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Trade Shows & Events

Merchandising Tour: Signage is all about the details

Signage is not simply about how big, how high and what’s said. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright looks at the finer details of signs that point consumers into your store or trade show booth.

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Experienced visual merchandisers and trade show booth designers know that for a brand’s message to be communicated seamlessly, all design elements need to work together. Otherwise, the story becomes hopelessly diluted. Standing out amidst visual noise at trade shows like Outdoor Retailer is especially challenging, but certain details can make the difference between a pause at your booth entrance or an endless stream of traffic that never glances your way.

Signage is one such element. And make no mistake, the decision-making process for signage is not simply about how big, how high and what’s said. Beyond the basics of colors, fonts and graphics lay choices about materials — which will line up well with brand story and how they will be processed. Signage and graphic development rarely follow a hard-and-fast, factory-driven process.

Joel Underwood, graphics manager at Oregon’s Greenspace (, said fabric is hot in trade show signage because of its tactile nature and ability to soften hard edges in the environment. Fabric can be a natural complement to the product an exhibitor is selling, and if there is an unusual sheen or translucence to the material, it gets attention.

Jason Beatty, graphics manager at International Graphics and Namplate, said interest in sustainable signage solutions is growing, and that the era of “turn and burn” is over. Beatty, who also works with Greenspace, said, “Greenspace does a great job of challenging us,” when it comes to the materials to be used in signage.

Beatty and Underwood enjoy the process of discovery that naturally follows from printing onto unusual materials. Their collaboration on Outdoor Retailer’s Prana and Keen booths are prime examples.


Prana’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market booth (pictured above) incorporated cardboard cylinders inspired by fabric spools back at the warehouse. Direct printing onto the tubes was impossible, so graphics were wrapped with an adhesive. The image was printed multiple times and then broken up until it wrapped in a way that allowed viewers to see the image from various angles. It took time to get the application right. And application ought to be carefully considered, because costs can add up quickly.

For example, Burton recently used inexpensive plywood for its trade show booth signage (pictured above). The plywood was sandblasted and then painted, which created an unusual look and feel. Eye-catching and creative? Yes! Cheap process? No.

Beatty enjoys the use of distressed metals because of their tactile qualities. Keen’s highway-style signage is another example of how elaborate the signage process can be. Reflective white vinyl was applied to 18 gauge steel, which then was tossed across the Greenspace parking lot a number of times before being run through a UV printer with curable digital inks. Due to the weight of the signs, they had to be given quite the heave-ho.

A creative treatment of simple materials can make the difference between signage that is noticed and visuals that fade into the background. Not to mention the process has the power to inspire individuals like Beatty and Underwood — and in turn, the rest of us.

It’s that time again! If you think your booth might have what it takes to make it to the Best of Booth (BOB) podium next show, please send an email alert before the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to merchandising editor, Robin Enright, at

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright
is the founder of Merchandising Matters,
which provides merchandising support to brands, retailers and their agencies.

Reach her via email at
with questions, ideas and suggestions.