Trade Show TalesBlog

20 Short and Impactful Years: Word on the Street — July 21st thru July 25th

July 25th, 2014 4 COMMENTS


Back in 1994, specifically in July 1994, I was working the 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. shift throwing overnight freight at a grocery store in Lake Oswego, Oregon. A co-worker/friend of mine had been telling me about this other job working for his dad’s business. One day, seeing that I was growing weary of the job, he asked if I was interested in coming to talk to his father about an opening. I jumped at the opportunity, if for no other reason than I wanted to see the light of day rather than sleep through it.

After a quick meeting with Lowell Nickens, the founder of Classic Exhibits, I accepted his job offer. July 8, 1994 was my start date at Classic Exhibits.

So this month is my 20th anniversary with Classic. 20 years still seems to boggle my mind, so I had to go back and think about what was going on in 1994.

Classic Exhibits_1In 1994, the Sony Playstation (first edition) was released. Netscape released the first real consumer web browser, the Mosiac 0.9., which allowed us to begin surfing the web at turtle-like speeds. The TV show Friends first aired in 1994. The long awaited Chunnel in Europe was opened, and Pearl Jam released their much acclaimed 3rd studio release album Vitalogy (one of their finest).

Thinking about that really makes me feel old. And I suppose I have aged a bit. But more than anything, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my professional experience at Classic Exhibits. One that I am very grateful for and one that could not have happened if my now brother-in-law hadn’t introduced me to my now father in-law (Lowell Nickens), and he in turn gave me an opportunity to see the light of day.

Life is Truly an Interesting Thing

And I am a person who believes that our lives, in large part, follow a pre-written script. One that is filled with choices, but choices that ultimately lead us down a given path. And this “opportunity” that I was given some 20 years ago is directly responsible for darn near every GREAT thing that has happened to me since.

You see, my friend Eric led me to this job. In doing so, he and I became closer friends. Which led to me meeting his sister. Who is now my beautiful wife. And she in turn gave me two amazing children. Which makes me go back and think . . . Had I not listened to his offer to meet his father in the first place, I likely would not have ever been blessed with my wife and my children.

And this job has afforded me the opportunity to meet some of my best friends and mentors. Ironically, just this morning I was speaking to Rob Cohen from Display Supply and Lighting, someone I consider a great friend in life and business. In that conversation, I happened to share with him the names of some people that I consider to be more than work friends in our industry. And it made me think once again that without this job, I would never have had the opportunity to benefit from their guidance and friendship.

SKU1In the many congratulations I’ve received, people have made comments about how Classic Exhibits has really grown and flourish in part to my contributions. And while I appreciate that, my response has been simple. A good friend once said to me, “The key to building a successful business is to work with as many friends as you can.” And he was/is right. I look around each day at the shop or at any of our other offices and I see people who I genuinely enjoy working side-by-side with each day. People who I appreciate knowing and knowing their families and their life stories.

I Can’t Imagine Anything Else

The idea of coming to a place every day where I just punch a time clock and work beside people who I have no interest in knowing or who have no interest in knowing me seems like Hell on Earth.

So, to our family here at Classic Exhibits, Exhibits Northwest, Classic Rental Solutions, ClassicMODUL, Eco-Systems Sustainable and to all our vendor partners, I want to thank you for giving me a place, filled with great people, to come to each and every day. One that feels like family and allows me to work with people who I am proud to call friends.

Specifically, I want to thank Lowell Nickens (my father-in-law) for giving me an opportunity 20 years ago. And for showing/teaching me so many of the foundational “ism’s” that I have been able to apply in my work and personal life over the past 20 years.

And lastly to Mel White. Thanks for embracing the “Odd-Couple” nature of our partnership. I am pretty sure we have Oscar and Felix beat in many ways my friend. And I appreciate them all as well as your friendship and partnership.

Well, how is that for a sappy Word on the Street?  :)

Off to vacation I go. I hope you all have a great finish to your July. And I look forward to working with you the remainder of 2014.



A Humbling Lesson About 10 ft. Displays

July 23rd, 2014 COMMENTS

520-10X8-2Safety in Numbers

Over the years, I’ve learned a humbling lesson. There’s safety in numbers when it comes to 10 ft. inline trade show displays. Most exhibitors choose the predictable over the bold, the safe over the dramatic. And while I understand, I also don’t understand. Yes, budget is a factor. Fear too. No one wants to make the wrong decision when purchasing a display. It’s easier to choose something you’ve seen on the show floor rather than a design that’s unfamiliar.

Too often, I’m disappointed when I walk the trade show floor and review the inlines. I see banner stands pretending not to be banner stands. I see weak, pixelated graphics on pop up displays. I see boring pillowcase frames with fuzzy 4-color graphics and cheap hybrid displays with gaping parts and pieces. Sadly, most arts and craft fair exhibits are more creative than the typical corporate inline display.

Now before you think I’m picking on low-cost displays, I’m not. A similar trend can be found in more expensive displays, where the quality is better but design still takes a backseat to predictability.

Taking Chances

So, why the reluctance to take chances? Is it because, as someone once told me, “No one ever got fired for buying a pop up.” That said, I’m going to take a chance, albeit one that’s a bit self-promotional. Below are displays from Exhibit Design Search that do not fall within the “safe zone.” I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts about these designs, understanding that none are below $8000. Some considerably more. These design sell, but not in the same numbers as Sacagawea, Magellan Miracle, or a VK-1321.

Put your customer glasses on, share your thoughts from a buyer’s perspective, and vote for your favorites. In this election, it’s OK to vote for more than one. ;-)


Please share your comments. Thanks.

–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


It’s a Partnership that Works — Eco-Systems

July 18th, 2014 COMMENTS

It’s a Little Complicated

Eco-SysWithTaglineThe Classic Exhibits and Eco-Systems Sustainable relationship started about six years ago. In the beginning, we supplied them with ClassicMODUL metal. A couple of years later, we assisted them with design and manufacturing. Then, we agreed to be their exclusive contract manufacturer. It’s a partnership that works, and we’re very proud of the amazing progress they’ve made in design and operations.


Think about it. Over the past six to eight years, there have been any number of new display suppliers, all opening price-point focused, all basically importers. Many no longer in business. Only one did three “really, really smart” things while remaining true to their core principles, even during the recession:

  1. Concentrate exclusively on sustainable materials
  2. Focus on mid-priced, design-focused displays, and
  3. Manufacturer in the United States

Late last week, Eco-Systems took another big step — redesigning their website. For those who have gone through that ordeal, you know how arduous it can at every stage. There are no easy tasks when it comes to website redesign, organization, graphics, and coding. Allow me to commend three people who were immersed in the task for two months:  Eric Albery, the VP of Marketing and Business Development, Glenna Martin, Graphic Design Manager, and Tony Bennett, Classic’s web guru who has created most of your Exhibit Design Search websites. They did an amazing job!

What’s New:

  • Responsive Design. Adjusts to your smartphone, tablet, or desktop screen.
  • Horizontal Layout. It’s silly not to use all the available real estate, and, frankly, an 800 x 600 layout screams “outdated.”
  • Photo Portfolio. Take a stroll through photos of past projects.
  • Search for Setup Instructions. Never fear if you’ve lost your instructions. Starting with January 2014, they are all online.
  • Kit-to-Custom Gallery
  • Easier and Faster Search Options
  • Design Services Template

I invite you to stroll through the new Eco-Systems website. Take your time. You are in for a treat.

–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


Custom Table Top Display Video

July 9th, 2014 COMMENTS

Charlie Shivel, a project manager in the Customer Service Department, discusses a custom Visionary Designs table top display. This table top was designed by Trina Broten, a Classic Exhibits Designer, to fulfill the specific marketing requirements of a distributor’s client. Charlie does a terrific job of keeping it short, sweet, informal, and informative. Well done Charlie.


–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


NEW Rental Rewards Program

July 9th, 2014 COMMENTS