What Would Mark Do?
     - Musings on design, opinions on business and discoveries to be shared. 
              by Mark Bendickson.

I hadn't gone to GlobalShop for a couple years...

I hadn't gone to GlobalShop for a couple years, but this year it was in Chicago and a European client of mine has their North America offices there (and were exhibiting as well), so it seemed like a good time to visit again.  So, off I went this morning on the 7 Am out of MSP to ORD.  I forgot how odd it is to be on this flight out of Minneapolis to GlobalShop.  I saw four other exhibit design firm folks on the plane, and it seemed like the rest were evenly split between Target and Best Buy employees.  It was almost worth getting up at 4:30 AM to see.  My client picked me up at the airport and we had a few hours of meeting in their North American Headquarters, and then headed off to the hall. 

The show was in the newest addition at McCormick, and that was another good reason to visit.  The interior looked similar to the last new addition but traffic flow seemed a bit more intelligent.  Part of the show was in the main hall, with overflow in a ballroom.  The ballroom looked really nice, with a great deal of attention paid to acoustics and ceiling treatment.  The walls and overhead were so finished looking that it even made the bad exhibits look good.  On the other hand, the food court downstairs absolutely sucked.  It is made up of stations along the wall with salad, American grill, Italian, Asian etc. dishes at each, after which you all traveled to communal cash registers.  I am still wondering how you can make a dry burger that had been in a warming tray forever and looked like a rock to be nearly raw in the middle.  In addition, their was no cell phone signal as we were in the basement.  Also, I stopped in a men''s room outside the ballroom that had 2 stalls and 2 urinals and 16 people waiting in line. This is, after all, McCormick place, not an Olive Garden.  Well, that''s enough for the venue.  Now for the show.

As for the show itself, I don''t have any numbers but it seemed smaller than I recall.   And there were some noticeable absences and scaled back presences.  I remember when the laminate vendors treated GlobalShop like the Paris fashion show and rolled out their new lines for the year.  Maybe it was because it was a EuroShop year, but they all seemed to be keeping things a bit lower key.  I missed seeing Hafele, who used to have a nice big island booth full of hardware to play with.  I also didn't see ALU, who used to always do something really impactful.  Maybe it is because (like a lot of other industries) that consolidation among store chains had key prospects to a number low enough where direct selling has become more effective, or the audience has become too broad and leads are not very desirable. 

I think the biggest shock was the "green" m̶a̶r̶k̶e̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ washing going on.   Don't get me wrong, I am pro-sustainability and applaud anyone that is working to make our industry more responsible.  Unfortunately it was a bit over the top and in most cases absolutely bullshit.  If you went to this show and decided to play a drinking game where if every time you saw the word green in a graphic you would take a shot of tequila, you would be out cold by the end of the first aisle.  About the fiftieth time I saw an exhibit for a product built entirely from petroleum products and one time use landfill fodder with a banner boasting of their corporate "green" practices I was barely able to keep from doing the same thing I would have done after that many shots of tequila.

Another trend I saw (and felt) was a huge number of graphic houses  that were all doing kind of a "me too" we print on fabric thing.  It almost seemed like they were all in the aisle in old army surplus jackets with a torn piece of cardboard that had "will print for food" written on it with a Sharpie.  The biggest shame about this (in the exhibit industry as well) is that with all the concentration on how things are printed and how cheaply they are printed there needs to be more attention paid to what is printed.  All these sexy graphic production methods and a lot of the graphics still looked like sale banners or a bad power point slide. 

Not all was bad.  I got to hook a client up with Arakawa, the most unique and precise cable grippers around to integrate their product into one we are developing.  Sparks had a really nice booth.  Simple but really inviting (sort of a hospitality venue) with a really effective lighting package and materials that took the lighting to an even higher level. It had a real loungy feel, with dimensional "branches" on a white back wall that were made of acrylic that took the LED color washes and made them look almost animated and backlit. 

Another great exhibit, both aesthetically and in purpose, was Muzak.  It was a nice closed in environment, all in black and white.  The center core was a circular closet with portrait oriented plasma screens around the perimeter with different facial expressions dissolving on them.  The sides were  closed in with vertical clear plastic tubes that had the same faces printed on them.  The whole message was how you can use your soundtrack to create moods in your store or office to make the experience more emotional.  After hearing their pitch, you got to choose an emotion button (so you could wear an emotion on your sleeve) and a card for free.   Well done process; all those ''sleeve buttons'' that drove curious attendees to the booth, the nice visual presence to intrigue and stop passers by, a great metaphor for what they were trying to communicate to make it memorable, and an after show prospect-touch (on the music download site) to extend the experience and capture post show metrics and additional contacts from people who hadn't attended the show at all. 

There was one last experience I had that seemed to sum up the mood of the industry.  I was walking through the ballroom with The Store Fixturing Show in it.  In the corner was a really nice exhibit from an Italian design firm that was giving away bags.  Since I was starting to accumulate a pretty big pile of brochures I stopped by to get one.  I made a bit of small talk and then complimented him on the design of their exhibit.  He replied (in heavily accented english) "then why when you have a new project to create do you always go to the cheapest firm you can find instead of hiring us".  He smiled and laughed and said he was joking, but I could tell he wasn't, and I felt an incredible rush of empathy. 

After the show I caught the airport shuttle to MDW (and avoided a cab line that looked like someone was giving out free  sex and money), got herded through a security line that took longer than the commute to the airport during rush hour, and ate a really bad pastrami sandwich in a way too crowded airport bar with a friend before heading home.  A long day, but all in all a very productive and informative one, even if some of what I learned was a bit depressing.