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


It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, the Old Man is Snoring

The week between Christmas and New Year’s has, for me, been sort of a respite from the rest of the year’s calendar. Since the early aughts when I was VP of Sales and Marketing at Interpretive Exhibits here in Salem, the owner would generally close the business down. Most of our clients at the time I joined the company were from the government or nonprofit world, and as he put it, “they tend to shut down for a couple of weeks at this time of year.” He said that I could continue to work, but the office would generally be closed. After the first year at the company, I usually scheduled a week of vacation at the end of the year. I figured, why not, the company is closed, and I can get some extra time in skiing! And if clients wanted something, it was easy enough to monitor email communication remotely.

It’s different this year. Of course. 2020 is as different from a normal year as can possibly be. Most of the tradeshow world is not happening. Exhibitors are not planning shows, organizers are not putting final details on booth sales, exhibit designers and builders are mostly limping along. Exhibitor Magazine’s mid-November webinar reporting from the tradeshow world showed that more than half of exhibitors and builders expected their income in 2021 Q1 to decline.

And with no tradeshow business, I’ve taken to delivering for Uber Eats about half time. It’s not a bad gig, as the gig economy goes. It’s temporary, it pays all right, and there’s something noble about bring food to people (maybe that’s why I’ve always fallen for waitresses – seeing someone bringing you a plateful of food is great!).

Send someone a postcard!

So, I’m taking it easy this week. I’ll get an extra day or two in on the slopes. I’ll write extra-long on my novel (third go-round of the manuscript) because I’m almost finished. I’ll watch the Blazers and Seahawks on TV as they play in front of empty bleachers, which has got to be one of the weirdest consequences of COVID. I’ll reach out to friends more often (I’ve sent a couple of dozen postcards to random friends in the past several months, because, hey, who sends postcards anymore, right?). I’ll listen to music (the new Paul McCartney is pretty cool).

What I won’t be doing is counting the days until everything gets back to normal in the tradeshow world. I don’t think that normal is coming back. I think NOW is the normal. It’ll slowly evolve, but virtual shows and Zoom meetings are going nowhere soon, and even when live shows return, virtual gatherings will be a part of our world from here on out.

I’ll continue to reach out to prospects and clients and support them in whatever way I can, and let them know that while we’re dormant, we’re not going anywhere.

We will come out the other side. And I think we’ll be stronger for it.

See you in 2021!

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, November 30, 2020: Choose a New Musical Theme

I’ve used the same 30″ theme as the opening ditty for this podcast/vlog since January 2018. It’s time for a change! I have several to play for you and have narrowed them down to a Final Four. Take a look/listen and leave a comment below or drop me a note.

Here’s the line-up if you need to go back and bounce through them again:

  • #1: Staircase (begins at 2:52)
  • #2: Subway (begins at 6:58)
  • #3: Punkadelic (begins at 7:50)
  • #4: Harlem at Night (begins at 8:52)

This week’s ONE GOOD THING is, of course, creating music. Or really creating anything. Just keep doing it. It’s good for ya. And please let me know which potential musical theme you like best! Leave a comment below.

The Winter Months

It’s pouring as I write this in my home office in Salem, Oregon. A guy just rode by my window on a bicycle, bundled up against the rain and wind. I took the dog for a walk this morning in the thankfully much lighter rain.

Ah, Oregon! I love it here! In 65 years, I have yet to find a good enough reason to move.

Technically, it’s still Autumn, but the dreary weather has kicked in full force with another four or five weeks until the official arrival of Winter. Seems my bicycle-riding days are over for a while although a sunny day may entice me out for a short ride.

No, my activity meter is revving up for ski season. It’s not that far away. My resort of choice, Hoodoo Ski Bowl, is 89 miles east and is a quick trip up for a day of skiing.

Me on the right, younger brother Ben on the left, enjoying a day in the mountain sun.

If this were a normal year, we’d likely be neck-deep in tradeshow exhibit projects at TradeshowGuy Exhibits. In the past, we often focused on exhibitors at Natural Products Expo West, which has in the past taken place in the first half of March. This years’ show, eight long months ago, was canceled a couple of days before the opening bell. Lots of exhibitors had their exhibits already set up and hundreds more were either in various stages of being set up or were sitting in unopened crates in their booth space. I spent a day and a half at the show coordinating return shipping for a number of clients then took a mini-vacation to Joshua Tree National Park and visited a few friends and relatives to fill out the scheduled week in southern California.

The 2021 NPEW has been moved to the end of May, although they’re still planning to hold the show live and in-person. Which makes sense, if for nothing else, it’s difficult to do a food sampling show on a virtual platform.

But of course, the possibility of a live food-sampling show six months from now presents its own issues and challenges, not the least of which is: will exhibitors and attendees be willing to commit to the show with enough time to actually pull it off? Given the reaction to a dozen or so NPEW exhibitors I’ve communicated with over the past week, it’ll be a tough call. Some are willing. Others are putting off all shows until 2022. Others are in a wait-and-see mode.

Which means that here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, like so many other exhibit designers and producers, we’re just trying to make it through the winter.

Even without an active exhibit business, we have some income from other sources, which means we’re one of the lucky few. I know it’s bad for so many people.

I wish you well in 2021. Meanwhile, I’ll be waxing my skis soon, walking the dog in the wind and rain at times, waiting for sunny days.

What Matters Most

Okay, that’s pretty broad. Too general. What do I mean, “what matters most.” In what? Business? Personal life? Reaching your goals, whatever they might be? Life in general?

I’ve been thinking about what matters most. Lots of people say lots of different things. I’m slowly making my way through James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and I like much of it. Good ideas. Change your habits. Yes, definitely, having control of your habits and creating good habits and getting rid of bad habits is great.

When I say what matters most, I’m really referring to the personal goals you may carry. Those personal goals may relate to business, such as creating a business, or growing a business, or snaring that big client. Or a personal goal may be more, well, personal: losing weight, hiking 100 miles, running a marathon, writing a book. Something that shows you, and perhaps the world, who you really are. But it’s more for yourself, not the world. It’s to show you what you have.

Steve Prefontaine, the famous Oregon runner who died in a car crash at the age of 24 in 1975, famously once said, “Most people run a race to see who’s the fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” Steve said a lot of things (just put Steve Prefontaine quotes in your search box), but that one resonates a lot. It tells me that everyone has something inside of them, and they may not even know it until they’re challenged.

Let’s say you’re really challenged to do something. Maybe it’s something you’ve never done before, or something you’re familiar with, but at a much higher lever. What does it take? What matters most?

In my opinion and experience, it boils down to three things:




Determination comes from knowing how much you want something. I’ve been telling myself for years that if I just put my mind to it, I could write a novel. Really. It can’t be that hard, right? I kept saying “someday…” Then I ran out of excuses, and finally gave myself permission to proceed. What’s the worst that could happen, right? But determination kicked in, and that was that. I wouldn’t let myself off the hook. It’s astonishing what you can do if you don’t let yourself off the hook, if you’re determined to see it through.

Focus. The flip side of determination is focus. Knowing that you will be laser-focused on the task at hand. To me, that meant, making a decision and keeping that decision. I would write every day. 500 words. 1000 words. An outline. A plot point. A potential scene. A character sketch. I would also find out how it’s really done. And that’s the great thing about this day and age: it’s all there online. You can find advice from people that have done it before. It wasn’t long before I got hooked up with several newsletters from writers who have published dozens, maybe hundreds of books, between them. They had been down that road. Learning what it took, what the process involved, was a big part of the step. It’s part of the focus that comes once you are determined. Focus lets you learn what you need. I’ve watched dozens of videos of successful writers sharing their secrets on Masterclass, I’ve read dozens of blog posts of strong story structure, how to create good characters, to know what motivates them, and so on. It’s all there. Just find it, soak it up and apply it as necessary.

Commitment is another side of the coin of Determination (maybe it’s a three-sided coin). Determination is one thing, but staying committed, knowing that no matter what, you’ll see it through, is a valuable piece of the puzzle. Commitment means you won’t quit. A commitment is an obligation to yourself (or others) that you won’t let yourself (or others) down. In a sense, discipline is

There are many other things that come into play when you try to find the essence of what matters most. Motivation, ambition, desire, the willingness to fail before you succeed. It’s all-important, but to my mind, the combination of the triad is most critical: determination, focus, and commitment.

The great thing is the three are applicable to both personal and business goals, large and small.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, July 27, 2020: Life In a Day

Life In A Day is a film project that invited people worldwide to submit footage of what they did on July 25, 2020. I kept seeing the hashtag trending online leading up to Saturday, so just for fun, I shot a bunch of video of what I did and assembled it into a short film. That #LifeInADay film is included in this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee.

Given that there is quite a bit of footage without narration, and a lot of background music, I’m not posting the audio version on Soundcloud. Join me next week when I should have a guest.

Subscribe to TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee on Apple Podcasts here.

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel Tradeshow Marketing here, where the vlog version of the podcast appears weekly.

Personal Tips for Working from Home

I’ve been fortunate enough to work from home for almost nine years. It’s not always easy. Retaining focus and momentum through the day is one of the hardest things. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

You can’t do it all on your own. Even though you work from home, presumably alone (although you may have family and kids and dogs and cats with you for the time being), there are still workers and colleagues you need. Not only to stay connected, but to communicate with regularly so you know what everyone is doing.

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels

Having a schedule is critical. I block out various times of the day to get things done. Or make sure that on certain days, certain things get done. For instance, in normal times, I block out an hour of prospecting calls four times a week. Client calls are usually around the same time, although knowing that clients might not be as flexible, I often schedule calls early or later in the day. I write, record and produce a podcast late in the week, usually Friday although sometimes it happens on Saturday, and post it first thing on Monday. I try (and usually succeed) to write and post a new blog article on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Take a break. Snack, water, quick walk, get outside. Hey, you’re at home! You can take a few moments.

Have a start and stop time and do your best to stick to it. I realize that work-at-home schedules are fraught with influences that mean you have to be flexible. But if you have guidelines on when to start and stop, you’ll have a better time keeping on track.

Focus is also critical. If you can’t focus and find yourself getting on Twitter or Facebook, spend a moment there, then get up and leave the room. Get away from the computer. Talk with your spouse if they’re there, or a kid, or just take a break. Think about the most important thing you should do when you get back in front of the computer. Maybe even the most important two or three things, write them down, and when you sit down to work after a few moments, do those things. Put the blinders on, for at least a few moments. Some people work well with timers, shutting everything out for 20 or 30 minutes. Others don’t. Find what works best for you to keep focus, which is when you’ll likely do your best work.

Work when you’re most effective. I tend to like working best in the morning. After one or two in the afternoon, focus wanes and effectiveness drops significantly. With my wife not working now because her employer is closed due to the Coronavirus, I’m getting up a six, doing my morning Yoga routine while the coffee brews, and then work on my novel for an hour. Then I crank through the email and any immediate business items. Then it’s a shower and we walk the dog. Lately the walks have been an hour or more, getting in three or four miles. Finally, it’s back in the office for more business-related work for a couple of hours. Some people are not morning people and work better at night. Whatever works best for you is what you should try to make happen.

With the family home, communication is important. Your spouse may need to work as well, you may have kids that need hands-on attention. Or not. No matter your situation, make sure all parties are clear on your needs, and make sure you’re clear on their needs. It’s not fun to keep butting heads on schedules when a simple discussion and prioritizing of each person’s needs and desires can usually straighten things out.

With the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic, you may be working from home. But it won’t last forever. You’ll get back to the office at some point. Hopefully sooner than later. But in the meantime, get some work done. And have a little fun at the same time.

Best Tradeshow Articles I Found on Twitter

Cruising Twitter is always an entertaining proposition. Sometimes because you find some really interesting stuff. Other times because you end up wanting to pull your hair out. But it’s never boring!

In search of some #tradeshow ideas, I entered that search term in the box on Twitter. Lots of companies use Twitter to push out advertisements and come-ons, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you mix it up with good useful information. But I looked and came up with a handful of good articles. Let’s take a look.

Color Reflections offers “8 Event Booth Design Tips for the Wow Factor,” including ideas on how to stand out, how to stay true to your brand, make sure your booth staff are all on the same page and more.

Skyline Southeast offers an article called “The Benefits of Custom Tradeshow Booth Construction” which is a good walk-through when you’re considering a new custom exhibit.

Our good friends over at Tradeshow Makeover has “5 Expert Tips on How to Stop Leaving Money on the Tradeshow Floor.” It’s got a wrap-up of tips from five individuals, including investing in your tradeshow staff training, goal-setting, and adding value to your interactions.

The UK’s leading business magazine, Business Matters, offers an article on the “4 Best Ways to Optimise Space in Your Tradeshow Exhibits.” The link was tweeted by Jahabow, a custom retail display company from Owensville, Missouri.

Fortunate PR guy (his words) Jim Bianchi tweeted out a link to a post called “Top Lessons Learned for Automotive and Mobility Suppliers from CES2020.” Much of the lessons had to do with how beneficial CES is to exhibitors (which it certainly should be), but it illustrates how many traditional auto suppliers are finding their way into one of the world’s biggest shows. Another tip had to do with navigating around Las Vegas during show time, given that the public transit systems can be overwhelmed by an additional 175,000 people. Yeah, no kidding!

Zentila, a meeting resource planning tool from Aventri, shared a link to an article titled “7 Signs You Need a Lead Retrieval System for Your Onsite Team.” Tips include saving time, organization of your leads, sustainability and more.

Photo by Anuja Vidhate from Pexels

And finally, a list from Architectural Digest on Tradeshows You Should Consider Attending in 2020, assuming you’re in the architectural world. Most of the shows are stateside, but there are mentions of the London Design Festival, Heimtextil in Frankfurt and others. Lots of details on each show for the serious planner. This was shared by Skyline out of South Carolina.

Yes, Twitter has its detractors and it can be a little overwhelming if crazy politics are going on at that moment (okay, that’s always going on), but it’s also a good source for good information if you just know where to look.

Odds and Ends I Take to Tradeshows

Everyone is different, yet everyone is the same. We all attend or exhibit at tradeshows with things we need, and if we end up there without those things, we feel like part of us is missing. Here’s a short list of things that I always take on the road to tradeshows. I mean, beyond the clothing and other stuff that ends up in a suitcase. Here are a few things I’ll have with me when I head to the show floor at Natural Products Expo West in early March:

Charging cord and plug-in adapter for my phone

iPhone 6S: holds thousands of photos and songs, not so mention show apps and a million other things.

Boosa charger: this is the best I’ve had. It holds enough juice to re-charge my iPhone 6S at least four times before it needs to be plugged in again. Great to have on the show floor.

Laptop: while I suppose I don’t really need this I’d feel lost without it. It’s a 2011 MacBook Pro that’s been upgraded a couple of times and runs like a clock. Great to offload photos, do some writing and blogging, surf the web in the Airbnb. More comfortable with this than an iPhone for handling email or writing or sharing social media.

Spare key locks for client counters: most of these counters use the same lock, and it seems that the keys can easily go missing, so I keep a few in my backpack.

Backpack: where would you be without it, right? Like a purse, only bigger and it fits easily on the back.

Reading material: often it’s a piece of fiction, but sometimes something else.

iPad Mini 2: It doesn’t get a lot of use, but on the plane I find that it’s great to pull up something from my Kindle app and read.

Allen wrench set: always handy on the show floor.

Fitbit: belt version, not a wrist wearable. Plus extra battery because of course when you’re on the road, that’s when the battery dies, right?

Business cards: more than I think I could possibly need.

Rubber bands: always need a few of these to keep the business cards from spewing all over my backpack pockets.

Cash and a couple of credit cards. I don’t carry much cash, but a little comes in handy. Most everywhere takes cards, credit or debit.

Eyeglass cleaner spray with a mini-cleaning rag

Mini-flashlight: you never know when this will come in handy.

Snacks: always!

Wake Up and Smell the New Year!

It’s a little hackneyed, I know, but how often do you say to yourself, “Where does the time go?”

I said it again just a day or two ago when I noticed the calendar, did the math, and said, Holy Smoke, where does the time go?

2020 beckons. Are you ready?

I don’t usually do a formal year-end assessment of my business, TradeshowGuy Exhibits. In the past I have shared on these pages and in the weekly podcast, the state of the business. And I don’t plan to do a formal assessment this year.

But, having said that, I can safely say that 2019 was the best year yet for TradeshowGuy Exhibits. In terms of new business, new clients, and total dollars. Which means we must be doing something right.

The challenge of running your own business, and specifically a business in the tradeshow world, is that cycles often determine the amount of business and the number of clients we work with at any given time.

Happy Christmas and Merry New Year!

For example, the first four months of the year were incredible. New projects, new clients galore. The next four months were good, not great. Certainly not like the first four months. And the last four months have seen us hunting and wishing for more business. But like the cycles that we end up living with, I can already see a few months into the future and see things picking up. Perhaps not as grand as it was 12 months ago, but still good.

This year also was the third year of my weekly TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee video blog, which is also posted on SoundCloud as an audio podcast.

Another 100 or so articles, along with the podcast, were posted on this blog, bringing the total posts to over 1000. In November the blog also celebrated its eleventh birthday. If you’d have told me I’d still be blogging eleven years later, I would have probably choked. But wow, here we are.

And personally, I kept up a consistent exercise routine of daily yoga, daily walks (with the dog who insists!), lots of bicycle riding and lots of skiing.

How about you? How was your year? Was it what you expected? What do you have planned for 2020?

Whatever you are looking for next year, buckle up – it should be a wild ride!

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, December 16th, 2019: FUN

What is fun? Why are some things fun to you but not to others, or vice versa? Why do some people appear to have more fun that you, even though they’re doing the same thing?

Lots of things to explore on the nature of FUN on this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Also, today is ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons’ 70th birthday, so he gets a little shoutout!

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: Exhibitor Magazine.

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