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Weathering the Storms

by Larry Kulchawik

 After a nine month halt on tradeshow activities globally, we here in North America are ready and willing to pick up where we left off but the fears and concerns about safety continue to haunt us. Until show organizers and meeting attendees feel that a trusted path has been formed to ensure safety for travel, hotels, restaurants and meeting venue procedures in North America we will continue to be in a holding pattern. Face-to-face marketing will not pick up where it left off. The new COVID-19 prevention habits we now follow in everyday life will continue to be followed at tradeshows and events moving forward. Tradeshow marketing strategies will also include many of the virtual communication methods we have picked up during the shut down. The return to face-to-face communication appears to be in sight, but will not be executed the same as in the past. It also appears that Asia and Europe are embracing COVID safety methods more quickly in their countries and are willing to trust in their plans to continue safely. Tradeshow events in both Asia and Europe are being conducted and planned to resume within the next six months. We in the U.S. are moving forward more cautiously with few shows charging forward to resume quickly. Advocates within our industry are doing heir best to jumpstart a return, but time will tell.

With all this being said, our community of tradeshow/event planners and suppliers patiently await the return of trust in the safety of face-to-face communication at tradeshow/events. We want nothing more than to get back to apply the creative methods and solutions we have accumulated over time that have helped our customers to create trusting relationships with their clients and their buyers. It is through face-to-face marketing that business opportunities are enhanced to create sales. For now, we all wait for the caution flag to be lifted. The suppliers who have the stamina to hang in will once again feel the joy and rewards of experiential marketing.

Regarding the concept of hanging in, it should be pointed out that this is not our first tsunami.

Over the past 60 years, our industry has weathered other storms, each driving changes to the status quo. The after effects of 9-11 and two financial crises have created waves of changes we now call normal. I spent 50 years doing nothing but tradeshow marketing and have seen many exhibit companies come and go. Each company that closed helped to create new companies that fostered fresh ways of doing things. Many of the Chicago companies that did survive (like Czarnowski founded in 1947 and Derse founded in 1948) had the vision to recreate themselves and adjusted to the changing needs in the marketplace. Other U.S. cities in the East, West and South have experienced the same to open doors for changes to evolve.

When I started my career in Chicago there were companies like Kitzing, Firks Display, Giltspur, General Exhibits, Exhibitgroup, Premier Exhibits, Fritkin-Jones, Exhibits Inc, Dimension Works, Contempo, MG Exhibits and Heritage Exhibits that contributed greatly to our industry’s success. Each of these Chicago companies are now gone but their people and their spirits live on through other companies. They all have gone under due to hardships or mergers but their experiences continue to be shared elsewhere.

A recent edition of Exhibitor magazine honored the top 40 exhibit companies in America. What was most interesting in this review were the number of U.S. companies that were founded 30-70 years ago and continue to evolve. Thirty of the 40 companies have been in business more than 25 years with the newer companies jumping in with fresh, innovative strategies. Many of the older companies started out specializing in one area (Czarnowski in I&D, Freeman and GES as Show Contractors, Skyline in Portables, Jack Morton in Events) with each then expanding to provide services in other areas. The success of exhibit supplier longevity in our industry is due to their ability, and willingness, to evolve. We now face many challenges with a new playing field. Our ability to adjust, keeping both eyes open, will ensure continued success in the ever changing world of tradeshow/event marketing. Love it or leave it, I still love it!

Larry Kulchawik is the head of Larry Kulchwawik Consulting and author of “Trade Shows from One Country to the Next.” For more info, visit











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