by Jim Obermeyer

Last month my son drove from his home in Nashville, Tenn., to Destin, Fla., pulling his 22-foot boat behind his truck. When he arrived in Florida and was preparing to launch the boat he noticed that the cushion for the back seat–which ran across the full width of the boat–was missing. Since he had made the trip non-stop, the assumption was that at some point along the way it caught some wind and blew out of the boat, leaving a large opening to a storage compartment, and nowhere for his passengers to sit.

He and his friend went to Home Depot, bought a sheet of marine-grade plywood, stopped  by the lawn and garden department and found a cushion for a lounge chair, in the same red color as his boat, and bought two foam ‘noodles’ and two rolls of white duct tape.

He had the plywood cut to size, laid the red cushion on the plywood, used the white duct tape to tape it on (leaving evenly spaced white stripes on the red cushion), sliced the noodles lengthwise and attached them to the exposed edges of the plywood, and then set the new “seat cushion” in place.

MacGyver would have been proud.

Angus MacGyver (from the ‘80s TV show carrying his name) was the master of improvisation, getting himself and his friends out of difficult and dangerous situations too numerous to count, all while carrying only a Swiss Army knife and a roll of duct tape. Sounds like a lot of guys I know on the show floor. WD-40, duct tape and wire ties. If it moves and it shouldn’t, use the duct tape and wire ties. If it’s supposed to move and it doesn’t, use the WD-40.

Seriously, I believe the best guys on the show floor are the ones who can conquer all challenges and are not afraid of anything. Six new 3’ x 6’ graphics printed and installed by tomorrow morning? No problem. Laminate a raw wall panel that was left exposed when the booth was reconfigured at the last minute? Sure. Build a shelf out of scrap wood found on the show floor to fit inside a counter while the client is waiting to load it? Done.

While this all sounds great, and in most cases, all happens behind the scenes so that everything is perfect when the client arrives, there is a darker side to having MacGyver save the day on the show floor: the cost.

One lesson I learned early on was something we called the 1-10-100 Rule. It goes something like this: If I catch an error during the construction drawing or work order creation phase of a project, it costs me one minute to make the change before printing and distributing.

If the error is caught in production–either right before or just after it’s produced, now it’s going to cost potentially ten times as much (in time or money) to correct the situation. I have to re-order parts on a short time frame or re-build a portion of the project.

If the error is caught on the show floor during install, now I’m extending my install labor hours (potentially into overtime) to fix it, I’m paying priority overnight freight to get parts shipped in or sending guys to hardware or specialty stores to get parts and holding up the completion of the project. Now my cost in time and money is potentially 100 times what it would have been if I’d caught it on the drawing board.

Add in to this mix the very real potential that the client catches the error and now the cost can include lost confidence in your company’s ability to perform. How do you measure that…other than lost revenue from a lost client?

1-10-100. Each time we allow the fix to get pushed to the next level, the cost in time and money escalates exponentially. So, MacGyver, as good as he is, can be expensive to have around. Sure, he does save the day, and in many ways is indispensable, but it would be nice if we didn’t have to call on him quite so often. Unless, of course, you’re missing a boat cushion.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a vice president at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at

This column originally appeared in the September/October issue of Exhibit City News, p. 12. For more pictures and original layout, visit




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