Building impressions

Building Impressions: Trade Show Booth Longevity

The homework, research and due diligence have been completed. The deadline for a decision is now looming. Will the business participate in a trade show with a booth this year? If not in your queue, it might be in your customer’s as they engage in the conversation, evaluation and eventual determination to go forward with the idea. Either way, for you or them, there are steps and procedures to follow that will help make the investment of a trade show booth successful and worth the time and resources. Because a trade show booth is an investment, longevity and endurance are important factors to consider while developing one.

Design, signage, graphics, displays, fabrication, logistics, packaging, staging, set-up, tear-down—these are all parts and pieces that come together in the life of a trade show booth. How do these play into making one that lasts and provides a lasting impression? I asked that question to two respected providers of trade show booths and related components; Exhibit Studios located in Harrisburg, Pa., and Orbus Exhibit and Display Group located in Bolingbrook, Ill.

(Photo courtesy of Orbus Exhibit and Display Group)

I wanted to find out how these two industry experts go about building impressions. As a designer and owner of three visual solutions companies that provide signs, displays, graphics and custom fabrication, I am always looking to learn best practices from others. I was pleased when these two companies agreed to slow down for a moment and share some wisdom in the midst of the fast-paced world they operate.

Trade show booth exhibiting is ever-changing, ever-demanding and ever-evolving. That sort of environment is challenging enough. Making things that last and stretch the expense involved in order to maximize the return on the investment puts on an additional layer of challenge. That thought makes me picture the cringing faces of a race car owner and his team when their machine just smacked into the cement wall. Or maybe a better parallel would be painted by stepping into the shoes of the executives who just spent a major amount of money on a new corporate-wide computer replacement program to find at the end that their operating software is upgrading and will require a completely different operating system. Ouch!—unless the computers were built to be easily expanded or changed.

That should be one of the goals when laying out the strategic plan for having (or providing) a trade show booth in order to withstand the use and external forces that come upon it as well as accomplish the mission of attracting business and boosting sales.

Exhibit Studios has been in the trade show business for more than 14 years. Nathan Young is the company’s president and co-founder. They also operate a graphics fulfillment division called Get Graphics Now.

“Longevity is attained through flexibility,” Young says. “Flexibility helps make a trade show booth longer lasting.” He then elaborated about how the old way of making booths involved laminates and heavier forms of materials and methods of production, making them harder and more time consuming to change or refurbish. A client would often have to choose and settle into a style they could live with for some time. Change could be expensive. Advancements in the past five years have made it cheaper and easier. Fabrics, fabrication and printed graphics technology help push the need for change and flexibility to the forefront.

“Along the lines of flexibility is the ability to change or add size and shape,” Young says. “The need to decide now what size booth you want isn’t as important as deciding what size you want to simply start with. Flexibility and modularization allow for changing things up, which gives the booth owner a means to adapt for different settings.”

Young highly recommends to his clients that they plan for at least one change to their booth annually, or for every cycle of a show or expo. This helps them to stand out and not become visually stale from show to show or year to year. It also lengthens the life cycle of the trade show booth.

“We start with the bones (of the booth) when designing,” says Young, referring to the core components. “These bones can last up to five to seven years or more. The flesh over the bones can be changed or added onto quite easily and affordably.”

He went on to explain how his company builds in segments. He said to think of their process of developing and producing a trade show booth as steps or stages. After the bones and flesh are completed for the first stage of a booth, that booth is expandable by adding more components or changing shape. A simple change that can be done compared to years ago is putting a printed wrap on surfaces, like a vehicle graphics wrap.

Examples of how Exhibit Studios has accomplished longevity with trade show booths for their clients include works produced for Chromalox, Lebanon Turf and TE Connectivity. All of them started with an original booth and then later on modified and repurposed them to establish a new look. They did not have to start over. The initial investment maintains value while the booths were refreshed and given new life.

Exhibit Studios also establishes longevity to trade show booths through a well thought out approach to design and front-end planning with their clients. They are sure to ask pointed questions that lead to purpose and begin to shape the booth’s intent and look. On the back end, they even go so far as to conduct seminars for the sales force that will be using the booth at a show. They teach them how to maximize the benefits of a trade show booth and the contacts made from interacting with potential clients. They do this because they have found that up to 80 percent of leads generated by a trade show booth are often not followed up properly. What a shame. When this happens, the company will question the value of the booth. But if the people in the booth know how to fully use their time and follow through, the company should experience positive results.

(Photos courtesy of Exhibit Studios)

Leave logistics to the pros if you want your booth to last and pass the test of time. Young says their company not only builds with the right components and hardware, but they also have a property management program that helps with storing, shipping, setting up and taking down, packing, supervision and overall care of the booth—as if it is theirs. This approach in turn ensures that the booth remains in good health.

“Clients who buy a booth need to stick with it for the long run in order to have success,” Young says. “Don’t just try it once and give up. Spend a lot of time in the beginning asking yourself why you want to go to that specific show. Evaluate the quality and location of the shows you want to attend before committing. Then think through how you’ll use your booth —what you want it to do for you.”

Orbus Exhibit and Display Group is doing something right when it comes to trade show booths. This 12-year-old provider of products to the trade industry not only contributes to the longevity of booths, but they are also durable themselves. The company is currently planning to expand their operations by consolidating divisions in a new facility under construction. The new building will combine manufacturing and distribution and bring the company closer to its sister division Nimlok, which has been in the trade business for more than 40 years.

Orbus describes itself as a trade supplier of display, exhibit, and event solutions—a “one stop shop” for trade show booth providers. Natalie Whited is their vice president of marketing with an expansive background in trade shows and exhibit booths going back to her days as an intern and then working at the Chicago Merchandise Mart. She once got the opportunity through a former employer to help design and oversee the production of a large and elaborate trade show booth that cost more than six-figures. You could say that trade show booths and exhibiting is in her blood.

Although Orbus is in the business of making and selling trade show booth products for other trade show booth providers who work directly with the end user, they participate in numerous trade shows with their own booth as well. They exhibit in up to 25 shows a year. Exhibiting themselves keep them on their toes and appraised of the industry trends. And they strengthen and maintain their brand—one of the goals of successfully exhibiting over time—that goes hand in hand with trade show booth longevity.

“The trade shows are where we show and tell our products,” Whited says. “We can meet our dealers and partners. We can educate them. It’s where our sales people connect with clients and potential clients.”

Whited also told me how their field representatives visit clients frequently to help train their staffs in how to sell their products. That effort creates the win-win scenario that enables Orbus to gain favorable relationships and their clients to help their customers as they invest in a trade show booth that will look great as it is used year over year.

“One reason why trade show booths can endure is because they work,” Whited says. Orbus even created a brand logo around the theme of Tradeshows Work.

“It comes down to face-to-face marketing—the best and most meaningful way to connect,” Natalie says.

From the Orbus website, a visitor will learn that face-to-face marketing (and trade show booths) represents the best dollar-for-dollar value versus other competing media or marketing vehicles. Whited explains, “That is one reason why trade show booths can have longevity. They work.”

As mentioned earlier, flexibility is a key to creating longevity. Whited says that versatility is another way to describe how to deliver enduring trade show booths—versatility with hardware, graphics, add-ons and accessories. There was a time when a booth was very permanent. Today they are portable and pliable. Since they are a major form of advertising investment, it’s important that they be versatile or easily upgraded and modified.

(Photos courtesy of Orbus Exhibit and Display Group)

An example of this versatility is found in the Formulate brand line of products made by Orbus that includes tension fabric kits for exhibits, hanging structures, fabric banners and architectural structures. The combination of print, fabric and fabrication come together to allow simple yet elegant visual solutions for trade show exhibiting.

Within the Formulate line of products in the “pillow case fabric graphics” where the printed fabric is literally stretched over a tube-built frame creating the “back wall” of a display.

“By starting with the pillow case fabric graphic to make a back wall, you can go from there to fill or change space by adding other complimentary products we make like columns, signs, display accessories and countertops,” Whited says. “Our Formulate line is one way we are providing versatility and longevity to the industry and trade show booth users.”

Don’t forget design. The way to build impressions is not only having a quality booth made from durable materials and workmanship, but you need to also consider how it will look and what sort of impact it will have upon viewers and visitors. Longevity of image and branding are just as important as booth use. Make both as enduring and endearing as possible.

Contact Scott with your “Building Impression” for future articles.