A New Story at GlobalShop

Some exhibitors have changed but some friends reappeared.
Posted March 6, 2012

I just returned from Las Vegas, and GlobalShop. I have been attending GlobalShop since 1994 – its second year, when it was in Chicago and called The Store Fixture Show. I’ve seen it grow, move and change.

This year, I was noting how many familiar faces were missing when I stuck my head inside a booth with a stockade fence and minimal branding to ask, “Who are you guys?” Turns out, “you guys” is something called r3g, the new name of the 60-year-old fixture company Robelan. And sitting there were two long-time industry friends. When I first met them in the mid-90s, Carlo Alessi was designing Robelan’s products as well as some great, award-winning booths. And Rachel Arnold was at the California mannequin house, Greneker.

“r3g” stands for “Robelan, third generation.” And just as before, design and innovation are the company touchstones. But Arnold and Alessi also operate a creative agency called Transit Culture, which designs spaces, products and identity campaigns, taking the sum total of the two designers’ years in this business. Robelan customers get more than fixtures, they get full-dimensional consultation.

This new/old company represents the many ways the industry, and this trade show, have changed.

In the 1990s, fixture manufacturers’ booths were big, expensive demonstrations of what they could do – not only their manufacturing skills, but also their design capabilities.

The booths all looked great. But only after stepping inside and having a conversation and demonstration did you appreciate how a hinge here or a snap there could turn a shelf to a hanging rod, a right angle to a curve, wood veneer to frosted glass. And everything could be customized.

There were fewer fixture booths this year. So many companies have been beaten down by the recession and retail slump, by reverse auctions and bidding wars, by retailers demanding more for less, that they approach their exhibiting much more cautiously. They’re not showing every year. Or their booths are slimmed down. They can still do the same great things, but they don’t want to invest in the huge theatrical presentations to prove it.

They seem to be saying, “You’re here looking for suppliers, and we’re here to meet that need. Come on in, let’s talk, we’ll tell you what we can do.”

And problem-solving is no longer limited to manufacturing or design – nor even to budgets, delivery, installation. These days, companies must show they understand the retail world and the digital world and the expectations and shopping behavior of a whole new generation of customers. That’s what Arnold and Alessi's Transit Culture is about.

There were fewer, smaller booths perhaps this year. But it was good to see that greater depth at work among the fixture companies that were there. It was also good to see a few old friends.