Looking to save money on a tradeshow exhibit? Of course you are! And chances are, throughout the course of the next year, you’ll have a want or need for something that shows up on our regularly updated pages on our Exhibit Design Search. Whether it’s an Exhibit Special or a Lightning Deal, it might be just what you’re looking for.
These are no “close-out” specials that are collecting dust in the warehouse. Nope, these are regular items – either custom or “off the shelf” – that typically sell for full retail price. But on occasion, we grab some of the items and put them into one or of the categories and drop the price.
For example, you might see a custom hybrid 10×20 exhibit that sells for around $30,000. But if it lands in the Lightning Deal, the price might drop ten percent to around $27,000. A $3,000 savings to your bottom line, just like that. Lightning Deals generally last a couple of weeks, so if you see something that is a great fit, grab it fast!
The Exhibit Specials, on the other hand, are more general savings that span a category, such as a specific style (Gravitee or Segue), or a type (light boxes or EcoSmart inlines). On occasion there might be discounts on discontinued models as well.
Saying all of this, it behooves you to visit these categories and return. That means returning to the Lightning Deals every couple of weeks, and visiting the Exhibit Specials every month or so. Even if you’re not currently looking for a new exhibit, you might find great deals on accessories such as lights, counters, shipping cases and so on.
Let’s face it, when you’re shopping for a custom tradeshow exhibit, the dollar signs can often start spinning so much your head soon follows. Things can get expensive in the tradeshow world, so it makes sense to figure out ways to save money along the way.
Start with the premise that the reason custom tradeshow exhibits
can be expensive for any number of reasons. First, there are a lot of people
involved: designers, account executives, fabricators, detailers, crate builders
and so on. Things are usually hand-crafted in the exhibit world in the sense
that each piece has human hands on it several times. Even if a CNC machine is
programmed to cut metal or wood, a human still has to make it happen. Building an
exhibit is not mass manufacturing. Its individually crafted items designed and
built to look spectacular.
How to keep the costs down? Here are six ways:
Consider starting with a kit. Many exhibit builders offer a number of kits to keep costs lower. With a kit, the design is generally pre-determined. But with a good kit, there are always opportunities to customize the kit. In a sense, you’re creating a hybrid between custom and ‘catalog’ designs. Shop the company’s website for kits that might give you a good starting point.
Know exactly what you want and get nothing more. A custom exhibit is great in that, as part of the design process, you can identify what you need – exactly. If you need just three shelves for product display, don’t go for four or five or six. Those can usually be added later. Need a charging table? There are always low budget options that are not custom but can be custom-branded.
Work with lightweight materials. While there still are many heavy wood-built exhibits that appear at shows – usually for a great reason because it’s part of the brand – more exhibits are moving to lightweight materials such as aluminum frames and fabric graphics. Not only are the materials lighter, which means they ship for less, but fabric graphics fold up and ship in a smaller space.
Rent furniture. If you rent the same thing show after show, it’ll add up and eventually you’ll end up paying more for the furniture than it you owned it. But keep in mind, but owning it, you have to pay to ship it, pay to store it, and pay to replace it. And furniture that you own will get scuffed, nicked and damaged over time. With rental furniture, you get brand new or like-new items, you get to choose from the latest styles, and you don’t have to worry about shipping or storing.
Don’t rush it. By planning ahead for a custom designed and fabricated exhibit, you’re avoiding rush fees, last minute glitches and a calendar that is rushing at you like a runaway train. Once you’ve decided on a new exhibit, sit down with your exhibit provider and work out a realistic timeline so that all parties know what’s expected of them and when.
Preview the exhibit. It’s pretty common to do this, but I have seen occasions where it’s not done, and it’s led to having to make expensive fixes on the show floor or have revised graphics printed at a rush fee and shipped using an expensive overnight service. Previews are generally designed to make sure everything works like it’s supposed to, to make sure all the graphics fit, and nothing is left out. Even if you can’t be there, make sure you have lots of photos of the preview.
Whether you’re looking for a custom exhibit, a modular exhibit from a catalog or something in between, most exhibit houses are willing to discuss your budget and what you can realistically expect to get for your money.
Let’s say your company is looking ahead about six months to a show in March and you’re considering a new custom exhibit for the show. If the show is in the early part of March, you have less than six months before seeing the new exhibit leave the loading docks.
So what has to be done between now and then to ensure that you have the exhibit you want for the price you can pay?
There are many things that have to be done in the next few months to make the process work well. Let’s start with the basic questions:
What size booth space are you going to need?
What is a realistic budget for the exhibit you want?
What company is going to guide you through the process and earn the business?
The first question, about booth size, is already set. Unless you’re upsizing from last year’s show, it’ll be the same as it was.
The budget question is a more difficult question, and there are any number of ways to look at it. First, when you say “realistic,” does that number come from what the accounting department told you? Does it come from a thorough research into what exhibit properties cost all the way through concept, design and fabrication? And does the budget figure include everything, or only the exhibit itself?
Industry Average Pricing
A couple of good places to start would be to understand what the industry, on average, charges for the various items. Do your research and find out what a typical custom exhibit costs. For example, recent figures show that inline construction can average about $1,340 per linear foot, give or take 10-15%. Which means a typical 10×20 custom inline booth will land somewhere close to $26,000 – $28,000. Could be more, could be less, but that’s a good number to start the discussion.
A recent industry average for custom island construction comes in a bit more – around $160 – $180 per square foot. If you’re looking at a 20×20, multiply 20×20 (400 sf) by $160 and you’ll get a rough budget of about $64,000. At least you’ll have a number in mind when you start getting prices back from exhibit houses.
Exhibit Function Needs
Next, look at the other factors that affect price, the pieces you want in the exhibit. What exactly do you need for the exhibit to function well to show off your products and services? Do you need demo stations? A stage for a professional presenter? Sample tables? Meeting spaces? All those will push the final price one way or another.
Choosing an Exhibit Company
The last question – what company you should work with – is a big one. After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of exhibit houses ready, willing and able to do the job. Unless you’re a huge exhibitor (think Microsoft or Nike), you don’t need one of those big exhibit houses. If your company is a small or medium-sized company, going to a big exhibit house has some benefits – and some drawbacks. The benefits are that they are more than capable of handling your job, and they may offer you some very creative designers as part of the mix. The drawbacks might be that if you’re a small client, it’s easy to get lost among all their big clients, which demand a lot of attention. Another drawback is that a larger company has a lot more overhead than a smaller company. They have to pay for a larger space, they have more employees, and so on. It’s a bigger business that they have to keep going.
Smaller exhibit houses also have tradeoffs, but in my experience, the smaller houses – with fewer clients – value those clients like gold and work hard to keep them. They make sure nothing goes wrong, or if something does, they will fix it as quickly as possible. Any business is built on relationships, but with fewer relationships, the importance of each client is paramount. Which would you rather work with? No wrong answers.
Another aspect to consider about which exhibit house to work with: location. Some exhibitors want to be able to stop by and see the progress on a new build. Or once the exhibit has been built, to be able to have the staff nearby to do any repairs or upgrades, or even store the exhibit. But many exhibitors don’t see not having the exhibit house nearby as a negative thing. We do much of our business online and via email and phone that distance is irrelevant. Again, no wrong answers – different people have different needs and priorities.
Timeline from Design to Fabrication
The next question to ask is how long will this take? Hence the title of the blog post.
Again, there are general guidelines, but each exhibit house will have their own schedule and availabilities. Fabrication is often the most straightforward part of the process. In other words, once everything has been decided, there are few surprises. But getting to the final design is what can take time. But it’s time well-spent. The sooner you start the conversation with a 3D exhibit designer, the better off you’ll be.
A good 3D exhibit designer is the key. She’ll know what questions to ask, how to draw out more details of what you want, and finally produce a mockup design for review and revision. This process can take what you might think is a lot of time. Prior to going into the first meeting, make a list of all of the items you need: meeting space, demo space, demo stations, stage, graphic display areas, etc. I’ve had clients bring us 2D “flat” graphic representations of what they wanted in an exhibit and it was a simple matter to convert that to a 3D rendering. I’ve had clients start with nothing, which meant we talked everything through in detail and let the designer take the lead and produce the first rendering, or a couple of options to choose from.
Different sized exhibits take varying amounts of time, as you might imagine. Custom takes longer than something “off the shelf.” If you want something simple, it’s often a matter of picking something from an online catalog, doing a little customizing and getting it in-hand in a month or two, not the five or size months you’d like for a larger custom island exhibit.
But if you’ve got a show on your calendar that’s six months out, no matter what size exhibit you have, if you’re targeting the show for a new one, it’s time to schedule that first conversation!
You have a new tradeshow exhibit. It looked great at the
first show. Congratulations! Now what? Are you going to assume that it’s going
to look the exact same for show 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. An
exhibit, whether stored in a touch wooden crate or a plastic molded rollable
case or series of cases, has to be transported from your warehouse to the show
floor. It makes many stops along the way. Forklifts pick it up, drop it down.
It’s in the way when forklifts with other crates are zooming by on the showroom
floor or the warehouse. Forks from the lift seem to have a knack for piercing
crates and causing damage.
In other words, you have to invest to keep that once-new
exhibit looking as good as new. Estimate vary but expect to invest another 5 – 15%
of the original exhibit cost each year to keep it in good shape. And typically,
it’s a good investment. The expected lifetime of an exhibit is about five
years. By updating (new graphics, additional pieces) and refurbishing (paint,
repairs, etc.), you can extend the life of your exhibit, effectively postponing
a capital investment for a few years.
Most of the time that makes sense, but I’ve seen cases where
the company pushed things much farther than practical. Yes, I’ve seen some
exhibits nearly twenty years old, on their last legs, still standing in an
exhibit hall. They were once proud and new, but now are just old and decrepit,
even with a new coat of paint.
The decision to invest in refurbishment or a new exhibit
often depends on a company’s image. With new materials such as aluminum framed
lightboxes and fabric graphics, not only does a new exhibit give your company a
brand-new look on the show floor, but the reduced weight compared to an old
heavy exhibit makes shipping costs come down.
One of our favorite examples of a company deciding to stick with an iconic exhibit and extend the life is our client, Bob’s Red Mill, out of Portland. With a new 30×30 custom exhibit in 2012, they’ve not only expanded and updated, but they’ve dedicated a handful of their staff to make sure the exhibit is in top shape for every show. They refurbish by doing paint touch-up, modest repairs and more. They’ve even invested in new and refurbished shipping crates to further extend the life of the exhibits.
It’s all about getting the most bang for your tradeshow exhibit bucks, and one of the best ways is to extend the life of your exhibit in a creative and sensible way.
The first time you step into a booth space as an exhibitor
can be a bit daunting. You may be part of a big team. You may be side-kicking
it with just one other person. Or, I suppose, you could be doing it all on your
own as a solopreneur.
Whatever the case, the trepidation is palpable. What if
people think the exhibit is ugly? What if they ask a question I can’t answer?
What if I don’t make any connections or sell anything and it’s a complete bust?
The first time I stood in a booth as an exhibitor after
getting into the industry was in November 2003. I’d been in the industry for
less than two years and was tasked with driving the rental truck with the 10×20
custom booth we’d made at Interpretive Exhibits to Reno and setting up the
exhibit at the National Association for Interpretation annual conference.
It was scary and fun at the same time. I’d never navigated the unloading of a truck like that with all of the exhibit pieces, but with some advice from the shop guys who built it, I managed to get it unloaded and into the hall and get it set up.
The exhibit was a Tiki lounge-inspired exhibit, complete with a big Tiki god with glowing eyeballs, flaming mouth and vapors out of the top, like a volcano. It was designed to show potential clients the creativity our designers and builders could conjure up, and it went over well.
One of our designers flew down and joined me for the two
days of the show.
When it came to actually be interacting with visitors, not
much sticks out. I was still quite a way from figuring out what to do in the
booth, so I tried to smile, answer questions and be a help as much as possible.
Beyond that, not much comes to mind!
But it was my initiation into the world of tradeshow marketing. After I joined the company I’d sold a custom exhibits to local businesses, including Kettle Foods and Nancy’s Yogurt, but still had almost no clue as to what to say to people when I was actually in the booth.
Even with my lack of knowledge of what to do, I did know a
few things. I knew why we were there, and I knew what we wanted to get out of
it. We were exhibiting to connect with government organizations and non-profits
that might eventually be looking for someone to design and build interpretive
Our investment was minimal, and over time we might have
actually gotten some business out of it. Frankly, I don’t remember because it
wasn’t on my radar to track anything like that.
As the years went by and I participated in more shows, and
helped clients do the same, it became clear that even if it’s your first show,
there are a handful of things to keep in mind.
Know why you’re there. What is the goal? Is it to sell
products or services? Is it to generate leads so a sales crew can follow up?
Are you launching a new product?
Why are you there?
Know how to capture data and what data you need. When generating leads, know exactly what information you need. Obviously, you need an individual’s name, company and contact info. Beyond that, what’s important about the follow up: is it a phone meeting, or in person? Do they need you to send information prior to the meeting? When is the meeting and is it scheduled on their calendar?
What’s your role? Every person at a tradeshow is there for a reason. Why are you there? Know your role, whether it’s to assist with other people, hand out samples, or coordinate logistics. A first-timer may not be tasked with a ton of things, but obviously that can change from business to business.
How does the tradeshow fit into the company’s overall marketing strategy? While this may not be critical in the big picture, if the front-line staffers on the show floor have a good understanding of the overall company marketing scheme, knowing how the tradeshow fits in that scheme will help.
You’ll only have one first tradeshow as an exhibitor, no
matter your role. After that, you’re no longer a newbie. But if your first one has
yet to come, go into it knowing that you’ll survive. Heck, you might even learn
a few things and have fun. Once it’s over, take a quick little assessment.
Speak to your manager and ask what they thought. Debrief a little. Take the
feedback and apply it to your next show and voila’, you’re on your way!
3D Exhibit Designer and Graphic Designer Jack Hale sits down to discuss the ins and outs of tradeshow exhibit design and graphic design on this week’s edition of TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee. Take a look:
You have literally a few seconds to catch a tradeshow
attendee’s attention. You’ve been there: walking the show floor, heading across
the hall. You see someone you know; you get distracted, you spill your coffee
on your pants. There’s always something that keeps you from paying attention to
the tradeshow exhibits around you.
Even highway billboards sometimes get more attention than your booth.
Which means that people are ignoring you. Not because you
don’t have something good to offer. Not because you are slacking in the ‘look
at us’ department. But if you’re doing just the average approach to getting
attention, you’ll be, well, average when it comes to having people stop. What
are some of the top ways to get attention?
Do something different. Unexpected. Unusual. I often point to the Kashi island exhibit that’s shown up at Natural Products Expo West in at least a couple of iterations the past few years. It’s simple, and it delivers a simple message. It invites people to stop and find out what it is. The design itself is unusual enough that it stops visitors.
Hire a pro. A professional presenter knows how to stop people in their tracks, entertain them and deliver a powerful message in just a few moments.
Have something for them to do. Interactivity means, if the activity appeals to them (chance to win a prize or get a little mental engagement), they’ll stop. And of course a small crowd draws a bigger crowd.
Ask a great question. Take a tip from our pal Andy, who specializes in teaching this to his clients, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to immediately engage with someone in a positive manner.
Offer a space for people to sit and charge their phones. This usually takes a bigger booth than just a small inline, which means you need a little space to spare. But if you can get random visitors to sit for ten minutes, offer them something valuable: a bottle of water, a chance to view a video about your company or product.
Lots of ways to capture a tradeshow attendee’s attention –
it just takes a little planning and execution and you can be drawing them in.
Yes, we know that your tradeshow exhibit tells a story.
Often, a great exhibit design will capture the brand so accurately that the
design is often all that is needed. But frankly, that’s the exception more than
the rule. But even without an iconic design that broadcasts what your company
is about, your tradeshow exhibit tells a story anyway.
Design: even an average design can be executed well
and tell a big part of your story. But a compelling story can come to life.
Tell the story of how you created the soft drink because your Grandma used to
make something similar when you were a kid. Or how you invented something to
help a friend. Doesn’t really matter, your product or service likely came from
some inspiration. Can you tell the story of that inspiration in a concise way
using graphics and 3D elements?
Graphics: here’s where most of the story is told, and
the weight of this rests on your graphic designer and marketing team that is
communicating the correct message to the designer. Get it right and you’ve done
better than most of your competitors. Get it wrong…?
Craftsmanship: not all exhibits are built from
scratch. Depending on where you purchase your exhibit, it may be something
that’s designed and built from scratch in the USA. Or it may be from an
overseas manufacturer and it came direct from a catalog showing thousands of
similar designs. With an overseas manufacturer involved, you will be
hard-pressed to know the quality of the materials used for the exhibit.
Cleanliness: at least this is something you have
quite a bit of control over during the show. But a clean booth tells a story.
So does a dirty booth.
People: the booth staffers are your front line. Are they
well-trained in how to engage with visitors? How to ask the right questions?
How to politely disengage? How to act in a booth (stay off their phone, don’t
eat, etc.)? Whether you like it or not, visitors will forget a lot of things.
But they’re very likely to remember an unpleasant or below-average encounter
with a booth staffer. Just like they’d probably remember an encounter that
Stories are told with every piece of your marketing and your
prospect’s interaction with your company. What story are your prospects being
told, and what are they remembering? And is that story in line with your goals?