Trade Show Perspective

Trade Show Perspectives: Creating the Right Booth Theme

Here’s some sound advice to anyone preparing a trade show exhibit: Don’t be boring! Don’t look like everyone else if you want to stand out from the crowd and be different than your competition. A successful trade show booth theme can help create memory retention, which is a key factor when determining a trade show exhibitor’s success.

Too often when a person walks through a trade show, many of the exhibits look basically the same. This happens because the exhibition industry is a copycat industry. When an exhibit manufacturer creates something new and different, most all the other exhibit manufactures quickly knock off their idea.

This scenario has repeated itself over and over again throughout the years, within the portable and modular segments of the exhibition industry. The custom build segment of the industry is not as affected by this situation, but then custom designed and built exhibits are generally more expensive. The phrase, “you get what you pay for” certainly holds true in the world of exhibits.

America’s Largest Trade Show

Trade show consultant Candy Adams—an exhibit industry expert known as “The Booth Mom” (—told me that she recently returned from Las Vegas where she attended one the largest trade shows held in the United States. She says she was overwhelmed by the size of the show, but that she was underwhelmed by a majority of the exhibits.

“After screening the first few hundred booths,” she says, “it seemed most of the exhibitors wanted to look exactly like their competitors.” Obviously, that’s not what those exhibitors were really aiming for.

But the question arises: if you are planning an exhibit—either for yourself of for a client—how do you separate your exhibit from other exhibitors?

One very successful method is to create a theme for your exhibit. A well-considered theme can change any booth into a success.

Make a Commitment

One word of advice regarding trade show themes: Commit. To get the most “bang for your buck” from a theme, you should plan on incorporating the theme into all of your marketing efforts for at least a year. Too often companies spend a great deal of money and effort to create a theme for a show, and then immediately abandon it at the close of the show, which often confuses the show attendees.

Avalara, a company that offers software solutions for the collection of sales tax, is a company that has not only used a themed exhibit, but has established itself as an industry leader by incorporating the theme into their entire business plan.

Their “tiki-hut” themed booth strengthens their successful tag line, “Avalara, Making sales tax less taxing.” Most all of their competitors, as well as most all of the other exhibitors at their financial and software-partner shows, reflect a much more conservative approach with their exhibits, allowing Avalara to stand out that much more. Their exhibit is a magnet at most shows, drawing a large number of show attendees.

Create an Experience

Adams says that to maximize your success you have to draw attention to your company at a trade show. You have to create an experience that differs from everything else on the show floor, and establishing a themed exhibit is a good option.

Burt Technologies had Blue Goose Exhibits design and build this 20’ x 20’ island “Blues Brothers” themed exhibit for their show being held in Chicago.

One of Adams’ favorite themed exhibits is an art-related themed booth. You can simply display your products as works of art (possibly within picture frames) or as complicated as creating a gallery-like setting. Another is a history based theme. If the show is being held in a “historic city” such as Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, etc., props are in abundance to help create unique themes. You can even incorporate character actors to help strengthen the theme, such as George Washington, Ben Franklin, Al Capone, etc.

Burt Technology used a movie theme, The Blues Brothers, when exhibiting in Chicago a few years ago with great success. The booth was themed to look like a theater and the booth staff dressed similar as the actors, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. The company not only had a large number of qualified attendees visit their exhibit, but they also won Best of Show honors, which gained them additional recognition within their industry, both at the show and afterward.

And more recently, at an international sign show exhibition in Las Vegas, grand-format printer manufacturer Agfa Pitman presented a unique blues-theme with their “Six Strings Classic Blues Lounge” booth. It featured live blues music in a New Orleans blues lounge-like atmosphere. Lounge-themed inkjet applications—from floor graphics to backlits, awning graphics, posters, glass murals and more—were displayed throughout the booth. It created a fun and informative atmosphere.

Steves, a company that manufactures doors for the construction industry, used a Ski Lodge themed exhibit at their show held in Denver, Colo. This company supports their industry each year and themes their exhibit to fit the host city. When in Dallas, Texas, their theme was a western motif, with a long-horn steer mural included.

In 2008, Laarhoven Design created a themed exhibit at the Exhibitor Show, constructed with their Delta Matrix modular display system. This exhibit had an aura of peaceful existence and balance and was a very successful exhibit, showcasing new exhibit components for both their distributors and end-users.

Derse, another leading exhibit company, created a “recyclable” materials themed exhibit a few years ago at the Exhibitor Show. Using cut paper and wood products, they designed a very attractive and interesting exhibit, which by the number of people in the booth, seemed to be very successful.

More Themed Exhibits

Another of Candy Adams favorite themes is a Sidewalk Bistro, with small round tables with umbrellas, checkered table cloths, a coffee cart (rented from the show caterer), napkins and prepackaged biscotti with labels including your logo. This simple theme can be enlarged to create a full-scale diner if your budget allows.

One of her favorite unusual themed exhibits included a huge roach coach with colorful graphics. Those attendees who visited the exhibit were provided cupcakes and pop-corn while answering questions about their needs in regards to the company’s products.

A back-woods cabin setting or a down-home porch setting, are other themes that can be easily created. A homey feel is always welcomed when people are traveling and away from home.

A good way to see different themed exhibits is to visit trade shows being held for industries different than your own. A bad idea is to copy a theme that someone in your industry has used with success. This doesn’t show any creativity and is often seen in a negative light from people within your industry.

The Key for Success

The key to a successful theme is tying it to your product, service or company in some way that makes sense to the show attendee. It takes considerable thought to present the right theme that fits and benefits your company and draws attendees to your exhibit for the right reasons. Your graphics will also be very important to help present your desired message. The theme should reinforce your desired message as we mentioned with the Avalara example.