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30 Years Of Custom Trade Show Displays: The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

30 years in trade show exhibitsWhen you’ve been in the custom trade show stand industry as long as I have (30+ years…but who’s counting?), there’s definitely ample opportunity to serve as a resource for others about your particular operational vertical. From customers asking for insight on the latest trade show stand developments to professional affiliates inquiring about niche specific trends and tendencies, I revel in the chance to help partner with others and put some of my experience and knowledge to a common greater good.

Embracing Change In the Custom Trade Show Displays

One question that I find I’m consistently asked during these conversations is: “Over the last three decades, what has changed and what has stayed the same in the world of trade show exhibit?”

The answer, quite honestly, is a lot.

As with any industry, the onset (and subsequent virtual explosion) of technological innovation has played a significant role in redefining what we can expect from a customized trade show stand. This industry evolution goes far beyond simply implementing flat screen monitors and using tablets in the booth itself; the production process has been completely revamped from when I first entered the trade show stand arena. It’s astonishing to think that, 30 years ago, our designers used color pencils and markers to do pre-production renderings! Now, we can’t imagine working without our 3D fly throughs of exhibits, complete with realistic images on the materials used within the booth, where you can see how leather material will look or, if an intricate wood grain finish on the furniture would deliver a better visual impression.

Additionally, the images and visual accents we have access to today completely overshadow the options available in previous decades. I remember when the photography and film (yes, I just said “film”), could only be printed up to a certain size, which really restricted overall impact. Now, we can quickly download digital images and utilize 16 foot printers to ensure our customers’ trade show exhibits delivers optimal promotional punch at every event.

Trade Show Stand Success: The Foundational Execution Has Stayed The Same

Of course, as with any vertical, there are always some foundational concepts that will never change, no matter how long a company is in business. Personally, I’ve always been extremely proud to be part of this important industry because companies that successfully support the trade show arena recognize one very simple, yet important concept: the show must go on. The show opens on a designated day, at a specific time and it-is-on. The exhibits have to be at 100%, the color schemes must exude promotional perfection and every “I” and “T” must be universally dotted and crossed, without exception. In short, thirty years ago, we recognized that, that at the very core of our business, there are no second chances. This mentality still holds true today.

Also, then, like now, our common goal as designers is always to help our clients use their custom trade show displays to make a positive (and lasting) visual impression on event attendees. However, how we do that moving forward is constantly evolving; a good exhibit company 30 years ago simply had to deliver a well-designed, quality product. Success ultimately boiled down to the fit and finish of the final product. Today, savvy organizations understand that, while a superior product is non-negotiable, they also have to have the entrepreneurial experience to partner with their client and successfully integrate their exhibit design with the right marketing strategy to deliver a seamless blend of purposeful creativity and technology for the ultimate visitor experience.

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About the Author

Bob Watson has been helping clients in the New York region dominate trade show marketing events for over 30 years. As President of Skyline New York, a leading trade show marketing resource known for customized exhibit innovations, Bob helps his partners use distinctive modular components to create New York trade show displays and complementing banner stands that captivate and compel crowds while effectively broadening brand exposure and reach. For more information on trade show displays, trade show booths, and trade show exhibits in New York, please visit

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