She’s on display – Business First of Buffalo

Full-service display co. rolls on

Business First of Buffalo – by Tracey Drury

You won’t ever find Francine Brooks hidden in a back corner at a trade show.

The owner of FB Displays & Designs Inc. knows the ideal spot is somewhere near the center of the venue where most visitors will cross your path more than once. She also knows to select a narrow aisle so visitors will be closer to her exhibit. And if given the option, she’ll select a location on the right side of the hall because most people are right-brained and tour a show from that direction.

Those are some of the tips and tricks that Brooks shares with her clients to help them benefit as best they can from the trade-show experience.

“We know what works at the trade-show environment,” she says.

What’s going on: FB Displays & Designs is a full-service display and graphic design company, specializing in designing and constructing trade-show displays and exhibits.

Who’s who: Francine Brooks, president and CEO; Troy Stover, operations manager; Rebecca Snyder, office manager

History: Brooks started the business in 1994 out of her garage, specializing in portable display units for trade shows and exhibits. She soon realized that many of those clients also needed assistance in actually designing those displays, as well as marketing themselves before and after the shows. The typical customer may not realize how different those requirements are, she says.

By the early 2000s, the company had expanded its services to marketing, including graphic design and branding to give customers continuity in their approach. The reason is simple: Individuals walking through a trade show are bombarded with company names and images, as well as sounds and smells. A simple e-mail after the event might not trigger the same recall response as a postcard with the same logo or image they may have seen on the trade show booth during the show.

Companies that simply reprint their brochures in 36-point type are missing the point, says Brooks.

“More images, more pictures and fewer words,” she says. “Branding is so important. It’s really a reflection on their company and culture.”

Since 1995, the company has operated from offices on Harris Hill Road at Wehrle Drive. In 2007, Brooks expanded the firm into contiguous space at the office park, for a total of 4,000 square feet, growing the showroom and increasing available storage space for the warehousing/logistics side of the business.

Biggest challenge: The Internet has helped FB Displays broaden its scope: A full 25 percent of customers are now located more than 200 miles away. But it’s also presented some challenges as potential customers price shop in a different way. Brooks finds some companies assign an intern or junior associate to search online for the cheapest display, without regard to service levels, quality or consultation.

“We’ve tried to identify who our real customers are and see if they’re just a price shopper,” she says.

FB Displays isn’t about just selling a one-time trade-show booth. Instead, it tries to partner with customers to share ideas, designs and strategies that will help the company with both short-term and long-term needs. Building those kinds of relationships doesn’t often happen with those one-time Internet shoppers, Brooks says.

“You have to be very gracious and professional and smart, but we know there’s no point in discounting for a sale,” she says. “We’re smart in concentrating on our ideal clients, but everyone gets the same service and quality, even if it’s a small, tabletop display.”

Customers: Clients range from the health/medical sector to aerospace engineering, education and banking/finance firms.

Revenues: After a slight dip last year, the company expects revenues to return to the $1 million area for 2010.

What’s new: FB Displays also has shifted its approach from simply portable display units to more modular systems that can be utilized for multiple purposes. These include 20-foot displays that can be scaled down to a 10-foot display, or parts and pieces that can be used in a conference room for seminars or in a lobby/reception area.

That’s especially true during tight economic times, when clients may be reluctant to spend money to attend trade shows and market themselves.

Brooks says it’s times like these that companies can’t afford not to participate in shows.

“They still need to display, but they have to be smart about how they spend their money,” she says.

HR strategies: With a staff of about seven, Brooks knows it’s vital to have a happy, cohesive team. The company offers flex hours, closes early on Fridays in the summer and hosts weekly lunches to encourage open discussion.

She also involves staff in strategic planning about where the company wants to be in six months or a year. Each staff member undergoes a personality profile analysis to identify what works and doesn’t work, and those profiles are shared with other employees so each recognizes the best way to work with the other.

Article from Business First of Buffalo: She’s on display.

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