Thursday, February 19, 2009

How to pick a trade show display company

Being in the trade show industry for over 20 years, the biggest decision that I hear that trade show coordinators or Mar Comm managers have to make is which trade show company to use. There are a lot of individual components to consider in making your decision on what to do for your trade show display and who to use.

Questions such as what will be the extent of your company's trade show program? How many trade shows do you plan on exhibiting at per year? What is the size of your booth space? What type of exhibit to use? If you are a start-up company, you may need to start out in a small 10' x 10' space and work up to a larger size as your business. How much 'hand holding' will you need? Besides the exhibit itself, what other services do you require? These and others.

Trade show companies come in all sorts of sizes and services.

You can buy very cheap, inexpensive pop up display or panel displays online for less then $1,000!!! These trade show displays, for the most part, are made in China. I really cannot recommend these type of displays!!! They will last you about 1 - 3 shows and the fabric will start pealing away from the panels or components may start breaking. It's the old 'you get what you pay for' scenario. Since these companies sell online, there is very little customer support after the purchase and very few options for your display. You get a down and dirty display and it serves it's purpose. These companies rely on volume from online sales.

On the other side of the spectrum are the very large custom exhibit display houses. Everything is inclusive - sales, design, construction, storage and customer service. Because it takes a lot of people to handle these items, the overhead is large and therefore you pay for that.

With the current status of our economy, companies are looking to doing it for less. In the middle of the online companies and the large custom houses are the smaller to mid-size companies that can provide pop up displays or modular exhibits and full custom displays with all the graphics and services needed to support them.

You may feel that you need the comfort of the big company and if you have the money to pay for it, then great, but if you do your homework and work closely with your representative, you can develop a nice program that will not break your budget.

Some suggestions to keep in mind in choosing a company are:
  1. Information - The more information that you give a trade show company, the better that they can produce a program that best fits your needs. Included in that, providing a budget is very important! This tells us what we can or cannot do to come in at or under budget. Other information such as your message, elements in the display, what is the competition doing, what additional services are needed, etc help design your display and program.
  2. Service - This is probably more important than the display itself. Regardless of if you are a veteran trade show coordinator or brand new, your trade show company can assist from arranging shipping, making arrangements for the show, show site supervision, etc. What is the level of service that you need and they can provide?
  3. Referrals - I am surprised that more companies do not ask for a list of references!!! You want to talk to those companies! It's like someone applying for a job at your company. Even if you are getting only the 'good' references, you should be able to distinguish a good company from a bad one.

To summarize, you need to do your homework. In this tough economy, you need to count every penny and need to make sure that your trade show company is working for you.

Your trade show company is an extension of your company! They need to be on the same page as you are with the same direction and understanding of your long term goals. They need to understand your budget constraints, what the goals are for each show, your message that you want to present and they need to be easy to work with.

With a little homework, you will have a successful exhibit and program that will service your needs and grow along with you.

(Craig Mlasko is the owner of The Works Displays & Exhibits in San Jose, CA and has 20 yrs experience in the trade show and marketing industries.)

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