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Q&A: How Boothster Is Redesigning the Exhibit Industry

Images credit: Sustainable Brands

The exhibit industry is one of the most wasteful on the planet. Just take a look at the end of most conferences and trade shows, and you’ll see floors and dumpsters filled with plastics, banners, janky aluminum and other non-sustainable materials. Back in March, the Sustainable Brands team saw a clever, sustainable booth-building system and reached out to the designer, Boothster, to collaborate on sustainable stage designs and booths for SB’18 Vancouver. Since then, the Portland, Oregon-based company hasn’t slowed down in its mission to make the exhibit world greener, one booth at a time.

Main stage design | Click to enlarge

We recently caught up with John-Paull Davidson, founder of Boothster, to learn more about the company’s journey thus far and what’s coming next.

Can you tell us a bit about your background, and what lead you to start Boothster?

I came up in the industry with an acclaimed design company called Mobius and I grew up in a creative, environmentally conscious family. While I loved and was obsessed with design, I hated how wasteful commercial design was. In 2007, I sensed an opportunity to marry my love of the environment with my fascination with design, and formed Boothster.

How have Boothster’s designs or design process evolved over the years?

We are finding even more lightweight materials to integrate into our cool designs such as Ecor, engineered cardboard and stretch fabric walls. Walls are a ubiquitous part of booth designs; you need walls to separate from other booths, to portion out the space for various functionalities. But walls are heavy and can cost a fortune in material handling (from the dock of convention center to the booth) and shipping. We have saved our clients literally thousands of dollars per show by going with stretch fabric walls vs hard wood walls. We also utilize our notched card system, made out of Ecor, for walls for a much smaller ship volume, weight and set-up time; [and can] offer more cost-effective solutions these days by getting creative in design and material sourcing. For example, often we can use buy-out furniture or cabinetry vs custom designing and building it.

The Sustainable Brands lounge | Click to enlarge

You do a lot of custom work and collaborate with freelancers and other companies. Has that influenced how Boothster operates or its approach(es) to design?

For sure. We are very nimble this way. I was doing a project one time in Argentina and I chased down a delivery truck because I saw FSC-certified wood on the truck and had no idea where to buy it there. We ended up collaborating with that wood supplier because they had a CNC cutting machine, not to mention the FSC wood. Our small size and wild creativity are a competitive advantage because we hustle, and can quickly find good working relationships and solutions with the right partners.

Ahead of SB’18 Vancouver in June, SB connected you with Ecor, an innovative biodegradable panel producer based in San Diego. The Ecor and Boothster teams also collaborated with fellow SB co-sponsors Lush Cosmetics on the large and small stages for SB’18 Vancouver. Can you tell us a bit about the outcomes of these collaborations?

The Lush booth | Click to enlarge

Yes! The SB team approached us, having seen the notched card booth system in action at another trade show. They immediately saw potential value by introducing us to Ecor. The Ecor team came to our shop and straight away, we realized there was a lot of potential to work together; we then replaced our old material with Ecor and integrated it into our product offering. So, moving forward, we see great potential in working with Ecor – their material is a key part of our booth building system. We used the notched card in a 20x20 lounge, a small stage and the big stage at Sustainable Brands Vancouver. We even used it in our own “Boothologist” booth. Lush was awesome to work with, [too]: They designed and built these really cool reclaimed wood walls with backlit SB logos. This was more of a one-off solution, however we are hoping to work with Lush again on one of their booths!

John-Paull speaks to attendees at Boothster's booth | Click to enlarge

What’s next for Boothster? Any exciting projects underway that you’d like to share?

We are working with various companies such as Lazurus Naturals, Green Mill and Teadora in the fast-growing cannabis industry. We have to wait until the shows open to show off the booths publicly but can’t wait to do so. We are [also] continuing to grow in the Pet and Natural Products segments, [and] hope to do more in government and world expos, as we have done in the past. 


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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