Preparing for Your New Custom Exhibit

A custom exhibit creates an immediate impression on trade show attendees and helps them quickly identify your company’s brand identity. To ensure your custom display conveys this information as impressively and efficiently as possible, before meeting with your exhibit design house, you need to have a plan.
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How do you know when it’s time for a new custom exhibit?

Often a significant change in your company, such as a new product or service, spurs the purchase. After all, an exhibit that promotes the wrong merchandise is not especially useful. Another possibility is replicating a recent rebranding in your display.

Perhaps you’re seeing a lot of wear and tear in your current exhibit. Trade show displays are built to last, but they can’t last forever. Travel, set up, dismantle, and the show itself puts a great deal of strain on the poor thing. Scratches, dents, and stains are inevitable, and you can only camouflage the damage for so long. Once the disfigurement is evident to a trade show crowd, it’s not a good look for your brand.

Once you’ve decided to create a new custom trade show display, the real fun begins.


What? Planning can be fun.

You have an entirely blank canvas to fill in as you please. Well, sort of. The new display has needs, and now is the time to define them, such as:

  • Overall mission
  • Functionally
  • Demonstration capabilities
  • Brand identity
  • Marketing requirements
  • Budget boundaries

Once you’ve finalized these broad exhibit concepts, dive deeper to create a comprehensive list that details:

  • The purpose of the exhibit
  • Objectives
  • Goals
  • Your trade show timeline
  • Marketing benchmarks
  • All necessary team members and their roles

Be sure to gather your graphic resources and design criteria. Additionally, it may be helpful to list any previous problems you encountered with an exhibit so you – and your exhibit design house – know problematic issues to avoid.

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

When you’re confident that your list is complete, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your exhibit design house. However, if you are not currently working with a trade show display company or wish to see how a new firm would tackle your exhibit design, then let the search begin.

Search party

Begin by casting a wide net. Extensively research exhibit design houses, then select 6-8 of the most promising candidates.  

The next step is to create a request for information (RFI). The RFI should be detailed, and some possible data to gather from these exhibit design houses includes:

  • Capabilities
  • Design history
  • Technological capabilities
  • Years in business
  • Examples of trade show experience
  • Pricing
  • Financial position
  • Experience with your industry
  • Clients and references
  • General or additional information the firm wishes to include

Once you receive responses from your selected houses, study the answers, evaluate their quality, and compare them to your goals. Eliminate the least promising 3-5 candidates until only what you consider to be a manageable number remains.

Now create a request for proposal (RFP) to send to the remaining contenders. Possible topics for the RFP include:

  • An overview of your company and its products and services. Provide your mission statement, organizational structure, logo(s), brand colors, and core values
  • A list of your direct competitors, any challenges you face contending with them, and what sets your business apart
  • Marketing collateral, such as brand strategies and product campaigns and promotional, sales, and marketing collateral
  • A breakdown of your trade show history, focusing on your reasons for purchasing a new or your first custom display. You could also include photos of your current exhibit
  • An approximation of your exhibiting needs over the next few years and how the exhibit design house fits in those plans
  • A broad range of your exhibit budget. No need to get specific yet. Providing a range allows the exhibit design house to suggest creative possibilities without being constrained by a specific number. It also ensures that any less-than-scrupulous companies can’t send proposals back that target your exact budget without offering the equivalent value in their work. (This is unlikely since you did your homework and only reached out to seasoned exhibit design houses, but it will put your mind at ease.)

When you send the RFP, be sure to include:

  • A deadline for responses
  • Detailed instructions for how firms should respond
  • What you expect to see at the presentation (length, requirements for printed material, how many copies are needed, etc.)
  • Names and job titles of everyone attending the presentation from your company
  • A confidentiality agreement stating that the exhibit design house cannot share your intellectual property and you won’t take their ideas to another firm

Waiting for responses is the perfect time to give the references a call. Also, if you have the ability, consider some on-site visits to gain a firsthand impression of the companies.

After the presentations, use all the information to select the exhibit design house that best fits your needs.

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Functional design

Before signing any contracts, be certain that you’ve accounted for all functional aspects of your exhibit. If you want to add something after finalizing the plans, it will cost you time and money.

For a custom trade show exhibit, design and function are intricately linked.

For example, if an exhibit has an eye-catching feature that draws crowds but doesn’t inform them about your company, it doesn’t do much good. Visitors may leave entertained with a smile on their face, but that smile will fade along with the memories of your company, and they’ll move on to a more substantial display.

TRADE SHOW ROI GUIDE Exclusive insights and equations for measuring your Trade Show ROI

Similarly, an extremely informative exhibit that’s bland and uninteresting is also not very useful. No matter how enlightening and educational, most attendees will never benefit from the display because they’ll pass by without a second glance.

It’s imperative to blend design and function, and the only constraint is budget (don’t worry; every company across the planet faces this same constraint). Fortunately, your exhibit design house employs creative, talented people who work within your budget to create an eye-catching, awesome trade show display.

Also, ask your exhibit design house about including modular elements in your design. Adjustable pieces give your custom exhibit flexibility, making it adaptable to different layouts on the trade show floor.

Finding the best partner

When it comes time to create your next custom exhibit, reach out to The Trade Group. With over 30 years in the exhibit industry, we have the experience to solve the toughest exhibiting challenges.

We design, print, and fabricate most projects at our headquarters in Grapevine, TX, and as a one-stop-shop, we pass the savings – in both time and money – to our clients. Give us a call at 972-734-8585 or contact us here.

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