So many exhibitors leave the end-of-tradeshow logistics to their staff or to the I&D crew. But what happens at the end of the tradeshow can have an impact on your bottom line and frankly your peace of mind.
Unless you’re intimately involved in the end-of-tradeshow dismantle and shipping, it’s easy to think that it almost happens by itself.
If only that were true, right?
A recent example from a client: the BOL (Bill of Lading) was handed in to the show services desk prior to the exhibit being dismantled and packed away. That was to happen the next morning. Unfortunately, the crates vanished. The BOL was in hand, so the order was given, and the crates were picked up. Fortunately, one of the I&D (Installation and Dismantle) crew caught the error and was able to track down the crates, which were at the nose-end of a trailer truck. But they were returned (at additional cost to the client), the exhibit was packed up and everything turned out as it should.
Tradeshow shipping is a different kind of cat as the saying goes, and there are a lot of moving parts. The best approach? Plan well ahead so you know what will happen and when.
Know when the advance warehouse will be able to receive incoming shipments. Working with a trucking company that is familiar with how the tradeshow shipping grind works will pay off. Time windows for both delivery and pickup can be a bit crazy, and it’s not uncommon for a truck to sit in line for hours (on the clock) awaiting their time to pick up their freight, especially at a busy show. This is even after they’ve checked in at the marshalling yard at the appropriate time.
At the end of the show, someone that’s in charge of making sure the paperwork is handed will need to fill out an MHA (Material Handling Form) and give it to show services, which is paperwork that authorizes the show contractor to pick up your crates and deliver them to the loading dock – this is called drayage. And make sure to read the fine print. The MHA must be filled out accurately to make sure that the crates and other materials are picked up. The fine print will also tell you that the show contractor has no liability for handling materials after the show deadline has passed, which means they can choose to ship your materials back in any way they deem. If they do it at all.
The afore-mentioned BOL is a document that outlines the agreement between you and your transportation company that authorizes them to pick up the crates and deliver it back to the warehouse.
Often your EAC (Exhibitor Approved Contractor) that is charge of setting up and dismantling your exhibit can handle all of these logistics – they do it all the time. But to make sure that happens, coordinate with the supervisor or your client representative.
In short, the goal is to get your exhibit and materials packed up efficiently and properly, and have it picked up and shipped to the proper destination. Sounds easy, right! It isn’t hard, but there are a number of ways things can go sideways, so make sure all of the pieces are handled properly and you’ll be able to relax on your plane ride home.
Not every tradeshow manager faces the same challenges. Some are overwhelmed by being understaffed. Others have a boatload of shows to deal with and it seems as if there is never a breather.
But in the work I’ve done over the years with tradeshow managers, the same handful of issues keep coming up as being significant challenges:
Logistics: there are a lot of moving parts in tradeshow marketing. Shipping and I&D (installation and dismantle) make up a big part of those logistics. Add to that shipping product samples, getting everyone scheduled for the show and the booking a convenient hotel and many other bits and pieces and handling the logistics of tradeshow marketing is often outsourced. That’s one reason why at TradeshowGuy Exhibits we are taking on more and more logistic coordination for clients.
Exhibit Brand Management: keeping the booth updated from show to show. New product launches, new services and more means that the exhibit needs to be updated for upcoming shows to reflect that. It’s common, but the timeline sneaks up on people. In a sense, the challenge here is coordination between graphic designers, production facilities and making sure all items get done prior to the booth crates being shipped out.
Company Growth: Many companies we work with are doing very well. But that means moving from small pop-up type exhibits to more complicated exhibits with light boxes, custom counters and more – all of which ship in larger crates and would be set up by hired EAC’s (Exhibitor Approved Contractors). All of this change means that the person handling the shift is moving out of their comfort zone. They face a lot of choices around whether to hire installers, how to package the exhibit for shipping (crates vs. a handful of plastic molded cases, for example), and more.
Getting Good Results: Exhibitors who don’t get good results complain that tradeshows are a waste of time and money. Yet other exhibitors at the same show rave about how great the show was, how many new leads they made and new contacts they came away with, and how many sales were closed. So what’s the difference? Frankly, many exhibitors don’t prepare or execute well. Tradeshow marketing is not rocket science, but with all of the moving parts it’s easy to let a few items slip through the cracks. And those missing items can make all the difference between success and failure.
Budget: It costs a lot of money to exhibit at tradeshows. For companies that do tradeshows, the amount invested in tradeshow marketing is about a third of their overall marketing budget. Making all of their tradeshow dollars stretch as far as possible is an ongoing challenge faced by all companies. For a long list of ways to cut costs at tradeshows, check out this webinar.
Other challenges include booth staff training, record-keeping, keeping track of your competition and other items, but if you can keep these few items under control, you’re doing better than a lot of your fellow exhibitors!
It’s a good question to ask: how much do you delegate for tradeshow success? Most clients I deal with have someone in charge of the overall tradeshow project. Maybe they’re a Marketing Manager or Tradeshow Manager, or some other title such as Business Development Director. Most of them work with a small team.
Which means there is a certain amount of delegation and collaboration going on. Multi-tasking may be something that people try, but research tends to show that too much multi-tasking leads to less success. How do you walk that fine line between doing too much yourself as someone in charge of the project and just telling everyone else what to do, in essence leaving little for you except overseeing the project? Maybe if you’re a control freak you find it extremely difficult to give control over an aspect of the project to someone else – but you gotta learn how to do it! One of the challenges of doing it all yourself is that while you may have control over everything, there’s a chance that the standard of work will slip.
The good thing, I suppose, is that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. Teams are different sizes, members have different skill sets and experience.
When it comes down to it, there are a handful of items to consider when managing a team for a tradeshow project.
Know Your Team
Many marketing teams we work with at TradeshowGuy Exhibits have an assortment of methods of getting the job done. For example, some teams outsource graphic design. Others outsource shipping and logistics. Some keep all of those things in-house. Most will hire an exhibit house for the final exhibit design and fabrication if it’s a new project, but the remainder of the tasks will often lie elsewhere. If it’s another show with your current exhibit, but a certain amount of updating needs to take place, it may not be as time-consuming and involved, but it still has to be done right.
Communicate Clearly and Often
The lack of communication is one of the biggest downfalls of collaboration and delegation. When a task is delegated, make sure that both parties are in full understanding of, and in agreement of, the specific tasks assigned and the deadline under which they must be completed. Even though you may have an in-person conversation or a phone call, I always recommend that a short email be created that details the tasks – if nothing else, in bullet points. There should also be an expectation that if problems, issues or challenges come up, that those will be brought to your attention as soon as possible. Like one of my old bosses once told me: “Bring me good news as soon as possible. Bring me the bad news even quicker.”
Know What to Delegate
Some items on the project to-do list will need approval from management for them to be completed. Other items will be less demanding. Since you’re in charge, it would make sense to keep the highest-skilled tasks to yourself, and the ones that till need buy-in and approval from management. Many tasks that go to other team members will also need instructions, especially if they’re new to your team. It may seem obvious to you how something is done, but if you’re assigning a task to someone, make sure they understand how it’s done – and how to know it’s done correctly.
Feedback is a Two-Way street
Once the project is complete, give feedback. If your team has done well, publicly thank them for the work and hand out genuine praise. But if some of them have come up short, let them know that as well. I’ve heard it said that you should “praise in public, criticize in private.” It’s a good approach. And make sure that all of your team members are free to offer their thoughts on how you’re delegating: did you give instructions that were clear? Did you make sure the right people got the right tasks, etc.?
Even though many clients want custom design and fabrication for a unique look, often having simple exhibits is what you really need.
In fact, many clients that I work with go to several shows. They don’t take their big, deluxe, state-of-the art exhibit to all of the shows. Instead, they’ll take something that can ship via UPS or FedEx, or can even be loaded into a van or SUV if it’s a closer show and you have only one or two people setting up the exhibit.
In this type of situation, it often comes down to convenience in setting up, convenience in shipping, and a starkly simple look. It’s all doable, and it’s usually a step above what many competitors as similar shows are doing. I mean, have you seen those wrinkly vinyl banners that hang lopsided across the back of the booth, and a cheesy table cloth (or none at all) over the organizer-provided 8′ folding table? Of course you have. And you are thinking the same thing: “What can I do that’s a step or two up from that, but won’t break my budget?”
I get asked this question on a regular basis. And there’s no one answer, but there are a lot of options, depending on budget. And depending on how many people might be setting up the exhibit with you.
For starters, you could start with an 8′ or 10′ graphic back wall. There are a number of options, but we like the HopUp and the VBurst and have sold many of them. The HopUp comes at a lower price point, but still provides good quality. It also comes in different sizes, up to 20′, and is available in straight or curved. The VBurst is a higher priced, but also comes with options that the HopUp doesn’t deliver, such as back lit graphics. And with either, if you want to cover a 20′ (or more) back wall space, you can always set up more than one side by side. Another option is something a little different – the X-1, which comes in a variety of configurations.
Exhibitors often want a little more than convenience and practicality and start adding things like tables and chairs. We particularly like the OTM-100 set of two chairs and a table that breaks down and packs flat.
Simple exhibit do win. They win with convenience, ease of shipping and set-up and in pricing that doesn’t break your budget. Don’t let the big guys have all the fun with their fancy schmancy custom exhibits. Get some attention with simple exhibits. Hey, your boss will love it.
Of course, we always want to make sure our tradeshow best practices are out on display for everyone at all times. But as Steve Miller says, “Perfection is your enemy.”
And…we’re only human. That means you’ll find that your booth staff will sometimes be eating in the booth, or on their phone when people are walking by. Or they’ll fail to direct a visitor to the person with the right answer for the question. Or maybe you realize that your pre-show marketing efforts were lame this time around. Or your post-show follow up really left something to be desired.
Sometimes your graphics will be scuffed or torn. Perhaps your flooring is ripped and mended. All of these are irritating, aren’t they, because you want to always have the best presentation at all times. But perfection is not attainable.
So, keep moving forward. If one of your staffers is sitting in the back of the booth with hands in pockets, put on a smile and ask them to move to the aisle where they can be helpful. And vow to schedule a trainer who can teach staffers better habits. If your hanging sign or large graphics look great but are outdated because some minor branding thing changed, take a photo and plan to get together with management to find the dollars to make upgrades.
There are times that you’ll come up short. There may even be times you consider your tradeshow efforts a failure.
Improvement doesn’t happen all at once. But keeping tradeshow best practices in mind every time you’re involved in setting up the booth, planning upgrades, scheduling your booth staff and related show logistics, you will see improvement. But chances are you won’t see perfection.
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
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.
As a company owner, salesman and project manager for TradeshowGuy Exhibits, I get tradeshow marketing questions. Hoobooy, I get a lot of questions. I thought it might be fun to answer a handful of the most common questions I get.
Our shipping costs are sky-high. How can we bring these costs down?Many questions are about costs, so it’s a good place to start. Certainly, if something is heavy it’s going to cost a lot to ship. Wood panels are heavy, and many older exhibits have a lot of wood pieces. It also adds up in drayage costs at the show. Some clients like the image that wood gives them, so they bite the bullet and build the cost of shipping into their exhibiting program. Others that want to bring the shipping costs down look at lighter materials, such as silicon-edge fabric graphic panels (SEG) that give a great look but don’t have the weight and heft of wooden or other types of panels.
How can we increase our ROI?It seems that tradeshow marketing is hit and miss. Yes, investing in tradeshow marketing can be expensive, but done right, it can be a boon and open doors to markets that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise reach. Sometimes it comes down to exhibiting at the right shows. It often means putting more time, energy and resources into pre-show marketing, booth staff training and a booth that accurately represents your brand (among others). There are a lot of moving parts and if you let a few of those parts go unattended to, it can contribute to your failure. I spoke with a former exhibitor recently who said the last time they exhibited was years ago and it was a bust. When we spent a few minute dissecting it, we come to the conclusion that as a small local business, one of their biggest challenges was finding a local show that could provide a large enough audience of potential customers. Without deeper digging, it was impossible to know in that brief call, but we both felt that we identified one of their most important challenges: getting in from of the right audience.
How do we work with a designer? We’ve never done that before. Often I end up working with exhibitors who are in a sense moving out of their comfort zone. Before now, they have purchased exhibits from a source that just shows them a catalog of pre-made items. Nothing wrong with that, there are hundreds and hundreds of modular exhibits and accessories that are more or less ‘off-the-shelf’ that will do a great job for you. But exhibitors will often reach the point where they have the budget and desire to move into something custom. Working with a designer is straightforward – but you have to choose a designer that knows how to design in 3D. Graphic designers typically won’t have the skill to do so. However, trained 3D exhibit designers know how to design exhibits that take into account all of your functional needs: storage space, display space, foot traffic flow, graphic layout and so much more. A typically-trained graphic designer won’t have the skill that a 3D designer does. As for working with a designer, it’s typical to have a long conversation, either in person, or on a conference call, with the company stakeholders so that all needs are discussed. At that point the designer will create a mockup or two for review and once comments are in, changes are made until the final design is agreed upon.
I need a new exhibit. Should I prepare and issue an RFP (Request for Proposal)? It depends. There’s no definitive answer on this one. An RFP does a couple of things: it helps clarify your exhibit needs by forcing you to articulate all of your needs, budget, timeline and so on. Putting it all in black and white is a great exercise whether you’re putting out an RFP or not. If you don’t have an exhibit house in mind, issuing an RFP allows you to vet a handful (probably 4 – 6) companies, and make them jump through some hoops to make their case, and perhaps even do mock designs for you. On the other hand, if you have been working with an exhibit house that has done you well – has created great exhibits for you in the past, has been an effective partner for years – then no doubt you’re in good shape staying with them.
How much does it cost?It’s a question people don’t really like to ask, but usually end up blurting it out. Some items come with a set price, like the off-the-shelf catalog items, but if they’re shopping for a custom exhibit, there is no obvious answer. In my younger salesperson days, I’d answer the question with “well, what’s your budget?” but that’s not really a good answer. The better response I believe, is to ask them how they come up with a budget from their end. What is their process for determining how much they are willing to invest? There are industry standards – which are pretty accurate, and a good starting place – but the client has to work through a number of internal issues unique to come up with a realistic budget for their project. A final thought on this: if their internal discussion gives them a number that isn’t realistic for their expectations, a reputable exhibit house will tell them so.
How quick can you get it done? Or: how long will this take? This question often comes from an exhibitor who hasn’t paid close enough attention to the calendar and are now scrambling to get something in place. A recent exhibitor asked me – months (almost a year) ahead of their need and asked “how long does the process usually take?” The question was about designing and fabricating an island booth from scratch. I silently gave him kudos for asking the question up front (and not waiting until a month or two before the show), then told him my answer: for an island exhibit, we’d love to have 3-4 months at minimum. Six months is better. But we’ve turned around island exhibits in 5 or 6 weeks IF the client has a really strong idea of what they want and all that’s need for design is for the designer to create the rendering and confirm that the look and feel and dimensions are accurate – and then we’re off to the races.
Certainly there are other questions I hear, but in reflecting the past year or two, these seem to be what come up the most-asked tradeshow marketing questions. What questions do YOU have about exhibit creation or tradeshow marketing?
In spite of a few minor technical glitches, Gwen Hill of Exhibit Force and I had a fun conversation that touched on a lot of problems that exhibitors and exhibit managers face: namely, dealing with the heavy-duty record-keeping, communication and collaboration requirements of an exhibit program. It’s a great look at the various ways that Exhibit Force is positioned to help thousands of exhibitors in their management programs.
ONE GOOD THING: Air conditioning! It’s summer. It’s hot.
It’s a good question: what does a tradeshow manager do? And frankly, you can come at this question from a few angles.
For instance, is the tradeshow manager (or coordinator, or project manager) employed by the company internally, to make sure the tradeshow appearance is as flawless and successful as possible? Does the tradeshow coordinator work for an exhibit house, tasked with making sure the new (or stored) exhibit is shipped to arrive on time, and get set up, dismantled and shipped back? Or does the company find a third party to coordinate the logistics from show to show on an as-needed basis?
There are several things to determine, such as: what is the scope of work? What tasks are expected of the tradeshow coordinator? Is there a marketing department that makes decisions on which shows to attend? Who determines the budget and where does that money come from? And so on.
Wearing several hats is not uncommon for someone with the larger and somewhat vague title of tradeshow coordinator. Mainly, she is responsible for:
Determining what shows to go to (usually in coordination with a larger team that vets the various options)
Scheduling or securing the booth space and coordinating logistics such as electricity, internet, cleaning, badge scanner and more
Work with vendors such as exhibit houses or printers for any updates to the exhibit
Scheduling exhibit shipping, I&D (installation and dismantle), return shipping, storage
Booth staffer hiring, training, scheduling and coordination of any special clothing such as branded t-shirts; develop and/or coordinate any pre-conference training for staffers
Coordinate with sales and marketing for any special product demos, etc.
Hire in-booth presenters if needed
Track expenses as required
Coordinate lead generation activities, system and delivery of leads to sales post-show
Pre-show marketing: mailers, emails, any specific phone invitations
Post-show follow-up communication
Record keeping: maintain show schedules, project checklists, exhibit management, photos from each show, logistic and travel expenses show to show and year over year
Each individual position may include more or less from this list, but these are the main tasks on a tradeshow manager’s job description list.
And, just for fun, I looked at tradeshow manager job listings across the USA recently. There are a ton of openings. Just sayin.’
Yes, I tried to play back the recorded interview on Facebook but for whatever reason it wasn’t working. Still more research and practicing to make it work. But in the meantime, all the content is here!
Got a chance to chat with John Halvorson of Transgroup Global Logistics this week for the vlog/podcast. John was a great interview, unloading lots of great information on the ups and downs and back and forths of tradeshow shipping. Give a listen or take a look on either the audio podcast version below or the video version.