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.