True Tales of the Trade Show: Steve Schulte

This month, we are thrilled to introduce our latest blog series, “True Tales of the Trade Show.” This no holds barred series sets out to capture the the dynamic world of trade shows through the eyes of seasoned veterans who have witnessed it firsthand.

In this new series, we delve deep into the heart of the trade show industry, uncovering its triumphs, challenges, and everything in between. From unforgettable anecdotes to invaluable insights, join us on a journey through the highs and lows of the trade show circuit as recounted by the pros who have helped to shape it.

Our inaugural episode starts with Steve Schulte, Echelon’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and a 20-year industry vet. Enjoy!

Interviewer: Steve, how long have you been in the trade show industry?

Steve Schulte: I have been in this industry for 24 years.

Interviewer: Wow. In that 24-year period, what was the craziest thing, or one of the craziest things, you’ve ever had to do for a client on site at a trade show or event?

Steve Schulte: Oh well, there are many crazy stories. One time, we were up against the clock trying to make our show opening. It was at the wire when we learned that all the light fixtures that illuminated the lighted portion of the exhibit had been thrown away. So, we found ourselves dumpster-diving in San Francisco two hours before the show, looking for these lights. And we found them, got them installed with our hair on fire. It was not fun. Wow. Yeah.

Interviewer: Even with the best of planning, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Steve Schulte: You have multiple people doing multiple things. And if a cleanup crew is cleaning the pile and they’re not part of your crew, they’re just throwing whatever is in the aisle into the dumpster and taking that away. They don’t know any different. So that’s not something you plan for—just something you must react to. I mean, if you plan for something like that, then you’re really over-planning.

Interviewer: All right, can you give me an example or examples of some plans that imploded?

Steve Schulte: Oh wow, a lot of it has to do with logistics. Getting something from point A to point B—in particular, bringing in large pieces of equipment from overseas—you know a lot can go wrong. Sometimes those ports don’t open the way you want them to, and things don’t get cleared through customs like you expect them to. And so you’re left sitting on the show floor with no equipment. That’s happened before. Wow. So, you know you can plan months in advance. Knock on wood. And you have things coming in from Italy for certain clients coming in from Mexico. You’re just crossing fingers and hoping that all these shipping channels and weather don’t delay ships crossing the ocean. But it happens more than you know.

Interviewer: I can only imagine. What are some of the tips or tricks of a trade show expert that you could offer to a first-time event planner or marketing manager preparing for a show?

“First off, don’t expect to deal with all the things on your own. If you’re working with the right exhibit companies, they’re going to have people that have way more experience than you do. Lean on them.”

Steve Schulte: First off, don’t expect to deal with all the things on your own. If you’re working with the right exhibit companies, they’re going to have people that have way more experience than you do. Lean on them. Also, don’t be afraid to lean on the installation and dismantle (I&D) crews. They know a lot about the city that they’re in, and that they can get a lot of things done. The most important thing to remember if you’re new to the event business is to make sure that you’re partnering with the right company. Secondly, make sure your goals for the show are well stated, and well-known to your bosses and management. This way you know why you’re going to the show, and you have actual objective/measurable objectives. But as far as the logistics and exhibit design, that stuff that can be left up to the professionals that live and work in that space. You don’t have to be the person in control. There are a lot of people that try to do that, and feel they need to justify their existence by doing all the all the grunt work. That’s not necessary.

Interviewer: Good advice! Four years after a global pandemic, it seems like tradeshow traffic and attendance is higher than ever. What kind of challenges exist in this market?

Steve Schulte: Good question. There are some big ones. From a sales perspective, there is a lot of new competition, but also a lot of new clients and client teams that don’t really have a great understanding of the process. Especially the timing of things. So, things are dragged out a lot. Decisions are made verbally, but they’re not really contracted. In terms of show attendance, it’s higher than ever because people really want to be face-to-face more than ever. It’s just the way it is. You can’t live in your room by yourself for four years and hope to be a better person. You need people around you. That being said, with attendance as high as it is, it underscores the need for really good design to draw people in. We always say you’ve got five seconds to make a make a first impression. In this industry that’s absolutely correct. And maybe even less now to really separate yourself from the crowd. Design matters more than ever!

Interviewer: Absolutely. Given the hundreds, if not thousands of trade show and exhibit design companies operating today, what are you doing to stand out against your competition?

Steve Schulte: We’re really trying to marry opportunity and vision—whether it’s a showroom, media, or exhibit—with the right design. We have amazing designers on staff, as well as great designers that we contract with, depending on the specific job requirements. If it’s a medical device show, we have a designer that we always will go to. If it’s machinery or large format equipment, there’s another designer we like to work with as well. That’s how we’re standing out. As from an organizational standpoint, we’ve learned to run lean and stay in our lane. What we do well, we do really well. We build stuff right, and the end result mirrors what the design looks like. We’re also very nimble and able to move quickly around the red tape. We just really love building cool stuff.

Interviewer: Where’s the most interesting place this job has taken you?

Steve Schulte: Madrid.

Interviewer: What made it interesting?

Steve Schulte: It was my first trade show in Spain. So that was fun. It had a whole host of challenges because we were subcontracting with a company out of Cardiff, Wales, and the client was based out of Paris. But it was such an international effort; that’s got to be the coolest. I was working with some great people, eating great food, and having a very cool cultural experience. I’ll take that anytime!

Interviewer: Awesome. What percentage of dirty to clean jokes do you hear from the I&D professionals on your show sites?

Steve Schulte: 90% dirty from the I&D guys, without a doubt. But they’re all really good guys. You know, blue collar, tough-as-nails guys who really want to get the work done. And they appreciate working with us and we appreciate working with them.

Interviewer: If you had one word to describe the tradeshow industry, what would it be?

“Controlled chaos.”

Steve Schulte: Yeah, it’s not one word. It’s two. “Controlled chaos.” Because anything could blow up at the last second. You really just have to control the chaos around you.

Interviewer: How do you control the chaos within you?

Steve Schulte: Alcohol. [Belly laugh]. Family, friends, and laughter!

Interviewer: Isn’t this the way!

Steve Schulte: Oh yeah, this is always the way.

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