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All in the art of presentation
I came. I saw. I was not conquered. I was disappointed. Having attended trade shows for well over 50 years, I have seen many changes and tremendous growth in the visual industry, and watched the display shows of the late 1940s, ’50s and ’60s giving way to the mammoth GlobalShops of the past decade. What was once a display industry has become a visual industry, encompassing store design, visual merchandising, point of purchase, store construction and exhibit design.
However, no matter what part of this expanding industry one belongs to or is interested in, one thing ties us together: PRESENTATION, which involves all arms or extensions of the visual field. We more than show to sell - we present our products and ourselves at the very best. If there is any art here, it is the art of making things look better and more desirable than they might actually be.
My disappointment was not so much with the sameness or familiarity of the products and techniques as in the lack of taste in how they were presented at GlobalShop 2004.
A manufacturer or distributor can show only so much within the confines of a 10ft x 20ft, 20ft x 20ft or even 20ft x 40ft booth space. At shows like GlobalShop, it is a matter of putting one’s best face forward, highlighting one’s unique/special products or features, and bringing attention to why these are different. One cannot and should not expect to show everything.
The booth is not a warehouse open to perusal or inspection. Its objective is first and foremost to capture the visitor’s attention, literally and figuratively. We want to stop the visitor, bring him closer and lure the now-curious viewer into the space. Just as shoppers in a retail store can be turned off or glazed over when bombarded with too many images or objects, it is even more so at a trade show where that visual bombardment occurs at every 20ft or so.
At GlobalShop 2004, not only was the physical layout of the various categories not clearly defined, signed and identified, but there was also confusion once one entered the area of interest.
Some booths extended across aisles, breaking the walking pattern of show attendees, while some aisles just disappeared. Further, too many desperate exhibitors emptied out their shelves and tried to cram everything into uninspired, under-lit, unplanned booths framed in black curtains/metal piping. There was nothing creative - no excitement or sense of discovery.
But, there were more than enough good exhibits to make up for the lack of taste and imagination running through many aisles.
One of this year’s big winners was the Winntech exhibit, which clinched the top award in the Store Design category. All it took were two crates of ripe oranges, and a truckload of ingenuity, humour and goodwill: From a 30ft circular ring - which Winntech suspended over a giant, white, circular carpet printed with a multitude of words describing and defining the inntech operation - fell hundreds of strung oranges.
Thanks to exquisite lighting, the veritable shower of orange globes could be seen from many aisles away. Cleverly surrounding the white carpet were orange chairs with the Winntech logo imprinted on them, while all representatives at the booth wore clean white jumpsuits, accented with orange sneakers. The presentation cost a fraction of the company’s award-winning exhibit last year. Yet, it probably generated more talk and publicity.
As one of the exhibit’s designers said: “Some thought we won last year because we had spent so much money to construct that exhibit. Well, we showed them that it isn’t how much you spend - it’s how creative and different you are.”
Many visitors who were drawn to Winntech’s exhibit were introduced to its many design capabilities through pictures, brochures and computer-generated presentations.
Another imaginative and non-structural exhibit was the colour-coordinated, brilliantly assembled and illuminated Storeworks stand. It had, extending from the floor to near the ceiling, four fabric panels, each in a bright sharp colour that was coordinated with the merchandise presented in front and had Storeworks’ logo printed on it.
The space between these panels served as entrances into the interior of Storeworks’ ‘tent’. Each of its four outer sections trumpeted a strong colour presentation (hot pink, lime green, orange, lavender) in contrast to the interior, which was black with accents of white, crystal and silver.
Storeworks topped the Visual Merchandising category this year. Its dramatic colour statement and lighting made it another much-talked-about highlight of the show
Transformit and Moss were also worthy of mention. These exhibit-design firms worked mostly with translucent fabrics stretched over wire frames or metal pipes.
This year, Transformit left the sinuous curves, swirls and fantasy spirals, featured so successfully in past years, for a rectangular, semi-transparent booth that was a miracle to behold. It effectively used coloured lights and presented the figures drawn on one of the walls in a variety of views.
In contrast, Moss’ open space was rich in sweeping curves and upward swirls. It was also beautifully illuminated.
What so many exhibitors with poorly done booths did not understand was the importance of paying for lighting, which makes a big difference on the trade-show floor.
Varying in size, scale, format and material - from the dramatic, high, sweeping expanse of illuminated panels that distinguished Grupo Huitzill’s open space to the simple, contained but well-furnished Reeves stand - some exhibits did make statements.
There were those which preferred to adopt the attitude that they were all alone in the expanse of the show space. They built ‘fortresses’ only the bold dared enter. There may be something in the snob appeal of a limited entrance that appeals to some visitors but when you take that approach, you had better be sure that what is hidden is really worth discovering. It certainly worked for Artitalia, with its red, white and silver interior belying the dark seclusion of the surrounding walls.
While I understand the need for an area of privacy within a booth for deal-making, I do not feel comfortable entering one that seems exclusive. I feel trapped, as if I am being watched and expected to buy something. It is akin to why some people prefer shopping in a designer’s set-up within an upscale speciality store to getting trapped in a designer’s boutique where their every move and gesture seems to be scrutinised.
Unfortunately in this industry, as in many others, how long can anything remain exclusive or inimitable? So, why not stand out proudly and shout: “We are the creative ones - so see it here for the first time!” Why do companies that pay so much for a bit of space at a trade show not understand just exactly what the exhibit or stand is supposed to accomplish?
It is the introduction, the first impression - like a front-window display - and, hopefully, the start of what can be a profitable relationship between the buyer and seller. It is all about letting show attendees find out who you are, what you can do and what you can do for them.
Once the exhibitor has caught the visitor’s attention, then, in easy stages, the product line may be introduced. A few exquisite or choice examples are there to be viewed in real form - 3D; the rest can be presented in power point, on video or in printed form. An exhibit is a showcase: A jewel box to be opened and savoured; a treasure chest to be discovered. It is not a warehouse. Nor is it selling off the back of a truck. If there is any art in exhibiting - it is presentation. Too many forget.