In a Revolutionary Industry, Why Has the Trade Show Booth Evolved So Slowly?

September 5, 2017

Joe Cascio

A 22-year veteran of the exhibition industry with a diverse background in event production and venue management, Joe Cascio is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for SMT expo. He also serves as Vice Chair on IAEE’s Consumer Event Council, which connects the public events sector of the expo industry with venues, suppliers and resources.


The trade show industry is quite a revolutionary one, with new trade events, consumer shows, festivals and a variety of applied technologies. However, over the course of time, the trade show booth system has remained stagnant and untransformed. Traditional pipe and drape, which was introduced in the 1950s, is still a major part of the event planning process, almost overlooked as the backdrop to our events.

While technology has changed in all other facets of the industry, the basics of booth setup have been passed over as if it’s just a part of the fabric of the floor plan. There are options to give alternative looks to events, such as hard wall systems, specialty and custom booth builds, as well as truss systems, however, these are very expensive, extremely time-consuming and often do not conform to the overall full floor plan booth build.

In a time where every expense is viewed in an “ROI” analysis, the trade show booth has been bypassed as just a line item on the event pro-forma without question or concern that maybe there is something out there that is revolutionary.

Over my 22 years in the industry, I can say from experience that what used to be isn’t anymore and what is to be probably will not be. In other words, expect the unexpected and if there is an opportunity for change, we should embrace it as an industry, a decision that would be cutting-edge and transformational.

As a reference, there are well over 10,000 trade shows a year in the U.S. alone, covering a diverseness of industry in which many of these events have expanded and fragmented over their years of existence.

I guess the Marty McFly in me would love to go back in time to see the major difference in a full floorplan setup prior to exhibitor move in. I would be very curious to analyze the time needed to mark the floor, pull in the crates, set the rows of back-to-back pipe and drape, and put up the headers.

Have we as an industry analyzed this process to see if are there alternatives that have been designed to specifically save time, cut costs and improve the overall aesthetics of our trade shows?

Let’s embrace the changes that are being made across the industry as a whole but not overlook the potential in revolutionary thinking. I often say our industry is experimental and willing to take calculated risks, even something as overlooked as basic pipe and drape. Consider alternatives that may tip what has been evolutionary, thereby enabling long-term creative opportunities!​​​​​​​

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Partner Voices

As event professionals and destinations adjust, adapt and evolve in these uncharted waters, it is imperative that substantial resources be put in place for all of the people responsible for planning and executing trade shows, expositions and conventions. An example is Mohegan Sun, which built an industry-leading, COVID-19 Resource Center with a combination of pictures from recently held successful events (the property reopened on May 1, 2020) along with several widely available and informative documents, such as an evolving operational framework: