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fixing snafus
illustration: Regan Dunnick
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Hope alone is not a viable survival strategy. We needed to make sure we had a contingency plan in case the trade show gods tipped over any more dominoes.
Plan A
Those of us in the trade show industry know all too well how frequently an at-show mishap can leave us buzzing like hornets in a kicked hive, trying to save our stingers and our investments. What's particularly vexing, though, is when there's an unrelenting series of unfortunate events that cascades down like falling dominoes.

As vice president of marketing and interactive technology at Apple Rock Displays, an exhibit house based out of Greensboro, NC, I often call EXHIBITORLIVE in Las Vegas the Fashion Week of the trade show industry, as companies bring out their most innovative booths to show everyone their capabilities. And it's our best opportunity to connect with clients and prospects, so it's essential that we put our best foot forward.

The team spent oodles of time developing an uplifting booth that included lots of fabric, textures, custom pieces, and a dash of technology – all in line with the direction our clients are moving. We also tapped our sister company, Nomadic Displays in Lorton, VA, which specializes in the modular and fabric elements that were to be the wow factor in our booth. So half of our exhibit shipped from North Carolina, and the rest shipped separately from Virginia. Anticipating the usual shipping shenanigans, we made sure everything left in plenty of time to arrive on Friday and be in our booth for an 8 a.m. install on Saturday. Even then, we had a bit of a buffer because the show didn't begin until Monday.

And then the dominoes started falling. A couple of days into the trip, we got word that our precious cargo from Virginia was stranded somewhere in middle America. Thankfully, the owner of the shipping company hopped on the earliest flight and hightailed it to the freight's location. Everything got ironed out, and our booth was soon back on the road.

On Thursday morning, the next domino fell. The same freight was stalled yet again – this time in Flagstaff, AZ, where a blizzard dumped 36 inches of snow overnight, the highest single-day snowfall ever recorded in the city. Since Flagstaff is a mere four hours from Las Vegas, we crossed our fingers and hoped our truck would still show up on time. But hope alone is not a viable survival strategy. We needed to make sure we had a contingency plan in case the trade show gods tipped over any more dominoes.

Plan B
With two days until install, we contacted our Las Vegas office and got it rolling out new graphics. The team also started pulling other materials from their local inventory, and they were quickly able to recreate the majority of the original booth. However, if our Virginia freight didn't arrive, we would have to forego some of our most prized custom assets, including 3-D, halo-lit hearts that were to be mounted on the back wall, a triangular tower, and a new-product closet.

Thankfully, our North Carolina truck carrying our flooring, interactive kiosk, and a couple other custom accessories arrived with no delays, so the crew began install with what they had. When I got to the show floor on Sunday morning, I was relieved to see that the on-the-fly booth was very close to the original. Even better, I was told that our truant shipment was about an hour away, so we'd still have time to execute our initial design.

That hour came and went, and then more time passed. And more. The truck didn't show up until Sunday evening, much too late to change everything out. It turned out that our driver was under the impression that we didn't need the freight until Monday morning – the day the show opened. Rather than waste breath arguing about the delay, we grabbed the freight and hauled our stingers back to the exhibit.

But almost as soon as we rolled the crates to our booth, show management reps told us they had to remove all freight from the show floor so they could lay carpet in the aisles. I started plying my finest delay tactics while my crew furiously rummaged through the crates, yanking out our most essential components. We managed to nab the original backlit canopy and our 3-D hearts before the shipment was hauled away.

The crew immediately got to work with the salvaged materials. At the back of the booth, we disabled part of our 16-foot-tall light wall so that we could use the laminated edges instead of the replacement Sintra ones. As we neared the end of the day, I was mostly content with what we'd managed to wrangle together. What bothered me most was that the aisle-facing edges of the original triangular tower were going to feature LED tiles. Instead, I was left with a blank piece of Sintra on one outside edge of a square column. I stood there staring at it, waiting for inspiration.

Suddenly, something just clicked in my brain: Instead of an unsightly Sintra eyesore, I saw a blank canvas. So I grabbed a bunch of brightly colored markers and started writing uplifting comments such as "Design from your heart" and "Love what you do." Then I adhered the markers to the wall as an open invitation for passersby to join the conversation.

When the show opened on Monday, things went splendidly despite all the misadventures. One of the best pieces actually turned out to be the improvised message board. Unprompted, attendees stopped to doodle, add their own inspiring tidbits, and take pictures in front of what would otherwise have been a drab piece of nothing. It was remarkable.

As I reflected on our near-fiasco that actually turned out to be one of our most successful shows yet, I was really impressed with our team's flexibility and responsiveness. I guess that when dominoes fall, sometimes all you can do is pick them up and build anew.

— Denise Lineberry, vice president of marketing and creative technology, Apple Rock Advertising and Promotion Inc. (dba Apple Rock Displays), Greensboro, NC

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

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