Cutting Trade Show Costs Part 1: Your Trade Show Exhibit Design

December 7, 2015

This blog post comes from guest contributor Mel White, of Classic Exhibits Inc. Trade shows can be some of the most expensive––and important––marketing investments brands make to promote and sell their products. To ensure they maximize their trade show marketing ROI, it’s critical they do everything possible to manage costs throughout the process. Thankfully, most companies can significantly reduce their costs with a little planning, knowledge, and discipline. In this “Cutting Trade Show Costs” series, I’ll be talking about different ways to reduce your trade show expenses while still making a powerful impact at each and every show. In part 1 of the series, we’ll focus on saving money by optimizing your trade show exhibit design.

Cutting Costs With Your Trade Show Exhibit Design

1. Modular Design

Modular design is a great way to save money for companies that exhibit frequently and in multiple configurations, such as islands and inlines. Modular design allows you to transition from a larger to a smaller exhibit––and vice versa––using the same basic structure. The term “modular” is often misunderstood, but a modular exhibit can be a portable, hybrid, or custom display. It simply means it’s reconfigurable. If your exhibit marketing goals are flexible, owning a modular design will save you the expense of owning several unique static designs for each size––10 ft., 20 ft., or island. When considering modular design for your next booth, consider incorporating an attached overhead sign to replace a hanging sign. You’ll get the same visibility as a hanging sign, but without the expense of rigging charges at each show. They can be expensive, but incorporating them in your design from the beginning can save you money in the long run.

2. Rental Exhibits

The days of dented and dirty rental displays are history. Renting has come a long way in the past six years. Renting your exhibit is a great option if you have a limited budget or simply want to test the waters at a show. Your options are nearly as varied as if you were purchasing an exhibit, but without the fixed upfront cost. Walk any major industry show and I would estimate that 15-20% of exhibits are rentals, but it’s unlikely you can tell the difference. The other advantage of a rental is design flexibility from show to show. Rentals make it easy to change your message, the structure, or the size. It allows you to experiment. Plus, there is a lower upfront cost, and you’re not responsible for maintenance or storage. This allows you to focus only on your trade show marketing program. You can also look at components in your booth as rental options––like monitor stands or reception counters. A combination of rentals and ownership can save you money.

3. Tension Fabric vs. Direct Print Graphics

Fabric graphics dominate the trade show scene. And they should. They are vibrant, lightweight, and durable. Recent fabric print innovations make them nearly identical to direct prints, without the hassle of complicated crating or special packaging. The key to fabric graphics is to insist on HD quality. Printing technology is evolving very fast. What was acceptable three years ago appears muddy by comparison to newer printing techniques. Do your homework, ask for details about their equipment, and get quotes from several sources. Does that mean that direct print graphics have gone the way of the dinosaur? No. They are appropriate for small graphics, dimensional applications, and where the chance of damage is minimal. However, in the long run, fabric graphics will likely last longer. And they are easier to clean if you get them dirty.

4. Pre-Wired Electrical & A/V

Everybody makes this mistake. It happens. We’re so focused on the exhibit design that we don’t  consider all the electrical components and wiring going into the booth space. If you’re going to have monitors or laptops in your booth, or need to have a particular lighting configuration, all of these things need to be considered in the beginning while the exhibit is being built. Once the exhibit moves from the shop floor to the show floor, the costs to make changes to your booth not only increase exponentially (sometimes by a factor of 10) but the final solution is also rarely as elegant as one that would have made sense during construction. Plan for where the lead retrieval device will go. Think about all the computers, laptops, and monitors. Make every effort to prewire the lighting. You’ll save time, money, and headaches, and avoid damaging your exhibit at the show.

5. Crate or Case Design

Yes, the actual design of your new exhibit is important, but so is the design of the crates or cases. Make sure that you’re using space in the most optimal way possible. You know you’re going to bring literature and promotional products to the show––is there room where you can potentially pack them in the crates or cases rather than sending them in separate shipments? Having these conversations in the beginning can reduce your drayage bill significantly. Talk about the size of the crate and what goes in it. It’s much cheaper to have monitors, promotional products, etc. packed in the crate rather than sent separately.

6. Complete Setup Instructions

No one expects you to read the owner's manual for your new toaster. You get a pass on that. However, the setup instructions for your booth is a different story. You need to review them to see if they make sense to you before the show––both how the booth is assembled and how it’s disassembled and repacked. If you don’t understand the instructions while on the show floor, you’re going to waste both time and money. If you find mistakes in the instructions, go back to your exhibit house and ask them to make corrections. We’ve all experienced the moment during installation where three to four people are standing around trying to make sense of the next step. Sometimes that’s a minute or two. Other times it’s much longer, and the clock is ticking on your labor bill the whole time.

7. Reusable Packaging Materials

I can’t emphasize this enough. In many cases, the packaging materials you receive with your booth components are designed to be used once, like foam padding and bubble wrap. And at the end of the show, you’re left wondering how you’re going to re-pack your booth for shipping and storage. Don’t let that happen to you. You deserve better. Your expensive exhibit deserves better. It is extremely important to insist that your exhibit house provide reusable packaging materials from the beginning. They make all the difference––less damage and faster setup and packing. “Numbered” components go where they belong in the case or crate. There’s a logical progression. You see, and your team sees, if something is missing immediately. You paid a lot for the display. You should demand that it looks pristine for as long as possible. That’s much more likely to happen with logical, well-made, reusable packaging materials. If you start thinking ahead about these ways to reduce costs during this early design phase, you will save yourself a lot of money and headache down the line. Questions about any of the ideas in this post or trade show exhibit design in general? Let us know in the comments. Don't forget to check out Part 2 to find out more about how to cut costs during the planning process, and Part 3 to find out how to save money at the show and after the show is over.

Author Bio:

Mel White is the VP of Marketing and Business Development at Classic Exhibits Inc., a manufacturer of exhibits, engineered aluminum extrusions, and rental solutions. For over twenty years, Mel has worked with exhibit manufacturers, distributors, and end-users to develop new products, refine their branding, and sharpen their trade show marketing.