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3 Ways to Find Your Best, Most Powerful Trade Show Display

Currently there are only one or two colleges/universities that teach any courses on trade shows or trade show marketing. Yet so many people stumble into their role with trade shows on accident.

Because of this lack of education, I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over (though the following specifics are fiction). I’ll call this company rep “Trade Show Joe”.

Trade Show Joe called me shortly after he was hired as the Marketing Manager at Digital Technomics Co. He quickly found that many areas of the trade show & marketing department needed dire attention. The first was a new trade show display he needed for a show that was only a few weeks away.

In our discussion, he informed me that company policy required him to get 3 bids. I told him, “We’re never the cheapest upfront solution, however, I say with confidence that we’ll always provide you the lowest cost of ownership & best value over time.” Joe responded and said this would certainly be taken into consideration.

After our Discovery Meeting, I recommended 2 different solutions based on Joe’s objectives & budget. I also provided him with a budget worksheet to help him look at all shows on his calendar.

Days later, I got an email from Joe informing me that he chose a different provider. I quickly called to ask what led to his decision. Joe told me that he found many other much lower priced options online.

About 2 weeks later, on a Friday at 4:45PM, I got an email with the subject line “Can you help me right now???” I was sitting in an airport, about to board a flight after returning from a trade show installation with another client. I dialed and Joe answered the phone. “Joe,” I said, “What happened?” Joe replied in a very saddened voice, “It’s broken. My new display showed up broken. Can you fix it? It just showed up today and I really needed to ship it today. The company who made it is not answering their phone.”

There wasn’t anytime to fix the display, so I had Joe assemble a “first aid kit” to attempt a repair on the show floor when he arrived for install. The duct-tape wasn’t enough and the display was still broken during the show. It looked bad and didn’t represent the company brand well. Joe ended up with egg on his face at his first show.

Every so often, I sent Joe trade show tips because I knew he had many trade show challenges. About 9 months later, I called Joe to inquire about the upcoming ABC Expo. It was the largest annual show for their industry and his company would exhibit, for the first time, in a 20′ x 20′ island space.

“This is big,” said Joe, “Let’s meet on Tuesday.” We had a great conversation and uncovered all of his objectives. Structural displays and island exhibits are an entirely different ballgame, so I relayed all of the service capabilities and marketing support that we also provide for clients. Joe could not have been more happy & thankful.

Fast forward a few weeks, I got an email from Joe after a week of silence. “I’d love to work with you, Michael, but I found a display online that is cheaper and we’re using the show contractor for shipping & install.” I called Joe and said, “Are you sure you want to try that again? The headaches get bigger as the exhibits get bigger — you’re at the migraine level.”

Three days after the show, I got an email from Bill that said, “Call me at 9:00 AM tomorrow.” I knew Bill, because he was the VP of Sales & Marketing, but hadn’t spoken with him much. Bill answered and said, “Joe is here on the line with me and we’re going to make this short. The ABC Expo was the worst show I’ve ever been to. Our exhibit showed up late, it wasn’t right and was a huge disappointment. We were over billed for shipping, all of the show services and install was ridiculous — they finished at 1:30 AM the day the show opened.”

“Bill,” I replied, “Let’s meet at my office and make sure this never happens again at any of your shows.” Thus began my partnership with Joe and Digital Technomics Co.

Here are 3 ways to purchase trade show displays & exhibits. Take a look and make sure Joe’s misfortunes and loss of reputation don’t happen to you.

1) Online, Mail Order Catalog, or Magazine Ad

The problem is you never know what you’re going to get. Anyone can setup a website. There is no consultant to help you, no support, and possibly no warranty. They probably buy hardware from one place (usually overseas) and print graphics that might not fit well. You have no way to test it before you receive it.

I’ve seen many horror stories. They happen in a lot of different ways. We work with clients in very small industries and those in very large industries. I see a lot of people just looking for the lowest upfront price.

Unfortunately, you’re playing a guessing game. You see a picture on the website but then your physical display comes out looking completely different or doesn’t look as crisp. You don’t know how it functions. That website or company might not be around a year from now or five years from now when you need some other assistance.

We have designed our approach and services to help prevent those problems. We always invite our clients in to kick the tires in our showroom. Often times that leads to other ideas, they can see how things function and the quality of the graphics and hardware we produce in-house. Outsourcing to other companies can have the same problems of not knowing or being able to trust the quality level you expect.

On the larger exhibit booths many times the company rep will just buy a package type booth either online or something that’s been pre-designed. They never see it set up before the show which again opens your company to the guessing game and undesirable results.

For large island booths, which many times require hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment, we always invite our clients in to preview the exhibit before the show. This helps them make sure everything fits with a custom package approach exclusively designed for them.

2) Referral

The problem is the display you saw at a trade show might look good and work for that company, but will it really work for you? The company you’re buying from is probably not local so you’ll have many limitations.

Many times a company rep visits a trade show and sees a booth they like. They ask whatever rep is at that booth, “Hey what company provided your booth materials?” They look up the company and start the process. Most of the limitations from point #1 come into play again.

Additionally, the referral at the trade show may be a company who builds and uses wood and giant heavy materials that cost a lot to ship. Many times they require 25 crates or more to ship the full exhibit to you. Call or e-mail them to ask how many crates it will take to ship before buying.

3) From a company who has a showroom and a local consultant

This is the best option for most people. I have a showroom so you can see what you’re going to get — from the smallest display to the largest island exhibit. All the opposite situations from option #1.

Portable displays are setup in much smaller booth spaces so they can be shipped via FedEx. Or you can even bring your company display in as luggage if you want. Portables are very quick and easy to set up.

Larger exhibits are going to be either custom built or custom modular. The showroom allows you to see the quality of wood, laminate and all the heavy materials used (or cheap materials used).

Custom modular is basically designed for twenty different systems. We create a custom look and feel but they are all in modular parts almost like tinker toys. We can pull the pieces apart so they fit into fewer crates. This way it’s easier, lighter and lower cost to ship. A big thing to decide beforehand is which of these 2 exhibitor approaches fits your company’s situation.

Trade shows aren’t going away. With the knowledge to be a trade show superstar, you’ll have opportunities to move higher in your company that nobody else has.

About the Author

Michael Flavin is a trade show strategist & exhibit consultant at Skyline Exhibits & Graphics Mid-America in St. Louis, MO. He works with companies & organizations to eliminate headaches from their trade show, event marketing & recruiting programs. Overall, he offers total, turn-key solutions, focused on creating memorable experiences, lowering operating expenses and increasing ROI. In addition, Michael consults & trains booth staffers and helps companies measure results from their trade show programs. He also helps exhibit marketers design St. Louis trade show displays.

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