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Shop to Showfloor: Musings on the Return to the Showfloor

by Don Svehla

ECN Publisher Don Svehla headed to Orlando for the MRO show to see first-hand how big tradeshows are resuming safely. Below is some of the showfloor buzz he heard as tradeshows start up again after more than a year of lockdowns.

New Rules of Engagement
Emerge for Professional
Event Labor Providers
Cash in advance is the new norm
as discounts disappear and the talent pool dissipates

Does history repeat? Ask any I&D company owner who has been around the block and the reply is yes. This response is supported by battered balance sheets as some exhibit builders again go out of business owing many vendors without payment for services rendered.

When one traces back the dots over the past 30+ years, the same, or similar, thing has happened every eight to nine years. We had a general recession, the tech “bubble,” 9-11, etc. We have even heard of a number of builders still in business that froze payments to their labor providers when COVID began. Many did so even after they received government assistance. Now as the dust begins to settle and advance orders for labor services are starting up, things are not the same.

As the Nation’s
Showfloors Come Back
to Life, Safety Must Be
at Forefront
Rosters of talent are uncertain as there has been virtually no work for more than a year

Can you imagine being a surgeon who has not operated in more than a year or an artist who didn’t touch their brush or mold clay in more than 12 months? Besides probably going mad, you would probably be rusty at best.

Anyone understanding the value of solid tactical support in the field knows what it takes to be an I&D ace. It takes many years for a solid exhibit technician to develop. As anyone who has ordered and paid for labor in the past understands what a basic principle has always been: You usually get what you pay for.

Besides personal skill, there is a systematic rhythm underlying all good move-ins and repacking initiatives. This rhythm occurs naturally between highly productive teams as they navigate tight timelines. This rhythm doesn’t work all the time if there is not the support team (often unseen unless there is a problem)—city managers, gang box managers, account managers, runners and a number of subset specialists, including leads, who can be pulled from another job as their individual experience is needed.

Strong Solid Labor
Support does not Happen Magically out of Thin Air

Consider the exhibit providers’ standpoint. Nobody spends more face-to-face time with their clients than do labor people. They are a large part of your extended customer service team. One bad experience and you may lose clients. There is truth to the adage, “You are only as good as your last show.” Many times, you don’t lose the client for just that show … but for their yearly circuit of events.

There seem to be two trains of thought for companies contracting labor for their clients’ needs. Strategy 1: We need the best for our unique and creative programs, and we know what the going rate is for the best. Strategy 2: This client is mine and I want to milk every dollar I can out of every situation, even at the expense of vendor partners.

Workforce has Scattered Geographically—
Looking for Work
in Other Industries
and Many Retired

Children moving closer to parents, parents moving to be by their children … or people leaving overpopulated cities for perceived healthier, greener pastures. Many younger workers with more of today’s sought-after digital skills found it easier to get into other lines of work. The specialty labor provided before COVID was already under great strain. It was well known before COVID struck that the I&D workforce across the nation was aging. The end result adds to the decimation to the ranks of many industry providers. What labor crews will look like as events start up remains to be seen.

Heftier Waistlines
and Resuming
Physically Demanding
Showfloor Work

Much of the workforce was homebound for quite a while…and it shows in the gut! Whether cooking in or supporting the myriad food delivery services…many people need new belts! Combine that with a job requiring nonstop hours on your feet, walking long distances, breathing questionable air in severe hot and cold…we can see more injuries if not outright casualties coming to a showfloor near you soon. Some see a perfect storm coming as shows/events will be packed into the traditionally slower summer periods.

Still, SO Happy To Be Back Working in Jobs They Love

The biggest buzz on the showfloor was how happy everyone is to be back to work—traveling, building booths, seeing friends—and doing what they love.

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 36-38. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_may-june_2021

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