Part of the agreement of living in a civilized society is that there are rules: traffic rules, familial rules, lingual rules, cultural rules, cider house rules, O’Doyle rules.
The same is true for a U.S. trade show, as anyone who has participated knows, there are rules: many, many rules. And it is easy to overlook one or eight because they are scattered throughout several different documents, such as the trade show’s prospectus, terms and conditions, booth-space rental contract, exhibitor services manual, etc.
To make matters worse, a mistake can lead to fines or delays, which can be even more costly in several ways. What follows is a handy list to help you out with the rules and regulations of U.S. trade shows.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Many people go into a trade show believing that their exhibits are a temporary structure, which makes them exempt from the ADA.
They are wrong.
According to the ADA, trade show exhibits are “public accommodations,” which makes them accountable to the ADA. Exhibitors have to guarantee the same experience for every attendee. For example, double-deck exhibits must offer the same features on both levels, and exhibits with raised floors need to include ramps. Fees for not complying with the ADA start at $55,000 and rise to $110,000 for each successive violation.
There is likely a section in the booth-space rental contract that states you are aware of the ADA requirements, and your booth will be in compliance.
Confines of Booth
You are only allowed to promote your business and services within the “confines” of your booth. This means you are not allowed to roam the show floor handing out literature, for example.
This is, in part, to help show management distinguish between paying exhibitors and someone who is suitcasing (see below).
Line of Sight & Height
Everyone at a trade show wants to be seen, which means that you cannot do anything to obstruct the view of the exhibits next to yours. Also, you can’t place anything that’s taller than four feet in the front half of your booth.
In addition, there are limits to how tall your exhibit can be.
- In-line exhibit – 8 feet
- Perimeter in-line exhibit – 12 feet
- Peninsula/split island exhibit – 16-20 feet
- Island exhibit – 20-by-20 feet or larger
However, the maximum exhibit height at a specific show is dictated by the venue’s ceiling height. Show management will insist that you reduce your exhibit’s height if you are found in violation of this rule.
The general rule for electrical cords is that they must be Underwriter Laboratory (UL) approved, less than or equal to a 14-gauge flat (not round) wire, and grounded with a third prong. Remember to adhere wiring to the floor or carpet with gaff tape to avoid accidental trips and falls.
However, before bringing your own cords and power strips, be sure to check with your specific venue. It may have special requirements, or it may be necessary to rent all electrical equipment from the venue itself.
Exhibitor-appointed contractors have always been required to provide comprehensive general liability (CGL) coverage, but now many exhibitions are requiring the same from an exhibiting company. Standard policies are $1 million to $2.5 million in CGL and $250,000 in workers compensation coverage.
Often, if show management is notified that you have not purchased the mandated policies, you will not be allowed to unload your exhibit until the insurance requirements are met.
Remember, you’re not the only one at a trade show with an agenda. The caterer is there with a profit margin in mind, as well. And if you’re handing out bottles of water or freshly baked cookies, well, that’s potentially taking money out of the caterer’s till.
Any exhibitor that’s not in the food business (food and beverage distributors are generally allowed to provide one ounce of food and two ounces of beverages to attendees), must contact the venue’s exclusive caterer before distributing any refreshments. The caterer may request a “waiver fee” that’s equal to the amount of money it could have made selling the concessions you are handing out for free.
Also, liquor can only be served in your booth by the caterer’s licensed bartenders.
There are two types of marketing that are forbidden at tradeshows:
This is when someone attends a show and hands out marketing materials without purchasing exhibit space.
This is when a company books meeting space near a trade show venue, then invites registered attendees to off-site events. The goal is to poach buyers from the exhibitors.
The penalties for both of these practices vary, since there are no standards in place. However, serious offenses can result in permanent blacklisting.
Violations to any of these rules, unintentional or otherwise, can wind up hurting your company’s financials and damaging its reputation. But we understand that it’s easy to miss some of these ins and outs. If you need any assistance, please contact The Trade Group at 800-343-2005.