Someone from show management called to say that my booth had been involved in an "accident." A worker had taken a cart for a joy ride through the hall, lost control, and ran into the conference-room wall of my exhibit.
Even when you've got your ducks in a row, your exhibiting program can go to hell in a high-speed handbasket.
That's exactly what happened just hours before the opening of the Fresh Summit Convention & Expo. I'd outdone myself as the marketing manager for the California Avocado Commission with a display that was more eye-catching than ever, until someone almost destroyed it.
The 20-by-30-foot exhibit featured a cooking-presentation area where a celebrity chef would show people the wonders of cooking with avocados and a conference area set off by Plexiglas panels printed with a wraparound graphics image. A storage enclosure behind the conference room contained a kitchen stocked with food and cleaning items as well as literature and tchotchkes. My team and I had worked hard to make sure everything was just right, and as I went to sleep the night before the show, I was feeling proud.
When my phone rang at 7 a.m. the next day, I was in my hotel room getting ready to head to the show. It was someone from show management on the other end, and she sounded serious. "I think you need to get over here," she said. "There's been an accident."
"What kind of accident?" I asked in the calmest tone I could muster. The woman proceeded to tell me that a young worker had seen a motorized cart sitting untended with the keys in it. He decided to hop in and go for a joy ride through the hall. With the wind in his hair and miles of aisles as his makeshift racetrack, the worker lost control and ran squarely into the conference-room wall of my exhibit.
I was dumbstruck for a moment, trying to process what I'd just heard. I thought about screaming, but knew it wouldn't do me any good, so instead I made a beeline for the venue.
When I arrived at the booth, quite a crowd was assembled. They were gawking at a broken panel in my conference-room wall, and the misaligned condition of my whole exhibit, which was seriously off kilter from the sheer force of the impact. Workers from the general services contractor and the show's technology provider were already standing at the booth surveying the damage. The exhibit-hall doors were going to open in just a few hours, and I had a celebrity chef who would be showing up any minute to prep, and I wasn't even sure yet just how badly the structure was screwed up.
The most obvious damage was to one of the curved Plexiglas panels of the conference room, which was completely smashed and lying on the ground. The frame was pushed in more than a foot, and inside the room, chairs were askew from the joyride gone bad. The header sign above the conference room had been torqued so hard that it was sitting crookedly, partly over the storage area instead of the conference room.
And then we opened the door to the storage room. What had been a full kitchen meticulously arranged was now a full disaster. Items had been launched off the shelves into heaps on the floor, and absolutely nothing was where it was supposed to be. It was a nightmare of a mess, so I grabbed my team members who had arrived at the scene and set them to work while I figured out how to fix the rest of the chaos.
As we surveyed the damage, the GSC was apologizing profusely and informed me the show would pay for any damage and that the worker had been fired on the spot. I figured that was lucky for him, because if he'd been standing there, he would have probably had to get a restraining order against me.
The only bright spot of the accident was that when he crashed into the conference room, the driver hit the middle one of three panels on that part of the wall. There was no way to repair it, so we pulled the broken shards of Plexiglas out of the frame and threw them away. It meant my beautiful mural-style graphic of a landscape was interrupted by an opening, but at least the placement of the gap looked symmetrical with the positioning of doors on either end of the wall. But to keep people from using it as an entrance and to restore some semblance of privacy to the space, I took a standing poster-board sign from elsewhere in the exhibit and placed it in the opening. Potted plants that had been sprinkled around our display were relocated to cover the exposed aluminum frame on the floor.
Meanwhile, GSC workers straightened out the frame for the room so that the header sign and walls were back where they were supposed to be. As I stood back and took stock of our Plan B solution, I wasn't happy at all, but I realized that things could have been much worse.
The chef showed up right about the time we were frantically putting the last items away in the storage area, and not long after, the show opened as planned. The tale of the joy ride, however, had made its way through the other exhibitors, and we had a lot of extra traffic past the booth as people came by to see what had happened and how we'd pulled it back together.
Throughout the course of the day, I went from being proud of my exhibit to being proud that my team and I could act swiftly to address what I still think of as one of the biggest freak accidents ever. I don't blame show management or the GSC for what happened, and I appreciate that they were right there for me to help make it right. But in the future, I expect them to keep the keys in their pocket if there are carts sitting around – just in case they get another Mario Andretti wannabe on the work crew.
— Angela Fraser, marketing manager, California Avocado Commission, Irvine, CA