The Yin and Yang of American Trade Shows

Exhibiting at a trade fair is a great way to meet a wide range of people within an industry.  At first glance American trade fairs may look and sound familiar but dig a little deeper and it reveals a very different process from the European approach to securing and building an exhibit at what Americans call a trade show or expo. Gaining American clients and distributors can be an unbelievable monetary benefit for foreign clients.

Starting your Exploration in a Country Pavilion

Coming to America as part of a pavilion is a great first start.  However, in most industries government sponsored pavilions are not built to attract high end attendees.  Similarly, the same can be said about American pavilions abroad.  Once you step outside the safety net and allow your company to stand alone, the playing field is far more equal and with the right products your company can easily move to the next step.  However, in America, you must present yourself in the best manner your budget allows to be competitive.  One great exhibit in a large industry show is far more impressive than three small exhibits in three shows.

American Trade Show Facts

Even as an experienced exhibitor, US shows hide many pitfalls. To help to avoid them, here are some thoughts and ideas which may help you work within the American system:

  • Know your venue ‐ First and foremost every venue, even some within the same city limits has a particular way they conduct business.  Many of the largest halls are under union jurisdiction.   When they are you can plan on much larger installation and dismantling bills.
  • Graphics should have simple messages ‐ Buyers need to be told the obvious and unique selling point even if it is staring them in the face.  Don’t presume show attendees know what you are selling or why it is good.  American shows run for only two or three days and every one rushes around to designated appointments while trying to look around at the same time – make it easy.
  • Target audience – While most shows are normally well attended there are a variety of buyers; it is best to use a targeted marketing campaign before the show to attract your particular audience.
  • Quality – Due to the higher costs in the USA that are added to a rental exhibit such as union I&D labor, drayage, and show services including electricity and electrical labor from the show contractor, rigging, plumbing, and food services, the quality of of a USA build may be lower compared to the UK and Europe. This is not always true as high-quality exhibits certainly exist, but substantially higher costs play a major role in exhibit choice.
  • Unions – Many venues operate with a union labor force to protect local jobs. This restricts activities normally delegated to non‐union staff. The union will police labor activity and it is not uncommon for stands to receive warnings about improper conduct, after which they can be instantly closed down causing delays and stress.
  • Contracting union staff – When using official labor on site do not expect top quality skilled tradesmen. Much of the workforce may be unskilled as union jobs give many skill levels the opportunity to work. There are multiple levels of workers depending upon the city, from apprentices to journeymen. The simpler an exhibition booth is designed reflects in the minimization of the amount of installation time or skilled workmen required. AE sales order includes I&D services and staff.
  • On‐site show services – Unlike European shows virtually all services must be ordered and paid to the show contractor including electricity, electrical labor, material handling (drayage), plumbing, rigging, and cleaning … even trash emptying.  All food services for an exhibit will also need to be handled in this manner.  Order everything well in advance of the show to benefit from the largest discount and be prepared to wait for them on site. The earlier services are installed on site the more hours you will save later. Any work outside normal hours is subject to higher rates. AE completes all paperwork.
  • Watch the timecards – Since the laborers are paid hourly there is no incentive to complete the job quickly.  If possible keep track of each workers start and finish time. There are guaranteed break times and lunch times for everyone. AE sales order includes I&D services.
  • Drayage – Every delivery to an exhibit space is handled by the official freight forwarding company at the show.  Every item sent to the advanced warehouse will be delivered by the freight forwarding company who usually work through the halls in sequence furthest from the entrance doors.  Everything needs to be packaged on suitable pallets or packing crates and clearly labeled. The costs are calculated on site and must be settled before leaving at the end of the show, otherwise the freight will be “pushed” to the show contractors with many additional costs involved. AE project coordinator will review your bill onsite.
  • Payment – Everywhere accepts credit cards which can be great and immediate but be prepared by increasing credit limits to cover everything you are likely to be charged for on‐site. Banks try different methods to prevent credit card fraud and it’s fairly common for cards to be innocently stopped under their security measures.
  • Paperwork –Carry copies of all official show documents on hand.  This includes contracts for any and all show services from both onsite vendors as well as exhibitor appointed contractors and all shipping bills.  AE completes all pre‐show paperwork When working with your Absolute Exhibits account executive many of the areas listed above are not your concerns.  Beyond an account executive, a signed rental exhibit contract inserts a project coordinator as a liaison with the show, to complete paperwork, and to oversee the manufacturing of your exhibit.  He/she works hand in hand with all of the departments at Absolute Exhibits and meets with the installation lead that supervises the building and dismantling of your exhibit on the trade show floor when the exhibit moves to the show venue.

Remember that in America you must place your company forward in the best style your budget permits in order to be competitive.  One great exhibit in a large industry show is far more impressive than three small exhibits in three shows.  The style and size of an exhibit attracts attention that will guide attendees to company over another; then your product or services them into your entry.

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