Labor logistics and the unseen workforce – 12 for 12 audio podcast episode 08

Trends and technology change constantly in the exhibit industry. Yet there is one thing that stays consistent—the need to move lots of material and assemble it in place. We explore the underlying forces that make this happen.

This month we meet with an important facet of the industry known as Installation and Dismantle – I&D being the more common moniker for short. We spoke with Sandra Braun from one of the leading I&D service providers to give us some perspective on what it takes behind the scenes to coordinate labor logistics – sometimes months in advance.

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Episode guide

[00:00 – 01:27] Introduction

Host: Adam Voss

[01:28 – 02:44] Nth Degree

Guest: Sandra Braun
Host: Adam Voss

[02:45 – 05:41] Management Workflow and Scale

Guest: Sandra Braun
Host: Adam Voss

[05:42 – 07:44] Changes in the Industry and Client Relations

Guest: Sandra Braun
Host: Adam Voss

[07:45 – 10:56] Growth and Anecdotes

Guest: Sandra Braun
Host: Adam Voss

[10:57 – 11:48] Closing Thoughts

Host: Adam Voss

Want to know more?

Here are some links related to the research and discussion:
Exhibitor Magazine: 10 Tips for a painless Installation

Echelon Blog: Knowing your Venue

Trade Union Groups on the Chicago scene


Sandra Braun

Sandra joined the Nth Degree team in 1988. She is adept in all aspects of the trade show and event marketing industry from comprehensive trade show labor programs to special projects. She works with exhibit houses, agencies and direct clients. As a National Accounts Director, she works in all industries and on projects of every size.

“Each industry is very different, each city is very different. It’s really beneficial … to make sure we are abiding by the rules and regulations in the cities.”

Show transcript


(Adam Voss) So we’ve all be there before, quickly scrambling in a freshly starched suit to erect a tradeshow booth before the hordes of attendees arrive. Now after every show, after the starch has faded and the rivers of sweat of dried up, I am always completely amazed by the speed in which tradeshows the size of small cities are installed and then dismantled. What is the unseen force that puts all of the parts and pieces together in such a short time? [Music] Hello, and welcome to Echelon’s 12 For 12, a series of 12-minute podcasts created to inform, entertained hopefully inspire creative individuals. As always, this podcast is produced and sponsored by Echelon Design, a world-class team of very cool, creative people dedicated to helping organizations build tangible brands, especially in the exhibit industry. My name is Adam Voss. I’m a comedian, a professional emcee, and a fellow marketing and design geek. And I will be your host for the next 12 minutes. Lucky you.

This past March, I had a chance to sit down with Sandra Braun, National Accounts Director for Nth Degree, and discuss this mysterious step in the process of exhibiting, and why it is so important not only for the exhibit design and marketing organizations but for clients as well. Let’s take a listen. [Music]

Nth degree beginnings

How long have you been with Nth Degree? And can you tell us a little bit about Nth Degree?

(Sandra Braun) I have been with Nth Degree for 27 years. And we started in the industry as an I&D company. And as our clients’ needs started to change, we got more involved in the events. And at that time, we said, okay, we need to change our name. We’re not an I&D company anymore. So we changed to Nth Degree eventually. And from there, now we do more on the events side as well as labor so it’s really changed. Like our clients helped to change who we are just by their needs and us being able to help them grow at different levels. So when the owner at the time, his name was Jack MacInty, started the business, we were the first independent contractor. So he pioneered the industry.

(Adam Voss) Got you.

(Sandra Braun) And so from there a lot of other companies obviously spun out from that. And then, as I mentioned earlier, like we saw a niche in the market place where there’s more than just labor. So our clients are like, “Hey, we’re doing this little event. Could you help us with this?” And then we evolved and to more involved in anything from space and sponsorship sales to users conferences. And now we manage huge events in the United States and outside as well.


(Adam Voss) So in aggregating the labor for these shows and events, I am sure — I mean, you’re an international company, correct?

(Sandra Braun) Absolutely.

(Adam Voss) So I’m sure each event, each show comes with its own unique set of challenges.

(Sandra Braun) Absolutely. Each industry is very different.

(Adam Voss) In each industry, right.

(Sandra Braun) Each city is very different.

(Adam Voss) Right.

(Sandra Braun) And that’s where it’s really beneficial from having our labor team, even if our labor team is not involved in the actual event per se, they have a lot of experience and contacts within the cities that can help our events team and our clients make sure, you know, we’re abiding the rules and regulations in the cities.

(Adam Voss) Right. Right. So given that you have over 5,000 projects, how do you manage the workflow?

(Sandra Braun) Well, it all pretty much starts in our corporate headquarters with, what we call, our war room.

(Adam Voss) Is this an actual room?

(Sandra Braun) It is an actual room.

(Adam Voss) Are there wars —

(Sandra Braun) There’s not —

(Adam Voss) –fought in there?

(Sandra Braun) Well, kind of sort of —

(Adam Voss) Yeah.

(Sandra Braun) –because we’re fighting over people at times.

(Adam Voss) Okay.

(Sandra Braun) That, you know, I want this guy. Somebody else wants the same person.

(Adam Voss) Is the war room octagonal?

(Sandra Braun) No.

(Adam Voss) No, it’s not?

(Sandra Braun) No. Rectangle, kind of boring. But, no. [Laughs] But it basically —

(Adam Voss) Okay. So you get in the war room?

(Sandra Braun) We get in the war room, and it has all our cities mapped out. like on the top, it has all the cities listed out.

(Adam Voss) So Orlando and Las Vegas.

(Sandra Braun) Yes. New Orleans.

(Adam Voss) [Laughs] Right.

(Sandra Braun) Yeah. Like you go in there right now, it’s Chicago, Orlando, Vegas, and then Denver, a little strip or whatever.

(Adam Voss) Yeah. Right.

(Sandra Braun) And it’s a six-week look of all the jobs that we have in our system.

(Adam Voss) Wow.

(Sandra Braun) And so then what happens is like say, let’s take January for an example. January, everybody is right here in Vegas.

(Adam Voss) Sure.

(Sandra Braun) So they have these meetings where it involves Las Vegas calls in. they different floor managers that we’re going to bring in to help support the many shows going on at the same time, they call in. And we map out all the jobs. We find out where the requests are to get the same person in the jobs, yadda-yadda-yadda. And then we figure out how many people we need to bring in. So kind of like we were talking about earlier, we do have to be careful with bringing in out-of-town people into Vegas. They are not supposed to work. And if we bring in out-of-town people when the union is not maxed out —

(Adam Voss) You’ll be found in the desert.

(Sandra Braun) Right, exactly.

(Adam Voss) Yeah. Exactly. And —

(Sandra Braun) And fined on top of it. [Laughs]

(Adam Voss) Yeah, and fined. Yes.

(Sandra Braun) So, but in January, their unions of course always max out so it’s not a problem. So just for instance, in January we had builders and [00:05:09.14] going on at the same time.

(Adam Voss) Wow.

(Sandra Braun) And we had an over 100-person labor call at each show.

(Adam Voss) Wow.

(Sandra Braun) So to that point —

(Adam Voss) Is that, that’s kind of on the large side for…?

(Sandra Braun) That is absolutely on the large side.

(Adam Voss) That’s — I mean, how … that’s a good question then. How large have you gone on a labor call?

(Sandra Braun) Well, back many years —

(Adam Voss) Are we allowed to talk about this? [Laughs]

(Sandra Braun) –many, many years ago — no. I mean, we’ve gotten to the point where we had, you know, like if you want to look like overall, you know, like 500 people working at the same when shows were, you know, like when —

(Adam Voss) I’m just thinking single show, single event.

(Sandra Braun) Right. Well, probably, definitely over 100 to 200.

Changes in the industry and client relations

(Adam Voss) Wow. So in the 27 years that you’ve worked for Nth Degree, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of changes. I mean, the industry must have — I mean, I just think back of September 11, 2001, and how that must have affected the industry, especially trying to put all these pieces together when the map is changing.

(Sandra Braun) Absolutely.

(Adam Voss) Can you talk about that, how that affected your business or…?

(Sandra Braun) Well, just to circle —

(Adam Voss) Yeah.

(Sandra Braun) I mean, I know I’ve been there for a long time, but I just, you know — I know I’m sounding like an old lady over here — but I just remember when we used to have to write out all of our work orders. So any client that would call and place an order with us, we would have to, you know, write out what’s the show name, what’s the city.

(Adam Voss) Right.

(Sandra Braun) All the details. And to think back, how did we do it back then?

(Adam Voss) Right.

(Sandra Braun) And the pagers. You know, like now, you know, you page somebody and they call back. Now digital media has changed our industry so much. We’re now — I know I’m jumping ahead a little bit but —

(Adam Voss) No. I’m thinking the form company that probably published those forms or printed those forms is no longer in existence.

(Sandra Braun) Right. [Laughs]

(Adam Voss) You know? So it’s like–

(Sandra Braun) Exactly. But now, you know, digital media has really changed for us over the years with what our clients’ expectations are because now they want real-time information. So with clients’ schedules being more demanding and them not being able to be out on site for the entire installation process, they still want to feel like they’re involved in, they still want to feel like they’re there.

(Adam Voss) Yeah. So how do you meet that? Do have some sort of like, you know, iPhone or IOS app that you provide them? Or how do you give them that real-time tracking?

(Sandra Braun) So our lead people, our project managers, our city managers now have to [provide] real time. So they’re taking, like depending on the size of the project and what the clients’ expectations are, you know, they’ll take pictures at noon, “Here’s where we’re at this point.” Or they’ll do videos. And to your point, like there’s different things like that that we’re constantly having to do, depending on what our clients’ needs are.

(Adam Voss) Right.

(Sandra Braun) And being able to adapt to that. So not only like our project managers, our lead people, they have to have the resources that they need to be able to do that, and having the right people on the projects to make sure we can make it happen.

Growth and anecdotes

(Adam Voss) Sure. I mean, with this resurgence of, I would say, digital media or digitization, have you seen business increase as well, I mean, demand increase in terms of these different industries? Has it been something that you’ve noticed across industry that you’re getting busier? I know, you know, the recession a few years ago kind of hit the exhibit industry pretty hard.

(Sandra Braun) Right.

(Adam Voss) Things slowed down. There was less emphasis on face-to-face, you know, the media and booths very basic. When I was coming from Accenture, we didn’t really do a lot. We kind of put everything on hold. Are you seeing now with digital that your clients are busier, you’re busier, there’s more work out there?

(Sandra Braun) Definitely. Absolutely.

(Adam Voss) Yeah?

(Sandra Braun) We’ve seen a slow growth. And interesting, we just had a meeting the other day, a company meeting, and we’re — last year, 2014, we slowly trended up, but we’re where we were at after the industry crashed. So it was a slow process but —

(Adam Voss) That’s amazing.

(Sandra Braun) Yeah.

(Adam Voss) Do you have any like anecdotes on the best of or the worst of in terms of like one of the biggest disasters, for instance, that you’ve dealt with and how you dealt with it? You know, in contrast, one of the best jobs that you’ve ever done for a client and why it was so good?

(Sandra Braun) Okay. God, there’s so many. Which one should I pick? [Laughs]

(Adam Voss) Well, I mean, we’re going to open a bottle of wine in about a second.

(Sandra Braun) And then my memory will — no. I remember this was a couple years ago. But we had a client walk in. It was actually in Chicago. And she walks into the booth. We have this beautiful, double-deck booth pretty much done. She walks in. She puts her feet down on the carpet. She’s like, “Hmm. This isn’t cushiony enough for me. We’d like double padding.” Okay, we’re on it. So it’s like things like that. But, you know, our team, you know, we can make that happen because our team knows what it takes to, okay, this is what we need to do.

(Adam Voss) How about the best?

(Sandra Braun) The best. Well, I think, you know, one thing — I don’t know what you guys see but that we see with large projects, they’ve changed a lot with the number of vendors that are involved.

(Adam Voss) Yes.

(Sandra Braun) With the advanced A/V and digital technology.

(Adam Voss) And new media.

(Sandra Braun) Mm-hmm. And new media, which is amazing.

(Adam Voss) Which we’re going to do a show on soon.

(Sandra Braun) Oh, that’s neat. [Laughs]

(Adam Voss) [Laughs]

(Sandra Braun) Not us. But from our perspective, you know, again, our project managers that are in these large projects, it’s different because they have more vendors that they’re helping to manage per se. And so we need to, you know, stay on task with that, making sure that all of us are on the same page with the timelines, the deadlines, staying within budget, making sure we’re hitting those customer milestones because, you know, again it just makes it a little bit more complicated —

(Adam Voss) Sure.

(Sandra Braun) –when there’s more people involved. But in the end when you see this beautiful project come together, like we just completed Intel CES and it was an amazing project. And we were like, “Okay, this is going too smoothly. What’s going to happen?” But, you know, it’s fun to see all those different people come together and make it happen and not too many crazy stories along the way.


Closing thoughts

(Adam Voss) My dear grandmother, Mary Jane Kerrigan, always used to say, “God is in the details.” But even as a bona fide heathen, when it comes to the installation and dismantling logistics of large tradeshows, I completely agree with you, Gran. And when the sweat clears and the anticipation lapses, I hope you do too. That’s our show for today. Thanks to Sandra Braun at Nth Degree for her insightful interview and thank you so much for listening. Join us next time when we’ll be talking about international design and the challenges of cultural translation. For a complete recording of today’s podcast, equivalent dives into other engaging episodes, as well as extras, go to iTunes or listen online at Until next time. Thanks for joining.