Thursday, December 14, 2017


I was recently wrapping up a meeting with Joe Matillaro, one of our transportation and logistics partners from Superior Logistics. We were going over an upcoming, tight show schedule for a client to ensure we had enough time between events for advance warehouse delivery.

“I just want to remind you that ELDs are here, as of December 18,” Joe said.

“ELDs?” I was a bit puzzled. “What are they?”

Joe went on to explain that Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) are coming to the trucking industry. “They are mandatory and will have a big effect on trade show shipping.”

Sure enough, effective December 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that all long distance truck drivers replace the old method of paper logs with electronic devices that will log driver time based on engine running time. ELDs will effectively catch commercial drivers who ignore federal hours-of-service rules.

Joe explained that a driver can only haul for 11 hours, and then must take a 10 hour break. That’s been the rule for many years, but it’s widely violated by drivers using hand-written logbooks. “Where this will have major impact,” he said, “is that wait time will now be included in the drive time.”

“Trade shows are uniquely positioned to be impacted because of the fundamental lack of understanding about transportation transit and driving time by our industry,” Joe continued. “We are kind of the least sexy part of the show, so people understand the least about us.  We are a necessary evil in some people's minds, rather than a value added component.”

Joe also thinks it may drive some firms out of the industry, simply because they will not want to mess with the wait times and the loss of driver hours. “Drivers enjoy being paid for wait time, but where they make their money is turning miles,” he said.  “If we experience a driver shortage, even greater than currently exists, the drivers will have even more leverage to demand increased dollars for show moves, raising trucking prices in our sector.”

The plus side is that ELDs will save lives, according to Lane Kidd, Managing Director of the Trucking Alliance, a coalition of freight and logistics companies that supports various safety and security reforms. “Trucking companies and their drivers have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the general public. A motorist should be assured that the truck driver operating that semi within a few feet of his car is properly rested, drug- and alcohol-free, well-trained, and complying with the law,” Kidd said.

So what does it really mean for our customers who use long distance carriers to move their properties in and out of trade shows?

There are a number of considerations:

-Choosing a transportation partner, that understands the nuances of trade show transit, is more important than ever to ensure your properties arrive safely and on time.

-Plan ahead and try to use the advance warehouse shipping destination as an option. Ben Franklin wasn’t kidding, time really is money!

-Weight and size are also money. Opt for lighter-weight materials on your builds, like the newer, thinner aluminum extrusion and foldable, rollable fabric graphics.

-Understand the new mandate and how it effects shipments of more than 500 miles. If you ever experienced a shipment magically arriving at a distant location in a relatively short period of time, with ELDs and wait times, maybe not so much in the future.

One of the aspects I really like about our industry, is you really do learn something new each day. It’s usually something that helps us bring added value to what we do for our customers, either by sharing and educating, or, as was the case with learning about ELDs and wait times, something to anticipate in the planning process.

 Plus he brought donuts.

Thanks Joe.

Steve Moskal

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A WALK IN THE WOODS (does a body and mind good)

For the Japanese culture, Shinrin-yoku, walking or staying in forests in order to promote health, is a major form of relaxation.

Studies have shown that practicing Shinrin-yoku can ease feelings of hostility or depression, and may even help decrease the risk of psychological stress-related diseases.

My wife Shelley is an environmental educator with The Conservation Foundation in DuPage County, Illinois. The Foundation owns 250 acres in Ottawa, Illinois called Dayton Bluffs Preserve. The Preserve features a recently created prairie as well as wooded bluffs, overlooking the Fox River.

We recently hiked trails at Dayton Bluffs and at Starved Rock State Park, outside Utica, Illinois. For those who think Illinois is just a flat piece of farmland, you need to visit this area in the north-central part of the state. The canyons, bluffs and river valleys are beautiful no matter what the season. The area was home to Native Americans for thousands of years, and has European roots going back to the the French fur traders and the voyage of Marquette and Joliet in the late 1600s.

So we spent a few days “walking in the woods”, doing a little Shinrin-yoku of our own. The late fall weather was just above freezing and wet at times. There was a mixture of rain and light snow, and while most of the maples, oaks and walnuts had fallen (leaves not the actual trees), enough leaves were left on branches to create a canopy of silence when in the canyons and lower reaches of the forests.

We left on a Saturday morning and by midday Sunday, I was wet and beat but armed with a fresh sense of purpose, creativity and energy. It was a short, but much needed, one day break from the past few months of long days, hectic show schedules and quick-turn due dates.

Now I’m ready for those end-of-year builds, “got to have it on Tuesday” projects and planning for 2018. Bring it on. I am refreshed by Shinrin-yoku and am ready for anything that comes my way.

Some advice to all of my exhibit industry friends, whether on the customer or client-partner side: take the time for a little Shinrin-yoku. I guarantee it will help lower your stress level, clear your mind and help with general wellness.

At least until your first move-in date on January 2nd....

Steve Moskal

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


If you ascribe to the notion that moving every seven years helps alleviate “stuff” accumulated during that time, then I have accomplished that task three times over, especially with our most recent move.

And boy, did we find, and get rid of, a lot of “stuff”.

Buried in a box of books, I even found something that was worth keeping. It was a copy of A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger Von Oech. The yellowed paperback had seen better times since it was given to me more than 25 years ago.

A Kick in the Seat of the Pants is still a relevant guide to help boost your creativity. The author identifies four primary roles involved in the creative process: explorer, artist, judge and warrior.

If it‘s not at your local library or bookstore (if you can find one), it’s available on Amazon or any number of other sites. It’s not a long or difficult read, but definitely worth the price of a six-pack of your favorite craft beer.

One of the recommended creativity exercises is to explore different routes to and from your place of work. If you work at home, maybe try a different route to Starbucks or wherever you buy the $12 six-pack of Goofball IPA.

Prairie is a bricks and mortar business, and with my recent move, I have lots of potential new routes at my disposal for both coming and going. The Waze app has helped me avoid traffic, but it has also helped me explore places that were literally right around the corner, but I never knew existed.

So far, I have found a new bike shop, lawn mower repair place and an ATM for my bank. There are also a few pizza places that look interesting. They’ll definitely get a pick up call from me the next time Shelley heads out of town.

Has my creativity been boosted? It’s hard to say, but at the very least I am more aware of new surroundings, instead of sleepwalking the same roads taken for so many years. I’ve been forced to change a patterned routine, making my brain work harder and hopefully keeping those neurons firing.

So maybe it’s time to start looking at something you’ve been doing the same for years, and look at it another way.

Has your trade show program been stuck in the doldrums? Are you using the same graphic message from two logo revisions ago? Are you renting the same boring tables and chairs, just because it’s easy to do and inside everyone’s comfort zone?

I know, budgets are tight, but a lot has changed. New dye sublimation fabric graphic options can mean smaller crates/containers and lighter weight. With the ever-increasing costs for shipping and material handling, sending in smaller and lighter weight display properties is a good start to reining in those costs. It’s time to, you know, get a little creative. Explore a different route.

Maybe it’s just time for a kick in the seat of the pants. There’s nothing more satisfying than finding a new “go-to” pizza place.

Steve Moskal

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


No one ever plans to get into a car accident. You also never know where and when you will need the advice and sage knowledge of an expert.

In almost 40 years of driving, I am fortunate to have been involved in only a few minor bumper taps. None involved an injury more significant than being shaken up a bit. This is a true blessing considering all the miles I’ve driven as a salesperson in the Midwest, covering Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan for many years.

My wife Shelley was not so lucky the other day. She had a front-end collision with a panel van while merging onto the interstate not too far from Prairie’s offices. The cars ahead of her stopped abruptly. She couldn’t stop in time, resulting in a crushed front bumper and engine compartment. The car was inoperable, but she and the other drivers were fine.

Shelley called me, and after the police left, we transferred the contents of her car to my car while we waited for the tow truck. Within a few minutes, a flat bed from Tom’s Towing pulled up. A very large man in a grease-stained yellow safety vest hopped out of the truck, landed with a bit of a wobble and introduced himself. His name was Lamar.

“Don’t worry,” he said in a muffled voice, “I know I’m a big guy, but I don’t bite.” We laughed (a little nervously). “Let’s get you off this road.”

Shelley left in my car and within minutes Lamar had the car up on the bed of the truck. I climbed in the passenger side and asked him to drop the car off at the parking lot of my office, while I waited for the insurance company instructions.

“Why you gonna do that?,” he asked. “Who’s your insurance?” I told him. “Naw, naw. You ain’t need to do that.” He shook his head as he used his diesel horn to get into the middle lane. “Lamar’s been towing metal for over 30 years. I know ‘em. You take it where you want. They’ll come there.” He said I would probably be charged for the tow if the car was towed to my office, and then to the body shop.

“Don’t want to pay for that, do you? That’s why you got the insurance.”

I agreed. He seemed to know what he was doing and I didn’t really want to tell him he was wrong. I asked him to take the car to the body shop just a few doors from our warehouse in the business park.

Since I had not been in an accident like this before, I was a bit unsure what to do, but Lamar knew the drill. He also took an exit that I had never considered, made a few unfamiliar turns and beat the early rush hour traffic. Before I knew it, we were at the body shop.

“Go on in and tell them we’re here. I know where to put the car.”

Lamar could not have been more correct. I spoke with the insurance company and they assured me they would take it from there. The rental car was even arranged.

“C’mon,” Lamar waved. “I’ll drop you off. It’s on my way.”

Lamar - big, greasy-vested tow truck driver.  My new best friend.

During our 10 minute drive, he went on to tell me how he knew that stretch of interstate well and towed at least 2-3 cars a week out of the same area. “You know what they need to do?” He proceeded to tell me how the lanes should be reconfigured and 50 feet of ramp added.

“You need to head down to the state capital and tell the Department of Transportation,” I said.

“You think they listen to me?” he laughed as we bumped up and down in the truck. Well, they definitely should I thought. Lawmakers don’t experience what Lamar does.

We reached the rental car company and I thanked Lamar for his help and advice.

“Been doing this too long not to know what to do. Just trying to help out.” Lamar pulled away with a jerk of the gear and a blast of his diesel horn.

As we head into the fall show season, whether you’re a seasoned trade show and event professional, or new to the industry, accidents happen, even on the most familiar of routes. Do you know all the rules, regulations, shortcuts and nuances involved to implement a successful trade show program?

If you need advice, look to the professionals for help navigating through the process. From trade show account managers with years of experience (like Prairie), to logistics specialists and EACs, they are your true advocates on the show floor.

Just as Lamar was for me on the busy expressway. “Don’t want to pay for that, do you?”

(Nervous laughter.)

Steve Moskal

Monday, June 19, 2017


b:if cond='data:blog.url == ""'> Can anyone think of a for profit or non-profit entity that operates as a true monopoly?

You remember the word monopoly from your economics class that you struggled to stay awake in, don’t you? A monopoly occurs when a company or group has exclusive control over a commodity or service. Yes, Monopoly is also a great board game. There is no sweeter feeling than sending three of your closest friends into Hasbro bankruptcy.

Unless an organization exists in a vacuum, they do not have a monopoly. If you do not have a monopoly, then you have competitors. Competitors looking to sell their product or service to your customers and prospects, and competing for dollars spent.

You probably see your competitors at many trade shows throughout the year. They’re lurking right around the corner, looking to reacquaint themselves with existing customers and to meet and build rapport with new prospects.

Wait...isn’t that why you are there too?

Of course it is.

So how is your visual presentation compared to theirs? Do they have an attention-grabbing 20’ backlit wall and a charging station for power-depleted phones, keeping attendees in their booth for long stays? Are you standing next to an aging banner stand and a wrinkled table throw wondering where all the foot traffic is going?

Maybe it’s the other way around. You’re looking like a million bucks while they simply showed up and rented a table and some chairs. The black and white printed exhibitor name card hanging on the pipe and drape is acting as their calling card.

In either case, we know that first impressions are important. What first impression do attendees have of your organization? Are you a gleaming oasis in a desert of ill-equipped exhibitors, or are you one step above looking like a flea market stall?

Pretty brutal statements to make, I know. But I’ve been to shows and seen all of it. Remember, you have just three seconds to get the attendee’s attention. At that point, you can start to engage. Is your display attention-getting? If not, it’s time for a change or at least an update.

If your competitor, two aisles over, has “got game” and you’re passing out mints in a bowl, it might be time to move off Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues and up to at least Pennsylvania, and maybe even Boardwalk. 

It does cost a bit more, but you have a much better chance of winning the game.

Steve Moskal

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


If you spend any time researching the planning and execution of a successful trade show program, you’ll discover no shortage of material on the subject. Publications like Exhibitor Magazine, Exhibit City News and Trade Show Executive are great sources, along with the EDPA. There are countless social media pages and blogs devoted to industry best practices.

Much of what I find seems to be information that’s recycled and republished. Even so, most is good, sound advice based on statistical evidence and experience. Many of these sources have been useful in putting together some of my writing.

What is interesting though, even with all this available information, supported by statistics or industry veterans on both sides of the trade show fence, every day you still see behavior contrary to accepted advice.

Recently I had a phone call with two other industry veterans - a supplier partner and a trade show planning professional. We came up with 10 basic pieces of advice based on years of experience, including mistakes, incorrect assumptions and yes, even some successes.

We agreed those new to the industry or unfamiliar with all the moving parts, believe they can “beat the system”, or “have figured out a better way”. Usually it’s under the guise of cutting costs associated with their program. Our consensus was those efforts usually are penny-wise and pound-foolish, or yield such small returns they’re not worth the effort.

Here are what we called the “Basic 10”:

1. If you’re shipping anything that fits in a crate or can be wrapped on a skid, use a dedicated trade show logistics/shipping provider. Experience is key here.

2. For 10’ x 20’ or larger display properties that require tools or are more complex to set up than a pop-up display, partner with an EAC to supervise, install and dismantle your display. They will be your advocate on the show floor.

3. Have pre-show and post-show plans for gathering and following up leads. Fail to plan is a plan to fail.

4. The more you know about material handling and the associated costs, the more you have an opportunity to reduce those costs. What properties and materials do you need? What don’t you need? When is the best time for your materials to arrive?

5. Does your monitor have a special function that’s required for your audio-visual presentation? If not, renting from the show AV provider really does make sense in the long run. It seems expensive initially, but so is taking an Uber to the local Best Buy or Walmart to replace the shipped monitor that arrived broken.

6. The same is true with carpet. If you’re using carpet for your flooring and it’s not dyed your Pantone color, doesn’t have your logo embedded in it or extends the message from your backwall, just rent from the general contractor. See #4 about material handling. And yes, get the thicker padding.

7. Make sure you or someone else has inspected the display properties before the show/event, to ensure all is ready to go and in good working order. Carpet tape and paper clips might be a solution, but neither are pretty.

8. Your backwall and graphics are meant to get attention, get people to pause and stop at your booth. It is the booth staff’s responsibility to qualify, present and sell your product or service. A lot of text in your graphic and clutter in the booth space is more likely to confuse than engage the attendee.

9. If you have clear, long-term marketing goals, purchase properties that meet specific needs, but are also adaptable. Find a trade show supplier/partner who understands this.

10. Renting makes sense for short-term goals, niche events or limited use. Rentals are great, but they have a specific use.

There you have it. The “Basic 10”. Volumes have been written about each point, and there are many more you could add to the list. My colleagues and I felt these were a good start, based on hard facts, the simple realities of the trade show world and years of experience doing the same thing over and over again.

You can agree or disagree with any of the “Basic 10”, but if you’ve “found a better way”, please share. The trade show world is waiting.

Steve Moskal

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


“Excuse me. Do you work here?”

“Me?” I pointed to myself. I had to juggle the 12-pack of soda and jar of peanut butter I was holding. My shopping trips involve very basic needs.

“Do you know where the Saran Wrap is?”

I checked to see if I was wearing a blue polo shirt with a store logo and a name tag. Nope.

“I don’t work here, but I’m sure we can find it together,” I said.

I had this conversation with a woman in our local Jewel food store. I actually did know where the Saran Wrap was located, so I guided her to the correct aisle. We met up again in the check-out line and had a laugh. She thanked me for being such a nice “young man” and we went our separate ways.

Walking to the car, I felt happy that I was able to help. What a nice way to start the day. After all, I can’t remember when I was last called a “young man”.

While going through a bookshelf at home recently, I found a small pad of paper where I jotted down some notes. The book was titled “Managing the Professional Service Firm”. I wrote that there are three benefits a client is looking for: experience, expertise and efficiency. From the condition of the paper and the legibility of the writing, I must have read this book 20 years ago.

These benefits were exactly what the woman in the Jewel was looking for. She needed Saran Wrap but instead of walking around the store for a half hour, she sought someone with experience (lucky me) who had the expertise to guide her efficiently through the shopping experience.

At Prairie, we get phone calls and emails every day from clients and prospective clients, looking for answers to questions. It might be a question regarding a specific product or service or a more general inquiry about what might work in their unique situation. Many times, we cannot help, but it’s always nice to know we are considered a knowledgeable resource.

Our goal at Prairie is to be as helpful as we can, even if we don’t have the solution or answer.

I like to think we demonstrate a high level of experience. After almost 25 years, we’ve managed thousands of projects, including new properties and updates, graphics, property storage and event program management. We put the expertise gained from our experiences to work every day, whether it’s how to pack or ship certain properties, or which graphic process makes the most sense for a specific application.

And finally, we try to be as efficient as possible. Efficiency means clients receive their project or answers as quickly as possible. Efficiency also means keeping costs down, allowing us to provide fair and competitive pricing to our clients.

It may sound like I’m boasting a bit, but I am very proud of everyone here at Prairie and how we strive to provide experience, expertise and efficiency in all that we do.

And if we can’t help you out, we will always try to point you in the right direction. I also know what aisle the cat food is in.

Steve Moskal