Things I Wish Somebody Would Have Told Me About Exhibiting

November 7, 2017

Candy Adams

Candy Adams, aka “The Booth Mom®,” is a hands-on trade show exhibit project manager and trainer. She helps exhibitors maximize the return on their exhibit investment using the best strategic, tactical and training practices. 

One of the questions I’m often asked as a trade show industry veteran is, “What do you wish you’d known back in your first year of managing trade show exhibits that you know now?” The following is my second in a series of blogs based on the most important lessons I’ve learned as a trade show professional and life-long student of the University of Hard Knocks.

No. 2: Give yourself extra time during exhibit set-up.

Many of our on-site problems occur because we’re trying to do too much in too little set-up time once we get to the show floor to put together our trade show exhibit (check out “What’s the Plan?” for more info on planning your exhibiting timeline).

Always pad your set-up timeline to give yourself some extra time, especially if you’re new to exhibiting and aren’t used to the craziness of the show-floor. This may mean taking an earlier airline flight (which, with the state of the airline industry today, isn’t a bad idea anyway in case there are oversold flights, mechanical failures or weather delays). Remember Murphy’s Law? Well, he’s lurking nearby! Building in some spare time can be one of the best protections against Murphy visiting your exhibit.

As soon as you arrive at the convention venue, get to know the “lay of the land.” After finding the exhibitor registration area to pick up your set-up and/or show badge(s), and grabbing all available maps of the venue and show floor and the exhibitor directory to check your listing, find out where the nearest contractors’ service desks are to your booth space – i.e. the general services contractor’s, the electrical desk and labor desk – and introduce yourself to the staff there. If you’re working with an exhibitor-appointed contractor (EAC), check in with your local city manager to find out if they have set up a desk on the show floor near one of their exhibit set-ups and stop by there, too (dropping off a token gift of cookies or candy for them is always a good idea!).

Locate the Show Manager’s office, the press room and floor manager’s desk. If you’ll be signing up for booth space during the show for the following year, find the show sales office, too. Ask the Show Manager which food concessions will be open during set-up; if none will be, find the public vending machine area of the convention center or any vending machines that are on the shipping docks for the show labor and truck drivers (you’ll find that these are cheaper than the ones in the public areas of the convention center). Find out where the local taxi stands are, where UBER/LYFT pick up, and where the hotel shuttle buses will drop off and pick up so you can share this information with your staff during your pre-show training. Locate the nearest restrooms to your booth space and find out if there will be a bag and/or coat check onsite, especially if storage space is limited within your exhibit.

Take a walk around the convention center and scope out the locations of nearby restaurants, including coffee shops, fast food and sit-down restaurants for client meetings, a drug and convenience store, office supply store, document/graphics printing center, hardware and computer store. There are many smartphone apps that can tell you what’s nearby (I love AroundMe), the hours they’re open and guide you there. One of my favorite apps is LocalEats, a directory of all the best local restaurants at your fingertips.

Waiting until the last minute of set-up to arrive at show site for exhibit set-up is just tempting fate. I’ve gotten to my booth to find my booth space taped as a 30’ x 40’ when it should have been 30’ x 30’. I’ve found my electrical flipped 180 degrees and another time had no electrical outlets, and my carpet had already been laid. I’ve had to start a search party to find missing rolls of carpet and scattered pieces of my exhibit shipment and, even worse, found no freight at all, when my carrier’s gone AWOL! And in reporting missing rental furnishings to the general services contractor the day before the show, I was told that they “short shipped” the custom furniture I’d ordered and that I wouldn’t be able to get those exact pieces since I wasn’t the first exhibitor to complain about the substitution I’d received (check out my Exhibiting 101 article, “Master of Disaster” for examples of more things that can go wrong).

Being the early bird pays off and can also take the stress out of set-up surprises!


This blog is part of an on-going series. Read No. 1 here.

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