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The Devil is in the Details

We’ve spotted a troubling trend.  While the two giants among trade show General Contractors (Freeman and GES) have made great improvements in recent years in terms of customer service and online access to forms and information, smaller contractors seem to be going the other direction. Here are just a few of the recent questionable practices that we’ve come across:

Trade show details

Early dates for advanced deadlines – Experienced exhibitors know that missing the critical “early order deadline date” will trigger significantly higher costs for all show services.  If you know the General Contractor for an event is not one of the two biggies, check all dates carefully. By having earlier than usual deadlines, the contractor is essentially generating higher rates for their services. Pay specific attention to the date for Exhibitor Appointed Contractors. Because the smaller GC’s aren’t as labor rich as the big guys and because their shows are often in smaller destinations, they have a need to schedule/platoon labor further in advance which can restrict your ability to choose who handles your exhibit.

Higher Drayage Rates – There are a few reasons for an annoyingly high drayage rate. Maybe because they are often temporarily leasing warehouse space; or because exhibitors don’t have a choice when any contractor has a monopoly on a service. We’ve seen examples of event material handling fees way above national and market norms when smaller Contractors are handling shows.

Forced freight – Relationships between “the official freight company for Expo X” and that show’s general contractor are no secret and not problematic unto themselves.  However, if there is a financial gain to the contractor to have freight forced and the contractor has a demonstrated pattern of turning away the exhibitors’ preferred carrier, it enters the world of questionable practices.

Labor prohibitions – The trade show industry has a reputation problem when it comes to show labor.  When a contractor that is not encumbered by a Union prohibition present in the venue declares themselves the sole labor provider, it presents problems when it is not effectively communicated to exhibitors. This is an issue when a contractor doesn’t have adequate manpower to meet the needs in a timely or qualitative manner and if pricing is arbitrarily inflated and not properly documented.

Not enough manpower – The manpower challenge becomes a very real stress inducing element for exhibitors. Not having enough people to help set up your booth, help with rigging, transfer items from the loading dock, lay aisle carpet and return empties all take more time if the contractor hasn’t brought enough bodies to get the jobs done.

Inadequate floor plans or venue knowledge – We’ve seen issues with floor plans failing to account for structural concerns (columns, electrical floor boxes, and ceiling heights).  We’ve seen contractors showing up with equipment failing to know the narrow hotel halls wouldn’t allow for it to get into the building.  As an exhibitor, you should ask all possible questions to mitigate the risk of the unknown. We’d expect that a show appointed General Contractor would have done the same.

There are many fine people who are professional, honest and caring that work at some of the small contractor companies and these companies provide a critical alternative for the thousands of events taking place outside of traditional venue cities.  The same can be said about the people in the banking and airline industries, but both of these segments also continue to find ways to cost their customers more money in fees and lessen the service provided. All in all, be aware of what can go wrong and have a backup plan. Partner with companies you trust to help get the job done right.

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About the Author

Steve Hoffman, President of Skyline Exhibits & Design, Inc. has spent almost 30 years in the selling and marketing of marketing products. Following a successful career in the TV Program Syndication business, he joined The Holt Group/Skyline Displays as a Marketing Consultant, then moved into management, ultimately purchasing a portion of that company. He is the author of "The Reality of B.S. (Big Sales...That Is)." Steve is dedicated to helping his South Carolina trade show displays clients achieve their worldwide exhibit marketing goals while improving their efficiencies, too.

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