Often, companies from Europe and Asia are surprised to discover how different exhibiting in the United States is compared to the rest of the world. From the way that exhibits are created, to the labor used to set them up, to the cost of a show and the ways in which those costs are distributed, the differences can seem overwhelming.
Fortunately, there are organizations that can smooth the transition into U.S. exhibitions.
One of these is the OCTANORM Service Partners International (OSPI®). OSPI is a network of 150 exhibition service providers around the world that collaborate to take the stress out of international exhibiting. Through OSPI, you can work with your design house, and then have their plan constructed overseas exactly according to their – and your – specifications. In addition, the overseas OSPI partner will simplify the execution of all international exhibiting needs.
The Trade Group is proud to partner with OSPI. We help exhibitors from outside the United States execute exhibit builds and strategic plans at destinations throughout the U.S. We also provide expert advice on rules and regulations for exhibiting stateside as well as for individual states and municipalities, because that’s what trips up many new exhibitors.
For anyone unfamiliar with exhibiting in the United States, it can be easy to miss a regulation or two. After all, they are spread throughout different documents – including the trade show’s prospectus, booth-space rental contract, terms and conditions and exhibitor services manual – and regulations can even vary from state to state and city to city.
Common Trade Show Regulations
Union employees undertake almost every aspect of labor at a show. This includes installing and dismantling your trade show exhibits along with setting up flooring, lighting, sound and video equipment, other electronics, signage, and more.
The U.S. labor union system is complex and, regrettably, there is very little consistency from exhibition to exhibition. The organizers of the individual exhibitions work with the labor unions to determine labor rules for each show. Typically, the exhibitor’s services manual includes guidelines for the show’s union and non-union labor.
Exhibit Height & Line of Sight
Your display must confirm to the specifications of your booth space – which includes the space above your booth and sightlines to those around you.
Height restrictions are typically determined based on three aspects. The first is the overall look the show is attempting to achieve. For example, the show could take place in a 30-foot-ceilinged ballroom, and exhibits may still be restricted to 8 feet because show management is going for a specific visual appeal. The second are the guidelines established by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (formally known as the IAEE Guidelines for Displays Rules and Regulations). The third is, naturally, the venue’s actual, physical height. You can’t cram a 24-foot exhibit into an 18-foot room.
In addition, there are some established standards for exhibit height:
- 8 feet for an in-line
- 12 feet for a perimeter in-line
- 16 to 20 feet for a peninsula/split island or island exhibit 20-by-20 feet or larger
Violations will result in show management asking you to reduce the height of your exhibit. If the issue is caught during setup, it is (typically) an easy fix for your I&D crew. However, if it is caught after the show opens, you will be required to fix the height once the show closes for the day – which means you will be shelling out for costly overtime hours.
Similarly, how you utilize the space of your booth is governed regarding how it will affect your neighbors. If you have a linear booth, you cannot place items or structures taller than 4 feet in the front half of your space. Also, anything that you do place there cannot obstruct the view to your neighbors.
There are ways around the line-of-sight rule – but they generally require that your neighbors sign off on the transgression. If they have no problem – or hope to skirt the rule themselves – you can generally get an exception.
Confines of Booth
The confines of booth clause states that all of your marketing must take place within your booth space. This means that you are not supposed to hand out flyers in front of the exhibit hall or have attractive personal roaming the aisles distributing information.
The real bummer is that these marketing tactics can be very effective. Your best bet, if you want to extend efforts beyond your rented space, is to request an exception from the show’s management. To be honest, your chances of this being accepted are not great, but it never hurts to ask.
Not only are North American electrical standards different than European (American appliances run on 110 volts while European appliances utilize 220 volts), but the electrical requirements can vary from venue to venue.
So, before you drag any power strips, extension cords and surge protectors to your exhibition, be sure to check with the show management. For some places, it is not an issue, while others require that you rent these items from the venue. At some venues, like the Las Vegas Convention Center, the connectors with three outlets (known as cube taps) are not allowed, while nearby hotels and venues have no problem with them.
The general rule for electrical cords is that they must be UL approved, grounded with a third prong and less than or equal to a 14-gauge flat wire. It is also generally advised to use gaff tape to adhere wiring to the floor instead of duct tape, which can leave a sticky, tough-to-clean residue.
Fortunately, many halls will now let you plug equipment into 120-volt outlets (which is the commercial version of the 110-volt outlets used in residential homes), but, citing safety reasons, they still require an electrician to plug in 220-volt equipment and lighting fixtures.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
People often believe that exhibits are exempt from the ADA because they are considered to be “temporary structures.” Unfortunately, that can be a very expensive misinterpretation.
Trade show exhibits are considered to be “public accommodations,” which makes them subject to the requirements of the ADA. That means exhibitors have to guarantee equal access to their exhibits, so every attendee can have the same involvement. This may mean providing the same experience on the first floor as on the balcony or making sure a raised display is wheelchair accessible.
Civil penalties for the first violation of the ADA can be as high as $55,000 and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.
Food and Beverage
This is where penalties can get also severe if you’re not careful.
If you are in the food and beverage business, you are allowed to give out food samples: 1 ounce of food and 2 ounces of beverages per attendee. However, those not in the food and beverage business need to contact the venue’s exclusive caterer before handing out any tasty goodies. This includes everything: branded bottles of water, bags of popcorn, even wrapped mints.
It may not be an issue, or the caterer may request a “waiver fee” equal to the amount of money that could have made selling concessions. Also, if you want to pass around any liquor, it needs to be done by the caterer’s licensed bartenders. The cost of violating these rules can include having your exhibit shut down, so it’s best to fully understand these rules.
To learn more about exhibiting in the United States, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.