Red Ball Productions Plies Convention Services Expertise

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The convention and trade show business totaled more than $10 billion in 2006, according to a study cited in the trade magazine Expo.

Red Ball Productions in Springdale is well situated to serve the exhibition, display and convention setup needs of many companies and convention promoters in Northwest Arkansas and beyond.

About half of Red Ball’s business is designing and putting together exhibits and the other half is in setting up pipe and drape, carpeting and displays for conventions and installing large-scale Christmas décor for businesses.

David Higgins, director of operations at Red Ball, is a veteran of the industry. He started the business in 2004, and for several years before that, worked for Taylor Displays, a similar outfit in Springdale that had closed its doors.

At Taylor, Higgins was in charge of orders for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and many of the vendors that serve the mega-retailer. When Taylor closed, Higgins decided it was time to strike out on his own.

The company has worked with and designed exhibits for several Arkansas-based companies, including Silver Joe’s Coffee Co., spa and bath manufacturer Jason International Inc., Therapon Skin Health and Sam’s Club. Veterinary supply company Meridian Animal Health, of Omaha, Neb., is another big client for Red Ball.

Red Ball has also worked with vendor companies, such as Mars-Wrigley, though vendors make up only about 10 percent of the company’s clients. “But we hope to do more,” Higgins said.

Last year, Red Ball brought in more than $700,000 in sales. The company usually handles convention planning for two events a month, designs one or two big exhibits a month and creates scores of smaller signs such as banners and pop-up displays, Higgins said.

The size for larger backdrops can run from 10-by-10 feet to 50-by-50 feet. For a custom exhibit, Red Ball usually charges between $100 per SF to $120 per SF.

Red Ball employs about 10 full-time workers, and brings in more part-time help for bigger trade shows and conventions, Higgins said.

Travel is a big part of working for the Red Ball team. Higgins spends a total of about one week out of every month on the road. If one of his clients has a show in Orlando or Las Vegas and needs the exhibit set up, Red Ball will usually ship the exhibit via freight carrier and then meet up at the destination.

When the client arrives at the show, everything is ready to go. “We set it up so they can walk in, sell their product, and walk away at the end of the day,” he said.

Red Ball stores many of its clients’ exhibits in its 10,000-SF warehouse.

The company also has a truck and has delivered exhibits all over the country. They’ve also set up displays at shows in Mexico and Canada, Higgins said.

Higher fuel prices have put a pinch on the business.

“Freight and gas prices have been affecting us,” Higgins said. “But they don’t seem like they’ve been slowing down the industry as a whole.”

Installing Christmas decorations is another significant segment of Red Ball’s business. The company sets up displays at Northwest Arkansas Mall and the Pinnacle Hills Promenade, as well as several other malls around the country and in Mexico.

That seasonal work keeps the crew busy during the slow time that starts in November. One client even requested that Red Ball come in on Christmas Day to take down the display.

That didn’t happen, Higgins said. But they came in the day after Christmas to remove the decorations.