Are You Ready for the Return to Shows?

February 23, 2021

Aaron Bartelt

Aaron Bartelt is president of Exhibiteur and host of the Exhibiteur podcast. He has spent over a dozen years in the industry, leading the charge toward excellence in operations for exhibit producers large and small. His focus at exhibiteur is to support the industry through tactical and consulting services, including a white label services division.

Anticipation is palpable in our industry as we put the second month of the new year behind us. Everyone is speculating and chomping at the bit to get back to the show floor. The big question is, are you ready? 

What kind of question is that? Of course, you’re ready. There’s nothing you’ve ever been more ready for. Maybe a better question is, are you prepared?

Have you put strategies in place to handle challenges in cash flow, overhead and growth? What could be worse than finally getting back to business and having to turn down work because you lack the capabilities or capacity to deliver? Or taking on work you can’t handle - sacrificing values and company culture in the process? 

The good news is it’s not too late. With many forecasting a major return later in 2021, there is still ample time for you to focus on positioning yourself for success. 

Overhead Costs and Ramping Up

With a changed landscape, we need to acknowledge that stepping right back into where we were isn’t an option. Managing growth through smart staffing, operational and production strategies will be key to ensuring your organization survives and thrives in a post-COVID world.

(Re)Building a Team

Your people are your biggest asset in delivering the quality product your clients expect and building a company culture that makes you happy to work where you do. So (re)building your team deserves intentionality and careful consideration. 

Balancing that with a potentially fast and furious ramp-up in business will be a challenge that every organization should be ready for. Hiring the wrong people can be disastrous. But no one wants to turn down business after being sidelined for a year. Timing will be everything.

Partnering with a company that provides industry experts through a white label service is one strategy exhibit producers can employ to strike this balance. This can be a way to gain access to experienced trade show pros who act as members of your organization – giving you the expert operational help you need, as you need it, without the risk of jumping into an employee relationship too soon. 

This strategy can take you beyond the COVID return, providing a way to scale your business, without overtaxing the team you worked so hard to (re)build.  


Obviously, we all prefer face-to-face interaction, but don’t let networking fall by the wayside while events are on hold. One of the best things you can be doing right now is strengthening and building your professional network. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with other industry pros, meet new people, share information and strategies for navigating this new landscape together. 

Vendor Audit

Don’t let your vendors fall off the list of people to stay in touch with. Do you know what’s going on with your trusted partners? Do their capabilities now fit your future needs?  There is a good chance you will need to establish some new vendor relationships in the coming months. Don’t be surprised later with information you could find out now.  

Wholesale Exhibit Production

Changes in capabilities go hand in hand with changes in staff levels. Until you return to some semblance of normalcy, establishing relationships with wholesale exhibit providers is a strategy that can help you navigate this expensive portion of the exhibit creation process.

There are a number of options across the U.S. to choose from. It may take some trial and error to determine which one fits best with your business model, but once you have a trusted partner or partners, you have the opportunity to scale your business in a way that you would never be able to if you produced everything in house.

Focus on the Internal

If you haven’t been using the last year fine-tuning your operations, strengthening your vendor relationships and searching out the weak points in your internal workflow (organizationally and individually), you’ve been missing out on a huge opportunity.

Personal/professional development reading and listening to podcasts can be a great way to make little changes that can make a big difference in your day-to-day life.

In Good Times and Bad

Of course, these are all good things to consider during regular times, too. But right now, employing smart strategies to overcome unique challenges will decide who survives and thrives in our industry in the years to come.  


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Partner Voices
Overview: The award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) goes the extra mile to make every day extraordinary by offering customer service excellence and industry-leading partnerships. From their dedicated in-house Rigging team to their robust Exhibitor Services, The Center of Hospitality brings your imagination to life by helping you host unforgettable meetings and events. With more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, world-class services and a dream destination, we are committed to making even the most ambitious conventions a reality. In October 2023, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve allocating Tourist Development Tax funding for the $560 million Phase 5A completion of the OCCC. The Convention Way Grand Concourse project will include enhancements to the North-South Building, featuring an additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space, an 80,000- square-foot ballroom and new entry to the North-South Building along Convention Way. “We are thrilled to begin work on completing our North-South Building which will allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “As an economic driver for the community, this project will provide the Center with connectivity and meeting space to host more events and continue to infuse the local economy with new money and expanding business opportunities.” Amenities: The Center of Hospitality goes above and beyond by offering world-class customer service and industry-leading partnerships. From the largest convention center Wi-Fi network to custom LAN/WAN design, the Center takes pride in enhancing exhibitor and customer experience.  The OCCC is the exclusive provider of electricity (24-hour power at no additional cost), aerial rigging and lighting, water, natural gas and propane, compressed air, and cable TV services. Convenience The Center is at the epicenter of the destination, with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. Pedestrian bridges connect both buildings to more than 5,200 rooms and is within a 15-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The convenience of the location goes hand-in-hand with top notch service to help meet an event’s every need. Gold Key Members The OCCC’s Gold Key Members represent the best of the best when it comes to exceptional service and exclusive benefits for clients, exhibitors and guests. The Center’s Gold Key memberships with Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World greatly enhance meeting planner and attendee experiences offering world-renowned venues, immersive experiences and creative resources for their events. OCCC Events: This fiscal year, the OCCC is projected to host 168 events, 1.7 million attendees, and $2.9 billion in economic impact.  The Center’s top five events during their 2022-2023 fiscal year included:  AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships 2023 200,000 Attendees $257 Million in Economic Impact MEGACON 2023 160,000 Attendees $205 Million in Economic Impact Open Championship Series 2023 69,500 Attendees $89 Million in Economic Impact Sunshine Classic 2023 42,000 Attendees $54 Million in Economic Impact Premiere Orlando 2023 42,000 Attendees $108 Million in Economic Impact