The Booth Beauty Contest

ANAHEIM, Calif. –- OFC2001 -- When you strip away the sideshows, "gimme" caps, and key chains, trade shows are little more than big beauty contests. Sure, there are some deals made here and there, but most promises made at trade shows last only about as long as the breakfast pastries in the press room.

The booths, however, are something to behold. Not only do they provide meeting places (and, sometimes, hiding places), but once in a while they say more about a company than any piece of marketing collateral ever will.

In the spirit of honoring these sacred and absurdly expensive pieces of real estate, we present our top ten list of this year's most ill-conceived booths at OFC 2001. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Agere Systems -- Tall, dark, and somber, this hulking gray-on-black eyesore was the first thing many people saw as they wandered into the Anaheim Convention Center. It was a haunted house where the ghosts were uniformed employees preparing for a disappointing IPO. "It looks like a great big torture chamber," proclaimed one exhibitor at a nearby booth.

  • Gnubi Communications -- For several years in a row, this Addison, Texas-based firm has manned a booth that looked like a garage sale after it had been attacked with paintball guns. This junky and loud contraption tried hard to be artistic, but only by employing painting techniques more commonly favored by vandals. To top it off, the company's staff had their business cards on display, each sporting a job title that harkens back to the dopey heyday of Apple Computer: Meet Dale Rogers, Mambo Ambassador; Stacey "Spiff" Stapleton, Photon Wrangler; Ken Levesque, Cosmic Crusader; and Dale Ernst, Chief Technical Overlord. Like, gag me with a spoon, dude!

  • Opticorp Associates Inc. -- It's not their fault, but the show's organizers placed Opticorp's table right at the entrance to one of the show floor's only women's restrooms. But Opticorp president David Smith was trying to make the best of the situation. "I'm hoping there'll be a line here soon," he said.

  • VisiMax Technologies -- Located just outside one of the men's restrooms was this optical coating company that also tried to put a good face on a foul situation. "Well, the traffic is good," said Dane Clark, VisiMax’s president and CEO. “But the folks that walk by do tend to be in a hurry.”

  • Zaffire Inc. -- In the “been there, done that” category is Zaffire, whose booth featured a Star Trek spoof that enticed conventioneers to join “Captain Z” and “Sprock” as they “boldly go where no metro network has gone before.” One passing wag read the signs and loudly remarked, “Where’s that? To bankruptcy court?”

  • Pirelli SpA -- Another tired trade show routine, as done this year by Pirelli, is for vendors to employ a magician to do card tricks for passersby. Give us a break. If we wanted to see any kind of sleight of hand, we’d go over and talk to Cisco Systems Inc.’s (Nasdaq: CSCO) public relations staff.

  • Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) -- Reflecting a tighter market was Sycamore’s diminutive and hard-to-find booth, located facing a courtyard/lounge area where those walking through the booth aisles couldn’t see it. As in the marketplace, Sycamore’s tiny booth sat in the shadow of Nortel’s gigantic hubris hut. Annoyingly, the Sycamore booth had but one chair among eight people.

  • JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) -- JDSU had one central booth at the show, which got all the traffic, and a couple of nearby booths that probably had been reserved by now-acquired competitors. The satellite booths may as well have had tumbleweeds blowing through them. One forsaken JDSU spot, Booth 2812, was jokingly called “the Siberian subsidiary booth” by one of the uniformed (and lonely) JDSU floor pacers.

  • Profile Inc. -- This tacky booth was three-fourths of the way enclosed by a huge, circular aluminum background that looked like a baseball backstop. Adding to the ambiance was the booth representative who stood there scratching himself in an unbecoming fashion as he watched people gawk at the shiny surroundings. The booth was a grim scene but, as Yogi Berra may have once said, “You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours."

  • Chorum Technologies Inc. -- Actually, Chorum’s booth was OK. It had plenty of comfy chairs and a conference table stocked with snacks. They wound up on this list because of a crucial missing ingredient. We planned to meet with CEO Scott Grout, but were told he “had a scheduling conflict” when we arrived. In a world where everyone wears a cell phone on their hip, it was disconcerting that we had to find that out -- and scrap a list of prepared, penetrating questions -- at the last possible minute. Even in the industry’s most superficial beauty contests, it’s what’s inside the booth that counts most of all.

    -- Phil Harvey, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com
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    stout4555 12/4/2012 | 8:41:50 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest Poor fellow at Profile Inc.
    samTheFish 12/4/2012 | 8:41:50 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest Ok, so when I saw this article I though - great! I'll be able to see some of these goofy booths! No such luck. Instead of having links to all the companies why not have a link to a jpeg of their booth instead?

    This really is a case where a picture is worth a thousand words.
    Telecom_Guy 12/4/2012 | 8:41:48 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest I'm just glad that our company didn't make the bad booth list. First time companies at OFC get the tiny booths. But a large booth means a great product right??? Ha ha ha... whatever!!
    I agree with the Agere being the number one bad booth. Not because of the booth itself exactly, but because of the nasaly-sounding announcer that you absolutely had to hear because they were at the entrance!! Oh I wish they were handing out ear plugs at the Agere booth. Their presentation seemed to me like they were selling snake oil or something. And the only people seated appeared to be Japanese tourists that took a wrong turn somewhere and were obviously lost. I tried to tell them Disneyland is across the street.
    Scott Raynovich 12/4/2012 | 8:41:48 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest I thought the Gnubi booth was interesting. Also like the t-shirt.
    Belzebutt 12/4/2012 | 8:41:48 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest I guess if you want to get an idea of the artistic talent behind Gnuby's booth, one only has to look at their web site:

    It looks like a 5-year-old designed it. You may think they were trying to go for that "look" on purpose, but it really seems like they couldn't do better even if they tried.
    Telecom_Guy 12/4/2012 | 8:41:47 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest Actually I thought their booth was pretty good. I love that graffiti looking stuff. I even told their CEO, Jim Stevens that I thought it looked great. I do realize that a bunch of you "oldies" in telecom don't like other colors besides gray. Let's get with the times here. Your telecom gear in your CO does not have to be color matched. Especially if you old fogies working there need some way to distinguish and identify the nodes. Ok well maybe putting Grand Pooh-Bah or Chief Techno Overlord on business cards is a bit too much. But the colors are a great way to attract people and get them talking. See how much free publicity they got from you guys?? .... and no, I don't work for Gnubi.
    cable_guy 12/4/2012 | 8:41:47 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest Phil, what's up with the Cisco jab? Do you have to go so far out of your way to advertise your bias?
    stuartb 12/4/2012 | 8:41:46 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest For those of you who may be a little slow... the author is referring to the sly maneuver Cisco tried to pull last week w/the GSR test results vs. Juniper. It's a well-deserved jab.
    fatchance 12/4/2012 | 8:41:45 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest The real ugly scenes at OFC weren't the booths but the multi-hours long registration lines, over flowing trash cans, long lines at the restrooms and food lines and a near total lack of places to sit. Many people had to curl up on the floor to rest their tired bodies. And many cell phones did not work in the building, making it tough to stay in touch. Other than that it was a joy to behold so many firms on their way up or on their way down.
    Telecom_Guy 12/4/2012 | 8:41:43 PM
    re: The Booth Beauty Contest Hey, maybe try the one-two punch. Don't let them try to scare you away from your opinions on them ;-)
    I tried to stay away from their booth although I was in the market for a refrigerator and I thought I saw four of them in a nice gray / aluminum shade. They kept telling me about -48Volts and I said, No, my house only has 220Volt AC. :-)
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