Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

Custom tradeshow booth

Nine Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Custom Tradeshow Exhibit

It’s a big commitment, investing in a custom tradeshow exhibit. Maybe not as much as getting married or buying a new house, but it’s more than deciding who should accompany you to the prom. It’s a big deal – buying a new custom exhibit. If you haven’t been through the process before, or in a while, it’s not a bad idea to review the steps.

What are the pros and cons of the decision? What about budget, logistics, staff preparation and more? They’ll all be impacted by the purchase of a custom tradeshow exhibit.

Some of the pros and cons to weigh before choosing between purchasing a custom tradeshow exhibit or a more standard, modular or manufactured exhibit.

  1. Uniqueness: A custom tradeshow exhibit means that your company will have a unique, one-of-a-kind presentation. No one else will look like (if the designer does his job!). Your designer starts with a blank slate and before doing anything on the slate they should ask a lot of questions. They should ask so many that you may wish they’d stop! But it’s all good – it means they care about creating an exhibit that you really want; one that works well for your company from many aspects: the look and feel, the branding, and the functionality.
  2. Flexibility: A custom exhibit can be designed and fabricated form the outset to accommodate a variety of needs and intended uses. For instance, if you have an exhibit schedule that demands you exhibit in a 10×20 space in one show, a 10×20 space in another show, and a 20×20 in yet another show, your exhibit components can be designed to work in all three configurations.
    Custom Tradeshow Exhibit
  3. Pride of Ownership: A custom exhibit will give you those intangibles: pride of ownership, unique corporate identity and a feeling that can’t be beat, from the CEO to the front-line staffers!
  4. Other Options: Of course, you have options other than custom, especially when it comes to smaller exhibits, such as 10×10 or 10×20 inline exhibits. There is pop-up, modular, flat-panel, fabric panels, fabric back-lit walls, monitor inset options and more. There are custom hybrids that take elements of modular designs and add unique twists that help you stand out – maybe for less money than designing and fabricating a custom exhibit from scratch.
  5. Logistics: Drayage, Shipping and Installation & Dismantle: It seems that nothing can torpedo your tradeshow marketing budget faster than logistics. Shipping, show drayage and the costs to install and dismantle your exhibit are often seen as nothing short of highway robbery. But in the tradeshow world, it’s a cost of playing the game. So, what can you do from the design and fabrication standpoint to keep these costs as low as possible? Using lightweight materials such as fabric graphics and aluminum framing can help. Knowing how to set up your own small exhibit can help you avoid having to pay an I&D company, but there are tradeoffs. You’re either paying your own crew for their time, or you’re paying the pros.
  6. Custom Look, Function and Branding: The main reason to consider a custom exhibit is that, after all is said and done, you want a booth that looks like no other. If your company handcrafts potato chips, for example, uses biodiesel fuel, donates to charitable causes, mitigates wetlands on the site of a new factory, works a staying green by invoking heavy use of solar energy, you have a solid idea of how you want your exhibit to reflect those values as part of your brand.
  7. Design/Fabrication: One question that pops up on occasion: is it important to have the same company that designs your booth fabricate it? Not necessarily. But having the design and the fabrication shop right next door means communication is smoother and more efficient. Some independent designers will gladly create a custom design that is guaranteed to wow your audience. But many may not have as much experience designing using specific materials that an exhibit house typically uses. They may also not have as much experience at knowing how much things cost. Having an exhibit project manager in close communication with the designer can help keep the design within budget.
  8. Pricing: Budget is often the key element of a new exhibit project, and creating a custom exhibit will often drive the cost higher than picking something that’s more “off the shelf.” Those standard-issue exhibits will, in most cases, cost less than a similarly sized custom exhibit. But that doesn’t mean your custom exhibit has to cost an arm and a leg. Taking time to go through the process carefully helps rein in those costs. Know what your needs are, communicate those needs to your exhibit house, and make sure they are aware of your budget. Confirm all steps of the design and reviews, all the way through to fabrication.
  9. Learning Curve: Many companies that step up from a small modular booth to a custom booth will go through a few growing pains. It’s not uncommon. They’re spending more money, they’re having to deal with higher shipping costs, I&D, and their staff now has a larger space to deal with. But ultimately, every company I’ve worked with that has gone through the process unanimously report it was well worth it. Partners, clients, prospects, and even competitors see them as bigger players in the industry. Higher respect and recognition are your due.

There is a tremendous benefit to your company when your tradeshow marketing moves to a significantly higher level. Tradeshow marketing is by far one of the most cost-effective, highly targeted methods of reaching your potential customers and maintaining strong relations with your current clients.


Schmidt’s Naturals Up for Exhibitor Portable/Modular Award

A year ago, our new client Schmidt’s Naturals debuted a new custom 10×20 at the Natural Products Expo West. It was a custom exhibit designed by Classic Exhibits‘ designer Kim DiStefano. The design was submitted to Exhibitor Magazine’s annual Portable/Modular Awards, which honor design excellence in portable, modular and system exhibits. Here’s what it looked like on the floor of Expo West:

Exhibitor Portable Modular Award Entrant

A couple of years ago, one of our clients, SoYoung, was a winner in the competition. We’re glad that Schmidt’s Naturals got the nomination and we wish them the best when the winners are announced in late winter at ExhibitorLIVE!

We’d like to invite you to see all of the entrants in the Exhibitor Portable/Modular Awards take a look here and vote your favorite. And remember, you can vote once per day until the competition closes.

5 Great Rental Exhibits that Look Custom

One of the ongoing debates I’ve heard since I joined the exhibit industry in early 2002 was this: which is better: a rental exhibit or an exhibit that you purchase to own?

There’s no right answer. Your situation may warrant one or the other. The other part of the debate I always heard is that once you rent two or three times, you have paid the full purchase price. That’s not always true, but it’s a good starting point.

One of our clients is based in Manhattan. They exhibit twice a year, often back to back. They don’t have room for storing the exhibit at their location. They don’t always have the same size exhibit, bouncing from a ten-foot exhibit to a twenty-foot inline. So renting makes perfect sense for them.

Other clients prefer the total customization that they couldn’t get from a rental exhibit. Buying makes sense to them. They can still change out graphics whenever they want, and they have the flexibility to use different versions of the booth in different situations without having to buy more parts.

And other clients use a combination of a purchased exhibit and rental pieces, such as renting a branded charging table and furniture to go with their purchased exhibit.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the rentals that TradeshowGuy Exhibits offers that can be customized depending on your needs.

First things first. Recently we’ve added some options to our Exhibit Design Search that shows you which exhibits can be either purchased or rented. Just browse any segment and look for the small checkmark and RENT icon in the upper left corner.

For example, this 10’ inline exhibit, the VK-1971, offers back lit fabric graphics. It also comes in 20’ versions.

VK-1971 10' inline rent or purchase
VK-1971 10′ inline rent or purchase

Moving up to a 20’ inline you’ll find the ECO-2012-C | EcoFly which is also available as a rental or an outright purchase. Tension fabric graphics, frosted accent wings, standoff counters and more.

ECO-2012-C EcoFLy
ECO-2012-C EcoFLy

Heading up a little more to a 20×20 island exhibit, the ECO-4022 | Hybrid S Island works as either a rental or purchase option. Big tension fabric graphics, literature racks, monitor mounts, and yes, that big high graphic blaring out your brand.

ECO-4022 Hybrid S Island
ECO-4022 Hybrid S Island

At number 4, our Gravitee “no tools no kidding” exhibit gives you that RE-2051 | Gravitee Inline. Large format tension fabric or direct print graphics. Full size closet and a simple spare look. And easy to set up and take down.

RE-2051 Gravitee Inline
RE-2051 Gravitee Inline

And since 10×20 rentals are very popular, let’s look at one more: the RE-2059 Hybrid Inline. Loads of great things in this for small gatherings: closet with locking door, reception counter, iPad clamshell, metal brochure holders, large tension fabric graphics and more.

RE-2059 Hybrid Inline
RE-2059 Hybrid Inline

It used to be that rental exhibits were not the kind you’d want to show off much, but just get one to save some money and make an appearance. No more. Rentals have really come into their own.

3 Extraordinarily Useful Tradeshow Marketing Exhibitor Magazine Articles

Yes, it can be said without fear of being wrong that you will find useful tradeshow marketing articles in Exhibitor. That’s their thing. But in browsing their site this week, I found three which I believe go a little above and beyond because of what you can DO by reading them.

tradeshow marketing

Let’s take a look:

How to Measure the Value of Tradeshow Marketing. Complete with downloadable worksheets, this one takes you through the steps to figure out what’s really going on with your tradeshow marketing efforts and all of that money you commit to it each year.

Taking the Lead. Collecting leads that are worthy of a challenge in and of itself. When you have to convert those leads to sales, that’s when the rubber meets the road so to speak. This article walks you through the steps on grading leads, setting goals, figuring out what questions to ask visitors and more.

Four Factors that Affect Graphic Costs. It seems that graphic design and production is often the item that doesn’t get checked until it’s too late. And lateness (among other things) can affect your cost dramatically. Check out these factors to help keep your costs in line.

A lot of exhibitors wouldn’t do nearly as well as they do without Exhibitor Magazine – often called the bible of the industry. Always good stuff there.

What the Heck Are Tradeshow Logistics?

Do you fret and worry about tradeshow logistics to the point of even wondering what they are and what you might be missing?

Let’s go over some basics, as much to refresh my memory as yours.

Tradeshow logistics generally refers to the actions it takes to get things and people to and from the tradeshow:

Shipping: exhibit properties, products, and samples

I&D: setting up and dismantling the exhibit on the show site

tradeshow logistics

Travel: making sure that people who are attending the show have flights, hotels, and transportation scheduled.

SHIPPING: Advice from the pros: plan ahead on as much as possible. Ship to the advanced warehouse to save money. Get all the paperwork done ahead of time. Label everything clearly. Don’t leave anything to chance: schedule the shipment ahead of time and call ahead the day before to confirm the pickup.

At the show, get all your paperwork in order, including the MHA (material handling agreement), work with the show services folks to make sure you have everything properly labeled and communicate pickup times to your freight company to avoid “forced freight” which will cost you an arm and a leg, for starters.

I&D: Installation and Dismantle: frankly, it all begins with the design. Properly designed, a tradeshow booth will minimize show labor onsite during installation and dismantle. Your exhibit should be designed to be as show-ready as possible. Sometimes that means shipping a counter fully assembled.

If you’ve hired an I&D team for your exhibit, be a part. Arrive early to supervise and monitor so that if any questions come up you can either answer them or pull out your phone where your exhibit house is undoubtedly on speed-dial.

If you are setting up a simple inline booth that pulls out of a rolling shipping case, chances are you won’t need to hire show labor. If you think that’s the case, make sure you know how long it will take to set it up ahead of time, and how many people you think it will take.

TRAVEL: here the only real question is: do you want each attendee that you’re taking to schedule their own travel, hotel, and transportation, or is someone doing it for all of them and then passing on the travel arrangements? In any event, I’ve found that if you’re booking hotels through the show site it’s better to do it earlier. In some popular shows, the good/cheap/close hotel rooms go very quickly. I’ve also had good luck booking through Airbnb. I try to book those several months ahead of time. As for travel, it’s been said – and I’m no expert – that booking your flight about six weeks out is the best. It seems to work for me.

10 Questions to Ponder on Whether to Stay With – Or Leave – Your Exhibit House

It’s a common question: should you stay with your current exhibit house or move on to a new one? Naturally, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. So, let’s go over some of the situations where the question might arise.

  1. How long have you been with your exhibit house? While the length of association isn’t a critical factor, it’s often one of the items that people look at first. If you’ve been using the same company for a decade, you may start to wonder if you’re being taken for granted. Which takes us to the next question:
  2. Are you being taken for granted? As a longtime salesperson and project manager working with clients in the exhibit world, it’s easy to slip into the ‘take it for granted’ mode. You think that once you have a client, they’ll always be there. After all, loyalty works both ways, right? No. It doesn’t.
  3. Is their creativity limited? Even though you’ve been working with the same vendor for years, do they have enough creativity to help you as you expand? This gets to the next question:
    change exhibit house
  4. Are you outgrowing your own exhibit house? You may work for a company that is growing by leaps and bounds. If your current exhibit provider only offers standard kits or modular exhibit properties and you’re ready for a custom-design-and-build, maybe it is time to move along.
  5. Is there a change in your management? Often, changes in vendors come about because someone new in management has made the decision, or given heavy influence, to using a vendor that he or she has worked with in the past. It could be because they have a good working relationship, or they’re good friends with someone at the other exhibit house. In any event, changes in key positions at a company can lead to changes in vendors.
  6. Are you shopping around? Often, changes come because a new, large project is in the offing and the marketing team wants to have a handful of exhibit houses compete for the job, so a Request for Proposal or RFP is released to a few select companies. May the best company win!
  7. How successful has your overall exhibiting program been – and how crucial to that success has your current vendor been? I’ve seen some clients I’ve worked with grow significantly during my association with them. Our part – design and fabrication of the booth – may be a small part of their tradeshow marketing program, but it’s a key element. And since it works well, from their point of view, there’s no reason to change. Why fix what isn’t broken?
  8. Do you get along with all the key players? No matter what you’re buying or contracting for, if the project or ongoing business association demands a lot of interaction, it’s critical that everybody has a good working relationship. If not, things get uncomfortable quick. Getting along with someone and having good communication when issues arise means more than almost anything else.
  9. Does your current exhibit house struggle to fill your needs? Are they a good fit? This may be one of those ‘you can’t see it because it’s behind the scenes’ situations, but if you sense that the vendor is stretched thin to meet your needs, they may not be a good fit. For example, at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, there’s no way we could handle a NIKE. It’d just be too much for us, even though having the contract would be a feather in our cap. You know, something to brag about to Mom. Our ‘wheelhouse,’ if we have one, is designing and fabricating smaller exhibits, from 10x10s to small islands, along with coordination of logistics when desired. Your exhibit house should know their capabilities and tell you if what you’re looking for isn’t a good fit for them.
  10. Finally, when it comes to fit, are you lost in the crowd? Smaller exhibitors may work with large exhibit houses, but in some cases, your small 10×10 project may be such a small project for a company that is used to building those large custom islands, that your teeny-tiny inline exhibit is not all that important to them. And if your project doesn’t feel important, you don’t feel important to them.

There’s no definitive answer to the question of when you should leave your current exhibit vendor. If you’ve been with your current vendor, it may take a significant change in your needs or changes in key positions to get to that point. In any event, there are hundreds of exhibit providers ready to assist you if you’re ready to make a change.

How to Explain a Damn Good Tradeshow Exhibit to Your Mom

Well, first off, if it was my mom, I probably wouldn’t use the word ‘damn,’ but hey – there you are. My mom turns 90 (!) next June, has no interest in tradeshow marketing or tradeshow exhibits, but she has read and enjoyed my book Tradeshow Success. So maybe there’s a wee bit of interest. Still, she probably doesn’t really know what goes into a damn good tradeshow exhibit, so it’s a fun exercise.

good tradeshow exhibit
Mom and Dad on the trail, 1978. Photo by Nils Johan-Mauritz

“First, Mom, look at the overall impression the exhibit gives you.” The booth is big like an island, small (10×10) or medium. Doesn’t matter, it’s going to give you an impression. And as my mother used to say (ha!), you don’t get a chance to make a second impression. What does the exhibit say to you? Is it welcoming? Does it communicate any specific messages with the images and graphics? If there’s  a hanging sign, you should be able to identify the company from a couple of hundred feet away.

“Now, Mom, look at the exhibit a little closer. Are the graphics sharp? Can you read them from 30 feet away? If they’re sampling items, it is clear that the displays are samples that you can take with you, or not?” When a visitor approaches a booth staffer should greet them, or there should be some intuitive understanding of what you are able to do. If there’s a sample of your products, is it easy to understand that you can take one, or if not, is there a sign that says “for display only”? Do you have an immediate understanding of the type of company they are, what products they offer, and how they want visitors to see them in their industry?

“Okay, Mom, do the booth staffers look like they know what they’re doing? Do they have a smile? Are they on their phone? Are they paying attention to passersby?” Well-trained booth staffers know how to greet people with good questions, offer a smile, and are not doing something that is off-putting such as staring into their phone or eating. They know how to quality and disqualify visitors with a couple of questions.

“Mom, look around: is the booth clean? Are there personal items stashed out of site or are they leaning up against some element of the exhibit?” A well-designed booth will have ample storage room for personal items and products or other things needed throughout the show by the staffers. It’ll be clean, garbage cans won’t be overflowing. Yes, at the end of a busy day, it may be impossible to have a spic and span exhibit, but an attentive staffer can take a few moments during a lull to run a carpet cleaner over the floor and hoist the garbage into a nearby garbage can.

“Finally, Mom, let’s pretend we’re interested in their products and see what happens.” At this point, a good staffer will start the lead generation process, whatever it is. They’ll scan a badge, collect a business card, ask a few questions that determine the level of interest, and finally, they’ll agree on a follow-up step with the potential client. It could be an email, could be a phone call, could be a personal visit, could be sending them something in the mail. And you’ll both agree when that step will take place.

If Mom – who has no knowledge or interest in tradeshow marketing, but is sharp as a tack – can understand these things and see that damn good tradeshow exhibit from many aspects, you’ve accomplished a lot.

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Tradeshow Exhibit RFPs

Should you put out a tradeshow exhibit RFP or not? What’s the upside? What’s the downside? It might be worth a few moments to go over the pros and cons of putting out a tradeshow exhibit RFP. Okay, this may not be the Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Tradeshow Exhibit RFPS but it’s a start.

Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Tradeshow Exhibit RFPs

If you’re seriously considering putting out a tradeshow exhibit RFP, it must mean that you need a new tradeshow exhibit. Really need one. Not just wish you had one, or think it might be time soon. No, you really need one. Otherwise, don’t waste people’s time. Exhibit houses are busy places, and responding to an RFP takes an investment of more time and money. In fact, according to a recent Exhibitor Magazine article, exhibit houses say they respond to only 6.5 out of 10 RFPs they receive, on average. And over 10% of RFPs are put out only because company protocols dictate it.

So where to start?

Determine the following items: budget, exhibit size, flexibility (can smaller pieces be set up as a smaller version, for example?), target date, functional needs. You should already have branding issues down along with any color schemes or brand protocols you want your designer to use in a mockup. Speaking of mockups, do you want your RFP competition to include a mockup design? Some do, some don’t. No wrong answer, but be clear about your expectations. I’ve responded to RFPs in the past which invited respondents to submit a sample design, but it was not required. Frankly, having a design makes the exhibit house look better, but it is an investment of labor to make it happen.

Detail any other items you would like for your booth: easy ability to change signage, product display areas, sizes of products that you want to display, lighting requirements, meeting space requirements, storage requirements and any other specifics.

And just for fun, I put together a little cheat sheet that you can download with no strings attached.

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee: September 18, 2017

This week you are about to hear and see an interview with a professional 3D exhibit designer, who will walk you through the various challenges that come up when assembling an exhibit design. Katina Rigall-Zipay of Classic Exhibits sits down and shares a look at some of her designs on this video blog/podcast:

 

Our ONE GOOD THING (S!):

Katina said having her third-grader start school was a good thing: first day of school!

I also was in a seasonal mood and decided that the coming of FALL was my ONE GOOD THING!

 

10 Best Pinterest Boards about Tradeshow Marketing

Yes, I have a Pinterest account. No, I don’t spend a lot of time there. Something about not having enough bandwidth and so on. However, when I do get over there, I find a lot of things to like. Such as these boards on tradeshow marketing which are standouts!

Kimb T. Williams‘ board on Tradeshow Marketing Items features a variety of eye-catching items which make it a worthwhile stop.

best pinterest boards on tradeshow marketing

Nyche Marketing’s Tradeshow Marketing board has a bunch of infographics, exhibits and more.

Yes, it’s a corporate account, but Staples Promo board on Tradeshow Items has a lot of ideas.

From Danielle McDonald comes Tradeshows and Markets – tons of ideas-starters here.

Carl Phelps’ Exhibit Installation Ideas doesn’t have a lot of content, but what is there is inspiring.

Here’s Tradeshow Booth Design from April Holle. Banners, infographics, creations and more.

A lot of the images in Libby Hale’s Tradeshow Design board don’t strictly fall under the tradeshow design umbrella, but lots of great images to view here.

Teri Springer’s Tradeshow Design board is short on images, but long on inspiration. Wavy ceilings, tilted walls and hanging letters area ll eye-catching.

10×20 inline tradeshow exhibits are very popular, and Display Jay has gathered a collection of over a hundred images in 10×20′ Tradeshow Displays.

Let’s finish off our list of ten best Pinterest boards about tradeshow marketing with Anna Kammarman’s lively (and long-winded) Business – Tradeshow Tips and Tricks; For Exhibitors: Tips for Creating a Profitable #eventprofs #tradeshow.

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