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Ten Questions – Bob Hopkins of Exhibit Source, Inc.

bob-hopkins-1688x3000Being in the industry for nearly 40 years and having successfully weathered the ups and downs of the economy and industry, how does ESi use its skills to expand into new markets, such as ICSC?

There are certain aspects of providing design and build services to all industries. These are common in spite of the particular product being offered by a client. So, in terms of being able to switch from, say, a heavy industrial product like found at an IMTS show to that of another industry like ICSC only means that we tap our design staff to change their focus. I’d like to make mention of how we create exhibits that enhance the brand and build the corporate image. So, say we are talking about promoting the selling environment at a heavy industrial show like IMTS, PMMI, NPE or ConExpo, where the products for the most part are very large. In that environment, we are creating the backdrop to help promote the large scale nature of the product but we are still focusing in on how to best build traffic and how to attract attention, but, most importantly, how to communicate to the attendee three very important aspects of any company that we represent: Who is the client? What do they do? What does that mean to the attendee?

What about the differences when dealing with a truly large scale project?

As we move from heavy industrial products into more of an ICSC/RECON environment, we are still dealing with most certainly a large scale product. What is larger than a Mall, a mixed use facility or a national chain restaurant? Again, these are such large scale products that we have to narrow our focus to what makes a certain client great and then build upon that. This differs, of course, for the type of client within each show. If we are talking about the ICSC/RECON arena, for instance, for a nationally known chain like Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Jimmy Johns or Starbucks, we generally would like to recreate the feeling of who they are on a national scale within their exhibits. However, if we are speaking of say a Regency Centers, Coldwell Banker CBRE or other super large retail developers, we are often times building an exhibit that gives the impression of their architectural masterpieces. So the point is how to set the stage in the exhibit hall in order to create a selling environment that reflects the quality that goes into a one or two million square feet development. Many times our clients have built hundreds of these environments.

When thinking of ESi, expertise in heavy machinery shows comes to mind. What does that expertise consist of, how was it developed over the years, and do you have any advice on how to improve the move-in and move-out processes?

With any show there are certainly nuances that set a specific show apart from any other show. ESi has been involved with the IMTS show since the days when Donnely Hall was used as an expansion of McCormick Place and I have been designing exhibits for clients at IMTS even before I opened ESi back in 1983. My first IMTS show was in 1976!  However what has been an area where we certainly excel is in our understanding of the nuances involved with working with heavy machines. I have been privileged to work on many shows where we rely upon many other experts in the field. To name one such person, I would be remiss if I didn’t give Kudos to Mr. Tom Gilmore of GES for his guidance and expertise. To summarize what is important, we need to know at least the following ten points before we ever set off on starting to design for an IMTS client.  Missing the importance of these will set off a delayed install procedure which could run into OT or DT if everyone and everything is not kept on target.

  1. Know how many machines we are talking about.
  2. Know the weight and forklift requirements or if we might need a crane to remove the machine from the semi.
  3. What are the client’s expectations in terms of using hanging signs as this will impact where machines are placed best and where high lifts can be positioned and when during the moving schedule?
  4. Target dates affect the entire move in process and knowing those dates and those of the exhibitors which surround you booth is extremely important.
  5. Which aisles are freight aisles, which will you need to share with your neighbor? Again, it’s exceedingly important to create that master plan, all of which is dependent upon your target date.
  6. Which machines will be operating, what are their power requirements, do they require a fill and drain or scrap removal service?
  7. What accessory machine items attach to the main machine – bar feeders, reservoirs, scrap conveyors, robotics etc.?
  8. How much raw material will each machine require during the day?
  9. How will this be restocked, what amount of space will be required to store raw material?
  10. Developing a sequence of machine move-in is key, wherein then, also knowing what machines are on which trailers, as well as knowing which driver will be required to move his rig into position and when.

Have you considered expanding to have ESi facilities in other cities? If so, where and why?

Although we tend to think of our Chicago location as our main source or HQ, we definitely operate in many cities. For example we are signature to the union in ten major convention cities which allows us to practice our philosophy concerning contiguous service. What I mean by that is that anywhere from Las Vegas to New Orleans to Orlando and up to New York, we use our own employees on our payroll in order to set up and dismantle our client’s properties. That gives us first hand control over the project but more importantly allows ESi to take the responsibility and offer the accountability for the whole project by the use of our own employees. Thus if a client needs something done we just go ahead and do accomplish the tasks at hand.

Additionally over the years we have also offered warehousing for our clients in three major cities –– Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas. Thus we have expanded our abilities by being able to offer a wide range of services all across the country.

How about your Global Footprint?

Many of our clients like the fact that we can design the project here and have it constructed throughout Europe. We manage this through the great teamwork of our trusted partners. Again this allows ESi to take on full turnkey projects in many parts of the world and be able to offer onsite services on a 24/7 service basis, just like we do in the US.

What is your feeling on remote sales people?

A good sales person makes it a point to be able to work in any part of the world via their laptop and cell phone. Consequently, most of our team travels and does operate remotely. Many times this may mean various team members are on the road for a month or so at a time. You might see us onsite with our communication work tables set up with our client’s booths. This allows direct communication with HQ and additionally allows for last minute service order changes, coordinating order forms or producing change orders onsite.

dsc06374-1832x1373-1000x749Tell us about your favorite project at ESi.

Having designed exhibits for over 35 years has produced many favorites so it is hard to just pick one. Here are examples of what stands out in the development of ESi:

  • Ames Lawn and Garden: this was our first three-level deck. The exhibit mixed the use of outdoor themes with actual landscaped surroundings complete with stone tiled walkways that resembled garden pathways.
  • DoBoy at the PMMI Show (packaging) was our largest project to date, being a massive 280’ x 60’ island type of booth that held four separate conferencing stations within each sister company.
  • The Coleman Company for the Super Show came complete with every imaginable camping product. Thus, it was only natural to have a sculpted waterfall where we used dry ice to flood the camp scene with fog. Cricket and tree frog sound effects were planted by the towering pine trees. The double deck portion of the exhibit was skinned in rubber actually cast from stone.
  • We talked about the ICSC show earlier in this session. This is where America’s largest retail developers gather to help promote their mixed use developments. Thus, transitioning into this show from that of a smaller stand-alone product requires a sound application of architectural elements. Regency Centers would be a prime example of creating that type of environment.
  • No mention of favorites would be complete without mentioning our single largest accomplishment when we handled three of the top ten exhibitors at the IMTS show, Doosan (photo above right), Okuma and Toyoda.

How does your experience as a designer help generate new sales, aid in managing the company and attract design and shop talent?

Honestly, I draw on my design background each and every day. 3-D design is the reason that I applied to this industry. I always liked to build things and thus as a triple major in college, I specialized in 3-D design, graphics and environmental projects. I draw on each area whenever we start to conceptualize. The fact is that I cannot imagine how I would have been adversely compromised if it were not for my design training.

With Millennials making up a growing percentage of exhibit management positions, how do you connect, engage and stay relevant?

Millennials do think somewhat differently; many are to the point and are able very quickly to decipher if you will be able to help them. Others are very focused on the tasks at hand and are driven to successfully accomplish what is on their plate. However, I don’t necessarily think that you need to change who you are in order to develop a relationship with any particular group of people. I think, most importantly, stay true and fair, the rest will work out.

What do you do for fun when you get a chance to relax?

That’s an easy one, depending upon the season. We do enjoy all four seasons as each one provides a new set of activities. We push ourselves each day at work and find that our time off still is centered on creating or activity. Thus the spring might be preparing our garden for the blooms that come later. A long hike while the temperature is cool enough to still enjoy the sights gives the opportunity to reflect. Most anything that involves a challenge and the outdoors is best. Summer for us is enjoying a lake, swimming, boating, kayaking or fixing up the house, whereas the coolness of the fall offers clear nights and the chance for a campfire where you can recharge. Winter you need to be more careful in the outdoor activities, but nothing is as exhilarating as a hike through snow, listening to the crunching beneath your feet. Walking through the forest at twilight gives one a chance to come across the call of an owl.

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