Trade Show TalesBlog

Posts Tagged ‘modular’

It’s Between This or That — Choosing the Right Trade Show Display

December 10th, 2010 COMMENTS

Choosing the right trade show display is rarely straightforward. Most of the time, you are selecting between two similar but slightly different displays. Sometimes it’s about the price. Other times it’s about a personal design preference. Many times, it comes down to weight and assembly.

We can’t cover every scenario, but we can review some of the more common “this or that” portable/modular choices. You gotta make a decision . . . which one will you choose?

Briefcase Table Top vs. Full-size Table Top

Briefcase Table Top

This comes down to price, presentation, convenience, and assembly. Briefcase table tops tend to be smaller than traditional pop up, fabric, or hybrid table tops. There’s no assembly, unless you have a header, which may add another minute to the setup time. They are functional, convenience, and durable. Pop up, fabric, and hybrid table tops are almost always larger than briefcase table tops and may include options like backlit headers, lights, seamless graphics, and literature holders. Price varies  from $400 to $2000 depending on accessories and design.

Insider Tip:  College recruiters love briefcase table tops. Pharmaceutical reps like pop ups or hybrid table tops.

Full-size Table Top vs. Banner Stand(s)

Banner Stand

This one is tough. Full-size table tops on a 6 ft. table make a great backdrop to any 10 x 10 space. The graphic area is large enough to convey one or two messages and your display will probably look different than your neighbor. Banner stands are lightweight, easy to assembly, and can be placed at the back of the booth or on the aisle. It’s not uncommon to see three banner stands placed side-by-side to create a semi-uniform large image.

Insider Tip:  Why choose one or the other . . . Get both! It’s affordable and gives you the ability to take advantage of a table and the fill the booth space without adding clutter.

Banner Stand vs. Fabric Pop Up Display

Fabric Pop Up

This one depends on how many banner stands you want. One or two banner stands in a 10 x 10 space is not a display, and frankly it looks cheap and ridiculous. Two banner stands with a case to counter conversion is much better. A fabric pop up like Xpressions fills the backwall and takes about the same time to setup as multiple banner stands. The difference is price and design. Fabric pop ups are more expensive, but offer more visual impact.

Insider Tip:  Both a banner stand and a fabric pop up give the ability to change your graphics frequently. In general, changing the graphic on a fabric pop up is easier than changing the graphic on a banner stand.

Fabric Pop Up vs. Pop Up Display

Pop Up Display

This is really a matter of taste. Fabric pop ups require less assembly time since the graphics are attached to the frame. Fabric pop up graphics are a series of tension fabric images attached to a visible straight frame. Pop up panels are unrolled and then hung on the frame. Pop up graphics are usually mural lambda or inkjet graphics attached to a curved frame. Pop up systems generally have more accessories such as shelves, literature holders, and monitor mounts.

If you want a seamless, single graphic, go with a pop up. If you want a series of images which create a unified theme or message, got with a fabric pop up.

Insiders Tip:  You’ve heard it before, but you get what you pay for. The prices for these systems are all over the board. Ask lots of questions and less than you need or more than you’ll use.

Pop Up vs. Portable Hybrid Display

Portable Hybrid

Pop up displays have been the mainstay of the portable exhibitor for over 20 years. Portable hybrids are the interlopers, offering more design options but at a higher price. You can’t go wrong with a pop up display, but you aren’t going to win any design awards. Walk any trade show and you’ll see a pop up display on every aisle. They are effective but not sexy anymore. Portable hybrids come in a variety of design flavors and options. The large format graphics are tension fabric, making them lightweight and durable. The downside . . . portable hybrids rarely ship as compact as pop ups and the setup time can be double. Most portable hybrids require some tool assemble, although newer systems like the Perfect 10 and Sacagawea are either tool-free or mostly tool-free.

Insiders Tip:  Portable hybrids come in all price points, from $3500 to $13,0000 for a 10 x 10 display. This is one of the few instances where the price point corresponds directly with the options, design flair, and graphic elements. More money means more curves, larger graphics, more accessory options (and often better packaging).

Portable Hybrid vs. Modular Hybrid Display

Modular Hybrid

What is a hybrid? In short, it’s a display that incorporates engineered aluminum extrusion, tension fabric graphics, and other stuff (which varies by design and manufacturer). Portable hybrids pack in roto-molded wheeled cases. Modular hybrids pack in roto-molded tubs or small wood crates. Portable Hybrids, such as Magellan are lightweight, economical, and attractive, but may not have all the bells and whistles such as extensive storage, large screen monitor capability, puck lighting, and multiple graphics. Modular Hybrids, like Visionary Designs, allow you to create whatever you want. The only limitation is your budget.

Insiders Tip:  The terms modular hybrid and custom hybrid are often used interchangeably. Frankly, there are not enough differences to quibble.

Modular Hybrid vs. Modular Laminate Exhibit

Modular Laminate Hybrid

Bear with me on this. It’s a little esoteric. If you read the previous section, you know what Modular Hybrids are all about. Modular Laminate exhibits are are primarily modular laminate panels rather than aluminum extrusion and tension fabric. That said, Modular Hybrids may have some laminate components, and Modular Laminates may have some aluminum and fabric components. It’s just depends on which material is the primary building block. Why choose one over the other? Some people love the the look of laminates. Others prefer large format fabric graphics. It all comes down to personal tastes and the image you are attempting to project.

Insiders Tip:  I’m a snob when it comes to modular laminate systems. I have a right to be. I’ve seen every variation over the past 15 years. The best ones are lightweight, durable, two-sided, and simple to install. The worst ones have taken a simple idea and created a mechanical Rubik’s Cube with springs and funky locks. Simple and durable are always better in this case.

–Mel White

How to Save Money on Your Next Trade Show Display

November 11th, 2010 COMMENTS

Tips to Save $ on Your Next Display

Buy Value – Not Price. Too often, we focus on the price rather than the value. It’s human nature, especially when budgets are constrained. However, we all know the difference between a good value for the price and a low price on a shoddy product. If you have ever bought a cheap screwdriver, you know. It lasts about three jobs and then the tip deforms and the handle twists. A trade show display has to accomplish three basic goals:  look professional, assemble easily, and be durable. If it fails any of these, then it’s not a good value.

Understand the Channels of Distribution. In nearly every case, you will purchase your display from a distributor who represents an exhibit manufacturer. Some distributors represent a single manufacturer. Others represent multiple manufacturers. Still others are sub-distributors who must purchase their products through multiple channels. Shorter distribution channels generally reduce the overall markup. It doesn’t matter whether you purchase online or from a bricks and mortar business. What matters is whether the distributor is an authorized representative and whether the distributor has a solid history representing the product.

Buy the Right Graphics.  No one ever tells you this . . . but there are high-quality graphics and there are cheap-a$$ graphics. You may not be able to tell the difference when you see them apart, but put them together and the difference is astonishing. Greater resolutions, higher contrast, deeper color intensity, truer color matches. The other lesson comes after you’ve used them several times. Cheaper graphics do not hold up to the wear and tear of trade show (ab)use. They de-laminate, they curl, they fade, they fray.

You need to use your smarts here and recognize that $250 graphics are not compatible with $750 graphics. If all you need are disposable graphics, then the inexpensive version is perfect. If the expensive ones are too expensive, then negotiate. No one is going to send you to the timeout corner for asking for a break on the price.

Don’t Buy More Than You Need.  The most overused term in the exhibits industry is “modular.” Buy this and you can re-configure it to this or you can add-on to the display when you upgrade to a larger exhibit. From my experience, customers rarely re-configure and rarely expand their existing display. Now you may be the exception and kudos to you, but don’t buy a 20 x 20 that re-configures to a 10 x 10 and 10 x 20 if you don’t need it. Or if you don’t want to spend hours sorting through packaging identifying the right components for the smaller displays or discover that re-configurability compromises the overall design.

I’m going to take some heat on this, particularly since I work for a company that designs and build modular displays, but so be it. Here’s my suggestion:  choose modularity because you want something that is easy to assembly, not because you wanted the adult version of a Transformer.

Rental Displays

Consider Combining Rentals with a Purchase. Frankly, this is so logical that I’m embarrassed to list it. Yet, almost no one does it. I don’t know why, except that so many of us have this primal need to own stuff. In some cases, display customers fall in love with a design, which is fine, but don’t realize that there is a rental solution available at 1/3 the cost. You have to ask. That’s the key. And if the display representative or exhibit house doesn’t have the right rental solution, then go somewhere else. Not everyone has embraced customized rentals. You need to find the company or companies that have.

That said, rentals are not for everyone. Your marketing requirements may dictate a unique structure and capabilities, or you may plan to use the same structure for more than four or five shows. At that point, purchasing is cheaper. But you need to remind yourself . . . you have the option of renting some of the structure and purchasing other parts. It’s not an either/or situation. For more tips about when to rent, please see this article.

Beware of Purchasing Magic Beans. Like any industry, the exhibit industry is not immune to charlatans who want to sell you “magic beans.” Their system will save you 50% or increase your leads by 200% at the first show. Aren’t numbers fun, when you don’t have to document the results?

Honestly, there are no magic beans. Some displays are better than others. Some are MUCH BETTER than others. But in the end, what matters is the quality of the display and how you prepare for your show. Your show will be a success based on your preparation before, during, and after the show. It’s that simple. Having the right display will assist in that effort and present the right image to potential customers, but a good display can’t overcome laziness, a lack of preparation, and procrastination. Not even a six-pack of Red Bull can do that.

Quality Matters.  Admittedly, this is sort of repeats the first one with a twist. I know you don’t want to hear it . . . but you get what you pay for. Here’s a metaphor for pop up displays, which many folks now consider a generic product (they’re not, but that’s OK). When is the last time you purchased blue jeans? There are budget, mainstream, and designer jeans. The bargain basement jeans are sold for around $14.99. Have you bought those? I have. They fit (kind of) and they wear like toilet tissue. They may resemble Levi’s, Wranglers, or Lee jeans but that’s about it.

Levi’s, Wranglers, and Lee jeans cost about double the price of the cheap pairs, but you’ll own them for years. They may not have decorative stitching or funky pockets or the cache of designer jeans, but they are functional and attractive.

Then there are designer jeans at double, triple, or quadruple the price of the Wranglers. They are well made and will also last for years. And, they may get you noticed a little more, which sometimes is a fair trade-off. But in the end (no pun intended), what gets noticed and admired is the package and not the packaging. Now take everything you just learned about jeans and quality and apply it to displays.

Consider the Packaging. One quick tip: Don’t assume the packaging is first rate. It’s usually not. Ask to see examples of how the manufacturer packs their displays. Excellent packaging is expensive and that’s where some manufacturers and custom houses cut corners. That’s too bad because the right packaging will save you lots of time before and after the show and ensure that the display arrives at its next destination in perfect shape.

Finally, don’t forget to review the setup instructions. You may decide to ignore them when you assemble the display, but Wanda in Human Resources won’t when she uses it at the Employment Fair. I don’t know about you, but I never want to make HR mad.

Let me know if you have any questions and I welcome your comments.

–Mel White

See Also . . .

13 Common Trade Show Mistakes
What Smells? Top 10 Trade Show Odors

What Not to Wear (at a Trade Show)

When 50% “Show” and 50% “Trade” is 100% “In Doubt”

September 29th, 2009 1 COMMENT

The Future of Trade Shows

After ten plus years in the exhibit industry, I tend to make assumptions about trade shows. To me, they are convention halls, pipe and drape, carpeting, hanging banners, and trade show displays. They are drayage, union labor, and confusing electrical forms. You expect the typical exhibit hall to be 50 percent “show” and 50 percent “trade” once the doors open.  

Admittedly, my perception is a bit skewed. I work for a portable, modular, and custom-hybrid exhibit manufacturer, and tend to see every show as a healthy dose of our designs with a smattering of custom exhibits and a sprinkling of banner stands. Those are trade shows, all set within a large exposition hall. That said . . .  I’m not naïve. I know a typical arts and crafts fair, Chamber of Commerce show, or local health fair doesn’t have all the pomp and circumstance of a traditional trade show. However, even those shows have professional table top displays, pop ups, and banner stands. I have always believed (and preached) that if you want your show to be successful, you should follow the advice of industry experts.

No Carpeting, No Pipe and Drape, No Drayage

Two weeks ago, I discovered otherwise. I learned, through personal experience, that you can hold a successful show without carpeting, without hanging banners, and largely without professional displays. People will come if the event speaks to their hobby or their lifestyle. And, in many situations, a more casual approach may give the event more credibility – especially in the beginning.

vegfes1About three months ago, I volunteered to assist with a local vegan/vegetarian festival, called the Portland VegFest 2009. This isn’t a new event. In fact, this year marks the 5th year, but this was the first year the VegFest was to be held in the Oregon Convention Center. The previous events were held in a local high school cafeteria. As the newbie on the planning committee, I quickly learned that the committee was well-organized, professional, and knowledgeable, but that the event had little money for the normal bells and whistles of a trade show. There would be no carpeting or hanging banners. Signage would be minimal, and even the printing of the black and white program was held to 1500 copies.


What You Should Know as a First-Time Exhibit Buyer

September 20th, 2009 COMMENTS
Visionary Design VK-1073 Hybrid Exhibit

Visionary Design VK-1073 Hybrid Exhibit

  • Don’t let the trade show exhibit buying experience intimidate you
  • Your marketing objectives and strategy should dictate your exhibit marketing needs
  • Be prepared for sticker shock. Exhibits can be expensive
  • Where to buy depends on your goals. Do you need a large custom exhibit? Or do you need a portable, modular, or hybrid exhibit?
  • Plan ahead. You’ll save money and make smarter decisions

How to Get Started

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that exhibit marketing is a new experience. Exhibit marketing is certainly not rocket science. You don’t need a marketing degree to be successful at exhibit marketing. However, it helps to get advice so you make the right decisions.

Buying your first exhibit can, at first, raise more questions than answers. There are different types of exhibits and different types of exhibiting. The best fit will depend on how you plan to use the exhibit, the image you want to project, and the budget you have to work with.

Chances are you’ll purchase your exhibit from a local exhibit company. Exhibit companies have been around for decades and understand exhibits and trade shows. Originally, exhibits were custom-crafted. Then exhibit systems evolved as an alternative to the high cost of custom craftsmanship. Now, there are multiple exhibit categories. Exhibit systems, which includes portable, modular, and hybrid exhibits, are evolving towards custom-crafted exhibits, and custom-crafted exhibits are evolving towards exhibit systems. Both have distinct advantages and exhibit companies work hard to carve out distinct niches along the custom to portable spectrum. The exhibit (or exhibits) that best fits your company’s exhibit marketing strategy will slot in somewhere along this spectrum. This is where an exhibit consultant can be very useful. Ultimately, an exhibit consultant wants to help you maximize your exhibit marketing potential.

Word on the Street — August 31st thru September 4th

September 4th, 2009 10 COMMENTS
Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Word on the Street by Kevin Carty

Exhibitors are from Mars . . . Show Services are from Venus

As we all know, the current economic situation in the US and around the world has been the primary focus in the news over the past year. Is it an economic downturn? I don’t care what economists want to label it . . . It’s a freaking recession folks! Whether you want to blame the new guy or the old guy or just some guy named “Guy,” we are in it together. Or are we?

Over the past couple of years, whether it’s because of the sustainable green exhibit movement, the economy, or whatever, as an industry we have embraced new products and processes that have resulted in cost savings for our clients. We started using more LED technology which cuts down on the electrical bill at the show. We have adopted different packaging methods, such as single shippers, that allow you to send components more “pre”-assembled for faster setup and tear down and thus a lower labor bill. And we have incorporated new lightweight materials and exhibit options which have lowered freight and drayage bills.

These are all changes that Custom Exhibit Builders, Portable, Modular, and Custom-Hybrid Display Builders, and certainly our customers have adopted happily.

This week, while assisting on several new projects leaving for shows, I was reminded that we do not all share the same goals for the trade show industry. It’s pretty clear that improving the trade show experience is not as high a priority for some as it is for others.

The Most Glaring Examples are Things like These . . .