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A Salute to I & D Labor

I am writing this column from my hotel room, directly across from the Anaheim Convention Center in the middle of the day. I can do this because the labor crew I have hired to install my client’s two-story exhibit is in full control of the situation. I haven’t always been this comfortable leaving the show floor during an install.

I’ve just had two really good experiences with installation labor on my last two shows in San Diego and Anaheim. In San Diego, our client used a rental double deck system that was married with custom wall and ceiling panels. A lot of cutting and fitting had to be done on the show floor, and these guys came with all the right tools and, more importantly, with a can-do attitude. They were relentless in their work and took what could have been a really bad situation and made it work beautifully. They worked hard and they worked fast.

The same exhibit property moved up the road to Anaheim, and again, a crew with lots of energy, a great attitude and an exhibit assembled and wiped down in excellent time.

The city of Chicago has been in the news a lot lately; more specifically, the pending Illinois state legislation that would change the way the five current unions that represent I & D (installation and dismantle) labor operate at McCormick Place. It’s stirring up a lot of controversy. I’m not going to step into that here, but it has gotten me thinking about how we as an industry can sometimes get pretty down on the I & D side of our business.

I seem to hear more stories about horrible experiences than I do about the great ones. Maybe it’s our tendency to focus more on what goes wrong than what goes right.  We’ve all had those situations where everything seems to go wrong, and the hired help seems to have absolutely no clue about what they should be doing.  But I’ll wager you’ve also had those times when the team you were assigned did an excellent job and surpassed your expectations.

I could take this discussion in several directions here and talk about the influence that the independent, or non-official, contractors have had on the business by creating more competition, and hence, more focus on good service. Or that industry training in I & D has been the focus of some of the big guys, thereby creating a better workforce. Or the economy being what it is, people are more aware of the fact that they have to be good just to stay employed.

But I really just wanted to take a few minutes and tip my hat to the guys (and gals) that work on the show floor every day. It’s hard work. It’s long hours, and you get to deal with clients – both the exhibit house and the exhibitor – who are not always in the best spirits by the time they get to the show floor.

I have one guy working for me that travels a good portion of the year.  He supervises big projects and small, in big convention centers and small. Over the last several years he has developed a network of friends and acquaintances in cities all over the country. These are people that take the I & D part of our business seriously and see it as a career choice, not a sideline business, or something to do until they get a ‘real job.’

One time in Las Vegas he had a situation where he needed to laminate two panels to complete an exhibit. On a Sunday afternoon, through a series of contacts and phone calls, he was able to locate the exact laminate we needed and someone to bring the laminate, adhesive and router to the hall to complete the job – all for less than $200.

The people he connected with to get this done are the kind of people I want to know in every city we work. I know they’re there. I hear stories like this all over the country. These are the people that do take the I & D business seriously. And these are the people that will be in this business for a long time. They have figured out that if you have the right attitude, provide the right service and work hard for your clients, you’ll have those clients hunting you down the next time you’re in town.

The next time you have one of those really positive experiences on the show floor, be sure to tell your crew about it. And be sure to tell their boss about it, too. They hear enough of the other kinds of comments; the positive ones will make their day.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 28 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive.  He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal.  He can be reached at

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