There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Classic Exhibits but don’t know all they do. Mel White, VP for marketing and business development, describes the Portland, Ore.-based company “as a chameleon that not only changes its colors, but also its shape. Repeatedly.” Every four to five years the company morphs into something different based on the needs of its more than 200 distributor partners and their customers.
So, who is Classic Exhibits right now? That depends upon who you ask—and what they need.
According to White, “Our customers come to us for a broad range of solutions. In short, we’re a job shop for over 200 distributor partners who assist their customers with tradeshows, retail displays, events and corporate environments, both for purchase and rental. We accomplish that as a ‘White Label, Unbranded’ designer and builder that’s largely invisible to end-users but not to the tradeshow and event industry. Our mission has always been to prioritize our customers’ brands in the marketplace, not only with unique designs, but also with brandable marketing tools.”
Founded in 1993, Classic started as a portable systems company, then a modular-hybrid supplier and now a design and builder of 3D structures. Currently, about 75 percent of what the company builds and ships can be classified as custom or customized. Nothing gets pulled from a shelf and shipped, even rentals. “We’re not that kind of company,” according to White. “We build to the order, stage each one, take extensive photos and create job-specific setup instructions and customized reusable packaging.”
Classic has been remarkably adept at identifying trends and creating tradeshow and event-specific solutions. Those include modular iPad and Surface stands, wireless charging stations, counters, pedestals and kiosks and tool-less LED lightboxes with accessories like tablet brackets, literature holders and adjustable shelves.
Most recently, their evolution has included modular wall systems, like the tool-less Gravitee One-Step. “As modular wall systems have come to the forefront,” says White, “we’ve worked hard to introduce new designs on Exhibit Design Search. One of the benefits of a large distributor network is identifying successful designs quickly and making them available to our partners. For example, the blending of modular walls, custom components and LED lighting has been very popular. Every week we introduce new designs to our network through our Design Monday emails.”
According to Executive VP Kevin Carty (pictured left with Mel White), “Invisibility often comes with misunderstandings and misconceptions about who we are and what we do. We’ve never been a Portland or Northwest-focused company. From the very beginning, we’ve relied on independent distributor partners for our sales since we don’t sell direct. This wasn’t unusual in the past, but the model has become less common as our competitors have either disappeared or chosen to sell direct to end-users. In some ways, we are the last company standing that honors that model.”
Classic’s “White Label” model includes, at the distributor’s request, branded crates, instructions and mailing labels with the distributor or end-user’s logo.
Carty, who has been with the company since its inception, has watched it grow to 85 employees across four divisions, encompassing 120,000 sq.ft. outside of Portland, Ore., that uses five internal web cameras to share the progress of exhibits from design to finish with customers.
The Designer’s Ear
Classic takes pride in being nimble and resourceful—doing what others can’t or won’t even try. Since every design, whether purchase or rental, can be modified, Classic encourages its distributors to have their customers talk directly to a designer.
Successful projects require the “designer’s ear,” Carty says. “Too often designers are left in the position of getting information relayed to them, meaning they are not always on the initial call with the client. This is a critical misstep. Having the designer on those intake calls or meetings is critical. Designers often ask questions that AEs and managers will never ask to get the best sense for what the client wants from the end product. Including the designer in those meetings significantly increases the chances the design becomes an order.”
Katina Rigall Zipay, creative director at Classic Exhibits, says the most important key to designing and building the perfect exhibit for a client is understanding the company’s culture, brand values and goals—both short term and long term.
“The best way to make sure we have that deep understanding of the client is to have direct access to the people at that company who know the company well and can help us understand the company’s essence,” Zipay says. “Sometimes it’s the CEO, sometimes the marketing director, sometimes the tradeshow manager.”
Carty emphasizes the “vertical integration” of Classic Exhibits that makes it an unusual turnkey manufacturer, starting with raw materials.
Classic Exhibits designs and builds tradeshow, retail and office environments for a network of independent distributors, including custom houses, portable and modular distributors, marketing agencies and printers.
Classic Rental Solutions (CRS) provides custom rentals to the same distributor network as Classic Exhibits. Since rental components are internally resourced, this makes it much easier to customize a rental.
ClassicMODUL supplies engineered aluminum extrusions and accessories—either in full lengths or cut pieces—to companies that build displays or graphics solutions.
“We own over 200 aluminum profiles that we press and extrude,” says Carty. “That gives us the ability to be nimble to meet any design or structural requirement.”
Classic operates a comprehensive CNC manufacturing facility with expertise in metal fabrication, wood construction, welding, crate design and electrical/lighting. As a builder for other exhibit builders, the company understands that consistency, transparency and quality are paramount to its customers. In addition, as a strategic partner with Eco-Systems Sustainable Exhibits, Classic sources eco-friendly materials whenever possible and has a comprehensive recycling program that includes plastics, wood, metal and foam.
“Our distributor partners rely on us to deliver a product that exceeds industry standards,” says Carty. “Nearly everything we ship goes directly to a show or an event, so the build must be perfect, along with the assembly instructions, the packaging and the delivery details. We want the end-user to be awed by everything they see or touch even if it doesn’t have our name on it.”
Shared Success – The Company Philosophy
“Our Shared Success philosophy is based on a simple fact,” White says. “We can’t succeed without the collective efforts of our employees, suppliers and customers. We win together or we fail together, and we make that abundantly clear as the foundation of our culture.” The three components of this philosophy are Shared Knowledge, Shared Responsibility and Shared Innovation, or what the company calls the Shared Success Formula:
Open, honest communication sparks creative solutions. We are committed to building a company where knowledge is transparent and trust paramount.
By sharing responsibility and respecting the contributions of others, we contribute to our mutual success.
Innovation thrives when ideas are discussed, evaluated, and embraced among employees, suppliers, and distributors. By advancing the smartest solutions, we provide our customers with the best designs, products, and services.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Classic Exhibits Inc. is a leading designer and manufacturer of displays for tradeshows, events, and corporate environments for purchase and rent. The company has won multiple design awards, including recognition at EXHIBITOR Magazine’s PMA’s, the People’s Choice Award, and a Find It Top 40 Exhibit Builder. In addition, Classic Exhibits is the manufacturing partner of Eco-Systems Sustainable Exhibits, an eco-friendly designer based in Grand Rapids, MI. For more info, visit classicexhibits.com.
This story originally appeared in the September/October issue of Exhibit City News, pp. 56-57. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecnflipbook_septoct_2019_web