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

Green Tradeshow Booth Materials

So you’re ready to move into getting a new custom-built booth. But one of your main concerns is the type of material that will be used to fabricate the booth.

Of course, your exhibit company should be up-to-date on all of the latest materials available. So be sure to raise the question of sustainable materials with your booth fabricator. Some of the materials that might be considered include bamboo, FSC certified wood, recycled metal, low VOC, organic or recycled latex paint, or tension fabric (low weight which cuts down on shipping costs and the carbon footprint of the shipping).

Many booths may be made with re-claimed materials, which can often be sourced locally. If those materials can be sourced locally, they need less transit time and cost. Plus for each dollar spent locally, three dollars stay in the community so spending locally reduces carbon usage and helps sustain the local economy.

It’s true that many sustainable choices are not cost-neutral, and in fact may bust your budget. When one client of ours constructed a new booth a few years back they explored a variety of materials options,. Even though they wanted to use those sustainable materials, it turned out to have enough impact on their budget that the decision was made to use more typical materials for fabrication. Beyond that it didn’t give them a look they were comfortable with. The financial and aesthetic considerations outweighed the desire to use sustainable materials.

There’s no wrong answer and each project requires its own examination – but one worth pursuing, as there are new material choices coming to market all the time.

27 Un-Boring Things to do At Your Next Tradeshow

Bored at the tradeshow? Here’s a list of things to do that will lively up your experience!

I remember in my early days in radio a record promoter once told me that she loved my enthusiasm and willingness to drive 50 miles to see an unknown band that she was promoting. “So many of the other music directors I talk to are getting jaded…”

Whether you’re an exhibit or an attendee and you’ve been doing it for a long time, you might ask yourself: Am I Getting JADED?

Next time you’re at a tradeshow, take this list with you. Maybe by doing a few of these things it’ll help break you out of a rut (okay…some of these will take a little more preparation and execution before the show…but use ’em as inspirational thought-starters if nothing else).

  1. Before leaving your office spend some time on Twitter compiling a list of people at the show that are Tweeters. Make a list of who they are and what booth they’re at. Stop by the booth and tell them you found ‘em on Twitter.
  2. Draw attention to yourself and your company. If appropriate, wear a goofy hat, a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, Homer Simpson slippers. Anything unusual is a conversation starter.
  3. Pick up literature from as many booths as possible. Read it that night in your hotel. Make notes about questions you’d like to ask. Go back to the booth and ask.
  4. Take a Flip video camera and ask visitors to explain why they stopped by your booth. Or take it around the floor on your break and get a few comments from other exhibitors about the show and what their experience is at the show.
  5. Take a camera. Take lots of photos. If you see a cool booth, ask permission for a photo first. If you connect with someone via Facebook or Twitter, be sure to take their photo and post it online.
  6. Bring chocolates and instead of putting them in a bowl at your booth, hand them out as you go from booth to booth to other exhibitors. Tape your business card onto the chocolates.
  7. Buy a half-dozen thumb drives and put your company information – brochures, current press releases, catalogs, website, etc. – on it and have it ready to hand out to a few well-qualified media contacts or potential clients.
  8. Sit down with a professional radio person (!), have them interview you about your company. Create an audio CD with a nice label and title such as “All You Ever Wanted to Know About XYZ Company” or “The Inner Secrets of the XYZ Company Widget” and make a couple of dozen copies. Put a label on them that says “limited edition” and make sure that you qualify anyone you give them to.
  9. If you typically don’t go to seminars, pick at least two and go to them. If you typically attend seminars, find one with an unusual title that you might not attend and go to it.
  10. Make a note immediately on any business card you collect from a person (not a card you just picked up from a table). Write down a pertinent part of the conversation, a future follow-up or an item that will make you remember them. By the time you get back to your hotel, you’ll have forgotten what they even look like.
  11. Are you typically a bit shy? Break that habit. Talk to people in buffet lines, restaurants, elevators. Come up with a few questions you can ask to break the ice. Have fun: these people don’t know you’re shy!
  12. If you typically spend the day working the booth and greeting visitors, arrange your schedule so you get at least an hour or two to walk the show floor and schmooze with other exhibitors, especially those that might be potential partners and those that you would consider competitors.
  13. Talk to a show organizer and ask her how this show compares to previous years…or find some other topic of conversation.
  14. Bring three times as many business cards as you think you might need.
  15. Go to the city’s visitor center and see what kinds of fun things you can do in your off-hours.
  16. See how many booths you can walk by before a booth staffer invites you in.
  17. Look up old friends in the event city using Facebook or Twitter and connect with them.
  18. Smile at everyone. Even if they aren’t smiling at you.
  19. Have a contest with fellow staffers to see if you can get visitors to say the magic word of the day. Those of us old enough might even remember this came from Groucho Marx’s ‘You Bet Your Life.’
  20. Take notes about how much food costs. Hot dog and coke – $14!? Compare notes with fellow staffers. Boo and hiss the high prices.
  21. Ask other exhibitors what they paid for drayage and shipping. Compare notes.
  22. See if you can set up your booth before your neighbor.
  23. Go a whole day without eating restaurant food by taking food snacks such as energy bars, fruit, trail mix, etc.
  24. Bring a small white board. Write a Haiku poem about your company or product on it. Invite your visitors to add their Haiku.
  25. Practice Extreme Customer Service. As if you were a Disney employee.
  26. If the speaker at your seminar or breakout session is boring, create a game where you write down every word he says that begins with the letter M. Or T. Or draw a cartoon of the speaker. Post it on Twitter.
  27. Ask other visitors what they do for fun. Take notes and incorporate their ideas into yours.

What ideas do you have to break those long days into more fun? Share!

Tradeshow Budgeting Guidelines – An Update

The latest issue of Exhibitor Magazine hit my mailbox last week, highlighted by their annual look at industry cost averages.

Now I’m not going to throw all of their numbers out for you. If you want ’em all, check out their website or buy the magazine. They usually release the current online version a few weeks after the paper version has been out.

But I do want to take a gander at a few of the numbers in general terms.

A few of the main figures that we always work with our clients and prospects here at Interpretive Exhibits are: industry average cost for custom booths, inline booths, and design and fabrication.

Several years back I compiled a short list from various sources, and the averages were something like this (figures from 2000 – 2002):

Average cost for new, custom construction:
Island: $130 per square foot
In-Line: $1,230 per linear foot

Average cost for exhibit design (hourly): $80 – $85
Average cost for graphic design (hourly): $70 – $75

According to the figures just released in the November 2009 issue of Exhibitor Magazine, rates are up approximately 25% since the beginning of the decade, or less than 3% per year. According to data from InflationData.com, the yearly average from 2000 – 2008 is 2.89%.

The figures through September of 2009 shows mostly negative inflation, and those figures were not included – but obviously they would pull the 10-year average down.

Conclusion: Nothing really surprising here – actually I would view the figures as somewhat encouraging as some of the basic costs of designing and fabricating a custom booth are in line with inflation.

Without giving out the actual figures compiled by Exhibit Magazine – after all, they did the work and until they post them online I don’t think it’s fair to jump the shark with their specific numbers – it appears that the key figures we track in the exhibit industry have risen in line with other prices.

PS. When Exhibitor releases those numbers online, I’ll look to post a link do you can review all of the figures.

Interpretive Exhibits Now Represents Nimlok Exhibits

Yeah, yeah, it’s a tough market. And ya gotta have what the people want, right? Of course!

Warning: the following is part plug and part explanation as to why Interpretive Exhibits has now teamed up with Nimlok. Most of my blog posts aren’t plugs (this one is!), but I thought it a useful blog post:

Nimlok

Recently the good folks at Nimlok headquarters in Chicago approached us and inquired if we would be interested in representing them in the Northwest and more specifically, in Oregon.

Given our long-time affiliation with Classic Exhibits in Portland, we were hesitant, but decided to check it out anyway.

Nimlok brought quite a bit to the table. And while their product line does cross over some with Classic Exhibits, there is enough difference between the two (and they are aggressively marketing the brand online to help their dealers), so it made sense to take a closer look.

Classic Exhibits for years has excelled in high-quality, low-to-moderate-cost portable exhibits. In the past few years they’ve expanded to custom-hybrid exhibits.

Nimlok made their bones years ago on quick-and-easy pop-ups and portables as well, but also in recent years have expanded greatly, becoming a leading vendor of high-quality aluminum exhibits and fabric graphics. They’ve invested heavily in state-of-the-art fabric production, which was really the element that tipped the scales. Being able to keep graphic production in-house means having complete quality control. They have new aluminum framing systems and exhibit approaches that are out on the leading edge. When at the Nimlok New Distributor Boot Camp in July they showed us a new truss that’s capable of spanning 30 feet without any support other than at each end. Drop a seamless fabric graphic up to three meters tall below that and you have a dynamite tradeshow back wall.

So even though there are similarities, there are enough differences that to us it makes a good fit.

Meanwhile, back at the Interpretive Exhibits ranch….our in-house talents are geared to ‘one-of-a-kind’ custom design and fabrication that is well suited to museums, visitor centers and unique tradeshow exhibits. Our clients, such as Bob’s Red Mill, Kettle Foods, Nancy’s Yogurt, Natracare, gDiapers, Bi-O-Kleen, Allegheny Teledyne Wah Chang and many others have all been knocked out by the design and fabrication skills brought to bear on their tradeshow exhibits. Not being a designer, I am often amazed too at what our team comes up with.

Classic Exhibits is out go-to-source for the low-cost smaller modular and pop-up exhibits, and we’ll continue to use them.

Nimlok is an added dimension to our offerings at Interpretive Exhibits. Aluminum frames from small to gigantic; from traditional rectangle shapes to ‘I can’t believe they did that with an aluminum frame!’

Truth be told, exhibit-buying is off quite a bit in the industry. But with the economy appearing to turn around, we feel we’re in a great position at Interpretive Exhibits when those tradeshow marketing purses start to open up a bit more.

Outdoor Retail Summer Market 2009 – Thoughts from a 1st-time visitor

I was in Salt Lake City last Monday the 20th through Friday the 24th attending the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2009 show, thanks to Dean and the great guys at Lifelines. Now if I can only convince the powers that be that I need to be there in January to review the same show. Just because I’d…uh…like to see the area with snow on the mountains. That’s it! Got nothing to do with the fact I’ve been a skier since the age of seven…nope.

Unfortunately I was unable to blog during the show, so I made notes to gather my thoughts for a post-show post. Did manage a few tweets from the show from the busy bank of PCs at @tradeshowguy.

Twitter

Greeting Brandi

First thing at the show was to respond to several of the tweeters that were doing things to draw people to their booths, like Sole Shoes, who were offering a pair of ‘platinum sandals’ to the first dozen people to come to the booth to say ‘It’s Your Sole!’ Which I did, and they did. Also chatted with some great folks at @ENDFootwear from Portland…not sure who is the Tweeter there, though.

Other Twitterers I ran into over the course of the show include: April at @naturallybamboo; Stephanie at @merrelloutside, Brandi at @itsyoursole, Andy the @aquapac designer, Karen and others at @HidesRetainer, Ze’ev at @Zensah, Byron and Davidson of @ecologicdesigns and @greengurugear… Others I couldn’t find as they were never at the booth, or were just too damn busy to come talk to @tradeshowguy! Ah, well, it was great to connect with a handful. And of course at the Tweetup hosted by @PembaServes where I chatted with – among others – Sara Lingafelter (@theclimbergirl) and Fitz Cahall (@dirtbagdiaries) and more…enjoying terrific food and libations at Cedars of Lebanon in downtown Salt Lake City.

Promotions

keen_promo2

Impossible to keep up with all the promotions; you can’t be everywhere at all times. But there were some standout in-booth events/promotions that caught my eye (as well as many of the attendees):

Keen Shoes of Portland: taking photos of people and pinning them to a large bulletin board where they answered the question: where would you like to travel in your Hybrid Life (promoting their hybrid life shoes)? My answer? Jamaica. After collecting names and handing out buttons for three days, Keen gave away $1500 to someone to help them make that trip. No, I didn’t win! During the same time period they gave away the grand prize, Keen also sold a couple of styles of their sandals for $35 (about half price) with all proceeds going to a fund-raiser.

Go Pro Camera

GoPro sport camera did a rather loud promotion several times throughout the show, which I stumbled across twice. The founder of the company (don’t think he mentioned his name!) is a natural promoter, getting his crowds to shout out the product name several times. Of course, handing out a couple of dozen GoPro cameras over the course of a few days doesn’t hurt, either!

Aquapac had several great nature photos on display and ended up giving a handful away on Thursday afternoon before the big run-up to the grand prize of a Baja Mexico whale-watching trip.

Booth size and layout

Not having been to Outdoor Retail before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But after walking the floor for an hour, the most obvious thing is that large companies here like LARGE booths, enclosed walls on 3 or 4 sides, second stories and lots of display space. A 100′ x 60′ was not uncommon.

Green exhibit construction was also at the forefront, with graphics printed or mounted on cardboard; recovered wood used as booth walls (from barns or old houses); cardboard tubes, and even booths cobbled together from wire fencing, bike frames, small trees – you name it, this show has it. I came away with a strong impression that most of the companies involved are very aware of the impact on the environment of their booth-building choices.

Dogs and Kids

Yes, ORSM09 is a dog and kid-friendly show. Lots of dogs and lots of friends. Even ran across a post from @theclimbergirl as she highlighted the ‘Dog of the Day.’

Give me an “H”. Give me a “Y” . . . . What’s That Spell?

Guest article by Mel White of Classic Exhibits

Perhaps no term is more hyped and less understood in the exhibit industry than “Hybrid.”  System manufacturers and custom builders are describing their latest and greatest designs as portable hybrids, modular, hybrids, even custom hybrids. Why the emphasis on this term? The answer is simple:  value. More than ever, exhibitors are demanding displays that do everything – assemble quickly, look custom, ship light, and reconfigure. Just a few years ago that was impossible, but not now.

hybrid

If you’ve spent any time walking a trade show recently, you’ve noticed the profusion of aluminum and tension fabric graphics. In a nutshell, those are the building blocks of hybrid displays. Aluminum is attractive, structural, and lightweight. Tension fabric is vibrant, durable, and cost-effective. Together they serve as the creative backbone for displays priced from $4,000 to $250,000.

But what makes them hybrids? Putting them in context with traditional displays will make the explanation clearer. For the past 30 years, the world of portable or modular displays has been dominated by pop ups, panel displays, and modular laminate exhibits. These are “systems” with defined configurations, components, and accessories. Custom exhibits, on the other hand, have offered endless design possibilities since they were built primarily from wood.

Hybrids merge those two worlds and are less systems than concepts. Hybrids start with aluminum extrusion (such as Octonorm or MODUL) and tension fabric. Beyond that, the design can be anything and can include anything. There are portable hybrids consisting of an aluminum extrusion frame and tension fabric graphics, which pack in roto-molded wheeled cases. There are modular hybrids which add modular laminate components and pack in roto-molded tubs or small crates. And there are custom hybrids which combine extrusion with just about anything else – metal, wood, plex, glass, and sometimes even portable or modular systems. As with all custom exhibits, it comes down to whatever fulfills the design and marketing requirements for the client.

Hybrids may not be the ideal for solution for everyone. For many exhibitors, a basic pop up or full custom makes more sense for their exhibit marketing goals. However, hybrid exhibits are here to stay until there is a replacement the versatility of aluminum extrusions and the bold impact of tension fabric graphics.

Mel White, VP of Marketing and Business Development, Classic Exhibits

Need a New Booth? Put Out an Exhibit RFP

Ready for a new custom booth, but don’t know where to start? You might consider putting together an RFP (Request for Proposal) and sending it to 3 – 5 exhibit fabricators.

IMG_3221

Whatever your approach, make sure you have an internal company discussion that addresses your booth needs: size, branding, budget, function (needs may include display tables, food serving areas, AV equipment, laptop stations, etc.), transportation (what shows will you attend?), storage, extra signage, interactive items, etc.

Since you’re creating a custom exhibit that you’ll use for years, take your time: after every show, make notes about what works and what doesn’t with your current exhibit. Document what your employees and visitors say. Hold project meetings, get staff input and keep a file.

When it’s time to issue the RFP, make it as thorough as possible. Issue the RFP to a handful of exhibit house, be upfront about how many companies you’ve invited to respond, and make sure the budget and timetable are realistic for what you want. If you can pull that off the chances of creating a fabulous exhibit has increased a hundredfold!

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Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

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