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PHOTOS: EXPOSURES LTD.
Built By Design
Vicki Frye positions Ply Gem Industries Inc. as a one-source solution for all home builders' needs – and doubles booth traffic at the company's largest trade show in the process. By Brian Dukerschein
VICKI FRYE

Vicki Frye is the director of corporate marketing for Ply Gem Industries Inc., a manufacturer of building products headquartered in Cary, NC. In her role, she is responsible for marketing, advertising, communications, public relations, corporate sponsorships, and events. Prior to joining Ply Gem in 2011, Frye held marketing positions within the book-publishing industry.
Much like the home of a growing family, Ply Gem Industries Inc. has gone through numerous additions in its 74-year history. Through organic growth and a number of acquisitions, what started as a small lumber supplier morphed into a housing-industry giant with $1.9 billion in annual sales and a stable of brands manufacturing practically every category of exterior building products, including windows and doors, fencing and railing, roofing, siding, trim, engineered stone, and accessories.

When it came to exhibiting at trade shows, the Cary, NC-based company realized that several of its subsidiaries, such as Durabuilt and Georgia-Pacific vinyl siding, had greater name recognition than Ply Gem itself. While Ply Gem's exhibits always featured a degree of corporate branding, these individual brands essentially had equal billing. Each brand and product category had a designated area in the booth, which resulted in customers gravitating toward the product names and salespeople they knew instead of exploring the entire exhibit – or paying much attention to the Ply Gem banner. It was clear to Vicki Frye, Ply Gem's director of corporate marketing, that crucial opportunities were being missed. "We had become one of the largest companies in our industry, yet customers were not familiar with our name, nor that we manufacture nearly every product for the outside of the home," Frye says. "We needed to communicate that we deliver a single solution to builders currently purchasing their materials from multiple vendors."

The first step toward implementing change occurred at the 2016 iteration of the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas, the largest and most important event on Ply Gem's exhibiting calendar. After several years of showing in a traditional exhibit, Ply Gem eschewed the show floor altogether and built a literal house in the convention center's parking lot to showcase how its products are designed to work together. The bold move garnered praise from attendees, an appreciable return, and the attention of Ply Gem's senior management, who took notice of Frye's solutions-focused approach and encouraged her to take things a step further at IBS 2017 in Orlando, FL.


Breaking Ground
Before sitting down at the drawing board, Frye had the idea to get input from the people whose opinions ultimately matter the most: Ply Gem's current customers and IBS attendees. After conducting a series of phone interviews with clients and prospects, a number of revelations came to light. "The purpose of the surveys was to ascertain what motivates builders to attend IBS and get their perspectives on what they're most interested in seeing and what draws their attention," Frye says. "We learned that they come to the show to see what's new, meet with manufacturers, and network and connect with others in the industry."
The "exploded house" concept would do away with Ply Gem's usual product displays and feature its wares in their natural habitat: on six freestanding walls.
With this knowledge and a new corporate-centric directive in hand, Frye approached MG Design Associates Corp., Ply Gem's longtime exhibit house, with a number of specifications for the company's booth at IBS 2017. Topping Frye's list was the need for this exhibit to promote the Ply Gem name and integrate the company's products in a holistic way that emphasized a one-supplier solution for home builders. It was also important that the exhibit offer ample space for attendees to network and socialize, as well as hospitality elements that would encourage showgoers to linger in the booth. Finally, Frye planned to further raise Ply Gem's profile at IBS by hosting a happy hour in the exhibit that would feature live musical performances, so the design needed to accommodate a stage.

MG responded with an "exploded house" concept that would do away with Ply Gem's traditional patchwork of product displays and instead feature its wares in their natural habitat, so to speak: on six freestanding walls designed to mimic the exterior of a traditional home. "The idea was to help showcase all of Ply Gem's products in a unique and effective way," says Nancy Johnson, vice president, client experiences at MG. "Attendees were literally invited to Ply Gem's home, with the exterior showing the products in action and telling their solution stories on durability, design, comfort, remodeling, and commercial applications. The interior space was dedicated to the Ply Gem brand story." The number of products on display would shrink significantly compared to previous exhibits, but Johnson and Frye were confident their absence wouldn't be missed. "It was a priority to communicate the range of Ply Gem's offerings," Johnson says. "If an attendee coming to the exhibit looking for siding discovers Ply Gem also makes windows and doors, that was more important than showing every color and style of a particular product."

Frye signed off on MG's design and then turned her attention to marketing the new exhibit. Knowing that IBS attendees were looking to mix work with play, Frye settled on "Business up Front. Party in the Back" as Ply Gem's theme for the show, a clever reference to the fact that the company's happy hour and musical performances would be taking place at the rear of the exhibit. Starting four weeks before IBS, emails were sent to preregistered attendees and Ply Gem's clients announcing the theme and directing them to a microsite where they could schedule private appointments. The microsite also included details on the musical artists performing during the hosted happy hours, elaborated on the in-booth hospitality, and featured a social-media feed that stayed active throughout the show.

To bring Ply Gem's sales team and distributor network into the loop and enlist their support in generating awareness, Frye prepared a digital IBS "tool kit" that included an overview of the new exhibit and on-site activities, a show-specific email signature, and a form email for them to distribute to their clients. Finally, Frye purchased a sponsorship package that put Ply Gem's message in front of attendees before IBS even began via a banner ad on the show's registration page that linked to the company's microsite. Ply Gem was also prominently featured in the mailer attendees received with their IBS credentials.


This New House
The show's 68,000 attendees didn't have to wait until they stepped into the exhibit hall in order to realize that Ply Gem had taken a stronger position in regard to its corporate identity. The bus waiting zone, lobby, and registration area of the Orange Country Convention Center in Orlando, FL, were peppered with banners, floor and countertop graphics, and freestanding signs announcing the company's presence and "Business up Front. Party in the Back" tagline, a further benefit of the sponsorship Frye acquired. But unlike at previous shows, the focus was solely on Ply Gem itself and not its collection of well-known brands.

That renewed focus was made even more apparent when attendees walked onto the show floor, where Ply Gem's 80-by-100-foot island exhibit was front and center.

The "exploded house" concept would do away with Ply Gem's usual product displays and feature its wares in their natural habitat: on six freestanding walls.
Five rigged tensioned-fabric elements printed to look like a shingled roof circled the space and prominently displayed Ply Gem's name and logo on all sides, while a massive 12-by-16-foot LED wall at the front of the exhibit broadcast how the company was responding to industry trends and promoted the activities and hospitality that could be found inside the stand.

But what drew the most attention were the exhibit's six freestanding walls, all of which were constructed with Ply Gem products and designed to replicate the exterior of a traditional home in life size. For example, the front left corner of the exhibit featured an L-shaped construction of the front of a two-story house. The roughly 20-by-20-foot facade was finished with farmhouse-style board-and-batten siding, engineered slate roofing, picture and double-hung windows, a working front door, and more, all from a variety of Ply Gem brands, effectively demonstrating that the company's products are designed to work in tandem to create a cohesive style. A freestanding 6-by-1.5-foot "reader rail" display positioned in front of the wall listed the name, make, and location of the products used, along with a smattering of embedded samples.

Other walls were dedicated to conveying how Ply Gem's products can provide solutions to specific concerns. One 14-foot-tall facade at the rear of the exhibit was designed to address durability and showcased roofing, siding, and windows that offer superior resistance to wind, sun, and water damage. Another emphasized comfort and energy efficiency via insulated siding and gable vents that promote air circulation in attics. The reader rail displays accompanying these themed areas also listed the products used and included informational callouts, such as a particular siding's ability to withstand winds up to 230 mph.

After crossing the faux grass that lined the perimeter of the exhibit and passing flower beds filled with live plants, attendees stepped into the interior of the "home," which was designed to look very much like the real thing. Couches, armchairs, and coffee tables rested upon vinyl printed to resemble hardwood flooring, and bookcases were filled with tasteful knickknacks that enhanced the home-like ambiance. A stone fireplace outfitted with a 32-inch monitor projected the sight and sound of crackling flames, while framed images on the walls displayed customer testimonials. Freestanding displays called attention to Ply Gem's commitment to innovation via its Foundation Labs, as well as the Home for Good project, through which the company aided Habitat for Humanity in building 300 homes in 2016. Additional product information was also available, such as a wall-mounted iPad activation that demonstrated the sound-dampening qualities of Ply Gem's STC 35 glass windows.

The highlight of the exhibit's interior, however, was the U-shaped gourmet coffee bar, where a barista served up turtle mochas, chai tea lattes, and any number of caffeinated beverages to help give weary attendees a boost. Brownies were also available to satiate peckish showgoers. Metal chairs lined the bar, which had built-in electrical outlets for those needing to recharge their computers and mobile devices. Additional charging stations were placed on the bistro-height tables adjacent to the coffee bar, and a supply of power cords was on hand for attendees who forgot to bring their own. Meanwhile, a pair of 60-inch LED monitors over the coffee station displayed a social-media aggregator that showed Twitter and Instagram posts from Ply Gem and IBS's official accounts, along with posts from attendees that included Ply Gem's show-specific hashtag, #PlyGemIBS, or #IBSOrlando.

Ply Gem hired brand ambassadors to greet attendees, direct them to different areas of the exhibit, or pass them off to a member of the sales team if they had a scheduled appointment, but the vibe in and around the booth – plenty of additional seating was available in the outdoor living area and on the faux lawn surrounding the exterior – was decidedly welcoming and low-key. "We allowed people to walk in, take a break, or have a meeting," Frye says. "Attendees enjoyed coming into our space because we created a place where they could not only talk and relax, but also find out how we could help them build their business."

House Music
In the late afternoon of the first two days of the show, a labor crew got to work in the rear of Ply Gem's exhibit, rolling out a 12-by-5-foot stage concealed in a storage area covered by a large fabric graphic. Some attendees headed for the exits as the clock approached 5 p.m., but a sizeable crowd of showgoers made their way to Ply Gem's stand to partake in the happy hour many of them had been hearing about for weeks. Staffers passed out 16-ounce cups of beer to thirsty audience members who vied for an ideal vantage point close to the stage. Business time was over. Per Ply Gem's tagline, it was now time to "party in the back."

Popular country singers Eric Paslay and Lauren Alaina took to the stage for hour-long sets on the first and second evenings of IBS, respectively. The artists, selected by Frye, proved to be an ideal choice for Ply Gem's audience, as attendees eagerly snapped photos and rewarded each song with enthusiastic applause. At one point Alaina even left the stage to perform amid the crowd, much to the delight of those standing next to the runner up from Season 10 of "American Idol." Both singers stuck around after their performances to pose for photos with attendees and sign autographs, ensuring that Ply Gem's happy hour was an experience many wouldn't soon forget.


If You Build It…
Ply Gem's "exploded house" concept helped the company shoot past its IBS benchmarks, including a doubling of the number of qualified leads compared to the previous year's show. What's more, Ply Gem estimates the exhibit drew twice the number of attendees, a result that garnered praise from several All-Star Awards judges. "The amount of traffic generated by this exhibit was off the charts," one judge said. "This is a fantastic example of a campaign that used innovation and strategic planning to solve a problem and stand out on the trade show floor."

But perhaps Frye's greatest achievement is reflected in the results of post-show surveys sent to booth staffers and attendees. Some 90 percent of staffers reported feeling that the company successfully communicated its brand and industry leadership, while 90 percent of attendees surveyed said the solutions Ply Gem presented at IBS were on target with their needs. It's difficult to improve upon such high marks, but Frye is no doubt building up to something bigger and better in the year ahead. E

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