At your last trade show, did you look around and notice that your exhibit looked a bit shabby compared to your neighbors? Or did your display content feel dated compared to your current products and services? Or did it just stand out how much of a pain in the neck your exhibit is to transport, install, and dismantle, not to mention the expense involved in those tasks?
There are several reasons to decide it’s time for a new custom exhibit. The main ones are:
- Wear and Tear – stains, dents, and scratches send an unprofessional message and make your company look amateurish or, worse, incompetent.
- Branding – if your company has recently gone through the time and expense to update your branding, that needs to be reflected in your display.
- New Products and Services – a display that focuses on outdated offerings does you no good.
- Competition – if your rivals are consistently attracting more visitors than you are at trade shows, it’s likely that your booth is not earning the attention you deserve.
- Cost and Convenience – a newer booth is easier to install and dismantle and costs less to ship.
So you make the decision, you’re ready to purchase a new display.
Now what? How can you ensure that your shiny, new exhibit – in which you have invested considerable time and money – accurately and creatively highlights your company’s corporate culture, position in the marketplace, and brand identity?
The Grand Plan
Before you even meet with the exhibit house, it’s essential to put together a plan.
There will likely be many employees who wish to have input in the process. But, ultimately, the person to listen to should be the exhibit or marketing manager. It’s this person and his or her team that has to live with the exhibit, utilize its functionality, and ensure that interactions between visitors convert to leads.
That’s not to say that other people don’t have valuable input. Frankly, if the CEO has opinions about the exhibit, they need to be listened to. And the exhibit house, especially one with a proven track record and years of experience, will be able to provide invaluable insight.
But, ultimately, the exhibit or marketing manager should have the knowledge to tie together the various aspects that go into creating an effective display.
When first conceiving the display, you don’t want to have a finished design in mind. What you want is a compete list of the tactical needs:
- Brand identity
- Marketing needs
- Demonstration capabilities
- Budget concerns
- Overall mission
This means, before you dive in and start conceptualizing your new display, you’ll need a comprehensive list that:
- Identifies the purpose of the exhibit.
- Defines clear objectives and goals.
- Notes past problems (and, hopefully, ways to avoid them).
- Establishes a timeline (and any agendas that go along with it).
- Lists your marketing benchmarks.
- Gathers together graphic resources and design criteria.
- Names all key team members.
Once you have these items, you’re ready for your first meeting with the exhibit house.
Design and Function
A successful display blends a company’s brand identity with the exhibit’s intended purpose (the specific message of the display) and its functionality (how people will interact with it).
These are the tactical needs of the display (mentioned above). It is the design of the exhibit and how it functions practically. In today’s environment, design and function cannot exist without each other.
An exhibit must be aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching, yet this must work in coordination with how it draws a visitor in and makes them aware of who you are and the services you provide.
Design is intimately tied to budget, yet function cannot be limited by budget. It’s a tricky dance, but one your exhibit house can help you achieve – IF you are completely open with them about your available finances.
Your exhibit house will let you know your options and exactly how much exhibit your budget will get you. If your expectations are wildly off, you may need to try a different house. If you’re close, see how they can work with you – and how you can work with them.
Be sure that, before you sign on the dotted line to advance with the creation of your exhibit, you have accounted for all functionality. If you want to add something down the line it will cost you in time and money.
Also, don’t forget about the impact the intended venue could have on your plans. This could have (drastic?) implications in the final design. Are there height restrictions? Is there a surcharge for odd configurations? What if you’re stuck in a weirdly shaped corner – will your design still work?
One way to get around these possible limitations is to plan for your exhibit to be flexible and modular. This will allow you to add and remove elements to suit your given needs per show.
The Design Team
These are the folks who will be diligently working to ensure the vision for your display becomes a startlingly, physical reality.
Typically your team will consist of a lead designer and his or her team. Ultimately, the lead designer is the person most responsible for your exhibit’s final design. This is a very specialized job and empowering the designer in charge (and his team) is critical to the success of your exhibit.
That being said, it is very important that you feel comfortable working with the lead designer, that you believe your wishes are being heard and concerns addressed. Sometimes, personalities just clash. You may be teamed with the most creative, intelligent person who is at the top of his or her profession and still not be able to spend 10 minutes with that person. It happens.
If you have identified a personality conflict – and you will likely identify it fairly early on in the process – bring it to the attention of your main contact at the exhibit house. They want you to feel confortable working with the team and will help resolve the issue. (However, if you’re burning through several lead designers, the issue may actually lie in the mirror – just saying…)
Budget and Cost
What your exhibit is going to cost is exclusive to its design and function. Because every custom exhibit is unique (which you want), it is difficult to estimate a cost without knowing the specifics.
That being said, there is an industry average cost per square foot (PSF) of:
- $140 for a “good” exhibit.
- $150 for a “better” exhibit.
- $200 and up for the “best”.
If that doesn’t fit your budget, the likelihood is that a custom exhibit is not what you need. Fortunately, there are attractive options including a new portable or modular display or a previously owned custom exhibit. Ask you exhibit house about these options.
But if you’re looking to purchase a custom exhibit, what can you expect for that money?
Good ($140 PSF)
- Thoughtful design
- Good documentation (this can lead to install and dismantle savings)
- Wood and laminate construction with standard finishes
- Corporate branding (additional graphics may include supplementary costs)
- Line voltage
- Few added features
Better ($150 PSF)
- Computer animated previsualization
- Progressive design (rounded, less ridged)
- Metals and fabrics used in construction with “Euro‐style” finishes
- Low voltage lighting
- Rear illumination lighting
Best ($200 and up)
- Fully animated previsualization
- Complex lighting
- Two stories (if desired)
- Extravagant stage productions
- Really, pretty much whatever else you want
Avoiding Buyer’s Regret
Look, putting on a trade show can be expensive. If you don’t take the other costs into consideration, you may find that you’ve created an exhibit that you cannot even afford to use. That is why it is essential to fully understand the additional costs of a show.
Here is a breakdown of the average trade show budget:
- Exhibit space – 35%
- Travel & lodging – 14%
- Show services – 13%
- Exhibit design – 11%
- Shipping of exhibit materials (drayage) – 10%
- Graphic design / production – 6%
- Promotion –6%
- Other – 5%
It is possible to mitigate some of these costs, but not all.
You’ll notice that exhibit space is, by far, the largest cost – and this cost is only increasing. There is little you can do about this fee. If you want to show, you need to pay the price. Unfortunately, there is little room for negotiation because the guy next to you is already paying the asking price.
Fortunately, steps can be taken at the design phase to lower some of the other costs. Specifically materials can be used to lessen drayage, installation and dismantle, and electrical (show services).
Also, remember that your exhibit will need a home when it is not in use. While the typical cost of ownership is only 20-25 percent the cost of designing a new exhibit – that is still a chunk of change. Be sure to budget for annual storage, handling, insurance, and refurbishment.
Designing for the People
When you are creating your space, be sure to think about how of all of the elements will affect the people who are visiting your display. Consider how they will interact with everything in your exhibit. What will they touch and how will that interface affect them? How will the sensation of walking across your display feel? Do you want people to feel extremely comfortable when sitting or should they only want to stay for a small rest?
Also, your designers will help ensure that your messaging falls within the narrow band that’s slightly above and below eye level known as the “messaging zone”. This is where all important information should be found.
There is an order to this information, as well. The “who” should be the highest. “What” should fall slightly lower. “Why” should be positioned lowest, below the eye line.
The importance of lighting cannot be overstated – it creates a sense of drama and is frequently the element used to first draw attention to your exhibit. Lighting can even be used to influence the mood of your viewer (with “cool” light inducing calming while “warmer” colors create excitement).
Lighting is often the most overlooked element in a design.
The size of your exhibit will influence the lighting design, with a larger exhibit featuring an automated lighting plan while smaller displays will have some form of backlighting, and so on.
Drayage can be the bane of an exhibit or marketing manager’s existence. Drayage costs can come from nowhere and sink even the best-budgeted plan.
Drayage, which is sometimes called material handling, refers to the transportation of booth items from a carrier’s delivery vehicle to a booth space. This service includes:
- Receiving the shipment.
- Unloading the trade show freight.
- Delivering the shipment to the trade show booth space.
- Removing empty crates and pallets from the booth space.
- Storing the empty shipping items during the show.
- Returning “empties” once the show is over.
- Transferring the freight back to the loading dock.
- Loading the items into your carrier’s delivery vehicle.
Drayage fees are based on CWT (weight per 100 pounds). In the United States, basic drayage rates can range between $85 per CWT to about $125 per CWT.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize drayage costs:
- Consolidate boxes so you ship as few items as possible.
- Make sure all boxes exceed the show’s CWT minimum charge.
- Try to keep the weight of each box close to the nearest CWT without going over. For example, if you have a box that weighs 415 pounds and another that weighs 375 pounds, try to redistribute the weight so that both boxes are close to 400 pounds
Time after Time
No matter how well made or how much budget went into its construction, an exhibit has a shelf life. There are a number of factors that go into the deprecation of an exhibit, including normal wear and tear and marketing changes.
Nothing lasts forever. Just like your marketing changes over the years, your exhibits will need to change as well. When it comes time for your next custom exhibit give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005. We listen to our clients, embrace their goals, and create design-driven solutions that attract a crowd.