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Taking your show on the road; using Indiana suppliers for your trade-show exhibit.

Few companies need to be sold on the benefits of trade-show marketing. Those planning exhibits should be aware that there's no need to shop for services outside of Indiana. The state is home to a number of exhibit suppliers offering products from the portable to the prodigious.

There is literally a trade show for almost every market or service, and the number of trade shows continues to grow. More than 10,000 take place in the United States each year.

Michael Parrott, president and CEO of ICON Inc. in Fort Wayne, believes that with the increased globalization of business, trade-show marketing has taken on new import, especially since European businesses rely particularly heavily on this marketing medium. His company has entered the global market and has produced exhibits for companies in England, Japan, Korea and many European countries.

"In my opinion, there's no better marketing tool than going to shows," says Larry Minnick, president of The Exhibit House in Indianapolis. "The customers are coming to you. It's hands-on demonstration."

Minnick's company has been in operation for more than 12 years. The Exhibit House specializes in custom design work and has a wide range of clients from a number of different fields. Each design is unique. Some exhibits are even larger than most homes. The company recently produced a 6,300-square-foot, 20-foot-high RCA exhibit for Thomson Consumer Electronics.

The company's custom displays may have price tags running into the upper-six-figure level. But the company also distributes portable display systems that cost less than $1,000.

Parrott's company, ICON, operates two divisions--Customcraft for custom designs and Displaysource, which distributes portable and modular exhibit systems. Displaysource's portable systems include those made by Nimlok Display and Exhibit Systems and Radius Portable Panel Systems. In addition to Customcraft's custom displays, the division designs and manufactures ExhibitPak, a self-contained portable display unit.

Custom displays make up 80 percent of ICON's work through the Customcraft division. The company has just completed the initial phase of a million-dollar-plus project for United Technologies, a project Parrott describes as a very sophisticated system.

"This is the most interesting thing we've done as a company through Customcraft," Parrot says. "It's has a stealth-like look, all black, and is a very exotic display, which promotes graphics very vividly. It's a very powerful marketing tool." The display will be used by all the divisions of the Hartford, Conn.-based company, including Carrier Air Conditioning, Otis Elevator, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky. According to Parrott, it was designed TABULAR DATA OMITTED to create a very clear visual impression of the corporation.

"There's increased pressure on this industry to become more cost-effective and that has led to the introduction of new technologies, systems in particular--a whole new generation of products," Parrott says.

The company unveiled the EXZACT system last July. It's touted as a new time- and cost-conscious concept to provide its users with the versatility and economy of a system and the uniqueness of a custom exhibit. It addresses one of the big costs of trade show marketing--the cost of setting up at an exhibit venue.

"This simple technology uses less than a dozen parts, and you can build anything from it," Parrott says. Some ICON clients purchase a base unit to operate from initially, and as their needs change, they rent additional components.

Hamilton Displays in Indianapolis has been around since 1947 and has been through many changes as the industry has become more diversified. It is undoubtedly one of the larger exhibit houses in the area, with more than 100 employees. The company acquired Dimensional Designs two years ago and merged the two companies.

Hamilton is a full-service exhibit company, designing and building custom displays as well as setting up, dismantling and storing its products for clients and assisting with marketing planning. The company's Leonard Zickler says Hamilton has a very diverse and stable account base with many clients from the medical industry, including Eli Lilly & Co. and Biomet. The firm recently landed an account with Federal Express.

Exhibit costs can range widely, from as little as a few hundred dollars for portable display units to well over a million dollars for custom design work. Most companies rely on computer-assisted design systems in the design stages. Highly skilled production people are a must as well. All must be experts in cabinet making, lamination and electrical work, among other skills.

Exhibit companies also stress personalized service. Omnicraft in South Bend believes it is helped in this regard by the fact that its owners are also its designers and account executives. The company was started in 1975 by Walter Gunn, Dennis Hackbarth and William Meumpher. It provides complete show-support service worldwide and has a broad client base, including Morton International, Allied Signal and Peavey Music. It also has created a custom exhibit for one of its neighbors, AM General, which is promoting its Hummer vehicle. Omnicraft also distributes five different lines of portable displays: Radius, TigerMark, Exposure Display Systems, Armstrong Display Concepts and Panel-Flex Modular Displays.

A manufacturer of portable systems is Channel-Kor Systems of Bloomington. It recently unveiled its Encore Systems line.

"This system has the ease of packing and set-up of a fixed-hinge system, but the versatility and ability to reconfigure like a modular system," says President Melvin Miller. The Encore system is described as a frameless, 360-degree folding/modular exhibit system. The double-sided system comes in a variety of colors, but most importantly offers a completely reversible end curve.

"Ours is the only totally reversible, patent-pending curve, which can flex around and still be attached," Miller says. "So a company that has two divisions and wants a different look at a different time can just reverse the system and have a totally different display."

Channel-Kor, which has been building systems exhibits for over 25 years, also has had a fixed-hinge frame system, the Infinity System, on the market for six years. Miller says it is the closest thing to a customizable system. "It has many aspects including graphic-access channel, transparency panel, flatwall potential, and grid wall. It does just about anything," he says. Dean Witter Investments of New York recently purchased 16 units because it wanted its employees to be able to set the exhibit into place without any loose parts.

The company's original line, the Channel-Kor, offers assembly ease and convenient storage. Last year, the company also introduced the Companion, a table-top line, with an average cost of about $500. These products are sold through a network of about 60 distributors, including one in Japan and Mexico, with negotiations pending with Canadian dealers.

Miller says portables have appeal for companies of different sizes and natures. "Portables are the most cost-effective way to get the message across, especially for the smaller-business person. For those people who have the money, it's always better to use a custom display," he says.

"But," he adds, "bigger companies also want portables, because of the proliferation of many more regional programs, and will have an arsenal of portables in regional divisions as well."

A decade ago companies had basically three choices for displaying their wares--custom design, panel display units or portables--to meet their exhibit needs. But today, more companies are giving clients the option to customize systems. This alternative provides the flexibility of custom design with the simpler set-up and transportation of a modular system, while working within ever-shrinking trade show budgets.

Brian Sample, president of Exhibit Solutions in Columbus, refers to the marriage between custom work and distributed products "hybrid displays." A sister company, Image Resource Group, was created after several clients requested customized products. The companies worked hand-in-hand on a 40-foot display for General Electric in Bloomington. Currently, it is working on a lobby area and other interior-design projects for Bemis Film Division in Terre Haute. The companies also combined resources to develop a project for Master Fit Corp. of Indianapolis.

"We were able to take a couple of portable products, and combine them with some lightweight manufacturing that we did in-house and put together a really deluxe, interesting display," Sample says. The outcome was a 30-foot display costing about $10,000. A similar custom exhibit might have cost $30,000.

Exhibit Solutions was launched in 1990 as a distributor of premanufactured display products, such as Channel-Kor products and Radius Portable Panel Systems. Image Resource Group was formed in December to handle the custom work. By the end of the year, the companies expect the custom business to equal or surpass the distribution business.

Full service seems to be the name of the game for the players in this industry. Most exhibit houses offer design, production, refurbishing, and exhibit installation and dismantling. Exhibiteam of Elkhart is one example. Staffers there not only work on displays but also watch for potentially successful trade shows for their clients.

This company is a relative newcomer to the industry. Karl Richter bought the fledgling company five years ago, after it had been in operation for a couple of years. Since then the company has expanded, and now, it takes on a little bit of everything including point-of-purchase work, in-store displays, commercial displays and custom work. "Our job is to draw traffic into the booth--we're the hook. Once people enter the booth it's up to the company to sell the product."

The company designs, manufactures, sets up, transports and maintains displays. It offers custom design for point-of-purchase and in-house displays as well as trade-show exhibits, and also offers a line of portable systems.

In addition to designing and building custom trade-show exhibits and point-of-purchase displays and distributing portable and table-top exhibits, Design Direction in Indianapolis is a firm with its fingers in many different pots as well. Owner Bruce Timmerman says he's steering his company in the direction of mock-up production.

"We specialize in scientific and technical exhibits, and we do a lot of model work," Timmerman says, "such as custom or concept models in the automotive and aerospace industry."

As many of the Indiana companies stress, the industry has changed over the years to become a more integrated part of clients' total marketing plans. "The original nature of the industry was that people kind of told you what they wanted, and you produced it, sometimes doodling out ideas together," says Hamilton's Zickler.

"But as the industry has matured, it has become much more important to consider the total marketing overview or the impact of what it is that's supposed to take place," he says. "It's determining objectives and then creating something that will fulfill the directions that have been set."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Prata, Kathleen
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:1751
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