Few areas of logistics are less tolerant of error than tradeshow support. A late, missing or incomplete exhibit can mean lost sales – and a golden opportunity for competitors to sweep up your accounts.
Even a household name like Xerox Corp., a leader in printing and document-management products, can’t afford to slack off in the tradeshow world. The company exhibited at 130 shows in 2013, and expects to be at the same number this year. That averages out to 2.8 shows a day – and every one is considered crucial.
David Joslin coordinates tradeshow arrangements in the U.S. for multiple units within the massive Xerox organization. The events range from small affairs that require a tabletop with product literature, to huge events that take several weeks to set up, and an entire year to plan.
The level of services provided by Joslin’s team depends on the size of the show and the experience of marketing staff within Xerox. It varies from the shipment of basic materials to booth design and coordination with show producers for the provision of power and other needs. “We’re a service-based organization within Xerox,” Joslin says. “Our focus is to provide clients with whatever they need to start getting customers.”
Xerox works with GXI, an outside tradeshow fulfillment vendor, to support such details as design, fabrication and warehousing. Rounding out the team is Seko Logistics, a third-party provider of logistics, transportation and distribution services.
Seko provides yet another crucial piece of the puzzle: information technology. Prior to engaging the 3PL, which had previously worked with GXI, Xerox was managing the communications side of its tradeshow support manually. It was relying mostly on spreadsheets, as well as multiple websites, to receive and log in client data such as event date, revenue and pricing, as well as physical distribution requirements. As a result, it lacked real-time visibility into its extensive nationwide inventory of booth materials, products, supplies and display media.
“It was awkward to be writing e-mails for every order, and tracking costs back,” says Joslin.
The Instant Expert
Xerox began working with Seko in the spring of 2013 –the same time that Joslin joined the company. “In my first week in the job, I was introduced to the new software that we had developed [with Seko] and were putting in,” he recalls. “Within the next two weeks, I was the primary person working with the software.”
Xerox tapped into Seko’s Event Management and Inventory Management systems. The first acts as repository for key information on shipping, revenue, cost and required materials. Joslin says Seko tailored the applications to meet the specific needs of Xerox, which collaborated with GXI to define the various fields and information to be displayed within the customized Show Folder that mirrors the content of their spreadsheets.
Xerox uses the Seko system to request the appropriate products for a given customer, while GXI adds serial numbers to inbound and outbound shipments that are tied to each tradeshow. A record of the transaction is created in Seko’s Inventory Management System, which automatically updates inventory levels and part locations. As a result, Xerox’s internal customer can view the precise location and schedule for each serialized part in real time, as well as track or trace the progress of each shipment.
Implementing the systems for Xerox was something of a challenge, says Tom Mazdy, chief information officer with Seko. The provider had to build an extension onto its existing application, to coordinate all of the resources and extra communications that are needed to make a tradeshow happen. “The system coordinates not only the logistics package, but also the resources,” he says. “We had to develop that element of it.”
The key was making sure that everyone in the loop – Xerox personnel as well as the company’s logistics and fulfillment providers – is informed instantly about any unanticipated delays. It might be a late shipment, or the need to reschedule because the unloading dock at the site is full – anything that threatens to disrupt the clockwork timing that goes into setting up a complex exhibit.
Tracking and visibility are handled by the portal known as mySEKO. The company communicates with carriers in a variety of formats, including electronic data interchange and collaborative platforms such as those of GT Nexus Inc. and Traxon Technologies. All status messages are delivered to the customer in real time, says Mazdy, with no batch processing or data “scrubbing.”
Seko was no stranger to the tradeshow business when it hooked up with Xerox. Brian Bourke, vice president of marketing, says the company has been supporting shows almost since its inception in 1996. Since then, it has seen the business evolve in sophistication, with exhibits becoming more mobile and collapsible, even as designers grow more creative in their approach. Still, the information that is exchanged among partners is as complex and time-sensitive as ever. And the need for tight coordination of inventory management and delivery remains just as pressing.
Seko’s support for the Xerox tradeshow program doesn’t stop with I.T. The company is largely non-asset-based, says Mazdy, yet maintains a network of locations run by its shareholders. In a number of instances, the offices have their own trucks for local pickup and delivery.
Most of the time, though, Seko turns to a collection of outside carriers, including truckers, airlines and even steamship lines to service the tradeshow sector. For sensitive, high-value equipment such as medical devices or computers, it might rely on a blend of its own fleet and certified carriers that provide “white-glove” treatment.
Joslin says the system has evolved to the point where minimal communication is required among parties for arrangements that go as planned. At the outset of a job, he’s liable to speak to his internal customers to confirm the order. But further discussion with the fulfillment vendor is often unnecessary. The Seko system “provides everything it needs to take action, successfully deliver and bill me for services,” he says.
Joslin describes Seko as “enthusiastically responsive” to Xerox’s tradeshow needs. “In my time,” he adds, “we have not met a challenge that has been transportation-created.”