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illustration: Regan Dunnick
As the Exhibit Turns
Despite his prior written approval, the client wanted the entire booth rotated, so that rather than facing the entrance, the booth went head to head – or literally big screen to big screen – against a nearby competitor.
Plan A
Sometimes life can turn on a dime. One minute you're skipping through your day. But before you know it, fate, weather, or even a change of mind can leave you scrambling to regain your equilibrium. I recently lost my balance – albeit temporarily – at the Tokyo Game Show.

My company, the exhibit-design and fabrication firm Idea International Inc., is based in Osaka, Japan, and specializes in helping companies exhibiting in the Asia-Pacific region. For this particular show, my team and I were working with a major player in the gaming industry. Several months before the event, we'd devised a roughly 50-by-70-foot island stand featuring a 20-foot-tall central tower comprising mostly cladded truss topped with a massive screen to display gaming content. We also secured a prime booth-space location at front of the hall, and the screen faced the entrance so everyone would surely see it as they came in. Around the tower, kiosks could offer attendees myriad gaming experiences.

Prior to the show, we'd gone through countless conversations, revisions, and compromises to arrive at a final floor plan. Ultimately, the client provided written sign-off on the design and its position within the space. And this was a very good thing because there was no wiggle room in the installation schedule. Our setup time comprised two days with laborers on the clock for 48 hours straight.

Thus, my team and I arrived on site the day before install began. Setup went off without a hitch, and everything was almost finished by lunchtime on the second day, giving us roughly 12 more hours for any final touches. But as we stood back to survey our nearly completed work, the client sauntered in.

Initially he was all smiles, but he soon seemed to be a bit perplexed. He eyeballed the screen, looked back at the front entrance, and then back at the screen. Then, he glared, eyebrows furrowed, at the exhibit behind our space, which belonged to a key competitor. The client was clearly in a mood, so I was hesitant to disturb his mental machinations.

His answer came about 10 minutes later, and it was a doozy. Despite his prior written approval, the client wanted the entire booth rotated, so that rather than facing the entrance, the booth went head to head – or big screen to big screen – against the nearby competitor. By the look on his face, he might have agreed to a cage match with the other exhibit manager if given the opportunity.

So with three-quarters of our setup time already elapsed and with an almost completely constructed booth staring us in the face, we somehow had to rotate the exhibit 180 degrees. I suppose we could have pointed to our signed contract and refused to budge, but we aimed to please. I told the client there would likely be additional labor costs, assuming it was even possible, and his response was, "Just do it." And with that he ambled off to lunch, and I sprinted away to talk to the labor foreman to see if we could move this mountain in time.


Plan B
When I spotted the lead foreman, i.e., the "genba kantoku," he seemed to be heading to lunch as well. "Wait!" I yelled after him. After we sat down and I explained the situation, he squeezed his eyebrows together, pursed his lips, and looked to the sky. "So much for our mountain," I thought to myself. But after a few moments of contemplation, the genba kantoku looked me dead in my eyes and said, "Let's do it!" Actually, he said, "Yarimashou!" as his face broke into a smile. He even added a little clap before he jumped to his feet and scurried off in search of additional workers. Clearly, this fellow loved confronting a challenge.

In less than a minute he returned to the booth with – no joke – about 30 workers in tow. Either he wasn't a foreman to be messed with, or his buddies also liked a good challenge. After a few quick orders from the big guy, everyone got to work.

First we rolled up the carpet, which had been cut and laid around the existing kiosks, and set it in an aisle. Next, we ripped up the electrical cables and moved them out of the way as well. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the crew produced an armada of dollies and carefully lifted and positioned all of the kiosks and miscellaneous exhibitry atop them. In a flash, the previously stationary components became mobile, and the workers temporarily placed them in the aisle. Next, an audiovisual crew showed up, and using a complex system of various ties and bands, they lowered the massive screen. All that remained was the 20-foot tower.

This structure had to be sturdy enough to support the weight of the big screen, so the truss comprising its core had some serious weight to it. There was no way that even our small army of workers could lift and rotate it 180 degrees. As I stared at the tower, our genba kantoku disappeared yet again. Given his demonstrated near-magical capabilities, I just sat back and waited, confident he had a solution. And lo and behold, about five minutes later a 10-ton crane came rolling down the aisle. I'm not even sure where that thing came from, but it was a sight for sore (and disbelieving) eyes.

Once the crane was in place, the workers unbolted the tower from its floor supports and ran straps through the truss onto the crane. A courageous worker even ambled atop the tower to ensure the strap and crane situation was copacetic. Then, the crane lifted it (and the daring dude) 3 inches from the floor, while ground-level workers carefully and slowly rotated the whole shebang 180 degrees. The crane operator gingerly set it back down, and the plucky, cat-like fellow descended from the tower without incident. Voila! We'd moved our mountain in record time. The workers then repositioned the kiosks to accommodate the new tower location, restrung the electrical, and relaid the carpet. By 5 p.m., everything was back in place, and we still had roughly seven hours to complete the finishing touches and wipe down the entire exhibit.

Before this fateful day, if you'd have asked me whether or not it was possible to rotate an entire booth – and a 20-foot tower to boot – in less than five hours, I would have said you were crazy. But having witnessed it for myself, I now believe that almost anything can be accomplished. In fact, it's truly amazing what can be pulled off with the right leadership, a can-do attitude, an army of workers, and a 10-ton crane.


— Chris Dorn, president, Idea International Inc., Osaka, Japan


TELL US A STORY
Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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