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fixing snafus
illustration: Regan Dunnick
Triple Trouble
Trouble arrived via a call from our rep in Colorado, who'd just arrived to set up the booth. "Um, I think you sent me the wrong stuff," he said. "I need an exhibit, not a pallet of skateboards and medical supplies."
Plan A
We've all heard the old saying that "trouble comes in threes." But usually that trifecta of tough luck strikes different aspects of a person's life, rather than obliterate a single facet all at once. Maybe you get a flat tire, discover a gob of spinach in your teeth after a lunch date, or a puppy pees on your new Jimmy Choos. With me, however, trouble strikes like a sniper with an itchy trigger finger – rapidly, out of the blue, and all in one spot. Or at least that's what happened a few years back and about three months into my new job as an event manager for a software company.

It all started when I shipped out two different trade show booths on the same day. One was headed to a show in Colorado, and the other to an event in New York. While I would not be attending either show, on-site company reps were there to handle setup and staffing.

I wasn't nervous about the shows; rather, I was afraid the shipping company would send the wrong booth to the wrong event. But long-time employees assured me our shipper knew what it was doing.

A couple of weeks later, Trouble No. 1 arrived via a call from our rep in Colorado, who'd just arrived to set up the 10-by-10-foot booth. "Um, I think you sent me the wrong stuff," he said. "I need an exhibit, not a pallet of skateboards and medical supplies."

What the heck? Surely somebody was trying to punk the newbie. But this was no joke. The rep had already confirmed with show management that there were no other shipments for our company, and the random skateboards and medical supplies had labels indicating they belonged in our booth space.

Frantic, I phoned the shipping company, and the rep was as befuddled as I was. She had no idea where our booth was, nor whose gear was in our space. With the show opening in a few short hours, my only recourse was to find something, anything, to fill the space. So I had our design team create two posters with minimal images and text explaining our software. I sent the files to a graphic company in Colorado for a rush print job and told the on-site rep when and where to pick them up. I then rented computers and a few pieces of furniture from the show decorator. It wasn't pretty, but something was better than nothing. I told the booth staffers to explain the situation to people as a sort of "Whoops, our booth got lost in shipping" situation, and thankfully, we earned a surprising number of sympathy leads as a result.

But the story doesn't end there. As soon as the Colorado show came to a close, Trouble No. 2 arrived via a phone call from the reps in New York. They informed me that most of the booth showed up, but its colorful backdrop, the space's focal point, never made it to the Big Apple.

Livid, I called the shipping company again, and the answer was the same. The rep had no idea where my backdrop was, and again I had only a few hours before the show opened. So I rallied our in-house designers and had them create a banner. Once printed in New York, my staff could hang it from the pipe and drape to simulate the missing backdrop. The trouble was, this show attracted prospects with high expectations, and I thought our functional yet less-than-lovely banner might look a little cheesy. So I Googled a home-furnishings store near the convention center that had some items to spruce up our setup. I emailed the reps a shopping list, e.g., synthetic plants, home decor items, trendy accessories, etc., and gave them the address of the store. "Go! Buy, buy, buy!" I ordered.

Thankfully, they went and they bought, and the show went off without another hitch. But as I sat back in my chair and dialed my shipping company in hopes of locating my wayward freight, I silently wondered when Trouble No. 3 would come calling.

Plan B
After days of hounding my shipping company for answers, I was left empty-handed and outraged. An entire booth and an exhibit backdrop don't just go up in smoke. But then again, a pallet of skateboards and medical supplies don't materialize out of thin air either. There had to be some explanation for what happened.

Enlightenment didn't arrive until the shipping rep phoned me about a week after the close of the New York show. In a sheepish tone she explained that she'd solved the mystery. As I soon learned, all of my problems started when the shipper subcontracted the pickup of my initial two-booth shipment to another firm. Normally, company reps would have shrink-wrapped everything into two shipments and attached the bills of lading. But this rogue shipper only managed to properly shrink wrap the Colorado booth together and failed to include the backdrop in the New York shipment. To make matters worse, he mixed up the labels on everything but the pallet headed to New York.

And you'll never guess where our mislabeled Colorado exhibit and the missing backdrop ended up. Africa! The shipper sent our stuff to a relief project in South Africa and shipped the skateboards and medical supplies, which were intended to make the transcontinental journey, to our little booth space in Colorado.

The news was crazy enough, but before the shipping rep hung up, she revealed Trouble No. 3. Apparently, the firm was in deep doo-doo, as our undocumented stuff was sitting in a customs office having, in effect, entered South Africa illegally. Customs agents were holding it hostage until all the paperwork was straightened out. The rep assured me that she'd handle everything, but I was out of a booth and a back wall for the foreseeable future – and there were three shows looming on our calendar.

By then, however, I knew how to conjure a booth out of nothing. So I continued to cobble everything together for the next four weeks, after which I finally got word that my properties were on their way home from their mysterious trip abroad.

In the end, I guess it wasn't so bad. All of the shows went on, I kept my job, and the shipping company felt so bad about its error that it paid for all of the expenses we incurred during the process and gave my firm free storage for life. If our properties arrive early for a show or stay late afterward, we can store stuff for free at a nearby facility. But perhaps best of all, I learned that even when disaster strikes three times, I'm mentally equipped to handle the fallout. And now that I've survived a trio of trouble, I don't bat an eye when a singular calamity comes my way.

— Noelle Luchino Feist, director of experiential and event marketing, Mindbody Inc., San Luis Obispo, CA

Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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