The exhibit halls at the Natural Products Expo West closed Saturday at 4 pm. By then, exhibitors were handing our their remaining samples, packing up things they could and getting ready to grab flights home. The last day of a big show like this one is always a bit different. Not as many attendees as the first couple of days (although still very busy), which left staffers with a little more time to chat in a relaxed mode.
Which is a great opportunity to meet people. Which I did. Even though I was pretty much dead on my feet by mid-day, I kept pushing through, knowing the end was in sight. I spent some of the day checking in with all of our clients that we had scheduled for dismantle the next day to make sure paperwork was all in place. Things don’t move in a tradeshow without the right paperwork!
Saturday started early by assisting in the dismantling of a new exhibit for a new client, Hop Tea, from Boulder, Colorado. They were set up in the hot new products section of the Hilton Ballroom, which meant that their exhibiting schedule ended a day earlier than the main halls in the convention center. I’m told they won a Nexty Award for new products, and their business – less than a year old – is off to a quick start. Glad to be able to be a part!
By the end of the day, I was done. Beat. Exhausted. So it was back to the Airbnb for a relaxing night, the only one of my 6-day trip. Friday night it was fun to spend nearly two hours at the Oregon Business gathering at McCormick and Schmick’s near the convention center. It’s a gathering that has happened for several years, and is designed to show off Oregon products from companies that may not necessarily be exhibiting at the show. Food and libations and good conversations flowed.
Sunday morning it was the dismantling. I was overseeing the takedowns of five booths by Eagle Management, which has proven to be a good partner: resourceful, efficient and generally quick to get things done. My job was mainly to make sure things were happening in a timely manner, and taking care of the paperwork: shipping BOL’s, printing shipping labels, etc. I admit I find it fascinating to see the before and after (and the during) of big shows. Once the show is over, hundreds of union workers come in and dismantle things quickly. It’s a helluva sight, really. Even though our truck was in line to pick up crates by the check-in time of 8 am, they weren’t able to load freight and leave until after midnight. Crazy, I know. Yes, it’s a busy show and hundreds if not thousands of trucks are all in a queue awaiting their call.
Overall impressions this year? It seemed busier than last year, if that is possible. New Hope usually posts their press release with exhibitor and attendee numbers within a few days of show close, so it’ll be interesting to review this this week.
From the list of exhibitors I visited last year, 25-30% of them were not at this year’s show. Big shows like this are expensive, and not all companies are ready to hit the big time and try to connect with thousands of buyers, brokers and retailers. That doesn’t keep younger, smaller companies from trying, though. Often the difference between success and failure at this level is having and executing a good plan, no matter what type of exhibit you have.
Later in the week, I’ll post photos of our clients at this show. Meantime, here are a few more clicks from the last day or so of Expo West:
I shouldn’t be surprised, but every year when the full exhibit floors are open, I am still a bit astonished at how many people are walking the floors. With over 80,000 attendees, Natural Products Expo West is a huge show. Not as big as the Consumer Electronics Show, but still mighty big.
So I spent the day walking, walking, walking and then walking some more. 19,221 steps according to my Fitbit! One major goal of the day was to make sure all of our clients were taken care of, so that meant making a stop at Target for requested supplies from a couple of them. Later in the day another client asked if I could track down a stapler, so after a few back-and-forth texts, another client was willing to lend their. I love when everybody helps out!
The second major goal was to drop by and say hello to exhibitors that I’ve met previously. As you may know, I’ve published two books on tradeshow marketing (here and here), and they are great calling introductory cards to start a brief conversation. Having been attending the show for almost two decades, lots of them recall me from previous years, so it’s good to reconnect, if only briefly. My main question to them is “how is the show going this year for you?” and 95% are very positive. One person said they weren’t coming back next year – they are just not getting the audience they want. The complaint is that the attendees in their booth were either other exhibitors or brokers and not retailers, which is what they want. I understand that not everyone has a great experience. I checked my list from last year and found that about a third of them are not here this year. From my perspective (anecdotal, not backed up by any data), there is a lot of turnover. But companies are still chomping at the bit to get into the show.
Since I’m Oregon-based, I lean towards finding Oregon or Northwest exhibitors. Many of them see me year after year, so even though we may never do business, it’s always good to make a brief reconnection. No selling, no pitching, not even a hint. Conversations usually revolve around (again) how the show is for them, and how their business is doing. So many businesses that I speak with are growing quickly, expanding product lines, and occasionally expanding their exhibit space. So I know that the industry as a whole is doing very well.
Over the years it’s been interesting to see some of the things that pop out and get your attention. A couple of years ago I couldn’t turn more than 90 degrees without seeing another bone broth product! This year, I see a lot of CBD-related products. I also see a lot of oat milk and keto-related products as well.
I’ve probably made this observation before, but it’s hard to walk the show floor without eating a fair amount of food. Most exhibitors offer samples, and many are literally pushing them on you. A bite here and a bit there, and after a couple of hours, you’ve had the equivalent of a meal. And it’s all (well, almost all) really good!
Let’s close out today’s diary with a few photos of some of the exhibits at the show. Backlit fabric graphics are still popular, as are eye-catching one-of-a-kind items in booths. Exhibit designers never cease to impress me with ways to capture eyeballs, communication messages in a 3D format and attention to detail.
Seeing “backstage” at any tradeshow lets you peek at the chaos of what it takes to put on the show. Backstage at a huge show such as Natural Products Expo West, with over 3500 exhibitors, multiplies that by several factors.
But when you’re personally involved in coordinating and executing the setup of a handful of exhibits for new and veteran clients, it can be exhilarating, exhausting and patience-testing.
But we pulled it off!
We are glad to introduce a handful of new clients this year, including Wildbrine, Organixx, and Hop Tea. We also did a new 10×40 project and coordinated the setup for a veteran client, Schmidt’s, and coordinated the setup of others, including Wedderspoon Manuka Honey and Dave’s Killer Bread. A long-time client that goes back over a dozen years, Hyland’s Homeopathic, finally shed their fabulous but aging Koa wood exhibit for a striking single plant photo blown up to 20′ x 8′. Crazy. Watch this space and our Twitter and Instagram accounts for photos of these and other exhibitors at Expo West.
We knew going into the show that there were opportunities for things to go sideways. That’s not abnormal in the tradeshow world, but this year it seemed to be multiplied. Due to the design and fabrication timeline of many of our new clients, and the coordination of incoming flooring freight from one of our vendors, we ended up shipping most of the new builds straight to show site. Not something we usually do. But it meant that many of the trucks carrying our freight spent hours in line getting crates unloaded. And of course, our last project of the two-day setup day, Schmidt’s Naturals, we weren’t scheduled to start setting up the exhibit until 3 pm on the day before the show opens. Which lead to a crazy chaotic dance with the freight logistics manager getting crates delivered in a timely manner (they weren’t, even though we could see them out the back door of the convention center for a few hours prior to them being delivered).
But as they say, all’s well that ends well. Once the crates were delivered, our crew jumped on the installation and cranked it out in about three hours, pretty impressive given that it was a new 10×40 exhibit with a lot of lightboxes.
Kudos to all of our partners: Classic Exhibits, who designed built most of our new projects (Schmidt’s, Wildbrine, Organixx); TimbrandMoss, who designed and built the Hop Tea exhibit; Eagle Management (and Stacy, our account executive who was relentless in working to make things happen in a timely manner); Brumark, who printed the custom flooring for two exhibits and provided flooring for another; Orbus, who printed the high-quality backdrop for Hyland’s. I also want to give out a shoutout to all of the GES folks I encountered along the way, who were exceedingly patient and proficient and made things happen very quickly.
While this seems like a lot, at least to me, I can only assume that other exhibit houses with many more clients are experiencing the same things on a much larger scale. Having said that, it was pretty substantial for us and helps start what we hope will be a great 2019.
From celebrity promoters to next-level artificial reality adventures, trade shows are becoming less about selling and more about experiencing. And that’s by design, as trade show trends shift with culture at large. Today, there are two big trends influencing the marketplace: 1. Consumers, especially millennials, are becoming more minimalist. 2. Simultaneously, consumers are shifting their spending away from goods and more towards experience-related services, says management consulting firm McKinsey.
Because trade show trends mirror what’s going on in the rest of the marketplace, the best event marketers are those who are totally tuned in to the buyer’s needs right now. To create effective trade show displays in 2019, you have to very closely understand what buyers want, what they expect and what will entice them to stop and take notice of your booth in a sea of competitors. Here are some of the ones we’ll be able to bank on this year.
It’s All About Immersion: Trade Show Experiences
The basic booth and table will no longer do. In today’s sales landscape, marketers need to stand out by creating displays that quite literally draw visitors in. The goal is to achieve effective narrative marketing by removing the consumer (not literally, of course) from the convention center and taking him or her on an exciting journey that elicits emotion. This can be done in many distinct ways, but some of the best are the ones listed below.
Artificial Reality—Companies in the tech space have been incorporating augmented and virtual reality components into their event displays for a couple of years now, but things are starting to really ramp up in this space. Experts are already predicting that AR will overtake booths at the world’s biggest tech trade show, CES 2019, with displays highlighting new AR products (especially non-wearable AR, like smart mirrors) and also helping to sell non-AR products using interactive, immersive demos and presentations. Experiential Design—Experiential design, though broad, vaguely refers to the art of creating spaces that provide some sort of experience. Often, this means taking a small corner of a convention center and transforming it into a totally different place entirely, like a store, a playground, an art gallery or a hotel room. For example, logistics giant FedEx recently showed up at the China International Import Expo with a giant airplane mock-up at the center of their display, while other big-name brands have developed full-blown store experiences at this year’s retail conventions. Multi-Sensory Experiences—In addition to the brightly colored backgrounds and banners that please the eyes, the coolest new displays have begun to incorporate elements that appeal to all other senses as well. Visitors will be able to jump into full-blown tactile, auditory and gastronomic experiences at this year’s trade shows, with big sounds, sights, smells and flavors to experience. Designers are also beginning to invite show-goers into exhibitor’s spaces to play and explore, with instruments, toys, seating areas and gadgets to try. Everything Brand-New—The 2019 Global Consumer Trends report published by the market research company Mintel gives us some fascinating new info on the latest consumer behaviors. The report showed that consumers are more adventurous than ever—they love to travel alone, experience new places and order foods they haven’t tried before. At trade shows and in other marketing sectors, we can expect to see an uptick in the new, fascinating, unusual and intriguing.
Appealing to the Consumer: Getting Crafty
To understand trade show trends, you have to understand what your audience wants. Most buyers at industry events are professionals with purchasing power (in fact, 81 percent of those who attend have some kind of buying authority), but they are also consumers who get giddy at the thought of fun, new experiences. You can bet that you’ll forge a positive brand image when you go for some of the ideas below. Shareable Elements—It doesn’t matter where they go, consumers look for “shareable” spaces and experiences that would contribute to nicely encapsulated social media posts. In 2019, we can expect to see many more booths creating special “photo ops” for show-goers to share to social media. This is great news for the marketer, as it offers more opportunity for building brand recognition and creating a positive presence across social. Special Guests and Performances—Take a look at some of the biggest conventions and trade shows for 2019 and you’ll see a lineup peppered with celebs. Last year, we saw big-name celebs like Tina Fey, Jamie Foxx and Spike Lee gracing the stages of big industry events, and this year’s no different. Look out for actors, musicians, change-makers and entrepreneurs beefing up the speaking agendas of the biggest conferences in tech, music and marketing. Everything Ethical—Again, trade show trends tend to mirror what’s going on in the greater consumer economy. Now more than ever, buyers care about patronizing eco-friendly, responsible and ethical businesses and will quickly alienate the ones who are less focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR). We’ll certainly see more brands in 2019 highlighting their CSR efforts in the trade show market, including through more eco-friendly displays and demos. All Things Personal—The personalization train hasn’t slowed yet. In fact, it’s primed to pick up some speed this year. As you probably know, buyers are gravitating to more personalized products and experiences across all industries, and this should be applied to trade show marketing, too. We can expect to see the most success coming from booths that create a personal experience by offering one-on-one staffing and personal engagements.
Paying Attention to the Consumer Market
As you can see, the most important thing about trend-spotting in the trade show world is trend-spotting in the world. If you can identify some of the key drivers of the greater market, and you can implement them into your trade show display strategy, you’ll be well on your way to a hefty return on investment from your event marketing efforts.
As a wanna-be 70s hippie I follow the evolution of the legal cannabis industry with great interest. Not because I don’t use it so much anymore, but I’ve always felt that the use of marijuana – or as its getting to be known – cannabis – should be a personal choice, and government shouldn’t be locking people up for simply using it. I figure if the state allows alcohol as a social drug, it has no valid argument to disallow cannabis. But politics aside, it’s a fascinating industry.
Now that cannabis is legal across much of the country, with more states (and countries – Hello, Canada!) to follow, the first thing you’ll be seeing is much more data coming out. For instance, I ran across an article which shows that the method of cannabis consumption is changing. In the old days, you’d roll a joint. Maybe you’d bake some bud into a batch of brownies, and hope you ate the right amount. But now there is data showing that people are smoking it less and eating it more or finding other ways to consume cannabis without smoking.
So why is this topic showing up on a blog dedicated to tradeshows and the event industry? Because there happen to be a BUNCH of tradeshows dedicated solely to cannabis. For instance, there’s a big show in San Jose this summer, the Cannabis Business Summit, put on by the National Cannabis Industry Association, that will attract hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees. And a listing at the Cannabis Business Times shows quite a few cannabis related events.
I’ve attended at least a half-dozen cannabis events in Oregon over the past few years and chatted with dozens of exhibitors about the industry and how they’re finding their way through an industry that, until just a few years ago, didn’t legally exist. Now that it’s out in the open, it wants to shine. Hence, the explosion of tradeshows and conferences dedicated to the industry.
Another twist: in the old days, it was never called cannabis. It was called marijuana, and the scourge of the devil weed, or reefer, spawned panicky movies (Reefer Madness), conspiracy theories and so on. Here’s a quick take on the reason it’s called cannabis these days and is rarely referred to as marijuana.
And what about the exhibitors? How are they faring in a new legal industry? I’ve spoken to many of them over the past couple of years, and as you might imagine, it’s a mixed bag. Some exhibitors are well-prepared with sharp-looking, functional exhibits. Others have barely managed to put up a cheesy vinyl banner hanging from the back of the drape behind an organizer-supplied table. In other words, it’s like a lot of industries.
I heard talk from some exhibitors that when legal cannabis happened here in Oregon, a lot of money rushed into the industry. Businesses were snapping up storefronts, staking out their ground and doing what they could to promote their new businesses. But since that beginning rush (no pun intended), reality is a bit of a come down. Some businesses have closed, others are trying to sell. It’s a marketplace where a glut of product is keeping prices down. And this comes all with an industry that is heavily taxed by the state so that it can be regulated properly. I recently saw that Oregon suspended applications for new cannabis outlets due to the backlog. For a deeper dive into the Oregon Economic Forecast that looks closer at recreational and medical marijuana, check this out (direct PDF link).
All of which brings me back to the statewide event industry and how its working with cannabis producers, retailers and supporting businesses. Coming in January, TradeshowGuy Exhibits will take part in its first cannabis-related event as an exhibitor. We’ll be at the Cannabis Collaborative Conference in Portland on January 23-24, 2019.
Most of my blog posts are about the industry: how to do things, what works and what doesn’t, what’s new in the tradeshow world and so on.
But I rarely get personal on this blog. It’s not necessary, but on occasion it is kind of fun for readers to see who’s behind it all. Given that, I thought it would be worth it to explain exactly how I got here, and how I run my business.
I spent 26+ years in the radio industry as a DJ, Music Director, News Director/Anchor, Program Director (and more), but as the industry changed (technology, mainly), I found that positions in the industry were getting squeezed, and a lot of talented people were having a hard time finding a spot. I loved radio – still do, in fact, as a volunteer doing a weekly two-hour reggae show on KMUZ in Salem – but to make a living in radio just wasn’t feasible anymore unless I wanted to be a gypsy and take my small family with me to where the jobs were at any given time. No thanks, I like Oregon and want to stay.
The Exhibit World is a Thing?
As to how I got to the tradeshow world, I literally stumbled into it. With two young sons, I was working as an assistant manager trainee for Hollywood Video, when a family friend’s wife saw me at the checkout counter.
“What are you doing here?”
“Training to be an assistant manager!” I said proudly (biting my tongue and crossing my fingers behind my back).
The next day her husband called me.
“I have an opening for a sales position at my exhibit company. How would you like to talk about it?”
Exhibit company? What’s that?
“Sure,” I said. Couldn’t hurt. Might even be interesting.
We sat down a couple of days later and chatted for an hour. Ed Austin, the owner of Interpretive Exhibits, talked about the exhibit industry – both interpretive and tradeshow – and how their small company fit. As the hour drew to a close, Ed Austin, the owner of the company, offered me the job.
“I didn’t really plan on offering you a job at this point, but you have good people skills, a lot of other good skills, and we can teach you about the industry.” His offer doubled the money I was making at Hollywood Video, so it was a no-brainer. Exhibit industry, here I come! Hollywood Video, by the way, was a victim, like Blockbuster Video, of the revolution in streaming video.
Learning the Exhibit World and Changing Careers
For the next several years, I slowly learned the exhibit industry. The biggest cultural shift and change to my daily work was the fact that in the exhibit industry, compared to the radio world, things moved slowly. Glacially. In the radio world, I’d get an order to write and produce a handful of commercials, due in a day or two. Three or more days if I was lucky. Once you got the order submitted, you had to jump on it. Or in the case of news reporting, it was non-stop. You were always hopping to find the next story, or to get the latest on a story that was active.
I found that in the exhibit industry, though, especially when it came to interpretive exhibits, there were usually a lot of parties that needed to chime in on something. Once a discussion or meeting was complete on a topic, the next step was usually weeks away before anything was due.
Weeks! Sometimes a month or two, before the next step was due, and the various parties had to chime in. I couldn’t believe it. I was so used having to jump, it took a long time to adjust to the glacial speed at which interpretive projects unfolded. In a sense, I found it boring, because I was always looking for something for my ADD brain to do (more on that later).
We did projects for the Army Corps of Engineers, National Forest Service, Oregon State Parks and many other government and non-profit agencies. An earlier salesperson had ended up selling a large exhibit to a large corporation, and the company knew there was business to be had there, but frankly, corporate work was foreign to the management. They were used to going onsite to a muddy natural area and chatting with like-minded people. They were not used to putting on a nice sport coat and meeting potential tradeshow clients.
Which became my task: find some tradeshow clients. Sell some tradeshow exhibits. Get on it.
What’s VP of Sales and Marketing Do?
After a few weeks at the company, it came to my attention that the company website sucked. Given my need to have something useful to do (I knew almost nothing about sales at that point), and since I had put up a handful websites, I offered to at least oversee a makeover of the website. Which I did, which they loved. And with the title of VP of Sales and Marketing, I was given free time to do things other than just sell exhibits. I also knew that I needed more information on the industry, so using my radio skills, I set up interviews with industry consultants, writers and experts. The interviews were recorded and posted on the website (this was before podcasting was invented – I just found a way to embed the audio). I also wrote articles based on things I had learned and posted them on the website (again, this was before blogging software found its way into the world).
I eventually compiled about an hour worth of recordings and created an audio CD which I gave away, calling it something like Inside Secrets of Tradeshow Marketing. I put it on the company site for something like $79, but where it was really useful was giving it away to potential clients (complete with a $79 price tag).
The First Exhibit Sale
As for tradeshow exhibits, I had a friend at Kettle Foods in Salem (employee number 8, I think), and asked if they did any tradeshow marketing. Turns out they did. Turns out they were shopping for a new one. We made a pitch, and they spent $25,000 on a 20×20 custom exhibit that made its debut at Natural Products Expo West in 2003. Ed told me years later that the $25,000 job cost the company about $40,000, so it was a money loser. But we kept showing it off and it kept leading to new clients, so I figure it paid for itself many times over.
In any event, we were off and running.
The Kettle Foods exhibit led to a connection with Nancy’s Yogurt (10×20 custom), Hyland’s Homeopathic (10×20 custom, which was designed, fabricated and shipped in 35 days flat, I kid you not!), and Bob’s Red Mill (custom 20×20). We did a custom 30×70 for local spa manufacturer Marquis Spas. We did exhibits for Mountain Rose Herbs of Eugene (still one of my favorites), BioKleen of Vancouver. The most interesting sale I made, though, was on a flight back from DC to Portland. I was catching a connection in Denver, and the woman next to me ended up sleeping most of the way back from DC to Denver. As we were coming in to Denver, she woke up and we chatted a bit. I asked what she was doing in DC and she said she had been at Expo East. I had too! I told her what I did, she took my card, I got hers, and a short time later we did a new custom booth for Natracare, from England, but with American HQ in Denver. It proved to me that there are opportunities everywhere if you keep your eyes and ears open and aren’t afraid of piping up.
Somewhere along the way, an old radio friend has asked me what I was doing now. “I’m in the tradeshow world!” I told him. He said, “Oh, you’re a Tradeshow Guy, eh?” Somehow that name stuck. In late 2008, I was curious about the new whiz-bang online publishing platform of blogging, and started TradeshowGuy Blog, just wanting something to play around with and as a creative outlet. It’s been going ever since.
The Coming End of Interpretive Exhibits
The recession in 2008/2009 did a number on the tradeshow exhibit building world. Many companies that we knew of in Portland closed. Others consolidated or downsized. Interpretive Exhibits’ secret weapon, I thought, was that we were small. We managed to keep a handful of people on salary and bring in the fabricators when projects warranted.
But Ed was nearing retirement, and in 2010 told us that he would close the company down in 2011. Which he did on July 15, 2011. My last day at Interpretive Exhibits.
What next? Another Career?
Not really knowing which way to turn, I thought I’d keep in touch with some old clients while I collected some unemployment, took some time off, and looked for another job. Which I figured I would get at some point.
But it never happened. Being in your mid-50s and looking for a new job is not a fun exercise to say the least. And along the way, I did have some previous clients order some new things. Not a lot, but enough to make me think that I should stick with this entrepreneurial thing.
In the meantime, prior to Interpretive Exhibits closing down, I had teamed up with Roger Pike, an old radio friend in town. We had shopped ourselves around as public speaker trainers and social media consultants. We got a couple of clients, the biggest of which was a local employers association that hired us to do a twelve-week training for their presenters. This was in Roger’s wheelhouse (not mine), as Roger was (and is) a great public speaker and former college public speaking champion. Lots of fun, but as time went on I kept putting more of my energy into selling exhibits (which was about to turn more profitable), and eventually left the consultancy with Roger behind.
That’s because in 2012, Bob’s Red Mill decided that their current 20×20 was going to be phased out and would I be interested in helping them do a new 30×30?
Of course. I contracted designer Greg Garrett, whom I had known while working at Interpretive Exhibits, and had him create a design. Once the design was approved, I shopped it around to three fabricators, and Classic Exhibits in Portland ended up getting the job. Even though they were known as more of a modular ‘kit’ builder, they were stretching their wings and were hoping to become more known as a custom builder. This project suited that desire perfectly and they did a fantastic job on the booth if I may say so.
That job convinced me that I could make a go at owning my own company. Roger Pike and I had called our company Communication Steroids, figuring that it was clever enough and descriptive of what we were doing. I named my exhibit company Communication One Exhibits, not that clever or descriptive, but what the hell, I thought.
Over the next few years, 2011 – 2014, I did a couple of larger projects, many small ones and kept the mortgage paid and the mouths fed. And I found I was having fun working for myself. In fact, I really liked it.
By late 2015, I had mentioned to Mel White, VP of Business Development at Classic Exhibits, that I didn’t like the name Communication One Exhibits, and he suggested I use TradeshowGuy Exhibits, since I was the TradeshowGuy online anyway! After a little thought and discussion, I did away with the old name and brought in the new one.
I kept looking for ways to generate more leads, make connections with prospects, and show off my growing expertise in the industry. I had done a handful of speaking gigs, both while with IE, and with my own company, and while I liked it, none of it lead to any significant new clients. I finally put my head down and finished a book that I’d started on at least three times. The book, Tradeshow Success: 14 Proven Steps to Take Your Tradeshow Marketing to the Next Level, came out in late 2015, and I immediately used it as a ‘business card’ with potential prospects. It didn’t automatically get people to buy, but it was certainly something that almost no other exhibit house or exhibit salesperson could offer.
In 2015, I went back to doing webinars on a regular basis, even securing the URL TradeshowGuyWebinars.com. I did them monthly, but after a year decided that I wanted to do a more regular podcast, which led to the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee which launched in January 2017. My goal was to just BE THERE on a weekly basis, to talk about things that interested me in and out of business. I’d have guests, but the guts of the show didn’t ride on having a guest. I’ve had a lot of guests (you really should browse this blog to find them!), they were all terrific and had fun stuff to share. But I have as much fun putting short podcasts or mini-films together, too, when it seems right.
In 2016, I felt my sales skills – which had grown a lot since my entrée into the industry in 2002 – needed some help. I had joined Tip Club in Portland, a networking group run out of Brad Kleiner’s office in Wilsonville. Brad was a Sandler Sales trainer, and after learning more about what and how he taught, I joined his President’s Club weekly 2-hour sales training group for a year. Best sales training I’ve ever run across, and it gave me a great set of tools on how to prospect, uncover pain, close and service the deal. Rejuvenating!
Another item had come up a few times – the use of the name TradeshowGuy. Once someone asked me if I had trademarked it. Uh, no. I looked into, and found it surprisingly easy. And pretty reasonably priced, too. It took several months, but in late 2017 I got confirmation that the trademark went through. So yes, it’s registered now. I’m officially TradeshowGuy and the company is known far and wide as TradeshowGuy Exhibits.
As we reach the middle of 2018, I look back and see that I’ve been running my own business for seven years now, and it’s doing better than ever. It’s not easy, it’s not predictable, but it’s been rewarding and fun. And I really do work at it. I like working with clients – that’s probably the most rewarding thing, seeing their reaction to a brand-new exhibit that will go out into the public and represent their company, products and brand. Great feeling.
Who knows how far this thing goes? I figure if I can get another seven years out of the business, I’ll consider closing it down. After all, I’ll be 70, and may want to do other things. But hey, I still jam on my guitar, still bash my drums regularly, do a fair amount of hiking, bicycle riding and walking. I’m planning to live to be 120, so I have a way to go, amiright?
When I first got into the tradeshow world around the turn of the century (!), an issue that kept coming up time and time again was the color of tradeshow graphics.
There are a number of problems that come up with printing graphics with accurate color.
First, since we printed everything in-house at that point, we needed to make sure that the printer’s output was consistent with what was called for. A graphic designer will usually spec a PMS color (Pantone Matching System), which is a proprietary color space that identifies exact shades. That meant regular testing of the system to make sure that the color matched.
The inks in the printer must be of high quality so that when the computer that is used to process the print calls on the right combination of the various ink tanks.
Next, you have the computer monitor. Many clients would look at something on their monitor and think it looked exactly how they wanted it. Trouble it, monitors differ in their output as well. So, what you see on your monitor in your office may not be what I see on my monitor.
Don’t forget about the substrate you’re printing on. Whether it’s fabric or paper, simply by changing the source of paper from one package to another may bring a subtle difference. It’s the same with carpet dye. One dye lot may be slightly different from another, and if you try to match a new printed piece with an older printed piece, chances are good it won’t exactly match.
Then there’s the human factor. We all see colors differently, and usually the person operating the printers have a good eye for colors.
So how to address this? If you are trying to match a PMS Pantone color exactly, the best thing is to provide a paper-printed color sample that you like. For example, if you have a brochure or other printed piece that is exactly what you want, color-wise, make sure your printing vendor has that. If they have that piece in hand, chances are very high they can make adjustments in their process to create a printed tradeshow graphic that matches your desired color.
But understand that there a lot of variable! The technology has generally made it easier to color-match, but it’s not always guaranteed. Just work with your exhibit house or print shop if color-matching is important.
Welcome to the (perhaps) annual TradeshowGuy Expo West 2018 Exhibit Awards, where I totally (almost) at random, pick out a handful of the 3600+ exhibits at the Natural Products Expo West show and give them a little notoriety here on the TradeshowGuy Blog!
A couple of caveats: I’m not including any current clients of TradeshowGuy Exhibits – they’re already award winners in our book, and we don’t want this fun post to be biased towards, you know, clients! Besides, we’ve already posted photos of those exhibits.
So, let’s get started!
Best Big Brand Makeover: Kettle Foods
Kettle Foods started out as a small nut and chip maker in Salem, Oregon. In the past ten years or so the company has been bought and sold a handful of times and is currently operated as one of the major brands of the Snyder’s-Lance product suite. The island exhibit shows great color and ingenuity in piecing together many elements of the Kettle Brand.
Best Client-Made Exhibit: Stahlbush Farms
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with the good folks at Stahlbush Farms, near Corvallis, Oregon, for several years. But when it came time to do a new booth, it finally came down to having their own fabrication shop create it. It’s built using crates that double as counters, and everything fits neatly into a couple of crates. Nicely done!
Best Kitchen Sink Exhibit – DanoneWave
I think they used to be White Wave, but now it’s DanoneWave, still offering brands under the Silk, Dannon, Oikos, SoDelicious, Wallaby Organic and many others. I’ve always stopped by their booths over the years and chatted and tasted and this year was no exception. There’s a lot going on here: carts, hot air balloons, colorful images, detailed woodwork, a random vehicle or three – seriously, you can just walk around the thing for fifteen minutes taking it in!
Best Retro Motor Vehicle Use – Hansen’s
A cool psychedelically painted hippie van? Ff course! There are a lot of vehicles that show up in booth spaces at Expo West, but this one catches your eyes like no other.
Best Photo Op – Enjoy Life
Enjoy Life has seen their exhibit grow significantly in the last few years, from a small inline to a dominating island. This year they showed of a pseudo-underwater photo alley that invited people to shoot and share. Yes, there were a lot of photo ops throughout the show, but this made the biggest impression.
Best Rustic Exhibit – Kodiak Cakes
Kodiak Cakes of Park City, Utah, also had a great photo op section of their booth space, but I felt that the rest of the exhibit was more impressive. Beyond the photo op section was a forest, a lookout-like building and a wall of photos of booth visitors. A fun-loving and lively crew, too, passing out samples like crazy.
Best Simple Yet Powerful Statement Exhibit – Kashi
Last year, Kashi caught eyes with a simple statement with no brand ambassadors, no sampling – just a simple statement to support farmers in their transition to organic farming. This year they made a similar statement with a slightly modified exhibit. Powerful stuff.
Best Split Exhibit – Aqua Carpatica
Downstairs in the busy ballroom at Expo West, it’s a little hard to stand out. But Aqua Carpatica of Romania booked two 10×20 spaces across the aisle from each other and dominated the space with a spare, almost ascetic approach to pitch the cleanliness of their water. It was capped by a giant video screen, around 8 x 12 feet, and some tables and chairs – but not much else. Very attention-getting!
Best Tribute to a Fallen Comrade – Clif Bar
I met John Anthony over a decade ago when Kettle Foods was a client, and John worked for them. A fun and engaging guy to talk to, he moved to Clif Bar, Nature’s Path, UNFI and CLIF’s White Road Investments. I was having lunch with an old Kettle Foods friend a few months prior to Expo West and mentioned that I’d run into John at the 2017 show. He said he’d heard that John had died unexpectedly in the fall of 2017. Clif Bar did a nice job in their tribute:
All right – on that note, we’ll wrap up this year’s TradeshowGuy Expo West Exhibit Awards. Hope you enjoyed. Sorry if we missed your booth – but hey, there were over 3,600 exhibitors this year. Maybe next year!
Babies – lots of babies – along with young kids, the occasional dog, lots of mascots/costumes, and a few weirdly dressed people. Typical Expo West!
Saturday night – Day Three of Expo West – was spent hanging out with Oregon Business folks at their annual soiree at McCormick and Schmicks, and later, producing Monday Morning’s vlog/podcast. Now let me see if I can manage a recap of the final two days of Expo West.
Dozens of people I spoke with agreed that the show was somewhere between amazing and fantastic, or perhaps crazy-busy and overwhelming. Just saw the press release this morning from New Hope which showed that there were over 85,000 attendees, and 3,521 exhibiting companies, including more than 600 first-time exhibitors.
I mentioned in my vlog/podcast that I was impressed by the great detail that exhibit designers go to to capture a brand’s essence. I also got into a conversation with one booth staffer about the wild colors that are everywhere in the show. “Can you imagine what this show would be like without all of those colors?” he asked. Agreed. Bright and bold colors everywhere.
There were also a lot of BIG hanging signs, from 40’x40’ aluminum structures/fabric graphics to wooden panels and what looked like carved wooden signs. Does anybody look up these days at shows?
There were a lot of clever interactive things going on at booths, offering people an opportunity to walk into the booth space and do something. It’s always a great way to capture attention. I counted at least a dozen “selfie” stations, with some including a circular light where you can take a selfie where you’re fully and evenly lit, and some stations where they’ll take a photo and then email it to you. One of the most fascinating and eye-catching interactives was a Rube Goldberg contraption in the KIND Snacks booth, showing how KIND snacks are made from start to finish.
There were many opportunities to tweet a hashtag with a photo for a chance to win something, so it was good to see the social media tie-in as well. Although, frankly, it almost seems run-of-the-mill, when six or seven years ago social media was all so new!
Another thing I noticed in booth fabrication was the use of see-through printed fabric. Everywhere I turned there was another example. See-through fabric is very useful in creating a barrier, but the see-through aspect gives you a view of what’s beyond it, without intruding on people that might be in a meeting room for example.
This was my sixteenth consecutive time I’ve attended Expo West in support of clients, for years, the halls have been set up in a specific configuration: foods, manufacturing, supplements, new products and more all have had their own areas. That didn’t change this year, but the layout changed – drastically – and it was interesting to see how the whole layout was essentially flopped from one end to the other. Lots of comments from people who weren’t sure how it worked, but from my view it worked just fine. Took a little getting used to.
Sunday – Day Four – started off much slower, in terms of visitors roaming the aisles. I was there at opening of ten o’clock, and the back reaches of the halls were lightly travelled. it didn’t take long for that to pick up. By late morning, it seemed almost as busy as previous days. It did give me a chance to speak to more people without feeling rushed. By 2:30 to 3 o’clock, exhibitors were offering all of their samples to attendees so they wouldn’t have to transport them back to HQ. And of course, some folks were pulling down banner stands and packing up suitcases by 3 o’clock. Ya ain’t s’posed to do that, but it happens anyway. Planes to catch.
And finally, I know of no other show where, frankly, you never need to eat a meal offsite for ate least three days. Virtually every company is sampling the goods, from sausage, bagels, bread, toast and eggs to energy bars, drinks, coffee, teas, juices and other goodies. It’s easy to consume a couple of thousand calories without even batting an eye. Even if you try to avoid eating much, you’ll end up taking bite-sized samples here and there.
And don’t get me started on the varieties of chocolates.
Random thoughts, observations and photos from walking the floor, test-tasting the products, and chatting with people on day two of the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim:
It’s a mental thing. But as much as I feel I should restrain myself from eating too many samples, you seriously can’t hold back. There are so damn many good foods on display for test-tasting that you just can’t not try them. I’m a sucker for great chocolates, sweets, and similar concoctions. Frankly, it’s overwhelming. Having said that, I’m getting tired of energy bars. I stopped eating them on a regular basis a couple of years ago (too many calories for my diet!), and it’s hard to find ones that I really want. There are also a lot of prepared foods that I bypass. We don’t eat microwave foods at my house, and none of those types of foods really appeal to me after so much good home-cooking.
Non-food items – skin care, hair care, supplements and the like – all are very popular, and many caught my eye. One of our clients, Wedderspoon, added to their line of New Zealand Manuka Honey tasty treats by introducing cleansers, hand creams, body lotion and more – all very good stuff.
This is also the first year that I paid much attention to pet products. It’s because, for the first time in decades, I’m able to live with a pet (say Hi, Scruffy!). So yes, I grabbed a couple of samples for the four-legged member of our household. We’ll see how he likes them!
Speaking of our clients at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we love supporting them and showing them off. Bob’s Red Mill, Schmidt’s Naturals, Wedderspoon Manuka Honey, Dave’s Killer Bread/Alpine Valley, and Hyland’s are all off to a great show. So many of the companies we’ve worked with are at an interesting spot in their growth: new products, growing bottom line, expanding exhibits means an expanding and more mature presence at Expo West. It also means, in a sense, moving out of their comfort zone. It means hiring installation/dismantle crews now to set up the exhibit when a previous smaller exhibit was set up by company employees. More complexity also means a more powerful presence and impact. But the end result in all cases has been a client that’s pleased with how the exhibit looks to their customers – which is the most important things to us.
Also got a chance to meet and chat with Nicky Omoundro of Little Family Adventure who is one of the official Expo West bloggers – and who will be on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee vlog/podcast in the not too distant future to talk about her experiences here!
Ready for Day Three! Thanks, but I’ll bypass the yoga in the plaza this morning (I already did my ten minutes upon arising) and head straight for the coffee.