Trade Show Follies

No matter how well you plan them, trade show booths are always "exciting." I was reminded of this at a recent construction industry show, intended to be the national launch event for a new product. The booth was designed to showcase the new product, and fabrication of the custom booth went flawlessly.

Until -- delays in the start of the production line meant that my client sent us prototypes that were made without the rigorous quality control intended for the product. We installed them in the booth, shipped them to the show, and had the booth set up and ready for inspection the show when the company's executives were due to come by and see the booth. While they loved the booth, they hated the way the product looked. After gut-wrenching consideration, they ordered the booth removed from the hall before the competition or potential customers could see it. Remarked the marketing manager, "No matter what we tell people, the leaders of the industry are coming to this show and they will spread the word that our product is inferior."

How wise they were. In fact, they were wise enough to have ordered a "Plan B" booth using printed graphics instead of a display of the actual material. A few, carefully chosen prototypes that passed muster were on hand where they could be displayed to trusted distributors and accounts.

In a previous show, I designed a 2o x 30 island booth at a masonry event. We built a structure in the exhibit hall in three days during move-in. Despite working damn near round the clock, the mortar was still curing as the hall opened. But the booth worked, showcasing our client's innovative product.

For a concrete industry show, we built a bas relief out of colored concrete. It was installed as the centerpiece of an island booth. It was oriented so it was the first thing people saw when they walked into the hall, and it drew attendees right into the booth and created a pleasant environment where they could hang out. A small water-fall effect cascaded down the front of the sculpture creating soothing sound, motion, and sparkling light. But the waterproof liner for the fountain sprung a lieak, so several times a day we had to use a shop vac to suck water out of the carpet. But the booth was still a great success.

At another, particularly large show, the trailer delivering the booth was lost in the marshelling yard at the convention center. I spent three days sleeping on the concrete floor of the convention center so I would be on hand when the truck was finally found. It was finally located just hours before showtime. With a committed effort, we opened on time.

And we don't even have to mention AV systems that worked fine in the home office but not at the show.

My "favorite" tradeshow display was one that never got built. It was for a blast resistant material. My client wanted to arrange for an outdoor grandstand so people could watch an actual bomb explosion being restrained by their material. Fortunately, the company went out of business before we had to carry out what would have been a very risky plan.