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Why Distributors Enjoy Working with Classic

October 3rd, 2014 1 COMMENT
Shooting_from_the_Hip_low

Shooting from the Hip Reid Sherwood

I’m asked this question a lot. New distributors will say, “What makes doing business with Classic Exhibits different from other manufacturers?” But, before I launch into this, a bit of a warning. I’m writing this from the hospital, hopped up on drugs before I have surgery. I’m in pain but I will be better in a few hours. So allow me a little latitude if this rambles.

There are No Real Egos

Mel and Kevin co-manage the entire company for a quiet owner. The invisible “Inc.” includes Classic Manufacturing, ClassicMODUL (our version of “Home Depot” of aluminum extrusion), Classic Rental Solutions (turnkey custom modular rentals), and Exhibits Northwest (a retail exhibit provider in the Pacific Northwest). Inside all of these divisions is other leadership. Over the years, we have all run into the prima donna sales person who believes without them the company would fold in a matter of days. Headstrong designers who are the creative world’s version of the prima donna sales person. And there’s always the CFO who someone, somewhere blames for always saying “No.”

Well, at Classic, our vision is based on Shared Success. We want everyone to succeed: Distributors, Vendors, Strategic Partners, and Employees. It sounds hokey, but it’s genuine. That’s not to say there aren’t a few potholes and detours, but the “Why we do what we do” is transparent. Every company knows “What they do.” Most know “How they do it.” But few know “Why they do it.” We do.

The Middle Matters

VK-1122mainRecently, a blog was written about the middle market for trade show displays. As a recap, most corporate trade show purchases are in the “middle.” For the most part, Classic’s products do not target the Slightly Better Than Cheap customer (SBTC). We could. It would mean sacrificing on product quality, accessories, packaging, and design. Instead, our products reflect features and benefits not found with SBTC displays. We offer great service, well-designed, high-quality products with world-class packaging, and set-up instructions all at a moderate cost. We’re very happy to move upstream on projects. That’s easy, whether in materials or design. We do that every day.

At the same time, we’re more than happy to pare down designs if the client has a tight budget. That’s different than SBTC. We’ll provide quality products but with a little less flair. One of the things we are most proud of as a manufacturer is our ability to CNC bend engineered aluminum. It’s not an art or guesswork. It’s manufacturing precision. Few manufacturers have this capability. If you doubt me, review their kits. But curves have a cost. More curves equals more cost, since it requires more labor and metal. But curves mean our kits are both unique and upscale without being expensive. That’s the middle.

Creative Thinking

The old cliche that we need to “think outside of the box” has been beat to a pulp. I believe thinking outside of the box can result in solutions that are cool but out-of-step with what clients want. Thinking near the edge of the box will give fresh ideas yet still keep everything in check. For example, thinking towards the edge of the box creates a way to make the best-looking backlit SEG lightbox in the industry. Thinking outside the box creates inflatable displays like a Halloween fun house!

SharedWe Enjoy Working with Our Customers

To put it bluntly, “We give a damn and it shows.” Classic understands its role in the process. We enjoy taking on a challenge from design, project management, and production/construction and providing you with a solution. Over the course of time, these wins turn customers into fans and fans into friends. The ultimate goal of making the exhibitor look spectacular at their show or event keeps creativity and problem solving headed in the right direction. And we look forward to doing it again and again. That’s the fun part.

We are Honest and Transparent

The only question we won’t answer is about our financials. Other than that, you can ask us anything, and we will answer you honestly. We will tell you if we screwed up. In fact, we will tell you that we are going to screw up. We are humans and humans make mistakes. If we do something wrong, we will acknowledge it and work quickly and diligently to correct it. We accept responsibility for our actions. On top of that, we will help you to the best of our ability if YOU make a mistake. We still feel a responsibility to be good and take care of our customers so YOUR clients are still happy with you. Which leads to the next topic.

We’re in This Together

We understand that you have options for portable, modular or custom-hybrid exhibits . . . . which is why we push our designers to create distinctive exhibits that are attractive, innovative, interesting, and affordable. If they aren’t, then they won’t sell.  That is why our project managers work tirelessly to provide well-engineered exhibits that your clients will love from the first show to the last. That is why our Production team obsesses about the details always trying to improve packaging and assembly.

Nike_Office5Like You . . . We are Nimble

No one survived The Great Recession unless they had very deep pockets or were extraordinarily nimble. For Classic, probably the best examples are the tablet kiosks and “retail and store branding” projects we’re building. That has become a nice piece of business for us. It is not a change in direction. It has broadened our direction.

We are Proud of Our Industry Partners

If you look at Exhibit Design Search, you can guess how much time, energy, and resources have been devoted to this since its inception nine years ago. We made it even better when we asked our industry “pals” to participate in it. We make no money from the sales from of those products. It is simply a way to create a “one-stop shop” for you and your customers. We are proud of our relationships with Optima, Eco-Systems Sustainable, Display Supply and Lighting, and Brumark. They are great companies.

We Haven’t Changed Our Focus – Period!

When Classic Exhibits was started in the late 80’s, we built a portable panel system and sold it through distributors.  Now, 20 plus years later, we have added many new systems and services, but we still sell them through a network of distributors. If there is anything I would like you to remember about Classic, it’s just that. We are a distributor-focused company that DOES NOT SELL DIRECT TO END USERS!

I am sure there are many other reasons. For whatever reason you choose to do business with us, we thank you.

Oh no!!! The drugs are starting to wear off. Best if I don’t proofread this. ;-)

Reid Sherwood
reid@classicexhibits.com

From Subzero to Boiling Hot. What’s the Industry’s Temperature?

July 23rd, 2013 2 COMMENTS
Shooting from the Hip (trade show tips)

Shooting from the Hip by Reid Sherwood

Summer is great for golf. Not so much for trade shows.

If there was an exhibit and event thermometer measuring the hot and cold temperature of the industry, it would go from subzero to boiling hot several times a year.

Now before you think this is just my opinion, let me qualify it. I have talked with dozens of distributors and custom houses over the past six to eight weeks, and they all agree. Through May, life was not just good, it was pretty great. We had record months along the way. Sales figures were as good as or better than 2012. I have also spoken with our vendor partners (by vendor partners, I mean wholesalers who do not sell direct). The same thing was true. January to May — WOW!! Then came June and the sound of crickets was deafening.

Let’s look at some potential reasons/excuses for the June debacle.

  1. Many distributors said that they do not have a pipeline of work coming because the pace over the first five months kept them from prospecting. They filled orders, but did not have time to find new clients. That pace required some deep breathing in June. The upside is July, and the pipeline will fill quickly with fall projects and shows.
  2. Cuts in defense spending. Some larger summer shows, such as Inter-Solar, are scaled back. One of our partners said, “We had 13 different projects there last year but only two this year.” You don’t need to be a math major to see the impact.
  3. The harsh reality is that golf is still the fastest growing sport in the world by over 50% and is being played by record numbers of people every day.

Of those three statements only two are true. You can decide which one isn’t. But suffice to say, if you haven’t figured out how to diversify and offer different products or services to your standard customer base or repackage your standard products to other industries or tangent markets, it’s not too late. It is late, but not too late.

Now that the gloom and doom is over, here is the bright side (yes, there is a bright side).

VK-5105 Hybrid Island

We are ALREADY seeing exhibitors planning for the fall show season. Our Design Department requests were up 72% in June over LY. Budgets are freeing up, and businesses are finally realizing that the most important time to market is during “Less than perfect economic times.” Again, don’t just take my word for it. After speaking with various industry vendors from graphics to labor, flooring to furniture, and other exhibit manufacturers, we all think this fall will be very strong.

There is a return to the islands. We are seeing healthier, more realistic budgets for bigger projects, expecting “Wow Factor” design. And if you can deliver, there is success to be had. Nothing is more thrilling to a trade show exhibit salesperson, manufacturer, or other industry vendor than to know that design matters more than ever and that price has finally become the third factor after design and service. One labor company told me they are up 11% in overall business, but 19% in island installs. This may be the best fall ever. And I have lived through some incredible fall seasons.

Even our budget-priced kits (Magellan, Sacagewea, and Perfect 10) are seeing people pushing the design envelope so they perform beyond the norm. That’s refreshing.

Here is a little tidbit in talking with my good pal Mike Sandler at Atlantic Exhibits about the start of the fall season. The topic of technology in shows came up. Not the kind of technology that requires compressed air, but technology to deliver a bigger, faster, stronger more eye-inspiring message than a flat static graphic. Here is the statistic that Mike gave me: “Reid, we walked a small show one day last week. Out of 105 booths 103 had technology in some form to deliver their message.” That is what makes Classic’s solutions so attractive is the ability to incorporate technology at every turn. From iPad kiosks to cell phone charging stations to 70 inch monitors.

Sooo . . .  it is mid-July. The summer doldrums are just about over. Get one more round of golf in before it all breaks loose. It is going to happen fast. It always does.

Let’s make it the best fall ever.

Reid Sherwood
reid@classicexhibits.com

*********************************

Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). 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.


 

 

Randy Smith, Jim Shelman, and Cindi Cody

October 26th, 2012 COMMENTS
Shooting from the Hip (trade show tips)

Shooting from the Hip by Reid Sherwood

Randy Smith

I have been in Atlanta the past few days seeing distributors and playing in The Randy Smith Memorial Golf Classic. I am going to double up on this and talk a bit about both.

A few weeks ago, Rich Johnson (one of the founders of the RSMGC) asked me if I would serve on the board of The Randy Smith. Obviously I accepted. I have been a loyal fan and supporter for 11 years. The Randy is a non-political group of industry folks who provide emotional and financial support to other industry people who have fallen on difficult times.

It is the one day all year (and maybe the night before) where competitors lay down their swords and come together to raise money and help people. And this year was no exception. There were eight recipients. Every year I’m reminded of the same thing:  no matter what is going on in your life, no matter how bad you have it, there is always someone who has it far worse.

One of the recipients was the Mark Tate family. Mark and his wife have two daughters, age 13 and 10. They have both been impacted with life-threatening disease. Olivia (the 10 year old) was diagnosed with brain cancer at 2 years of age and has had numerous surgeries and treatments. Thank God she has been in remission for the past 4 years. Her sister, Elena, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009 and has had chemo and was in remission until recently. She had bone marrow transplant this past July and continues to receive treatments.

Again, just when you think times are tough, you hear a story like this and realize that all in all, your life is pretty good.

Thank you to everyone who participated as golfers, volunteers, and sponsors. Without you, it would not be possible. And personally I would like to thank Rich and Ted Peterson for keeping this alive for 18 years

Personally, I would like to thank my team from the Randy this year. Bill Glasser from Exhibit Concepts, Cindi Cody from Xzibits, and Classic’s own Jim Shelman from Exhibits Northwest.

Jim Shelman

This was the first time I spent time with Jim without other Classic employees in the mix. He is a great guy, but he has his quirks. The day before the tournament, I had a couple of early appointments, but Jim and I were planning to play a round later that day.

I pick Jim up to go to the course, and he is complaining. Well, not really complaining, maybe whining and visibly distraught. All this because the place we were staying didn’t have the right coffee. Trying to be the nice guy, I hurry along, so we get to a gas station where he can get some coffee. It isn’t good enough — the pot is too empty and it is probably burned. Now he is borderline quivering. I am not a coffee drinker so I really don’t understand, but I try to be a good team player. We move on and he says, “Pull into McDonalds. They have good coffee.” I pull in and roll the window down and am ready to order, thinking to myself how glad I am that I am not a coffee drinker who needs that “caffeine boost” to get through the day. So he says, “Get me a Decaf!” REALLY??? But it all made sense later that evening when I saw him drinking a O’Doul’s beer.

Cindi Cody

On another note, I did a trade show with one of our Atlanta distributors, Xzibits, and it was a huge success. Cindi Cody and her crew had an attractive 10 foot exhibit. The six hour show offered up almost 30 leads. One little tidbit of information. Cindi posted on her Facebook page that they were at the show. Instantly, a new start-up company wrote back saying that they couldn’t attend but made an appointment for later this week.

I’m always interested in what customers are looking for in this economy. Many are still looking at banner stands, but many are saying it is time to step up. No more pop ups. That puts Magellan, Sacagewea, and Perfect 10 in position to answer that call. I do have to pay a tribute to Optima Graphics and Xpressions. The show I was at was a business to business show. There were about 60 exhibitors in all. But out of 60 distributors, there were six Xpressions displays. That is an incredible number.

That’s all for now. I’m headed home in a couple of days. These ten day trips make me miss my family more than usual, so I am looking forward to Tuesday evening.

Till the next time,

Reid Sherwood
reid@classicexhibits.com

*********************************

Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). 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.


 

Alcohol and Business Entertaining: When Is Enough Too Much?

October 16th, 2012 COMMENTS
Shooting from the Hip (trade show tips)

Shooting from the Hip by Reid Sherwood

This is going to be a bit of a rocky ride. Hold on to your hats my friends . . . I am going to address the age old issue of alcohol, corporate responsibility, and the pros and cons of both. I have a feeling this may cause some discord among the rank and file, along with some snickering.

First the disclaimer. I am not an attorney. I am not a cop. I am not a judge. I am the president of the local school board (but that’s another story). My advice is based on experience and common sense. I’ve been entertaining clients for a long, long time, and I’ve seen it all.

People like to have a drink, especially when a vendor comes around and asks “Do you want to go to happy hour?” Of course, you do. From the vendor’s point of view, it buys some extra time with the customer, puts them in a decent mood, and most of all, spreads some goodwill vs. another vendor who may not spend any additional energy or entertainment dollars on them.

The downside is obvious . . . it can be abused. Excessive bar tabs, drunk customers, and worst of all, someone getting behind the wheel who shouldn’t. The VERY LAST THING I WANT is for a customer to have an accident, hurt themselves (or someone else), or get arrested for DWI.

That said, I have certainly made my mistakes, but I’ve learned from those mistakes. Sometimes it took a few times, but eventually I learned my lesson.

Happy Hour

Happy HourYou’re meeting with a handful of customers from several different departments. It’s 4:30. Time for happy hour and appetizers. You don’t want to buy dinner for 8 or 9 people (that has happened to me, and I always cringe because it wasn’t my intent). Now you have the opportunity to talk about stuff NOT related to work and engage them on a more personal level. You find out that this guy happens to be a Deadhead or a Parrothead. Maybe you find out that they are fans of the same college team you follow. You learn about family and hobbies. Then there are those times you discover their hobby is collecting hats or mats or rats, and you realize it’s going to be a long and painful evening.

Everyone has a drink or two, there are plenty of appetizers to share, and the evening ends at 6:30 or 7. No harm is done. You pay the tab. Sometimes the distributor will pitch in too. Which is a bonus. Everyone had a good time, and you hope they remember your hospitality when they make a buying decision.

Dinner Invitations

Dinner invitations are typically for no more than 2-3 guests. Often, we’ll meet for a drink before dinner. Here’s my rule of thumb, if your meal is $125 for three or four guests, the bar tab is going to be about the same. You want them to enjoy themselves. It should be memorable, without spending the farm or allowing someone to overindulge.  Nothing has to get out of hand, but you have to be conscious of how much your guests are drinking. Too much and what was friendly and productive becomes hazy and detrimental. Dinners create lots of face time and good camaraderie.

From Good to Bad to “Oh Crap!”

Now let’s look at a couple situations where it can get bad or really ugly and how to prevent it in the first place. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that I have made these mistakes many times.

On occasion, the adrenalin gets flowing and before you know it, you realize, “Uh oh, we gotta reel this in quickly.” You start with a round of shots, along with your regular drink, and you quickly lose count. An hour in and you had two shots of something and two beers or drinks and you are on your way to trouble. You may not think you’re “drunk” — I know I wouldn’t – but in most states, the legal limit is .08. You are way over that and driving is not an option. Next thing you know, you have been there two hours and the shots are done, but you’ve consumed seven drinks which is way too many. You are in big trouble. You have to head home, and you really need a cab. It can happen very quickly. I have done it, and I have done it with good customers. It’s stupid. It’s expensive. And it’s really bad business.

Now here is my big disclaimer. My father always insisted that people have a drink. According to him, it lubricates the conversation and helps them have fun. SO, I come by it naturally. But the more dangerous it gets, the more expensive it can become. Many states now have “Superdrunk” laws. If you are over 17, it is an immediate felony and a $10K fine. You have to use GOOD judgment, and it’s my job as your host to use good judgment when you don’t. If you decide you are going to “tie one on” then by all means have your transportation prepared and don’t ever do it in a business situation. Your livelihood (and your life) is worth more than a few drinks, or if it isn’t, then look for a new career.

I hate to be the downer, but we also have to look at the cost. I can justify everything I have said and know that in the spirit (no pun intended) of business, this is normal and logical. The following are examples where the cost doesn’t add up to the risk or reward.

Be careful or at least cognizant of the potential worst places to buy cocktails for a customer. I am fortunate that my local “Cheers” is called the “Riverstop Saloon,” and it is a little gem. A shot of Bushmills on the rocks is $4.00 and a Ketel Martini is also $4.00. It’s cheap, but then again, I’m not entertaining customers in Newaygo, MI. The same drink at the Kent County Airport in Michigan (GRR) is $11 or $14 dollars respectively. The Eye Candy Lounge inside of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is just a touch higher at $13 for Bushmills and $19 for a martini. Believe me, it adds up quickly.

Sharing the Cost

When we gather together for EXHIBITOR 2013 by the time you purchase a couple of drinks and chat for awhile with customers, you are approaching $200 dollars with the tip. The part that gets dicey is, not so much the cost, but rather, whether or not you are even going to be remembered for buying them a couple of drinks. No one has their eye on the tab and often, no one knows who paid it.

I know as the vendor, it is often assumed that we buy the drinks (not that it is expected). But many customers will buy me a drink or two. I appreciate it a bunch. I really do. It shows we respect one another. But I have to be careful. If I buy a drink or two for six customers, then each of you reciprocate, I just had a dozen cocktails and that was NOT my intention. Yes, I know, on occasion that happens, but vendors have to be far more cautious than clients do. I also have to be smart. At a social event where there are three to four other industry suppliers, I’m willing to do my part. My part means sharing the expense. Everyone has to chip in. It’s no fun having to be the “adult at the party” and reminding the other suppliers to “unass their wallets.”

Like I said earlier, I am not a judge, a cop, or an attorney, so don’t even think of holding me responsible for the legality of this. I’m merely trying to offer a few tips, a few cautionary warnings, and enjoy the taste of some good Irish whiskey, without getting a taste of stupid with it.

Till the next time,

Reid Sherwood
reid@classicmodul.com

*********************************

Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. designs and manufacturers portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit solutions and engineered aluminum extrusions (ClassicMODUL). 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.

What You Should Expect from a Manufacturer’s Rep

September 9th, 2012 3 COMMENTS
Shooting from the Hip (trade show tips)

Shooting from the Hip by Reid Sherwood

Snake Oil Salesman or Snake Charmer

The traveling salesman has always had slightly negative, slightly shady reputation. If you’ve ever seen The Music Man, particularly the opening scene on the train, you know what I mean. I would like to think business has changed from the days of the “snake oil salesman” to what we now refer to as a “manufacturer’s rep.

I have been a “rep” for quite a few years. Sometimes I wonder if I know anything at all. Other times I think I am on the verge of splitting an atom. I don’t have all the answers; some times, I don’t even have or understand the questions, but indulge me for a few minutes while I share my experiences.

At a minimum, you should expect your rep to understand their products and services. Typically when a new product or service is offered, it starts with pretty pictures via an email campaign. Anyone can make pretty pictures. Let’s see how it really works and functions and does it make sense for you, the distributor, to offer and promote.

Before any of you comment, yes I have done demos where the dang thing was put together upside down, or the ease of set up is made easier with a large hammer, but I can take the ribbing and say “you saw it here first folks.” My excuse is that I hardly ever do this, which is not much of an excuse. But, it can be entertaining, if not for me.

Six Expectations

You should expect an update on the company — What has been its successes and its shortcomings. If you have “hitched your wagon” to a company, then you need to know we are headed in the right direction, bringing new, innovative products to market, adding staff to accommodate growth, and improving the overall customer service experience for you, the distributor, and ultimately for your customer. I always try to give a little State of the Union in my meetings. You need to have confidence in us.

You should expect industry knowledge. Classic Exhibits has distributors in many different segments of this industry. We can tell you what we are seeing, not seeing, and sometimes what we are afraid to see. We travel and chat with portable/modular distributors, custom houses, event companies, Internet resellers, and suppliers. In some ways, we want to be your “Canary in the Coal Mine.” We try to be an extension of you and your company. I never talk about a specific customer and their methods, but I might tell you that “many companies are having great success with venue-based marketing” or that there are a lot of customers doing well with Sacagawea. We want to give you information that will help direct your company.

You should expect your manufacturer’s rep to assist in the mentoring of new employees. We aren’t trying to run your company, but many times a new employee just needs to talk to a veteran. It may be about strategies or products or industry history or specific venues. I get asked tons of travel-related questions because I have done so much of it. I look at mentoring as another way to offer advice and make friends.

Whenever a Classic Distributor has a new salesperson, I want to connect with them. The goal is to make him feel part of an industry that is made up of a lot of really smart, seasoned folks.

You should expect your manufacturer’s rep to “grease the wheel” from time to time.  When you are struggling with something, and it isn’t making sense and adding up, call your manufacturer’s rep to ask them to get involved.  We can sometimes prevent issues from developing (if you see problems coming). We also can get far deeper into “the system” than you, the customer can. Think of us is as your insurance agent.  You have a claim and the adjuster does their thing. You look at the results, or the pending results and scratch your head and say, “Hmmmm, that makes no sense.” The next call you make is to your insurance agent.  He or she needs to be that buffer and so does your manufacturer’s rep.

You should expect your rep to be a listener.  If Classic Exhibits does one thing better than the rest, it’s listening to our customers. We encourage ideas to be brought to us. It seems like every trip I take (about 25 or so a year) I get in a conversation where a customer offers up something that will make us better. The flip side of this is the customer always needs to feel comfortable in “venting” to you. Sometimes they just need to be heard. The last thing you ever want is for your clients to think you don’t care or are only giving lip service.  Listen. Listen twice as much as you talk. That’s why you have two ears and only one mouth

Finally, you should expect your rep to be a friend, or at least a close colleague. Friends buy from friends. So if you really want to boil down everything to one simple thought:  we are out to make friends. Can you become friends with your customers? Do you like people and are you genuinely interested in their lives. I have been to weddings, funerals, vacations, concerts, sporting events, fishing and hunting trips. They are all opportunities to engage and spend time with a customer and a friend. It makes my life richer because I like and respect them . . . and if it adds to our business growth, then that is a bonus.  My good buddy Scott Lindsay and I have been on hunting trips together. You spend 15 hours in a truck each direction, along with sharing a hotel room for five nights and tell me you aren’t better friends than when you left. To build a better relationship, just be friends.

I can honestly say, with the customers I have had over the years, it certainly doesn’t have to work. I have had the best experiences with some truly wonderful people. Can you say that about your job?

Till the next time,

Reid Sherwood
reid@classicmodul.com