Not a bad way to kick off June! I sat down with Mel White of Classic Exhibits, along with a few dozen viewers, for a presentation on tradeshow tips for newbies and wannabes. He invited me as part of their ongoing “Fast and Furious” webinar series, and I was grateful to be asked and glad to join. We nicknamed the presentation ‘From Tradeshow Stupid to Tradeshow Smart in 50 Minutes,’ but whatever you want to call it, I jammed a lot of stuff into the presentation. Take a look – hope you get something out of it, and thanks to Classic Exhibits for inviting me!
The thing I was most curious about while walking the floors and halls of Natural Products Expo West 2022 earlier this month in March was this: how many exhibitors and attendees showed up?
It was a question that kept coming up as I would turn the corner at the rear of one of the halls and instead of seeing rows and rows of small exhibits against the wall, I saw lots of empty space. Throughout the hall, instead of large island exhibits everywhere, you’d occasionally see a gathering spot with tables and chairs instead of a large island.
Which got me thinking about the final totals. On day one, I figured attendance for both exhibitors and attendees would be around 85%. On day two, after seeing more empty space, I revised that downward to about 80%.
On Monday, New Hope Network released numbers: over 57,000 registered attendees and over 2,700 exhibitors. Based on numbers in 2019 (which I’m dredging up from memory, but still, they’re close), which showed attendees at about 80,000 and exhibitors at about 3,400, the numbers this year showed a significant decline. Attendees were about 71% of 2019, and exhibitors came in at about the 79% level.
So, yeah, respectable. And people I spoke with, both exhibitors and attendees, found it a worthwhile show. Days One and Two were the best (no surprise), with all of the exhibitors I spoke with saying they’d had good conversations with a LOT of people. Day Three, of course, is more of a rush not only through the shortened day, but once two or three o’clock rolls around, a rush to the door.
A few observations:
There was a masking requirement in effect. Almost no one observed it. Maybe one in twenty. Given the pre-show health check confirming vaccinations or proof of negative tests, and the declining cases throughout the country, and of course, COVID fatigue, it didn’t surprise me that masks were mostly a no-show. Besides, with nearly 60,000 attendees, how do you actually enforce something like that?
But: QR Codes are back! If you search this blog for QR Codes, you’ll find an assortment of posts, ranging from how to use QR Codes at tradeshows, to posts questioning their validity anymore. But this year, QR Codes were back in full force. By the hundreds. I spoke with a number of people about it, and most either suggested, or agreed with the notion that one reason they’re so prevalent is that phones no longer need code-scanning apps. The ability to scan codes is built-in to the camera software. I lost count at over a hundred QR Codes.
Big Names Missing. Again, no real surprise that some brands chose to skip this year’s show. I tweeted about a handful of them that were missing: Kashi, Kettle Foods, Enjoy Life, Clif Bar, and Silk, all of which have previously appeared numerous times with large island booths. Not this year. I’m sure a few slipped my mind.
TradeshowGuy Exhibits’ client list also was reduced, but it was the busiest year I’ve ever had at the show. I spent a total of 9+ days at the show, supervising the installation and dismantling of two long-time clients, Bob’s Red Mill (30×40) and Mountain Rose Herbs (20×30). The Bob’s Red Mill exhibit is the iconic mill-like structure that captures their brand to a T. It’s been around since 2013. Mountain Rose Herbs, which hasn’t been at the show for nearly a decade, returned with a 20×30 new design focused on promoting new lines of essential oils and teas, and much more. The two main pieces of the exhibit are a 13’ tower/conference room and a 10’ tall display unit that was filled with herbs in a stratified style onsite prior to the show. It wowed. Great to work with both clients. We also had other clients at the show, including Greater Knead and Wildbrine, but like many exhibitors, some of our clients chose to sit this one out.
A few final words. I always approach Natural Products Expo West with both anticipation and a little dread. It’s a big show and can be stressful. But it’s always worth it. It was great to get back to seeing people in person, saying hello to people I’ve met over the years, and meeting new people.
And hey, there was even that celebrity siting! Jason Momoa popped in the North Halls for a short time and I managed to get his picture. He’s tall.
Unlimited choices. Seems like having the pick of anything we want would make things easier, right? For example, I have a subscription to Apple Music. Yeah, it could be Pandora or Spotify or any of the music streaming services. But with a streaming subscription, you have instant access to millions – literally millions – of choices when it comes to what songs or artists or albums to listen to.
Yet often I find myself stumped, not knowing what I should listen to. So I go back to my own library, which has only 50,000 or so tracks. Much easier to find something.
But too many choices? Yeah, doesn’t always work. Yeah, when I hear about the new album from Coldplay or Jackson Browne, I can easily jump over and listen.
The less choice you have, the more you must use those constraints to your benefit. I think the same thing applies to the scope of your tradeshow exhibit project.
Sure, you may love to have a large island, 20 x 30 or even larger. Just think of the things you can do with such a large space! But if you have only half or less of that space, it forces you to consider every square foot. And as a result, you can still come up with some very creative tradeshow exhibits.
Want eco-friendly? Use cardboard tubing, bamboo wood, or actual live plant enhancements as part of your design.
Need a table but want it to still be an eye-catcher? Try a custom branded, LED-highlighted odd-shaped table.
Need to save on cost and still have a nice-looking booth? I’ve seen several booths that use the shipping cases as building blocks for counters and back walls.
Looking for a way to draw attention to your small booth presentations? Hire a dynamic and charismatic presenter that’s experienced in drawing small but enthusiastic crowds.
Creativity isn’t limited to large canvases. You can get creative in countless ways. Just pull out your thinking cap and collaborate with others.
If you’re a fan of Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction book “Stranger in a Strange Land,” you know the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who was born on Mars, raised by Martians, and comes to Earth in early adulthood. He ends up in a political power struggle and as the title suggests, he’s a little lost in the whole thing.
I sense that many people are feeling a similar way when it comes to returning to the tradeshow floor. Exhibit designers, builders and exhibitors are looking to the future when things will return to normal and they can get back to the action of exhibiting and all that entails.
This morning I see a post in a tradeshow group on Facebook that a client has canceled an appearance in an upcoming show in early August. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the resurgence of the delta variant of the virus and the continued resistance by a significant portion of the population to getting vaccinated.
Another commented that they also had a cancellation at the same show, and a second cancellation by another client at another show in October. Also due to uncertainty of the virus numbers.
But for some exhibitors who are looking at shows in late October, the assumption is that everything will be fine and they’re proceeding with plans for new exhibits. So they’re forging ahead on designs and are getting ready to put significant money down on new exhibits.
I get the sense that with all the players involved – organizers, exhibitors, attendees, designers, fabricators, labor and support services – no one is sure of which way to jump, and unfortunately we’ll all have to jump several times before we learn where we’re going to land.
In the TV show “Billions,” one of the questions that come up now and then is: “Are you certain?” And the response is meant to be “I am not uncertain.”
But I don’t think anyone has much certainty right now about the tradeshow world and when it might return to normal. Or even settle into a “new normal,” which will be different but at least predictable.
Is it time to downsize? What things are worth considering when discussing the size of your exhibit? Here are a half dozen quick things to ponder:
I tend to make a lot of lists. Not as many as I used to (maybe I think I have enough lists by now!), but I still write things down. You’d think this makes me organized, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Several years ago, not long after I got married, I sat down and wrote out a comprehensive emergency “If I Get Hit By a Bus” list. It’s self-explanatory: it’s where my wife can find all of those things she needs if the worst were to happen: passwords for phones, computers, websites and more; will, important papers, all of that stuff.
I realized over the weekend that I should probably update the list soon because things change. Some old info drops off, new stuff is added. But then I thought: should tradeshow managers do the same thing? After all, there are a lot of moving parts in tradeshow marketing.
Hey, life is unpredictable. Things happen that you haven’t planned for. Most of us really don’t spend much time thinking about the worst thing that could happen. And subsequently, that means we really aren’t prepared for it, at least not as much as we could be.
What should be on your list? It may vary from person to person, and company to company, but here are a number of things that come to mind:
- List of shows: Include booth sizes, dates, locations.
- Vendors: who handles your exhibit; who designs graphic updates, who prints them? Who fixes your exhibit when it needs repairs?
- Service providers at the show: while many companies use show services at the venue, many also bring in outside exhibitor-approved contractors to set up and dismantle the booth. Or print something on demand in a quick turnaround.
- Personnel: Who went to what shows, what their duties were. Who’s still with you, who might have left. Contact information.
- Where files are kept: tradeshows generate paperwork, either digitally or actual paper. If they’re kept on a server, note the location. Same with your work computer. Same with your file drawers.
- How much things cost: similar to keeping track of paperwork, but building a spreadsheet to track costs from show to show and year to year can also be of great use.
- Exhibit details: size of booth at particular shows. Size of graphics (you’ll be updating them frequently); number of crates, storage location, what shipper you generally use, along with contact information on those various entities. Names and phone numbers are always a good thing.
- Social Media access credentials: whether you handle these personally or not, if you’re involved or if there is to be social media engagement from the show floor, add those login details to your list.
Once you have your list, give a copy to your immediate boss, or to someone on your team you trust that will use it if necessary. You should be good to go for another year or so before updating it.
Not only do exhibitors care about the environment, but they also want to have exhibits fabricated in an eco-friendly way – AND let their clientele know about their commitment to the environment.
That’s why here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we’ve partnered with Eco-Systems Sustainable Exhibits for years. Many of our clients have requested eco-friendly exhibits, and we thought we should share this friendly and informative video to show you exactly what an ex-friendly exhibit is all about:
Find our selection of Eco-Systems exhibits here at TradeshowBuy.com.
And check the latest sell sheets (click to enlarge; then right-click to save):
Yes, tradeshows are a great place to see what’s going on with your competition. Here are a quick five things you might consider trying to find out about them:
Inflation is kicking in, have you noticed? Have you recently tried to price a piece of plywood, for example? And no doubt you’re feeling it at the pump, too.
It’s affecting the cost of tradeshow exhibits and tradeshow marketing, too. In a recent Classic Conversation – where Classic Exhibits distributors gather monthly to share info and chat – much of the conversation was about rising prices. And it’s apparently affecting a lot of the marketplace. Prices are moving up, and time frames are also changing.
For example, when the pandemic hit, companies had to shed employees. Many were furloughed indefinitely, many were simply let go. Now that things are moving in the other direction, albeit slowly in many instances, companies are having to staff up again. And many are finding it challenging to get dependable people back into the workforce.
Also, supply lines are either clogged or pinched, or negatively affected, meaning that it takes longer to get the materials that you need. There’s a high demand where there was recently very little demand, which means that the ramping up of production is happening, and it doesn’t happen overnight. And shipping is taking longer than it used to. Much longer, depending on where things are coming from. If materials are coming from Asia, for instance, the broad stroke take is that shipping containers cost more and are harder to find, making shipping not only more expensive, but things are taking longer.
In the states, shipping times are expanding by a few days in some instances. Again, these are general observations, but people who handle shipping logistics agree that it’s taking longer to get things from Point A to Point B.
Other things to watch for
It’s been noted that in some locales, show services are being impacted. In a quick addendum to our regular monthly chat, someone observed that GES was allowing only their rental exhibits to be set up, and not allowing any EACs (Exhibitor Approved Contractors) onto the floor. Again, this seemed to be only in a few places, but it raises flags about how you should approach planning for your next show.
What to do:
Talk to your exhibit house: find out prices ahead of time; find out how long the quote will be good for (expect that 30 days is a likely limit).
Talk to your labor and show services contractors well ahead of the show so you are prepared for any changes that you may have to deal with for the upcoming show.
Download and read the show manuals from top to bottom and if you notice changes or have questions, take the time to reach out and get clarity on anything you’re uncertain about.
Finally, don’t wait until the last minute for any booth changes. Plan on adding an extra week or two or three to your design and production schedule. Show dates won’t move, and if you want any significant changes to your tradeshow booth, make sure your planning includes the extra time needed.
Here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we’ve worked with Classic Exhibits in Portland as our main fabricator for many years and they continually impress us with their skill and creativity. Last year at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, they posted a thorough look at the Symphony No Tools Portable Display, going through each element one at a time. It’s a great look at an elegantly functional portable display: