Exhibitor 2012 came early this year, the first week of March, almost as if to show how eager the members of the trade show and exhibition world are to head out of the doldrums of past years. And the results seem to suggest we are well on our way.
If you don’t know, Exhibitor is a trade show “of and by and for” the tradeshow industry: including exhibiting companies and their marketing mavens, as well as the manufacturers and distributors of products and services.
Imprinted Originals goes to Las Vegas
Imprinted Originals management treks to Exhibitor every year or two, motivated by the desire to visit our existing manufacturers to see “what’s new”, track down potential new suppliers to see who has “the right stuff”, check out the competition. And keep an eye on the trends.
We sound pretty much like any attendee at any tradeshow, right? Which is part of the point – being on “that side” of the show. Of course, with us, it’s something of a “busman’s holiday” as the booths themselves “are” a large part of what we come to see.
While Deborah the Marketing Director glad-handed company representatives in each booth, and talked product benefits, target audiences, and positioning, Veronica the Creative Director poked around and looked at all the details, the stitching, the materials, the print quality and the overall look. Together we vetted the businesses and their processes, as well as approving (or disapproving) the products being shown.
The results of our vetting process?
Foremost in our minds was to check in with our main manufacturing partners, and we were not disappointed. They had the right answers to our questions and were eager to step up to client challenges we presented them. We liked the quality and range of new offerings, ranging from very portable through island sized modular booths and rental design properties. And it’s always great to see the folks we work with over phone and email, in person.
We also were able to look closer at products from other vendors. There the results were mixed.
One potential new resource (that we “met” for the first time at the show) was crossed off our list when the “white glove” approach revealed they’d dressed their own booth in a sloppy way. There’s no way we could trust them to provide the quality and reliability we expect, if that’s what they bring as their “best” to a show like this.
In another case, a supplier of one product we are happy to represent is trying to expand into truss systems, and the result was not pretty. We will stick with our current supplier, whose products are solidly built in the US, look great and carry a lifetime warranty.
On the other hand, we ran into a supplier we had used for exactly one job (in a rush situation). His was a small but well-prepared booth. Our client had been very happy, and so were we when we looked more closely at what else he could offer. We also liked what he had to say about his company’s business practices – predictable, based on quality and focused on support. His products will be coming on board in a bigger way as a result.
Last but not least, there were specific exhibitors we went to the show to check out. Based on what we knew, we wanted to add their product lines, but – there’s nothing like experience first hand and face-to-face for this kind of evaluation.
The good news is they did meet our standards, and as a result we are expanding our offerings with some very exciting new product lines which we will be introducing this spring and summer.
What were the trends?
Part of attending any trade show is looking for trends in your industry. You can see if you’ve been keeping up, and if there’s anything new you should be tracking down.
This year – I wouldn’t say there was a lot of new new things. Some people seemed to be disappointed by this.
The biggest “trend” in my eyes was balance – nothing over dominated the show. Last year it seemed everywhere you turned, it was about technology and electronics; the year before it was “green”; and before that it was fabric and extrusion. 2012 feels like a year in which what have been “new ideas” got the validation of being continuing trends.
But don’t get me wrong, there were new ideas and new approaches this year, with new fabric booth systems options, event technology that’s less about promises and more about results, and the evolution of lighting options.
A More Normal Booth Size Distribution
One thing that struck me in 2011 was the huge number of 2-story 20×20 booths. It was as if the manufacturers were all trying to signal a positive trend, that tradeshows were coming back, without sticking their necks out too far.
In 2012, there was a much more organic distribution of booth space sizes. What had been a 10 foot booth for a few years, might now be a 20 ft inline. 20 foot inlines grew to 30 ft. And the 20×20’s that had been stacked up in a line, like a parking lot full of double-decker buses grew in 2012 into true island booths.
Fabric Display Options
Fabric of course retains its prominence in the design world because of its flexibility, ease of use and light weight – and now can be handled with extremely large format printers. What was a bit new this year was that fabric didn’t have to dominate to make the point – so there is a balancing of fabric and form.
What were custom ideas are now being turned into systems and kits that can be used in semi-custom designs like the ones we specialize in.
Representative of some of the new fabric booths and display product lines we are bringing on board:
Event technology remains important, but now it includes a balance of large touchscreens and iPad/tablet kiosks of all sorts, which we’re excited about because let’s face it – with a large percentage of enterprise technology and manufacturer clients, we deal with a lot of requests for these tech display options.
Everything was not LED lighting (was that last year or the year before?) but LED was used in creative fashions.
One of our lighting companies’ booth programmed their lights to outline a 6 foot high light bulb which changed colors. Another had a display “cube” with internal lighting that could be set up to rotate its colors or otherwise grab attention for an exhibitor’s products.
And backlighting can now be fabric panel-specific at a very reasonable price for one of our client favorite portable displays, the Xpresssions Snap.
There are lots of opportunities for impact using light and color!
Trade show best practices at Exhbitor2012
One thing that stands out at industry tradeshows is whether exhibitors there practice what they preach – do the conferences themselves use (or even invent) best practices?
Here’s two that impressed me this year:
- After the show, I was emailed the list of booths that scanned my badge. It’s incredibly smart to give the attendees the same information that the exhibitors are getting. And it was refreshing not to have to wait for exhibitors to get back to me to have this information so I could reach out myself.
- Exhibitor Media Group – the magazine publisher behind the Exhibitor shows – always publishes pictures of “Best in Show” booths and New Products (as submitted by exhiting companies). This is a slam dunk – they publish the magazine Exhibitor in hardcopy and on the web. I noticed this year they went a step further and published pictures taken at the show of each booth next to the name of the exhibiting company. (it’s possible I simply realized this for the first time this year). This is very supportive of both of their sets of customers – the exhibitors as well as the show attendees. This should be a new standard practice to keep the connection going between exhibitors and attendees.
The show’s stats – harbinger of what’s coming in 2012?
You can probably tell from my comments that this felt like an even more positive year than 2011, where the optimism felt just a bit forced.
And the stats about the show apparently bear me out. There were 12% more exhibitors in 2012 compared to 2011, as well as 9% more attendees. The show floor was expanded twice to account for new and larger booths, including the growth from 53 to 65 exhibit spaces larger than 20′x30′ .
I’m looking forward to seeing what 2012 brings to the world of tradeshow exhibiting.
Why I love tradeshows – if it’s not obvious
If why I love, and believe in, tradeshows is not obvious from the above, I’ve done a very poor job writing this piece.
What we gain as a business from attending tradeshows in our industry is irreplaceable. I find it hard to imagine any industry or profession where learning about new products, services, skills and/or trends is not equally important.
Many of the businesses whose booths we visited gained from their new or expanded relationships with us.
And our clients, current and future, gain when we attend industry shows. Expanding our product and service options, and deepening our skillsets, allows us to help them achieve greater exhibiting success at their own trade shows and special events.
Written by Deborah Elms, head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals. She is passionate about helping businesses and organizations create and retain customers through the effective use of trade shows & other face-to-face events.