Cardboard, Glue, and Patience
The trade show circuit is a bizarre thing. For an obscene amount of money we get a tiny cube of space to occupy for three days. Our crew spends way too much time behind laptops and suddenly we are on our feet and putting on a show.
We actually put a whole lot of energy into these shows. The idea being, if we are going to do it, then let’s really do it. For our first year we basically built a small house. The display weighed over a ton and we moved it around with a rented U-Haul truck. Crazy. More on that HERE
When figuring out how to make our trade show booth, how to build a diorama of Quinn Popcorn, my goal has two parts. First, I want to do something so cool that people bring their co-workers by because they want to share it. That’s a little over the top, but we are there to put on a show. The second goal is to make sure that those people are walking away with all the right assumptions about who we are. We shouldn’t have to tell them, the setting should infer everything.
Homemade can do both of these things. Typical, trade show fare is printed vinyl banners and fold out furniture. Something made by hand stands in stark contrast. Beyond the pop, making it ourselves goes a long way toward projecting who we are.
Our newest booth started with a few sketches. We had been geeking out over some wonderful papercraft projects (here’s one) and, through a few conversations and sketches, that morphed into the idea for an all cardboard booth.
Then things got really geeky. The booth was modeled in CAD so that we could play around with scale and arrangements. More importantly, this gave a rough sense of whether or not the final product would be as cool as it seemed in our heads. Once we were done adjusting and arranging, the 3D model was used to create patterns for the cardboard cutting. Then, it was time to build.
Up to this point in my life I had used roughly 3 small bottles of Elmer’s Glue, all before the age of 9, some of it eaten. This gallon was empty before the booth was finished. Progress?
The challenge of making a structurally sound cardboard couch was appealing, but in the end a skeleton made from custom laser cut plywood was the safer route. We really didn’t want to see anyone crunch through the furniture in the middle of the show.
For strength and visual heft, the cardboard was laminated three layers thick by hand. This is where that gallon of Elmer’s went…
The partially laminated cardboard was then wrapped around the wood frame and the finishing caps and other cardboard features were added. For this to work, every bend had to be accounted for in the pattern. For example, on a 3 bend piece the outer lamination had to be cut 5/8″ longer than the inner piece.
The couch and stools shared the same basic skeleton and assembly method. The three ply cardboard was all that was needed for the TV, bars, and coffee table.
We wanted to share our new Farm-to-Bag supply chain using the cardboard TV. That meant that the cardboard TV had to be designed around the dimensions of a LCD TV and a little cooling had to be added, because, you know, cardboard and heat don’t mix.
At this point the build photos stop, and scale of this thing become apparent. It seemed like such a simple, light, quick way to build out a booth. On a part per part basis that was right, but there was just so much to build. (Couch, chair, coffee table, working TV, 8 foot bar, 4 foot bar, three stools, working lamps, fireplace, appliance silhouettes, signage, and a deer head) We had three days, and it turned out that didn’t really leave time for sleep. After a final stretch of 36 straight hours I loaded the crated up booth onto a truck, snapped a pic of my hands, and then went to bed.
The crate arrived in California a day before the show and rebuilding the booth took all the time available. A highlight was when the show organizer told us that the fire marshal “might not like all that cardboard”. It took all I had to suppress the looming panic attack. The marshal did come by, stop, look, and ask “is this your booth?” I answered meekly and she suggested that I fire proof the cardboard next year…and then said, “it’s pretty cool”.
Looking back, our booth was perfect and a total disaster. The hope was to make something a little easier to build and lug around than the house we built last time. The build just about killed us, and shipping cardboard without damaging it is seriously complicated. So, that part of it didn’t go so well.
Everything else was dead on. The booth was different and fun enough make people stop in their tracks and pull their buddy over to check it out. More importantly, it had a look and feel that was unmistakably Quinn Popcorn.