the company’s history.

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Best Interactive Booth: While there were several booths that invited attendees to write notes on a board, YesTo asked people to write what they would say YES to.

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Best Use of Shipping Crates: Several booths use shipping crates as part of their booth to save on time and shipping expense. Ridgecrest Herbals showed how its done with branded shipping crates that doubled as counters, benches and product display.

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Best Dancing Mascot: SweetLeaf, with their Sweet Drops Sweetener doing his/her shaking to a live guitarist.

Best Use of an Olympic Stud: Drink Chia! How can you top an impromptu aisle race featuring Olympic athlete Justin Gatlin? (check out his race here)

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Most Elaborate Use of Booth: Clif Bar. The 40×40 island that Clif Bar used to represent their brand included not one, but two enclosed client meeting rooms, two sample stations, messaging that showed their love of fun and helping Mother Earth and the creative use of repurposing old wood for something new. And more. Hanging plants in wooden boxes. Bicycle gears. Old window frames. The steep usage of the word ‘organic.’ With all of this disparate yet congruent elements, this booth came close to a Terry Gilliam dream (go ahead, look him up. I’ll wait.).

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And finally, Best MashUp of a Beatles Album Cover: Love Birch. With their wacky replacement of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s heads with leaves, Love Birch took the iconic Abbey Road album cover and turned it on its head, and in the process stopped people in their tracks.

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This is the 13th consecutive year that I’ve attended Expo West, and it still seems fresh and fun, bigger and bolder and more overwhelming every year.

A few final observations: while there was a lot of use of social media this year, it didn’t seem to be anything out of the norm for most companies. Several companies invited attendees to ‘like’ them on Facebook, or tweet out a photo for a prize, but not as many as you might think would.

I was also on the lookout for QR Codes, and was a bit surprised to find only one on display. I had tasked myself with testing each and every QR Code I ran across to see if it worked. This one didn’t. The invitation next to the code was to ‘like’ us on Facebook, yet when I scanned the code, I was taken to a home page of a website – not optimized for a smartphone – and there was no indication of how to get to Facebook from there.

With QR Codes seemingly fading from popularity at least at this year’s show, perhaps that’s a good thing since it seems that so many QR Codes fail at least one part of the test: tell people what they get when they scan, make sure its optimized for a smartphone, and then test it all to make sure it works.

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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