Trade Show TalesBlog

John Zipay: Six Month Update (or What I Did During My Summer Vacation)

September 4th, 2015 COMMENTS


Wow! I can’t believe it has been six months since I joined Classic Exhibits as the General Manager for Exhibits Northwest! Either I have been super busy, or I’m getting older and time is accelerating beyond comprehension. Either way, I wanted to share some insights about my professional life as a newbie at Classic Exhibits.

Where to begin…

The Northwest is fantastically beautiful with postcard views in every direction. The folks are down-to-earth, extremely health, and environmentally conscious. Professionally, my daily challenges haven’t changed very much, and the overall industry feel is more or less the same. Just like you, we use our experience to recommend the best exhibits and services to our customers. We want them to succeed as exhibit marketers, and it’s our goal to be an extension of their business, if they are receptive to this approach. If not, well, then we guide them to an exhibit that meets their trade show or retail needs.

IMG_6747In my previous job, I used Exhibit Design Search, but now that I’m part of Classic, I have a renewed appreciation for this research tool. I am amazed at the vastness of the catalog of exhibits and accessories. I see firsthand how Mel and the Classic Design Department are constantly updating and adding designs, graphic dims, setup instructions, and refining the user experience.

My team at Exhibits Northwest has closed more than a handful of deals simply by walking a client through EDS and identifying elements such as lightboxes, workstations, presentation areas, etc.  On several occasions, the client has chosen an Eco-Systems Sustainable Exhibit based solely on design without realizing its eco-friendly benefits. This gives us an opportunity to discuss those benefits. All that would have been far more difficult without EDS.

In my former tradeshow life…

We would personalize a design and then hope our price point was in the ballpark. Next, we would check in periodically and use a call to action (general contractor deadline or advanced warehouse deadline) to nudge the client into making a decision. In my new role with Exhibits Northwest, we take a different approach. Since pricing is visible on EDS, we can confirm a price range based on specific kits or design elements. Then we schedule a time when the prospect can tour Classic’s manufacturing facility with us.

IMG_5813Honestly, I wish every Classic Distributor had the ability to tour Classic Exhibits with their clients. The facility is impressive. Clients see how raw extrusion and wood are transformed into a finished exhibit via production workstations, CNC equipment, and skilled technicians. Each display goes through multiple quality control checkpoints along the way.

Whenever an ENW prospect takes a guided tour, we know at some point we’ll hear, “It’s such a pleasure to see a strong, organized US manufacturing facility in our own backyard.” I then direct their attention to the Peek-a-booth cameras and let them know that they can log-in and watch their exhibit being assembled from their desk.

IMG_0725Make no mistake…

As a former a Production Manager at a point-of-purchase display division of Weyerhaeuser Corp in Charlotte, NC, I love seeing an organized, streamlined, and efficient manufacturing facility with highly skilled, motivated laborers producing well-made American products. Classic has the equipment, skilled labor, project management, and design staff to handle any trade show need from an inline Perfect 10 to a large custom island assembled entirely from wood and laminate.

I have worked side-by-side with the heavy hitters in our industry, and I have also worked with small husband and wife companies whose needs are much different than the big kids on the block. I have learned that Classic has the talent to compete with the best skilled custom exhibit builders in the country, yet they can handle the needs of smaller display distributors as well.

With a partner like Classic, I am able to focus on what I was hired to do… manage the culture and growth of Exhibits Northwest! BTW — having a record sales month in August certainly helped the cause!

I would love to hear from you. And I always look forward to meeting Classic Distributors when they visit for a preview or during Shared Knowledge University. The next SKU is November 9-10.  Set aside the dates and I hope to see you then.

John Zipay
GM Exhibits Northwest


Share, Rent, Borrow, or Buy Your Next Display?

September 2nd, 2015 1 COMMENT


As a parent, you teach your children to share — share their toys, their candy, their whatever.

Sharing used to be a cultural necessity in America. Not every farmer could afford a harvester, nor every homeowner the latest tools. So the farmers and neighbors would share. It made sense. Then we saw less of that… until the recession. Suddenly, sharing became a necessity again. And the need to “own it” became less important.

Renting is a form of sharing, whether it’s a backhoe, banquet tables, or a trade show display. For example, I’m a suburbanite with a modest yard on a property with older trees. I use a chainsaw about twice a year. I could buy a new chainsaw for about $200 or a used one from Craigslist for about $90. But I rent it instead for about $35.

If you do the math, it doesn’t make sense. But it does for me. I don’t want to maintain it, store the oil, do the sharpening or the annual tune-up. Nor do I want another tool in my garage. I have enough. I could borrow one from a neighbor, which I do with some tools (and they in return), but certain items should be rented and not borrowed.

At Classic Exhibits, we’ve seen this rental trend since 2008. At first, it was driven by necessity. Exhibitors were committed to a show and/or committed to trade show marketing and their budgets were slashed. Now, however, that trend has less to do with slashed budgets and more to do with personalization, capacity, ownership, storage, and design.


Here’s what we’ve learned. Rentals can’t simply be a single function tool in the toolbox — practical but generic. Exhibitors have the same expectations for rentals as they do for purchase displays. They want it personalized. Rental exhibits should reflect their branding and their exhibit marketing requirements… and it needs to look new.


It’s difficult for a small exhibit house to make the necessary investment  and to maintain a large unblemished rental inventory. But when you are the manufacturer supporting 180 distributors the scale becomes easier to swallow. It’s very common for distributors to offer a modest selection of in-house rental designs and count on manufacturers to fulfill client requests beyond what they own. Exhibitors understand these partner relationships, and typically have no problem with it. In fact, they’re usually thrilled that they’re being offered a solid engineered solution.


A lot of exhibitors don’t want to own their exhibit. They prefer to have the flexibility that’s offered by renting. With rental exhibits, they can change the design from show to show to better match their target audience and market,  rather than feeling obligated to stick with the same design for multiple shows and/or multiple years. Less pressure. More flexibility.

From a cost standpoint, custom rental components are very affordable. Exhibit houses and manufacturers will often include custom elements below their cost, knowing they can re-rent them.


We can all relate to the challenges of not having enough storage space, whether it’s at home or at our business. Exhibitors have to consider whether it makes sense to storing their exhibit. Do they have the available space? Do they have someone with the time and experience to maintain the exhibit and arrange for potential repairs and updates? Or does it make more sense to pay their exhibit house a monthly storage fee, plus pull and prep fees to take care of everything for them? With rental exhibits none of that matters, because all of that’s taken care of, and they start fresh for every show.


It’s amazing how far we’ve come with rental exhibit designs. They used to be like a McDonald’s. You could spot one a 1/4 of a mile away. Today, it’s very difficult to differentiate a rental from a purchase. Custom rental designs  used to be the exception but now represent a significant percentage of what exhibit houses offer. Savvy customers know they can choose to rent over purchasing without the fear of design limitations.

Today it’s all about design solutions, whether a purchase or rental exhibit. And it usually goes back to the question of flexibility and ownership to determine the best option. A combination of purchase and rental components is quite common as well. For example, it often makes sense to own a central tower with storage, knowing that it will always be needed, but rent the workstations and charging stations, because those needs change from show to show.

In the end… Rental or Purchase? Which avenue offers the best opportunity for an exhibitor to achieve their objectives for upcoming shows? Listen closely to what the exhibitor is telling you. You may be surprised at what they are sharing.

Jim Shelman
GM Classic Rental Solutions


How to Speak Graphic Designer (Infographic)

August 25th, 2015 1 COMMENT


28 Design Terms Marketers Should Know

Wow! Two sensational infographics within a week. This one should be printed, framed, and hung on the wall next to every graphic designer and marketing manager. No more misunderstandings about leading and kerning. No more wasted conversations about web-friendly fonts. No more confusion about UI and UX.

Our thanks to Sarah Matista at Pagemodo. The link will take you to the original blog post.


–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


10 Steps to Trade Show Success (Infographic)

August 20th, 2015 COMMENTS

Some infographics can be confusing… But not this one! An outstanding infographic from Bags of Ideas, a promotional products company in the UK. This is one worth printing or forwarding to your tradeshow clients. Bags of Ideas — A pat on the back for this clever and practical message. Well done!

10 Steps to Trade Show Success Infographic
Bags of Ideas – The Promotional Bag Specialists

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or


What’s Your Trade Show Kryptonite?

August 19th, 2015 4 COMMENTS


X-Ray Vision

We shouldn’t but we do. We hope hope hope that the next attendee who walks in our booth is Superman. Not Superman Superman, but the sales equivalent of Superman. Faster to sign a contract than a speeding bullet. More powerful than the VP of Purchasing. Able to leap over objections in a single bound. We yearn for Superman (or Superwoman) to enter our trade show booth space.

Yet, we place kryptonite everywhere in sight so Superman veers away (no doubt into the arms of our evil nemesis — Super Savvy SalesPerson). What did we do wrong? Well, let’s eliminate the easy mistakes, the ones so obvious that his X-ray vision saw them three aisles over.

Frenchy Fry Me: Nothing says no-loving like a staffer hunched over lo mein, a cheeseburger, or chicken nuggets with honey mustard in your booth. And, yes, I did see you wipe your hands on your pants.

Kryptonite-TSFive-Second Text: Baby-boomer, GenX, or millennial. Doesn’t matter. You can’t start a conversation if you never start a conversation. It gives new meaning to — “Hey buddy, my eyes are up here!”

The Quickie:  Good choice. A vinyl graphic hanging on the pipe and drape. Perfect if you’re pitching hairball chews at the local cat show. Otherwise, it says, “I’m living in a van down by the river.”

The Berlin Wall: The banquet table is your best friend at a hobby or arts and crafts fair. Take the same approach at a trade show and expect to catch up on your texting and Facebook posts at the show.

I Don’t: Got there late. Left early. Spent most of the time flirting with the woman on the next aisle.

Concrete Cal:  No flooring. Or padding. Or orders.

Clowns10 Clowns in a Car: How nice! The entire sales team is here. Except this isn’t a rave party, a tailgater, or a celebrity sighting. “No thanks. I’ll take the next less-crowded elevator.”

Maximus: “Just give me 5 minutes to find it. I know it’s here somewhere. I swear I just saw it. Here it is! Nope, that’s not it.”

Love Me Some Swag in the Booth: Selfie sticks, pens, water bottles, shopping bags, phone chargers, tech tools, lip gloss, exercise band, calculator, hand sanitizer. ‘Hey kids, Daddy went to a trade show.”

Mystery Date:  “I’ll give you three guesses what my company does. Want a hint? Another hint? Starts with the letter G. See the display on the corner with the hanging sign. We do what they do.”

Turn Me On:  Day 1. “Anybody know how to launch the video or turn on the tablet?” Day 2. “Did anyone charge the tablet or bring the thumb drive?” Day 3. “I don’t know. We think they’re broken.”

Don’t be the only person at the show not wearing an “S” (for sales superstar). Get rid of the exhibit krytonite and you’re guaranteed to attract a Superman or two or three to your booth.

Got any other kryptonite no no’s? Please share in the comments.

–Mel White


Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions. Classic Exhibits products are represented by an extensive distributor network in North America and in select International markets. For more information, contact us at 866-652-2100 or