A long time ago I worked for someone who spent a lot of time talking about the importance of completely finishing a project; making sure every last detail was handled. He referred to those final finishing touches as ‘the last five percent.’ His observation was that many times a project that, whether handled by one person, a team of people or an entire company, reaches the point where it is just about complete and then a few last details get overlooked.
A car company designs a beautiful new premium sports car with a new, more powerful engine that ranks it near the top of its class. But upon closer inspection the gaps between the hood and fenders don’t line up quite right and the interior switches feel like cheap plastic. Small things in the grand scheme for sure, but little details that detract from the perfection of the total package.
We do the same thing in our industry. Design and build a gorgeous new booth and send it out to its first show, without visqueen and tape for the carpet or without the right quantities of key elements in the hardware kit. Small things in the grand scheme for sure, but little details that detract from the perfection of the total package.
I just returned from one of our company’s largest shows … a show where we have five exhibiting clients, several of them very large. Overall, I’d say our performance was 95 percent there. That final five percent needed to be completed on the show floor. This is where we earn our stripes; where getting it perfect on the show floor sometimes takes herculean effort. This is where MacGyver lives.
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 the while carrying only a Swiss Army knife, and the occasional 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 that can conquer all challenges and are not afraid of anything. Six new three foot by six foot graphics printed and installed by tomorrow morning? No problem. 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 leaving the last five percent to the show floor; the cost.
Another 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 earlier.
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?
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 so often.
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 tradeshow and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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