Trade Show TalesBlog

Archive for September, 2023

Your Guide to Designing a Custom Trade Show Booth

September 29th, 2023 COMMENTS
Custom Trade Show Booth

So, you’re considering a custom trade show exhibit. Perhaps it’s a 10 x 20 inline or a 30 x 40 island. While you may be a seasoned veteran of trade shows or a newbie who has never purchased any displays, the steps are the same regardless of your experience. 

Start by keeping an open mind about what a “custom trade show exhibit” is. There’s often an assumption that it’s large or expensive or heavy or complicated. And, it can be all of those, but it doesn’t need to be. On its most basic level, custom simply means that it’s custom or customized to your exhibit marketing needs. Traditionally, a custom trade show exhibit is a wood or aluminum structure designed and constructed specifically for a particular company or brand. When done well, it’s intended to be a more immersive, engaging, and memorable experience for attendees.

Custom Trade Show Booth Essentials 

Forget about how your custom exhibit is going to be built or what materials will be used. Those details can come later. It’s all about the why, what, who at this point. Why trade show marketing? What are your goals? Who’s your audience? And what’s your budget? Does your brand have a specific identity and does your company have a well-defined personality? And what’s worked or not worked for you in the past? 

You need to be prepared for these questions because an exhibit designer can’t (and shouldn’t) begin creating your custom exhibit without these details. Design without details is a waste of everyone’s time and money. 

Brand Identity: Your custom trade show exhibit should be an extension of your brand identity, with consistent colors, fonts, and visual elements. It’s critical to share your brand guidelines with the designer to ensure that they have a clear understanding of your brand’s look and feel.

Target Audience: Who are you trying to reach with your trade show exhibit? Keep your target audience in mind when designing your booth, and make sure that your messaging and visuals are relevant to their interests.

Marketing Goals: What do you want to achieve with your trade show exhibit? Do you want to generate leads, promote your brand, or launch a new product? Once you know your goals, you can start to design a booth that will help you achieve them.

Functionality: Your trade show exhibit should be both visually appealing and functional. Make sure that there is enough space for visitors to move around comfortably, and that your displays are easy to access. You should also consider providing seating or lounge areas for visitors to relax and learn more about your products and services.

Budget: Custom trade show exhibits can be expensive, so it is important to set a budget before you start planning your booth. Once you have a budget in mind, you can start to work with a designer to create a booth that fits your needs and budget.

Custom Trade Show Booth Design: Tips from the Pros 

Do you want a successful, even award-winning custom trade show exhibit? Then be open-minded, actively involved in the creative process, and trust the exhibit professionals to design and build your custom booth. No exhibit house wants a client who isn’t responsive, doesn’t offer advice, or is simply wishy-washy about suggestions. You know your company, your culture, and your objectives. Your exhibit house knows display design, experiential trends, and building materials. Consider the following:  

  • Finishes, Textures, and Colors. Your brand matters. For many exhibitors, the brand’s color and finish are the base coat of any successful design. 
  • Layout (Maximize Space). While inlines are inlines and islands are islands, don’t let the rectangular or square footprint of a booth space be a limitation. Your layout should fit your objectives. Do you need presentation areas, meeting rooms, demo stations, reception counters, and interactive games or activities? Strive to optimize the space without adding clutter. Sometimes what looks good on paper or a computer screen can feel cramped or impractical on the show floor. 
  • Graphics. Too often, exhibitors spend weeks fussing over the structure and days designing the graphics. Usually in that order. The exhibit structure and the graphic treatment should proceed hand-in-hand during the design process. Graphics often change from show to show so what makes sense at Show #1 may not be appropriate at Show #2.   
  • Display. Many custom exhibits are built using modular walls, both wood and aluminum. Your custom display should look like it was built specifically for you, and not just a display rebranded with your logos.
  • Accessories and Interactive Elements. A custom display should seamlessly integrate into all the other elements in your booth, like counters, workstations, and furniture,  and enhance the overall experience. This can be done with Audio, Video, Lighting, and Interactive Elements like games or touchscreens.
  • Experiential. How you engage with attendees will determine whether their experience is memorable or simply one more forgettable interaction on the show floor. Those experiences should support your strategy and brand while providing your guests with solutions they’ll remember and an experience they’ll share with others. 

The Latest Trade Show Booth Design Trends 

Trade Show Booth Design has undergone significant changes over the past 10 years. Not only has technology contributed to those changes, but also an increased emphasis on personalization and experiential games, presentations, and interactions. In addition, exhibitors are more focused on their Return on Investment or Return on Objectives, so measuring and maximizing their success has become much more important. Below are some emerging trends in exhibit design. 

Emerging Design Trends:

  • Sustainability and Eco-friendly Design
  • Natural Finishes and Materials
  • LED Lighting and Backlit Images
  • Large Format Fabric Graphics
  • Modularity (Reconfiguring Designs) 
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
  • Social Media Integration
  • Experiential Games and Activities
  • Meeting Rooms and Casual Seating 
  • Custom graphics and visual storytelling
  • Blending Rental with Purchase Elements for Greater Flexibility
  • Custom Flooring Including Printed, Inlay, and Raised Flooring 

5 Stunning Custom Trade Show Booth Examples 

custom exhibit fabrication
Custom Modular Island w/ Seating

custom trade show booth design
Custom Island Exhibit with Lightboxes and Hanging Sign

custom trade show booth manufacturer
Inline Display with Custom Product Shelves
trade show booth design
Custom Trade Show Booth with Dining Area
custom trade show design
Custom Modular Display with Touchscreens and Storage

Finding the Right Custom Trade Show Booth Manufacturer

Trade shows, trade fairs, conventions, and expositions have existed for hundreds of years. And yet, the trade show industry in the United States is somewhat invisible to most people. Just the trade show portion was forecast to reach 11.8 billion in 2023. Include events and the number doubles to over $23 billion!

This means, there are custom exhibit builders and manufacturers throughout the United States. Most have one location, but many have sales or manufacturing facilities in multiple cities. 

Finding the perfect custom house will depend on your objectives, personality, and location. Some exhibitors want to work with a custom house where they’re the big fish in a small pond. Others are less concerned about size and more about capability, creativity, and services. 

When choosing a custom exhibit house, consider the following: 

Location: From a practical standpoint, most exhibitors work with an exhibit house near or somewhat near them. While video conferencing, file sharing, and texting/email make proximity less important, we’re still more comfortable meeting face-to-face, even if only occasionally, and inspecting our booth in person. That said, location doesn’t always matter especially if someone on your team has a solid working relationship with a specific builder.  

Services: Not all exhibit builders have the same services. Some have large rental inventories, A/V production teams, direct and/or fabric printing, I&D labor, and a comprehensive team of account managers, project managers, designers, event coordinators, welders, carpenters, millwrights, and assemblers. Others have all those but on a smaller scale. Finally, size, whether small or large, doesn’t equate to better service. 

Personality/Fit:  We’re all different, and some exhibit builders better match your needs and personality. Often, there’s no one reason. It just feels right. And that’s OK. 

History: History and relationships matter. It’s not unusual for exhibitors to have a multi-decade relationship with their exhibit house. They’re a team. They know what works, the exhibitor’s show schedule, and how to accomplish the impossible together. It means the exhibitor can focus on strategy and execution rather than the mundane tasks of ordering show services, pre-show booth staging, packing promotional products, or arranging freight. 

Price/Budget: A custom exhibit is a purchase. Large companies are often required to send RFPs (request for proposals) on capital expenses like the building, storing, and maintenance of a custom exhibit. Whatever the final decision on which exhibit house to choose, cost is a factor. And it should be. How much price weighs in the overall decision depends on the company.  

Meet Your Custom Trade Show Booth Partner: Classic Exhibits! 

For 30 years, Classic Exhibits has been designing and building creative custom solutions for our Distributor Partners and their clients. As the largest private-label exhibit manufacturer in North America, we have the unmatched capability, capacity, and creativity to create 3D projects ranging from 10 x 10 inline displays to 60 x 80 double-deck islands. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message. For more information, see and explore Exhibit Design Search or request a meeting with a Classic Distributor Partner.    

Finding My Way into the Trade Show Biz and My First Sales Call

September 25th, 2023 COMMENTS
Harold Mintz, Regional Sales Manager

I was recently asked to share memories of my very first sales call. I had to blow the dust off many layers of memories to find my way back to the early 80’s.

People usually find their way into our industry via two different paths: your family member owns an exhibit house in which you spend your youthful summers schvitzing away in a sweltering shop (I’m looking at you, Nick Carty!) or like most of us… you trip into it by accident.

For me, it was accidental. Please allow me to share some snippets from the early chapters in the Book of Harold.

First Job. First Big Mistake.

Fresh out of college, I somehow managed to get a gig as a copywriter at a local ad agency. I was writing 5 ads a day/5 days a week — TV, radio, newspaper. I wrote all the ads. Whatever the client or my boss asked for, I wrote it.

One day my boss says, “We have a new client (The Washington Times newspaper). They need to see some radio copy. Go write me five spots by the end of day.” As he was leaving my office, he tossed out one more instruction… “Don’t be funny. This is a serious client who is attempting to plant a serious flag. Don’t be funny.”

Sounds simple enough, right? Five ads before the end of the day. No funny. Gotcha. But here’s the problem. After doing my research on this new daily paper, I honestly felt they could use some humor to get people’s attention.

So after penning five straight (rather boring) radio spots, I decided to do one more… for extra credit. And it was funny. Really funny. Might have been one of the best ads I’d ever written. I was quite proud of it actually. So, when I went into my boss’s office that afternoon, I presented the five assigned “not funny” ads and proudly placed my extra credit copy right on top of the stack. MISTAKE!

This is the boss who showed me the door. Notice the hat? The Washington Times

He began to read. After a few seconds, he balled up the copy and tossed it into the trash can. There was no way he’d read the entire ad! My young and inexperienced emotions bubbled to the surface and before I could zip my lip, out it came… “FXQZ You!”

After he stopped laughing, he said, “Okay. You know you’re fired, right?” He continued, “And just a suggestion, it’s probably not a good idea to say ‘F You’ to your next boss.” 

My Next Job.

Harold Mintz
Who the heck would buy anything from this head of hair?

I was once again on the streets looking for a job. I sent out resume after resume. Bupkus. I even got my hair cut (at my father’s strong suggestion).

After a month of scouring the want ads, one of my buddies said, “Why don’t you go see my brother? He owns an exhibit house, and he’s looking for someone to write a client’s annual report.”

An exhibit what??!! Didn’t know. Didn’t care. I was out of work and needed money. I booked the appointment.

I was hired and after six weeks, I completed what I’m sure remains one of the world’s most boring annual reports ever written.

But during those 6 weeks, I noticed odd things around the shop and I had questions. Lots of questions.

“What’s that?”

“That’s a piece of moon rock. We’re making a display for the Smithsonian.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s a calligrapher. He’s illuminating (hand penning) diplomas for Mt Vernon College.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s a sign painter. He’s painting posters for the local department store.” (Listen youngsters — Vinyl machines didn’t always exist. Before Gerber made the first vinyl plotter/cutter, all signs were either hand painted or silk-screened.)

This all looked like great fun! So I asked if there was a permanent spot for me on the Blair, Inc Team. There was. In sales.

Sales? No kid that I know says, “When I grow up I wanna be a salesperson. Ewww!” But I needed the job. I didn’t know it at the time, but Scott Jackson, owner of Blair, Inc had just given me my first sales gig in the trade show industry. (By the way, Blair, Inc is still kicking butt in Northern Virginia, currently enjoying 72 years in business.)

So there I was — young, inexperienced, and probably not much more knowledgeable about trade show exhibits than my future prospects. Although I had tagged along on a few sales calls with my boss, I didn’t feel like I was prepared to go solo yet. Doesn’t matter. The call came in, and I went out.

My First Prospect

All I knew about the prospect was that they were an engineering firm and that they were a two-hour drive from our shop. I arrived about half an hour early. Always good to be early. But I screwed up the time. The appointment was set for 2:00 pmNOT 3:00 pm.

I walked in thinking I was 30 minutes early, but in reality, I was 30 minutes late. No time to visit the restroom to unload the 20 ounces of coffee I had been slogging down.

I was ushered into the conference room where there were seven men staring at me. Remember… I’m a rookie. Instead of starting by asking the questions I now know are critical to capturing a prospect’s needs, I proceeded to make my presentation all about my company, my team, and ME. After about 10 minutes of non-stop blabbing, I finally pulled out my newfangled “pop-up exhibit.”

Nomadic Display’s corporate headquarters was just down the road from Blair, Inc and they had recently given us some demo Instand frames to show clients. I popped open the frame and the room full of engineers went nuts. They immediately jumped up and said, “Do that again!” At the time, nobody had seen Ted Ziegler’s pop-up technology before. They were astounded and wanted to know everything about it.

There was time when pop-up technology was astounding to everyone who saw it. Revolutionary!

No longer nervous, I taught them how to open it. They were sooooo into it!

I told them everything I knew about “Instand pop-ups,” which took all of two minutes. But they were engineers and started asking me questions. Lots of questions…

“Can the shelves hold 30 pounds?” “Sure.” No they can’t. They don’t even HAVE shelves.

“Is it reconfigurable?” “Of course… Don’t be silly.” Liar!!!

“Can we get it by Friday?” “Absolutely.” Nope.

They couldn’t have been more excited, and I couldn’t have been more worried. I spent the return two-hour drive freaking out. Oh my gosh! What if they actually BUY this display and find out it that it can’t do ANY of the things I’d promised?!

I needn’t have worried. Never heard from them again. As impressed as they were with the technology, they had also detected my rookie-ness on display and had decided to go with a more seasoned (smarter, more knowledgeable) salesperson.

I wasted their time and mine. I crashed and burned on my very first sales call — badly. But I did learn some big lessons.

Lessons Learned

1. Get There Early – Never, ever, ever be late for a meeting. Get thereearly. Get their WAY early. But never be late. In Hollywood I learned this ditty… “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re fired.”

2. Engineers – I know it’s stereotyping, but in my experience, engineers tend to like details. All the details. They also tend to want to put WAY too much copy on exhibit walls that nobody will ever read except maybe other engineers.

3. IDK — If a prospect asks you something that you don’t know the answer to, say “I don’t know!” Tell them you’ll find out and get back to them ASAP. And then find out and get back to them ASAP.

The Family Business

I mentioned up top about the two ways that people find their way into our industry: by family or by accident. While reminiscing about my early career, I realized that most of the companies that I’d worked for were all family houses:

Blair, Inc – son-in-law took over from father-in-law

Shy Greenspan, Founder of Blair, Inc and Scott Jackson, my boss and still the Owner of Blair, Inc.

Nomadic – daughter took over from father

Susan Mintz, Judy Watson (daughter) and Ted Zeigler (father and inventor of the Instand and the self-locking pop-up technology) and me.

HW Exhibits – son took over from father

Howard and Scott Walode

Last week, I was in Texas and had the pleasure of sitting down for a cup of coffee with Danny Kent/5D Show Services ( Danny’s dad, Rick Kent and industry icon Larry Crumlish started The Exhibit Store in Dallas many, many years ago. Danny shared with me how he spent his youth at The Exhibit Store learning from the ground up. It was emotional for both of us listening to him wax poetically as he reminisced about the early days and people no longer with us.

For all those who swam into our industry via their family’s gene pool, good for you.

And for all the rest of us who found it by accident… how lucky are we?

–Harold Mintz (

In Loving Memory of Michael Holzer | 10/28/1983 – 09/20/2023

September 22nd, 2023 2 COMMENTS
Michael Holzer

What You Should Know about Trade Show Services

September 12th, 2023 1 COMMENT
trade show services

Your trade show success hinges on your preparedness and experience. This article will explain trade show services in order to best prepare you for the big event. Whether you’re a trade show expert or a newcomer, this guide will help optimize your trade show experience.

Onsite Trade Show Services vs. Offsite Trade Show Services

Onsite trade show services include services available at the convention center, exhibition hall, or meeting space. General Service Contractors (GSC’s) typically provide these services for show management.

Several months before the show, the GSC or Show Management will email exhibitors a link(s) to show services. The website will list the available services prices, ordering, and deadlines. In addition, the site will explain the services the exhibitor must order from the GSC or subcontractor and the union regulations at the show site. Details matter. Not every show or every venue has identical regulations and ordering processes. If in doubt, contact the GSC or show management with any questions. 

Finally, the deadlines for ordering services are not arbitrary. The GSC’s have early bird prices to encourage exhibitors to order them weeks, even months, in advance. It allows the GSC to plan for the equipment they’ll need and to schedule the appropriate number of employees. Ordering early not only saves the exhibitor money but it also gives the GSC the opportunity to contact the exhibitor if they see any issues on the order form. 

Trade Show Onsite Labor

Show management contracts with the GSC to provide the show site installation and dismantle labor services (I&D). The GSC labor company may also provide the decoration (pipe and drape, aisle carpet, and registration counters). They are responsible for ensuring each installation is completed on time and the facility is cleared after the event.

Using onsite labor is convenient but not mandatory. Exhibitors can contract with any labor company as long as the labor company complies with the local rules and regulations as well as the show policies and procedures. These independent companies are called Exhibitor Appointed Contractors (EACs). For a list of North American EAC’s, see

The onsite labor contractor has a service desk onsite, and their labor forms are conveniently included with the show forms. If you need more labor on the show floor, you can easily request it. Many exhibitors use the show labor since it is convenient… Those that don’t use onsite labor generally have a working relationship with an EAC labor company. 

At a union-regulated show site, the unions define what you can do during set-up and dismantle. Generally, there is a ratio of a few laborers to one company representative. You are permitted to handle all your products. The labor crew is responsible for handling display components, power tools, and ladders. However, most crews are flexible if you demonstrate good faith.

Planning is very, very important. Remember to schedule time for flooring and electrical before you schedule a set-up crew to assemble your booth. Likewise, plan for a delay in getting your crates delivered to your booth space at the end of the show. It may take the GSC several hours to deliver all of the crates so coordinate labor and freight appropriately.

Trade Show Onsite Electrical / Internet

The GSC also provides electrical services. Only licensed electricians can set up and dismantle electrical wiring and connections in your exhibit. In the most literal sense, this includes screwing in a light bulb, but most exhibitors take this to mean the wiring and circuitry. Electricians review the wire grounding and the breaker loads and look for exposed or unsafe hacker wiring and connections. Electricity is the primary threat on the show floor. High power runs everywhere. Fires are a real danger when you consider all the wood, carpet, and plastic concentrated in an exhibit hall. 

Internet services are typically handled by the show hall. Basic Internet service may be available at no charge, but high-speed service, either wireless or wired, must be ordered. A warning regarding Internet connectivity. Exhibitors often assume the Internet connection during installation will be the same speed during the show. It’s not. During the show, the hall will be packed with exhibitors and attendees, all tapping into the wireless connection. If your marketing and sales presentations in the booth rely on a stable Internet connection, you would be wise to spend a little extra for a secure, high-speed connection.

Trade Show Electrical Requirements

The online services website will include a form for ordering electrical services. You will need to specify outlet location(s) with a floor plan, along with the total watts or amps. Most people are unfamiliar with how to add up all their electrical needs, but it’s less complicated than it may first appear. Monitors, LED light fixtures, and computers have published watt and amps. For other equipment, consult with your internal experts or contact the GSC’s customer service team. 

Wiring between outlets to fixtures and electronics poses the most obstacles. Exhibits in the US require grounded power cords (3 prongs), which translates into larger wires. Hiding these wires can be challenging if you don’t prepare in advance. Buildings hide wiring under the floor, in the roof, and in the walls. Exhibits don’t always have that option. They hide wires under sub-flooring or carpet padding or drop power from the ceiling overhead.

If you have a lot of electrical requirements in your booth, then consider adding a list of the items to the electrical floor plan you send with your order. Better yet, indicate on the floor plan where the electrical items will be needed. Electricians are very good at reading and extrapolating electrical information. They frequently catch errors and make adjustments on the fly, thereby saving you time and hassle during the exhibit set-up.

If you have questions, call the GSC. These are routine questions for them.

Wiring Your Trade Show Booth Space and Exhibit

Visionary Designs DM-0264 Trade Show Exhibit

You have two options. Power can be run beneath your flooring or dropped from the ceiling. If you choose the floor, you will want your flooring to hide the wiring. Carpet padding combined with plush carpet conceals most wires. Other flooring such as wood and flooring tiles require a channel routed in the underside of the material for the wiring. Whenever possible, request that the electrician use flat cords rather than round cords.

An electrical ceiling drop is more expensive than running wires across the floor but may be necessary depending on the booth configuration and power load requirements. If you are considering a ceiling drop, contact the GSC to discuss the ceiling configuration over your booth space. Also, discuss the option of floor outlets. The GSC can help you determine which is best for you.

When you select an exhibit to purchase, make sure you understand and are comfortable with how the booth will be wired at the show. Just as important, make sure you communicate where you expect electrical devices in the exhibit, including all lighting fixtures. Be proactive about wire management and discuss with your exhibit consultant during the design phase. It’s much, much cheaper to add grommets, electrical covers, and wire management during the build process than at the show.

Onsite Trade Show Audio/Visual (A/V) Rental

You can rent computers, monitors, LED video panels, touchscreen kiosks, projectors, and much more. They’re available from the show A/V contractor, independent A/V providers, and often from your exhibit house. And while renting A/V equipment can be expensive, it’s not nearly as expensive as purchasing the equipment. In addition, A/V providers often have a service desk onsite to assist with any issues before or during the show. For many exhibitors, monitors, video walls, tablets, and touchscreen kiosks are critical elements of their trade show presentation. Finally, shipping any A/V equipment requires custom packaging to prevent freight damage. Renting eliminates that cost and headache.

Your online show forms will have forms from the show A/V contractor. There is typically a discount if the equipment is requested in advance. Better yet, contact your exhibit house and ask them for their recommended A/V provider.

Onsite Trade Show Housekeeping Services

To keep your exhibit looking great throughout the show, there are two options. You can arrange to have your exhibit cleaned during the show with an onsite housecleaning service, or you can bring a vacuum and cleaning supplies and perform the task yourself. Onsite housekeeping companies contract with the show decorator to provide the service to exhibitors. Your online show services website should have a form for ordering this service. Cleaning typically includes vacuuming the carpet and emptying the trash. Cleaning fingerprints from windows and laminate surfaces remains the exhibitor’s responsibility.

Consider having plastic (called Visqueen) placed over the carpet during set-up. It isn’t cheap, but it is effective against spills, trash, and forklift tire tracks. Remember to remove the plastic immediately before the show opens.

Trade Show Booth Cleaning Tips

Vacuuming your booth daily is a good idea if you have any kind of plush carpet, especially if it is very light or very dark in color. If your carpet is new, then plan on heavy fuzzing for the first few uses. Whether you use a cleaning service or do your own booth cleaning, it’s a good idea to have a cleaning kit packed in your booth that travels from show to show. Below is a list of items to include in a cleaning kit.

Trade Show Cleaning Kit Contents:

  • Glass cleaner
  • Laminate polish
  • Paper towels
  • Scissors
  • Knife, razor, or box cutter
  • Velcro
  • Multipurpose screwdriver with flat and Phillips heads
  • Finger polish remover (acts like lacquer thinner for removing adhesive gum)
  • Clear packing tape
  • Carpet tape (in case you need to tack a corner down)
  • Duct tape

Onsite Trade Show Exhibit Security Services

Exhibit halls can be a magnet for pilferage and espionage. If you want to guard against either of these, show management or the exhibit hall can assist you in securing your exhibit area. The onsite trade show security provider can post a security officer in your booth for the times you specify. 

Pilferage can occur from labor, attendees, or employees. Because shows are known for giving away free stuff (incentives), some folks simply take this invitation a half step further. It’s a nuisance when pilferage involves promotional incentives, but it can be catastrophic if it is a product or prototype that will be missed by attendees if it is gone.

Store your incentives in a lockable storage cabinet. If you don’t have one, the next best place is behind the booth or anywhere out of site.

Wait until just before the show opens to set out your incentives. Many staffers from other exhibits prowl the aisles before the show opens collecting incentives. Pack incentives or any valuable product or electronic equipment in unmarked inconspicuous boxes. Consider sealing them after each opening especially if they are not under lock and key.

Espionage can be the double-edged sword of business-to-business exhibit marketing. While everyone is working to impress attendees with breakthroughs and innovations, they run the risk of providing proprietary technology to direct competitors. Make no mistake about a competitor’s willingness to take a quantum leap at the expense of a rival. There are a number of tips for protecting proprietary information. Consider having a security guard posted in the booth every day before and after show hours. The presence of these security officers will stop wandering competitors from trespassing.

Trade Show Freight ServicesOnsite Trade Show Freight Services

Onsite trade show freight shipping refers to the shipping company subcontracted by the GSC to provide inbound and outbound freight shipping service. Like all show services, onsite freight shipping has the advantage of convenience. The onsite freight company maintains a service desk at the show. They will be most familiar with the receiving and sending aspects of the show and facility. If you use a different shipping company and your company does not arrive to pick up your freight after the show, your freight will be “force shipped” with the onsite shipping company at your expense.

Most major carriers are familiar with shipping to trade shows and the general marshaling process that occurs as trucks line up to unload their exhibit freight on the docks of the show facility. Whatever means you use, you will want to provide clear instructions to ensure that your freight is received at the show facility and delivered to your booth space.

Freight is priced by dimensional and actual weight depending on the service. For exhibits shipped ground freight, the crate contents rarely exceed the dimensional weight formula. However, for exhibits shipped via air freight, there are limits in size and weight. Actual weight can easily exceed dimensional weight just as shipping a large box with light contents can incur an additional oversized charge. Freight companies are set up to provide instant quotes based on the shipment’s size and weight, your zip code, and the final destination zip code. These companies extend significant discounts on standard rates according to a company’s annual shipping volume.

Trade Show Freight Insurance

Regardless of how you ship your exhibit, you will want to insure it for its full retail value. Without insurance, if your booth is lost or damaged, the standard protection from the carrier is approximately .50 per pound. Consider this. If your $100K exhibit is lost in transit and it weighed 3000 lb. and shipped in three crates, you would be paid only $1500. Alternatively, if you paid the insurance, you would be reimbursed the full $100K with proof of value such as the invoice. Don’t take the risk. There is a good possibility you will experience some kind of freight loss or damage over a number of trade shows.

The Value of Offsite Trade Show Services & Support

Given the cost of trade show marketing, exhibitors are tasked with making wise financial decisions to ensure their investment is successful. One of those decisions is whether to use onsite or offsite providers for products and services. Offsite suppliers include rental furniture, A/V equipment, installation and dismantle labor, flooring, lead management, and even the design and build of your display. 

In most cases, the service will be comparable between onsite vs. offsite providers. However, onsite providers are focused on that specific show whereas offsite providers are more interested in your long-term business. They want you to contract with them when you have a show in San Diego or one in Chicago or your BIG SHOW every year in Las Vegas. 

Let’s use labor as an example. An offsite labor company that handles your exhibit multiple times learns the tricks and tips of your booth and your specific requirements. As a result, there’s a good chance they’ll not only be able to assemble it faster, but they’re also more likely to be extra careful when packing it. After all, they’ll be assembling it again and the last thing they want are surprises when opening your crates. In time, they know what to expect and the experience is less stressful for everyone, which is the gift that just keeps giving.

Trade Show Management Services

What are “trade show management services”? It’s less straightforward than it appears. We’ve already discussed “services” in earlier sections. Who handles them can vary, not only from show to show but also depending on the venue. 

Exhibition, Convention or Show Hall Management:  Every exhibit hall or event venue has a team who handles sales and marketing, schedules shows, maintains the facility, and negotiates contracts with unions, food vendors, and janitorial services. They are responsible for the management and success of the building. For smaller shows, meetings, or events, they may even serve as the show management. 

Show Management:  Whether it’s a local boat show or the annual trade show for the American Cardiology Association, the “show” is owned and managed by a company or an association. They are responsible for everything associated with the show without necessarily handling every activity. For example, they identify the location for the show and negotiate space and services with the facility management. They also contract with a General Show Contractor to handle drayage, electrical, pipe and drape, signage, labor, etc. However, the show management devotes much of their time to marketing the show, developing education sessions, scheduling speakers, creating social events, soliciting sponsors, and registering attendees and exhibitors. 

General Show Contractor (GSC); Most exhibitors interact primarily with the General Show Contractor and often confuse the GSC with both Show Management or Show Hall Management. As mentioned before, the GSC handles a variety of functions for exhibitors, depending on the show. These may include moving and storing freight, electrical services, cleaning, labor, sign rigging, rental furniture, and in some cases even renting exhibits. The GSC has a contract with Show Management and when an exhibitor hits a wall resolving a problem with the GSC, they should contact Show Management, who typically has a temporary office in the show hall. 

Expert Trade Show Services with Classic Exhibits!

If you’ve made it this far and are still confused, you are not alone. It’s very confusing, which is why working with exhibit professionals is a must. Classic Exhibits has over 200 Distributors throughout North America who are trade show pros when it comes to onsite and offsite services. They’ll guide you through the trade show maze so you can concentrate on achieving your marketing objectives. For more information, contact Classic Exhibits at  

Building a Trade Show Booth: A Professional’s Guide

September 6th, 2023 COMMENTS
Building a Trade Show Booth

Could you build your own trade show booth? Of course. But, let’s be honest. Do you really want to design and build a structure engineered to assemble quickly, pack efficiently, display graphics, and survive shipping? 

That’s not to say you couldn’t do it, but why reinvent the wheel when there are specialized exhibit houses with ten, twenty, or even fifty years of expertise in engineering displays for portable, modular, and entirely custom trade show booths?

If there’s one “truism” in trade show marketing, it’s that experience matters and mistakes are costly. You’ll avoid the most common pitfalls by conducting research online, asking questions early and often, and working with a trade show professional. That professional could be an exhibitor in your industry with years of experience, a local exhibit house, or an exhibit industry consultant who can guide you through the design, build, marketing, training, and lead management process. 

How to Go About Building a Trade Show Booth 

As with any marketing project, your trade show design and build should start with a comprehensive strategy. What are your goals, your budget, and the expected outcome? Your strategy will evolve. It does for everyone. Internal stakeholders, like sales, customer service, research and development, and your senior executive team, will share their distinctive perspectives on what success looks like for them. 

It goes without saying that most organizations want to increase sales and find lucrative clients. Challenge them beyond that. What else represents “success” for the team? Meeting with existing clients, sponsorships at educational sessions at the show, insights about competitors, or even team building. Finally, consider both quantitative and qualitative goals. For example, sales leads could be a quantitative goal. Meeting new people at the show’s opening reception could be a qualitative goal. 

Building a trade show booth is a process. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never participated in a trade show or you’re a seasoned trade show professional. Getting it right takes time and requires the input and expertise of people both within and outside your organization. 

Once you’ve established your goals, you’ll need to decide on a booth size or sizes. The size will depend on the number of shows you plan to participate in this year and whether the size of the booth will vary depending on the show. For example, your industry may have one major exhibition. At that exhibition, you want a REALLY BIG presence. Say a 20 x 30 island. Then, there’s another show three months later, which while important, doesn’t require as large of a booth. In this case, say a 10 x 20 inline. It’s time to make an important decision… which we’ll discuss in the next section. 

Planning Your Exhibition Booth Design & Layout 

It’s time to either surf the web for displays or meet with your exhibit house account executive and designer. Or both. The direction you take may depend on your budget, your knowledge of trade show booths, or your timeframe. Endlessly scrolling through display websites has its benefits. You’ll see a wide range of designs, sizes, and prices, which may narrow down your choices. It may also clarify whether you want to work with an online supplier, a local exhibit house, or a portable/modular distributor. Let’s assume you’ve chosen the second option. 

Your goals, strategy, and budget will serve as the foundation for the design. The exhibit designer will then dive deeper. Often much deeper. The designer will strive to understand your branding, your culture, your current marketing, and your products and services. They also ask about your previous trade show experiences and examples of what others have done that you admire or that make you cringe. They’ll also request a  budget, which can be a specific number or a range. Many exhibit designers won’t even begin the process without a budget. It makes no sense for them to create the perfect $85K booth only to discover your budget is closer to $30K. 

Armed with that information, the designer will get to work. Ideally, the initial booth design will fulfill all the requirements and “Wow!” you, but it’s not unusual to go through several iterations to fine-tune the exhibit design. Once you’ve decided on your design, it’s time to begin the next step – building the booth. 

trade show booth construction materials

Comparing Different Types of Booth Displays 

The expression “You can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind. It would be all too easy to get lost in the nuances between different types of booth displays and even between similar displays from multiple manufacturers. Let’s keep this simple. There are four basic types of booth displays. The differences are pretty straightforward.  

Basic Portables

Basic or budget portables are inexpensive displays designed primarily as a carrier for graphics. Think banner stands like the Pronto or a pop-up like the  V-Burst. Generally, they assemble quickly and are designed to ship via UPS or FedEx. Basic portables are not engineered for long-term use and replacement parts can be difficult to obtain. Not surprisingly, quality varies depending on the manufacturer. 

Portable Displays

Like the budget versions described above, portable displays are engineered to assemble quickly and ship via UPS or FedEx. Portable displays, however, are designed to perform for years. Although they’re still primarily graphic carriers, they often include practical accessories like counters, monitor mounts, literature holders, and even iPad mounts. See the Symphony SYK-1023 for a 10 x 10 version and the Sacagawea VK-2114 for a 10 x 20 version. 

exhibition booth design

Modular Exhibits

Modular = Reconfigurable for most exhibitors. There are portable modular displays, modular wall systems, and even custom modular exhibits. In other words, it’s less about budget or price than it’s about the ability to redesign a booth into multiple configurations. For example, The VK-5124 Island has all the necessary hardware for the 10 x 20 VK-2400 and the 10 x 10 VK-1362

Even if you don’t need modularity, there’s a good chance your booth will be built with modular components. That’s convenient for several reasons. Replacement parts are readily available and most labor companies are familiar with modular systems. 

Custom Exhibits

The term “custom” has two meanings in booth design. When someone says, “I would like a custom exhibit,” they usually mean a design unique to them and/or a booth constructed primarily of wood. In reality, custom or customized booths can include everything from a 10 ft. inline to a 125 x 250 ft. double-deck island. While wood construction may be a significant percentage of the construction, it’s just as likely that engineered aluminum walls with tension fabric graphics will be the structure. Either way, it will ship in wood crates and include both fully or partially assembled components.  The VK-1362 10 ft. inline and the VK-4017 20 ft. inline are excellent examples. 

trade show booth construction

Selecting Quality Trade Show Booth Construction Materials 

Wood Construction. Trade show exhibits are more like Hollywood sets than permanent buildings. They’re expected to look amazing but assemble quickly and easily. Wood panels with cam locks and fully assembled counters, workstations, and pedestals are ideal for a truly custom exhibit. 

Aluminum Construction. Lightweight, durable, and versatile aluminum extrusions are the backbone of modern trade show exhibits. Sometimes, they’re visible, but more often they’re the hidden structure for fabric graphics, lightboxes, monitors, shelves, and storage. Modular wall systems, like Gravitee, and LED lightboxes, like SuperNova, are ideal as rental structures. 

Laminates. Thank goodness for laminates. They offer exhibit designers unlimited colors and textures at a fraction of the cost of paint, stains, wood, and metals. 

Tension Fabric Graphics. Fabric graphics, specifically dye-sublimated fabric graphics, are the material of choice for most inline and island exhibits. Need backlighting? Fabric graphics are the best choice. Need a large image with vibrant colors? Choose fabric graphics. Need something lightweight, durable, and nearly indestructible? Yep, fabric graphics are the best choice. 

Direct Print Graphics. Colorful, easy, widely available, and cheap. Direct print graphics are ideal for both smaller prints on counters or pedestals or larger images on modular wall systems. 

Vinyl Graphics. Like direct print graphics, vinyl graphics are colorful and widely available. They’re often used for accent graphics on counters, charging tables, and pedestals, but they can also be practical for larger hard structures where a specific color, pattern, or message is required.  

exhibition booth design

DIY vs. Professional Trade Show Booth Construction 

Whether you want to save money and/or you have the skills necessary to build your exhibit, building your own exhibit may be an option. Before starting, however, it’s important to understand the following:

  1. Does the show have specific regulations regarding the size or format of inline and island exhibits? Most do and the exhibit must conform to those regulations or the show organizer will require the exhibitor to make modifications onsite. If modifications cannot be made, then the exhibitor will not be allowed to install their booth. In those situations, which unfortunately do happen, the exhibitor won’t have a sales presence on the show floor, will still be responsible for all expenses, including paying for their booth space, and will own an exhibit that may not be able to be used at future events. 
  2. Is the booth designed to be shipped in cases or crates, assembled quickly, and durable enough to survive shipping? Display manufacturers have spent the past 50 years engineering structures designed to be lightweight, pack efficiently, and survive trade shows.
  3. Electrical and lighting for trade show exhibits must adhere to very specific guidelines. These guidelines are mandated by the convention center. In most cases, the convention center has a contract with local union electricians which defines what the exhibitor can (and cannot) do on the show floor. 
exhibition booth design

Building a Trade Show Booth with Classic Exhibits! 

The exhibit industry is nothing if not competitive and creative. Over the years, it has evolved to meet the needs of trade show exhibitors for high-quality displays in a wide range of styles, prices, and construction. 

Since 1993, Classic Exhibits has been North America’s leading builder of quality trade show exhibits for professional exhibitors. Browse through 1,500 contemporary displays or request a custom design personalized to your trade show marketing goals. 

Find success on the trade show floor with an exhibit that reflects your marketing message… at a price that will make your CFO giddy. For more information, see