Create a Memorable Trade Show Experience

This is a guest post by Madison Resare:

Whether you are new to the trade show biz or you have been around the proverbial trade show block a few times; new ideas for capturing and keeping the attention of passersby are always welcome and sought after. So whether you have heard it all, seen it all, or it is all brand new; you can always learn something new and if you truly have the entrepreneur spirit you will always be on the lookout for new and catchy hook ideas.

So, what’s the new, fun, exciting idea? Simple – create an experience. I don’t mean create something that your audience can look at or takeaway. I mean create an actual experience, something they can see, touch, taste, smell, hear, and takeaway. That is the simple answer, here are some ways you can carry that answer out into realty:

Create an Emotional Connection

According to Maya Angelou, American author and poet, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What does this mean for trade show marketers? Seth Braverman, marketing manager at Xylem Design, said, “The experience for the trade show attendee must be understood chiefly as an emotional experience. The aesthetics and ethos of a brand and a booth all play into this. What the attendee really takes home with them isn’t the knickknacks or the schwag. It’s the emotional connection they make with a brand and a product.”

Help trade show attendees make emotional connections with some of the following ideas:

  • Hand/Scalp/Back Massages

A company that sells lotions, oils, and other personal care items can create an emotional – and physical – connection with trade show attendees by offering free 3-5 minute hand/scalp/back massages. Getting attendees to sit for a few minutes gives you the perfect opportunity to talk about the products you are using and why they are so amazing.

  • Tell a Story

Most people are affected and remember things more clearly when a moment is associated with an emotion. Tell a personal story, talk about how your business got started, and discuss how you moved up in the world. Whatever story you tell, make sure it invokes some kind of emotion for your listeners.

  • Create an Atmosphere

What kind of atmosphere does your business exude? Enhance the experience for trade show attendees by adding things like smells, sounds, and sights that match the overall feeling of your business. – Have a more relaxed business? Use candles, soft music, and calming scents like lavender. – have a more upbeat and modern business? Use sleek and clean displays and include new technology in your booth.

Utilize Media

You should be prepared – before the trade show – by signing up for social media platforms and putting together a marketing plan. You can utilize trade show attendees by inviting them to your booth and offering special giveaways and incentives through social networks. This is a great way for you to get more followers, make connections, and add value to a potential customer. Here are some other ways you can utilize media in your trade show exhibit:

  • Video

Does your company have a ‘welcome to our business’ video? Get a laptop or a T.V. to play this video in your exhibit. Sometimes people prefer to watch the videos and ask questions after it is over instead of walking up and talking to a complete stranger.

  • QR Codes

Use QR codes in the business cards or flyers that you hand out at the trade show and make sure they lead to something of value to a potential customer.

  • Music

Make your exhibit more atmospheric by using background music.

Display Your Products

So how do you create a more interactive experience at a trade show? Braverman answered, “Display your actual products/services as much as possible. People are there in-person to meet the brand and the product in-person. Allowing as fluid an introduction to your product as possible is paramount. For the small role we, as display designers and makers, play in the trade show booth, the focus is on creating a display that gets out of the way of the products. The goal is to quietly communicate the excellence of the product, and this is achieved through proper design, lighting, and high quality construction.” In other words, when a trade show attendee stands in front of your booth and is unable to tell what your products are, or what your company does – you have failed.

Snacks, Drinks, and Contests

You can’t create a true trade show experience without providing something the client can participate in or walk away with. Include things like snacks, drinks, flyers, and contests in order to draw in attendees and to keep them happy.

Madison Resare is a content creator at Xylem Design (xylemdesign.com) who enjoys writing about trade shows, marketing, and social media

Top 8 Ways to Justify The Cost of a New Exhibit

What are the indicators that tell you when it’s time to invest in a new tradeshow exhibit? What does it take to justify the expense, which can often be very large?

Naturally, there’s no single answer that applies across the board. However, if you, as a tradeshow marketing manager, feel it’s time to make a major upgrade, you’re put in a position of having to sell the investment to management. Here are a few things that you might consider in the process.

1. Can you point to tradeshow marketing as a consistent method of bringing in leads? And are you turning those leads into clients? If that’s true, the question may be: why do you need to fix it? Isn’t it already working?

It may indeed be working. But if you’re consistently running into issues such as growth, lack of space, too many visitors in such a small space, it may be that you are in need of a bigger space and hence, a bigger booth. One way to determine this is to track visitors by counting, or by anecdotal evidence from your booth staff.

If tradeshow marketing is a solid and consistent business driver, it’s likely that the people with the purse strings may be sympathetic to the request.

2. Consider the prospect of NOT doing anything. What would happen if you did NOT invest in a new booth? Are you satisfied with holding firm with the current booth property? The questions that come up around this question include how old the current assets are, and how is being perceived by your staff and clients at the show.

Another part of this conundrum is this: what are your most direct competitors doing? If the top three competitors in your market have upgraded and upsized their booth properties in the last two or three years, the perception will be that you’re losing ground to them. And in a competitive market, perception is critical.

VK-3006a

3. Do your research. What are your competitors doing? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from within and without? A simple SWOT analysis can tell you a lot about where you are and where you might go from here.

4. Ask yourself if a new booth is really the answer. What about investing in your booth staff instead or in pre-show marketing and post-show follow up? Support your staff with training and education that allows them to more properly interact on the show floor with attendees by asking the right questions. Maybe a booth isn’t really right yet, but a smaller investment in the staff may yield good results without the larger booth investment, which can then be put off a year or two or three.

5. If a new booth is the answer, spend some time assessing how to understand the investment of capital, what’s involved and when it will be delivered and how it will happen. This will likely mean talking with booth designers and fabricators to get an idea of how much time and money it would cost to develop a design and construct the booth.

6. Once these items are assembled, they should be presented in the context of the life of the booth. Do you plan to use the booth for three, five, or seven years before considering major upgrades? In the case of one client who had committed to a 30×30 island booth in 2012, they had an opportunity to upgrade the space and the booth in 2015 to a 30×40, and decided the investment was worth it.

7. Determine how the new booth will change those who are tasked with the logistics of setting up and dismantling the booth, staffing it for the shows and inviting more clients for one-on-one meetings. In my experience, upgrading to a larger booth will modestly impact the marketing staff, giving them more opportunities to meet more clients and spread the word about the booth. Costs for set-up and dismantle will rise. Shipping costs will rise. Stepping up to a new booth is a major commitment, but it can often be well worth it in the return on that investment.

8. Now it’s time to present the final proposed cost. You’ve assembled a design and fabrication team that is capable. You have a reasonable price range for the project. While the bean-counters will want to justify the case in a hard dollars won vs. dollars spent, in addition to showing how the cost will be justified by the return with new business, detail the ‘soft’ return. These soft reasons to spend the money may include increased business opportunities due to a larger booth, more visibility at the shows, easier and quicker set-up times, perception of being bigger and better than your competitors, better branding opportunities in your booth, and so on. Be as specific as possible. For instance: “our new booth will give us a 300% increase in visible graphic display area to show off our brand and products compared with our current display.”

Use whatever combination of these methods you deem appropriate for your situation. Need help? Give me a call or drop a note and I’ll be glad to chat!

Lifecycle of a Tradeshow Booth

Where are you in your tradeshow booth life cycle? What impact would it be to your company to upgrade at this point vs. waiting another year or two?

The life of a tradeshow booth generally goes something like this:

  1. Realizing your company has outgrown the old booth and making plans for a new one.
  2. Designing a new booth based on current company needs.
  3. Brand new booth and loving it!
  4. Year 1 – 2: It doesn’t exactly fit your needs but you’re still doing fine.
  5. Years 2 – 4: Making small adjustments and liberal use of on-site repairs. You feel like MacGuyver.
  6. Making bigger adjustments and repairs as time goes by. The thing is starting to rival Frankenstein’s monster.
  7. Realizing that you’re about to outgrow the booth in so many ways, like that old bathing suit from when you were a teenager.
  8. Finally putting a budget together for a new booth.
  9. Repeat every 5 – 7 years.

Admittedly, every company and booth experiences the booth lifecycle in its individual way. Some companies want a new booth every couple of years, and others are proud that they’ve used the same booth for nearly twenty years! True! I’ve talked to them!

IMG_9336_2Once the booth crates or cases make it to a floor, they run into hundreds or thousands of other companies trying to setup their booths as well. Forklifts run wild. Ladders fall. Screwdrivers are dropped. Graphics and other pieces don’t fit as advertised and are hammered into place.

You can see why, given the somewhat destructive nature of how a booth ‘lives,’ it’s no surprise anyone that they need constant attention, repair and TLC.

So how can you extend the life of a tradeshow booth and when can you tell it’s time to move to something completely new?

One simple recommendation is to update graphics regularly. Refreshing the look of a booth with re-skinning it with new graphics is an economical and quick way to makeover the booth. The skeleton, or the main structure, of the booth, usually is good for five to seven years. By dressing the skeleton in new clothes regularly, the life cycle of the booth can be extended.

If you purchase a booth that’s designed to be expanded by using modular components, it doesn’t take much to expand that 10’ inline booth to a 20’ or 30’ or even a 20’ x 20’ island. That way you aren’t really buying a new booth, you’re just adding to your existing property. A good exhibit house will discuss these options with you when you first consider a new booth. That way the initial investment is a part of the booth as its given new life.

Maintaining longevity means being flexible. It means being willing and able to adapt to changing needs in your company. If you purchase a 10’ x 30’ booth that can also be setup as a 10’ or 20’ inline, you have the flexibility to attend several different shows with different layouts. If your designer is aware of your long term needs (any good designer will be by asking good questions before starting a design concept), flexibility will be built-in from the very beginning.

Add to that flexibility by adding and subtracting items such as counters, iPad kiosks, workstations and more depending on the needs of a specific show. Change out fabric graphic panels, add wings to the walls or a swoopy thing here and there to draw attention.

Getting the most out of your investment is key to increasing the usability and life cycle of your booth, not to mention increasing the overall ROI of your investment.

Tradeshow marketing takes place in a challenging environment. The more you can plan and prepare for the longevity of your booth, the further you’ll extend the dollars you are investing.

Write More Orders at Trade Shows by Replacing Paper with Digital Technology

This is a guest post by Sarah Leung

Looking at your trade show strategy, you may already be doing a lot of things right: a perfectly designed booth, a well-trained staff, high foot traffic, and the ability to build great rapport with customers and prospects.

You may also be part of the shrinking majority of trade show exhibitors still writing orders on paper. If this is the case, it’s likely that you’re still not getting the most out of your trade shows.

For anyone who’s ever attended a trade show, it quickly becomes apparent that they can be extremely hectic. In a sea of competition, both vendors and buyers are looking to maximize their time on the floor. Customers often have a long list of booths to visit, while exhibitors need to work quickly in order to see as many buyers as possible.

IMG_9359In this environment, the slow, tedious process of writing orders on paper can result in lost business due to queuing, distracted buyers, and smaller orders. More and more wholesale brands are realizing that this inefficiency is hurting business, and that the solution can be found in technology.

Sales order management software, for instance, allows brands to store product information, images, customer details, order history, and sales reports on a mobile device. Orders can be written with just a few taps and swipes, and sales reps see more customers on the trade show floor. Read on to learn how technology can expedite your customer interactions at trade shows and yield big results.

Building the Case For Technology At Trade Shows:

  1. You Aren’t Slowed Down by Product Catalogs and Samples

Any sales rep knows that flipping through a paper catalog and sifting through a pile of samples isn’t the optimal way to sell. It’s a time-consuming process, and it can be overwhelming for the buyer.

Technology can expedite this process in significant ways. Imagine that your entire catalog is available digitally on an iPad and organized in easy-to-navigate categories. You can browse the catalog with just a few swipes, zoom in on high-resolution product images, and add products to an order with a quick tap.

If the customer sees a physical product that they like in your display, you can scan the barcode to add it to the order. Think about how much faster (not to mention cooler) this experience will be for the customer.

  1. You Have Existing Customer Information Readily Available

If you’re writing a lot of business at trade shows with existing customers, having their information available on your digital order-writing interface is invaluable. No one likes to go through the tedium of answering questions like “What’s your shipping address?” and “Can I get your phone number?” for the umpteenth time.

By having access to contact details, shipping and payment preferences, and order history during your face-to-face meeting, you can just pull up their record, check out their past orders and preferred products, and start writing the new order.

If you’re meeting with a new customer or prospect, you can just type in the details, or snap a photo of their business card for later.

  1. You Can Duplicate Past Orders in Seconds

For a customer that simply needs to place a reorder, you can use order management technology to just pull up the past order and duplicate it. You can use the saved time to share new items from your line, and hopefully increase that order size before it’s processed.

  1. You’ll Have Accurate Inventory Information

Accurate, up-to-date inventory information is extremely valuable on the trade show floor. Customers may ask about inventory availability, and calling your back office to confirm quantities before placing an order can slow down the process.

Order management software can give reps access to inventory information in real time. Having a reality check on your inventory numbers can also allow you to sell more strategically. If you’re low on inventory for certain items, you can notify the buyer (and avoid unpleasant surprises later) or simply steer them in a different direction.

  1. You Can Automatically Apply Customer-Specific Discounts

Remembering customer specific pricing can be a major thorn in a sales rep’s side. In the craziness of a busy show, having to remember those details can be a nightmare.

With sales order management software and mobile order writing, vendors can store those customer-specific discounts, so that there’s no need to do anything more than choose products. The correct pricing will be automatically applied. If you’re negotiating with customers in real time, one-time discounts can also be added.

Ultimately, what all of these features add up to is major time savings—for both you and your customers. It’s time that can be used to have more high quality conversations with buyers, and to ultimately increase your return on investment at each and every show you attend.

Author Bio:

Sarah Leung is Content Marketing Specialist at Handshake, where she creates high-impact sales, marketing, and technology-related content for wholesale brands. When she’s not writing, she’s talking with sales reps, sales managers, and other industry professionals to source new topics of interest and further understand how Handshake has helped them increase sales and build their businesses.

Tradeshow Exhibit: Rent or Buy?

It’s an oft-asked question: Should we rent or buy a new display?

Purchasing that brand new booth might bust your budget quickly, especially if you are new to tradeshow marketing and still exploring how best to get involved. Yet renting can save money.

If you’re at the decision stage for a new booth, here are some thoughts that should help you compare buying versus renting.

  • How many times a year do you plan to exhibit?
  • How important is the function of the booth?
  • How important is the ‘look and feel’?
  • Will a rental booth provide you with the custom look you want?
  • What is your realistic budget for the project?

IMG_9477Cost: Most experts agree that if you plan to exhibit multiple times you should lean towards purchasing your display. The rule of thumb is that for each three rentals you’ll have paid for the cost of a new booth. And depending on the booth and the graphics and other elements that need to be customized, it may be that for each two times you rent you’ll have spent the same as purchasing a new booth. So if you plan to exhibit the same booth at least four or more times in a year, purchasing will likely be a better financial choice.

However, money isn’t everything, right? Renting a booth can give you some advantages that purchasing a custom booth won’t. A rental booth is usually less worry. Maybe not completely worry-free, but close, and you usually don’t have to worry about damage done during transit.

Flexibility: Renting a booth can also mean more flexibility, such as waiting longer and closer to the show before major decisions are made. Since you’re choosing a rental from a catalog, even with some customizations, the exhibit house you work with is equipped to handle them within the parameters of the rental structure. A custom booth that you’re purchasing requires more time to design and more thought and input from more people to make it work.

Renting may also work if you want a turnkey approach. If all of the handling, set-up, shipping and assorted details are too much, you can have the exhibit house organize all the details. You just show up and sell.

Renting a booth gives you the opportunity to try out a style before making the purchase. You can test the look and feel, as well as function (storage, meeting space, etc.). And when the show is over, you just ship it back and don’t have to worry about having a place to store it.

Purchasing means a longer-term commitment. Not only are you investing more money, you’re committing to a longer run with the booth, so the design has to fit your brand as well as possible. But the good thing about that is once you’ve made the decision on the look and feel for your booth, the cost-per show drops dramatically vs. the cost of renting at each show when the purchase cost is amortized over the length of ownership. You may also have some tax advantages when using funds to purchase a depreciable capitol asset. To find out for sure if this applies to you, talk to your tax expert as I don’t even play one on the internet!

Want more information? Pick up the phone and call us at 503-507-4110 or drop an email. You can also check out our rental exhibits here.

Is your booth stuck out in ‘left field’?

Earlier this month I attended Natural Products Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center. Yes, it’s a big show with a few thousand exhibitors, and over 70,000 attendees. And it continues to grow.

I spoke with literally a few hundred exhibitors, and almost all of them said the show was ‘great,’ ‘excellent,’ ‘busy’ and so forth. I say ‘almost’ because there were a few exhibitors who felt they weren’t getting all they could or should. One exhibitor said that he felt ‘stuck out in left field of Dodger Stadium!’ and wished his small 10-foot booth could have been in a busier hall.

A very lonely booth?
A very lonely booth?

I get it. As a first or second time exhibitor at a big show, stuck in left field of Dodger Stadium, wondering where the crowd is – that’s a tough place to be.

Is there an answer to this dilemma? Depends. If you’re a first or second time exhibitor who didn’t have much money to spend, you might end up out in left field, away from the madding crowd. So even though attendance at the show was up it might not do much for you.

If you anticipate that you’ll be in this situation, here are the steps I’d suggest you take in order to alleviate a crowd shortage.

Promote, promote, promote.

Pre-show marketing is more important than ever if your booth location will prevent a bulk of the audience from casually running into your booth. This can come in many shapes and sizes (and should), but at the minimum, spend some time letting your current clients know where you are.

Email: If the show offers access to an email list of attendees, think about renting the list for a one-time email blast. If you have an internal list, make sure they know about your booth location and product or service offerings.

Prizes: In your promotional material, offer prizes or free samples to visitors. Consider offering a premium giveaway for the few that respond to a small promotion, or to those targeted distributors or potential clients.

Social media: Whether it’s done internally by one of your staffers, or you hire an agency, keep the chatter going about what’s going on in your booth, and what specials or attractions you have.

In-booth guests: Is there some tie-in with a notable author or other figure in your industry? Perhaps that means an author who’s looking to promote a new book, or a speaker who’s willing to chat and sign autographs in your booth for an hour for a fee.

Unfortunately, many exhibitors that get a poor location come away feeling that the show really didn’t do well for them, even though attendance was up and most exhibitors grabbed a lot of leads. Yet when asked what they did to promote their appearance, they don’t have much of an answer.

Having a poor, less-trafficked location can be a show killer, but it also means that the success falls upon you much more to make the best of it. The audience is there. It’s up to you to let as many of them know as possible.

Expo West 2015: Blisters, Wacky Booth Awards and Show Reflections

After 62,219 steps, a couple of achy legs and a few foot blisters in four days of Expo West, it came to me: “Tradeshows ain’t for wimps!” Certainly not if you’re walking the floor, nor if you’re an exhibitor who’s shepherding a booth (and staff) from the home office location to the show floor, through day(s) of set-up, three days of visitors, then dismantling and shipping it back. Thanks to Fitbit’s tracking device that’s 28.96 miles, give or take…

Tradeshows ain’t for wimps. I know it, and every year I say the same thing: I should have gone into training for this about six weeks ago.

Depending on whom you listen to and believe and what rumors are flying, this year’s Expo West, held at the Anaheim Convention Center, drew around 80,000 visitors, a one-third boost from last year. Or, as one exhibitor confided, a New Hope rep told her that the total attendance (attendees and exhibitors) was north of 110,000 and growth was so substantial that they were looking to demand some more space and concessions from the convention center, or within a few years it could be ‘Sayonara, Anaheim, hello Las Vegas!’

Like I said, rumors.

Flash Drives: @Tradeshowguy Exhibitor Toolkit

The @tradeshowguy Exhibitor Toolkit
The @tradeshowguy Exhibitor Toolkit

My calling card this year wasn’t a card; it was a flashdrive that contained a lotta stuff to help exhibitors.  I took six dozen and they all found a home, except for the one that stayed in the bottom of my backpack. I loved that they were quite well-received by those I offered them to: “You’re showing me how to bring home more leads, get more PR and have a better-trained booth staff? I’ve been waiting for this!” Did you get one? Would you like one? It’s available now online: download your toolkit here.

Social Media

As always, I keep abreast of happenings on the show floor via Twitter, and, increasingly, via Instagram. It’s easy to post photos to either, but from the Instagram platform, you can also post directly to Facebook and Twitter, so that makes it an easy choice to start there. Loads of exhibitors and attendees are hanging out on both platforms, and it’s easy to follow them by tracking the hashtags #expowest and #expowest2015. Hey, I got some freebies this way, and also entered a few contests that I previously would not have run across. (Hey NutraSumma, call me when I win that mountain bike, okay?)

Booth Awards

This year’s show was, as usual, quite the extravaganza. And the booths (and attendees) ranged from ghastly to elegant to stunning. Let’s hand out a few awards, shall we?

Coolest Interactive

While there were certainly a lot of companies looking to find ways to get visitors to interact with their booth, the So Delicious booth found a nice way to get people involved by ‘sharing the love’ with chalk on a large chalkboard at the back of their booth.

 

IMG_9611

IMG_9614

Most Unsubtle Header

Boomchickapop decided to go all in. I can hear the discussion now: “Hey, let’s take the name of the product, make it as big as possible and add a lot of PINK! Whaddaya say, gang?” Well, it works. It gets you to stop, take a look and see what they’re all about.

IMG_9477

Most Iconic Cut-Outs

A year or two ago, the new Pope was featured in a cut-out. I didn’t see him this year, but I did see Will Ferrell, The Queen of England and Dr. Thayer. I probably missed some others.

IMG_9451

IMG_9631

Big Ass Colorful Graphic

Natrol’s booth sat up front at the entrance to the hall, and to grab people’s attention, they installed a graphic that must have measured about 8’ x 30’. Big. Colorful. And not the only one. The booth had big ass graphics on all sides, so you couldn’t miss ‘em.

IMG_9634

IMG_9632

Biggest Coconuts

A large pair of coconuts on the back wall of Zico’s booth caught my eye and drew me in for a taste of chilled juice blend.

IMG_9638

Biggest Boobs

A tough battle between Bamboobies (the girls with the pink hair) and the giant walking boobs of milkmakers, who were promoting their product with the hashtag #hoorayforboobies, and I think the boobs from milkmakers won out.

IMG_9443

IMG_9538

Best Stairway to Heaven (or at least the second floor)

Nature’s Path showed up with a clever booth that showed a layered look from the floor to the 16 foot level, including a stairway up the middle to a private meeting area.

IMG_9352

Busiest Graphic Backwall

Not always a good award to win because people don’t often stop to read the whole damn thing; nonetheless, this one from Powercrunch was arresting.

IMG_9639

Best Iconic Brand Knockoff

While Beyond Meat will never be mistaken for McDonald’s, they did work hard to pull the look and feel of Mickey D’s into their booth to show how their meatless product compares. Nicely done!

IMG_9653

Most Elegant Look

Simplicity and function are their own reward. This was accomplished by the designers of the new booth for Portland’s Pacifica.

IMG_9486

I look forward to Expo West every year; this was my 13th consecutive year at the Anaheim gathering. It’s had astonishing growth in that time (and it was big back then!), and it appears to be anticipating even more growth in the next half-decade. The Natural Products Industry has done well of late with healthy and intriguing products, dramatic competition and an increasing market for those products.

Our company, Communication One Exhibits, has about a dozen current and former clients at Expo West this year, and we’d love to add more. Want a booth for your next show? Click here. We love making you look good, whether it’s at Expo West or any other show.

SWOT Analysis for Tradeshows

If you’ve been attending and exhibiting at tradeshows over the years, no doubt you’ve had many chances to examine what went right and what didn’t. What brought in leads and what didn’t. What opportunities were open and those that weren’t?

But unless you’ve been trained in marketing, or spent a lot time reading about marketing and the analysis of it, you may not have ever done a SWOT analysis.

What’s A SWOT analysis? The SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

A through SWOT analysis will look at internal and external factors, but even a short examination of those areas will likely gather information that you’ll find useful. For your next tradeshow, ask yourself a few questions about each area.

What are your strengths? Do you have a solid brand? Are your products received well? Does your tradeshow booth show off your brand accurately?

Weaknesses: do you have staff members that may not be the right person to represent the company on the show floor? Are your competitors showing up year after year at the show with larger booths trying to squeeze you out?

Opportunities: What areas of new business or new areas can tradeshows assist with? Do you see certain competitors downsizing or vanishing completely from the show floor? Do you find that your products are getting better reviews or responses from potential users?

Threats: Higher labor costs to set up the show. Higher shipping costs. A competitor that is launching a new competing product right across the aisle from you – and yours is still at least a year away.

Take a notepad, draw a line across the middle from top to bottom, and one from left to right and label them: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Weaknesses. Start writing down things that come to you. Go over it with your team and management to see if they can identify more for each area.

Some pieces that might fall in any of the quadrants include global markets, new products and services, the cost of money, reduced labor costs, higher exhibit costs, rising costs of raw materials or labor, government regulations, tax changes, etc.

Such an exercise can bring to light a number of things that you might not have been aware of as you prepare for another chaotic appearance at the next big show. And it might not even prompt any immediate changes. But hey, if you think about all of the various items that you wrote down and let it marinate while working the show booth and walking the floor, you will probably find yourself in a position of more understanding of the process, your competitors and how much you can control the outcome of each show. By adding to your knowledge of your own company’s business, the broader business environment, your competitors and other internal and external factors, you will be much more prepared for each coming new show.

“Why Do Exhibits Cost So Much?”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard the comment, whether directly or implied.

“Why do exhibits cost so much?”

That question comes up with potential new clients who are in a growing company and want to make a big splash at their next show, so they’re looking at getting a new custom booth.

It also comes up with companies that have been hand-crafting their booths for years, but are ready to have a better look with their brand, along with well-planned and executed storage, meeting, product display and demo areas in the booth.

But when they’re told the price of those potential exhibits, that question lingers: Why do they cost so much? At least that’s their impression. But it is true? Do exhibits really cost a lot?

It’s not a hard conclusion to come to, especially if you’re not familiar with average costs in the exhibit industry. After all, when you learn that companies can spend a quarter of a million dollars on a custom 40 x 40 tradeshow booth, you think, “I could build a heckuva house for that money and it would last a hundred years!” That exhibit might last five years, or seven or ten, depending on the company’s needs and budget and other factors. And if it does, that company has certainly gotten their money out of their investment.

031314 SEG 10x10_cAnd make no mistake; a new tradeshow booth is an investment. But with a custom booth (and even with more modular ‘off-the-shelf’ booths) a lot of different people have their hands in the creation. Just like that 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with a double garage that requires a general contractor, architect, electrician, plumber, roofer, etc., an exhibit needs a booth designer, graphic designer, production/fabrication team, marketing team and a project manager to guide the project from start to finish.

Costs add up, and typically the biggest cost is labor. Things don’t just happen by themselves. Graphics don’t magically appear; designs don’t hop out of bunny holes. Everyone on the project gets paid. It’s a good bet that when you hire that team, you get access to expertise that adds up to dozens if not hundreds of years of combined experience in design, fabrication, project management and production.

But still, you say: a 10-foot inline exhibit that can cost anywhere from five or ten to twenty thousand dollars brand new? How is that possible?

As you go through the process, you’ll be looking at custom materials, printing, design and the labor to put it all together. And chances are in the US you are hiring domestic talent, which will be higher priced than importing a pre-built exhibit from overseas that you found on the internet. Of course, you could buy a lower-cost version of the same exhibit and save ten, twenty, thirty percent or more. But what happens when something breaks down on that imported booth and you need to replace a part? It’s probably much easier to call up your exhibit house or rep and ask than it is to track down a manufacturer in China or South Korea. So now where does that savings apply? You spent less on the exhibit, but you have a short warranty (or none) and a difficult process to take care of the repair or replacement.

What if you simply can’t spend that kind of money on an exhibit? Then what? You do have several options, such as putting up a low-cost, high-impact graphic back wall, or renting an exhibit at one-third to one-half the cost of purchasing a new custom booth. Or you get creative with a minimalist approach in the space and make something else happen there that attracts visitors and generates leads.

New exhibitors looking to buy should take a look at industry averages, which will help prepare you when you go shopping. For instance, according to the Exhibit Designers & Producers Association 2012 survey, custom exhibit costs average $138 – $154.50 per square foot. So that brand new custom 30×30 booth (900 square feet) will run in the neighborhood of $124,200 – $139,050. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a 30×30 for under a hundred grand. Or course you can. It means communicating your needs and budget clearly to your exhibit house, and letting them use their experience and expertise to bring you a cool booth for your budget.

Finally, your exhibit needs to be designed and fabrication so that it can be dismantled and packed into custom-jigged crates for shipping and protection. Your house usually doesn’t need that!

All of those items – design, fabrication, graphic design and production, crating and the rest of the ball of wax – means that yes, your exhibit can end up costing “a lot.” But if you are prepared you can budget for that great exhibit and get it when you can afford it. If you need something sooner, work with an exhibit house and a limited budget to get what you need and make it fit your budget. Or invest in pieces over time so that those upgrades happen more gradually.

In any case, the more prepared you are with valid and realistic pricing information and a decent budget, the better your exhibit and the better your tradeshow marketing experience.