Inside Outdoor Retailer

The Floorplan… Deliberate Design or Mishmosh?

OK so this is what blogging is for… to shed light on previously taboo or complex topics and engage an audience in a group dialogue, to uncover new ideas and otherwise improve transparency, effectiveness and connectivity within a group.  No other subject is as contentious or crucial to the OR experience than the layout of the show floor.  So… let's have at it, shall we?  Chime in whenever, however, but please be respectful…

The description of how the process works was published in the last OR Daily round (day 3), at Winter Market 2011, and you can check that out here…

Of course being ID'd as the 'chief architect' of the show's layout puts me at the crosshairs of many, on the 'thank you' list for a few, and is somewhat misleading in the end.  The floorplan is a collaborative effort that results from 5 people's work and hundreds of conversations about thousands of iterations with a million possibilities, only one of which can be final if we hope to actually stage the show and not endlessly plan it.  All the 'asks', whether size or location or configuration, must be compiled in advance (in writing, ideally) so that the process rolls smoothly.  Often exhibitors want to have one of those conversations mid-process, which is nearly impossible as each position is highly dependent on the surrounding booth, aisle, and traffic flow requirements.  So one conversation would require 10 or 20 others to reset the context. 

What about show history, doesn't that matter?  As one of the only truly objective measures that an exhibitor can hang their hat on, absolutely Yes it's important.  But it's not the only criteria, when designing a show that truly serves the needs of the retail buyers and media who attend.  We have to assess 'Is this an important new category?' and 'will this exhibitor bring new buyers to the show?' and the mundane 'does it even fit?' when it comes to a rare opening on the show floor.  We ask exhibitors applying for space to provide their dream size/configuration/location info, but also 'what constitutes a double, or a single?' to use the old baseball analogy.  We can rarely hit home runs or grand slams for any one exhibitor.

Ideally a show is organized by buyer category, although the Salt Palace is not a shape or size that gives us that flexibility anymore… so we create business community clusters, like around the PZ (Paddlesports Zone), the EZ (Endurance Sports Zone), and the CZ (Climbing Zone).  Also product category clusters, like Footwear and Supplier Resources (around the DC, Design Center), are in service to the attending buyer, where much relevant product can be touched/seen/experienced in a tight geographic area.   Also further complicating the issue are brands that play in multiple product categories… remember when there were apparel brands, and tent brands, and pack brands? 

One last thing; we feel that deliberate design of a show is critical if one hopes to shape the experience of the attendee.  We do take great care in trying to satisfy every possible request and at the same time never take our eye off of serving the end customer, in our case the Retailer. 

Have your eyes rolled back in your head yet?  Snoring uncontrollably?  OK I'll quit here, but hopefully some dialogue will ensue about the design of the OR shows, sharing of other experiences in show design and layout, and any other floorplan related tips that can help exhibitor and attendee both. 



  1. Great post. As one that works in the healthcare tradeshow industry I exude empathy for the task you own. Designing the floorplan to the masses appeal is not only difficult but nearly impossible. Like you said, you are in the cross-hairs of many and it parallels the old saying "you can't please them all."

    I have attended the Winter OR for the past couple years and thought the floorplan was very good, realizing the Salt Palace layout is rather cozy for an expo your size. (But please keep it in SLC!)

    I would suggest reworking the map and signage to better highlight the various zones you've created. I can't remember completely what you had last winter, but I remember wandering into areas and thinking, "OK, now I'm in footwear."

    I don't know if Freeman or GES or whoever you use would be OK with this but even using color-specific aisle carpet for your zones might be nice.

    Anyway, good work like always and really hoping to be in town this year for the Summer OR.

    SLC, UT

  2. Great Explanation. Truthfully having also exhibited at a large Ski show (not mentioning any names) The OR grid layout is organized and easy to maneuver / understand. The better layout of the floor plan, the easier and more efficient it is for the retailers (our customers / hence yours) to find us. This is why we keep coming back to exhibit. The other show(s) we have done, just seem to make a "hodge podge" of aisles and rows with no continuity of front to back and side to side rows like at OR, thus making it hard to walk the show and find where you need to go on time.

  3. It works ok but anything can be improved. One small suggestion, how about visible booth numbers on the floor next to the carpet of each booth? You end up with those as hit/miss due to what I assume are booth numbers on floor you use for building the show, but perhaps keep those visible. When I'm in a hurry to find something new, and get confused, booth numbers would be a huge help.

    BTW, Have to say I'm starting to wonder how many more leashed dogs will be crowding the already crowded isles before you guys put a damper on that. Or are those dogs buyers? In that case, shut my mouth.

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  5. Interesting post. Ive got the IBS conference in Orlando around the corner and I'm always amazed by the elaborate booth designs. It seems like each year the booths get more and more intricate, but at some point, it's just totally overwhelming and potentially counterproductive (?). Either way, think it's facinating.

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