Tradeshow and Exhibit Thoughtleaders
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Brett Lipeles' Articles

10 Places to Cut the Fat from your Trade Show Exhibitor Program

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1.  Show paperwork
 
Typically, we have found that mistakes are made with the show paperwork.  This is usually because the person filling out the paperwork is not a field person, and does not have time to make themselves into a paperwork expert for each and every show.  They tend to fill out each upcoming set of show paperwork almost identically to a past shows paperwork.  However, rules, including services and time frames change from venue to venue, so your paperwork strategy should change as well.  On average these small mistakes cost you the customer 10% Ė 15% on services ordered.  
 
 
2,  GC Billing
 
Typically we find that there are 15% ďmistakesĒ on the bill from the General Contractor.  It takes a lot of knowledge to spot all of the mistakes and skill coupled with patience to negotiate with the general contractor and get everything corrected.  Know what you ordered and agree to pay accordingly.  Get any billing mistakes worked out at the show.
 
 
3.  Shipping
 
We ship from point to point, not worrying about keeping exhibits in our home warehouse.  We schedule carefully so that maintenance is planned around when those exhibits will be in our area.  Exhibits are designed very modularly, so that we can even add to complicated exhibits without having the old pieces shipped back for integration with the new.  By shipping point to point, we keep exhibits on the most efficient path between venues.  This can potentially cut the costs of shipping by 50%. 
 
We also use shipping by train for segments that do not require exact delivery and/or pick-up times (depending on venue).  This is quite a bit less expensive (30-40%).
 
We fill in for our shipping companies with the thought work.  We donít assume that they know what they are doing.  They are focused on 100s of shipments per day.  We are focused on a few, and ultimately are responsible to our customers.
 
We often use shippers that provide shuttle runs within cities.  A whole truck might cost $250-300 dollars as a shuttle run, and these companies are at the trade show venues every day.  They know the freight handling staff and this eases issues with freight in and out and really limits wait times.  This eliminates 50% of the cost of shipping.
 
 
4.  Warehousing
 
We pick warehouses that are clean, efficient and low cost.  We donít rely on pull and prep at the warehouse.  We manage the condition of the exhibit from the field except in circumstances where the warehouse comments on damage to the exhibit during shipping.  We inventory exhibit condition, marketing collateral and supplies during takedown.  This eliminates double handling and cost, and we find it to be every bit as reliable as pull and prep, but much less costly.
 
 
5.  Project leadership
 
Get the best lead man in the field for each venue.  Act as the hub for information, since you are the common element from show to show.  Supply your lead men with as much information as possible so that they can hit the ground running and instruct your I & D crew on where specific items are and how to complete certain tasks.  Your notes are very helpful for them.  Experienced lead men work on 100 or more different exhibits a year.  You focus on only a few.  Help reinforce their memory with accurate and detailed notes sent to them or their employer a few days before the show.
 
 
6.  Labor
 
Negotiate with your labor company to receive a rate at or below show rate.  We work with a few companies so that no one company has the total pie.  We make notes from show to show on who is good in the crew and who isnít.  We request that the good members are repeats at future venues. For both management and I & D familiarity leads to increased efficiency. 
 
 
7.  Cleaning
 
We stay during the show and do the cleaning ourselves.  This eliminates cleaning costs and insures that we are in the booth first thing in the morning to get AV systems functioning, check that all electrical circuits and light bulbs are working, and that the booth is provisioned and ready for action.  Elimination of this line item allows us to reduce some other cost by a greater percentage.
 
 
8.  Cost analyses for services and negotiation
 
We often perform cost analysis for services like AV and overhead lighting.  Usually, you work with an independent AV house because you have a relationship with their staff.  However, at many venues this increases your cost.  The show designated AV supplier does not get charged any freight handling fees for the AV equipment.  Those AV equipment deliveries are often whacked with a $300 minimum freight handling fee, so even if you are using just one monitor, you pay $300 to have it delivered. 
 
 
9.  Overhead lighting 
 
  • Freight handling fees can be huge.  That truss and the light fixtures can be very heavy.  In fact with a small exhibit, the truss and lights can actually weigh more than the exhibit.  This will double your freight handling costs for the show.  However, at most venues, if you get your lighting package through the GC, you donít pay any freight handling on the lights.  In addition, the general contractor will often lock in a great price for rental, installation, power, and on/off charges.  This eliminates unknowns and there are many with overhead or truss lighting.
  • Too many variables to control.  You have a condor or two installing the truss.  $500 per hour each  You need a lift to come back and aim the lights.  $500 per hour  These large dollar line items add up quickly.  In addition, you need the truss lighting to be installed before your exhibit so that there is room to assemble the exhibit.  The general contractor has access to the room early.  They can get the lighting installed the day before the freight comes into the hall, when they can work the quickest and it costs you the least amount of money.
 
We have used specialty AV suppliers for really advanced effects, but in general, everything that the typical exhibitor requires can be provided more efficiently and for less money by the general contractor.
 
 
10.  Seek Constant Improvement Ė the game is always changing

 

We use our knowledge and experience all the time.  We keep detailed notes and start working on improving the results at the next show during this show.  We donít assume that the results from this show can be gotten at the next show using the same strategy.  The GCs change the rules.  Your location changes.  Your exhibit changes.  Your needs change.  We seek improvement and make changes to create this improvement.  We always want to get the work done in the most efficient manner possible which insures the lowest possible costs.  We work with the general contractor before the show to let them know what we need long in advance and find out what they need in order to keep our projects running efficiently.  This keeps project costs down.
 
 
Why canít your exhibit house provide these same savings? 
 
  • They  mayhave a large building to pay for.  They count on the storage of your exhibit to pay their fixed overhead.
  • If they are marking up services, the higher the initial bill, the higher the profitÖ.No incentive for them to get costs reduced.
  • They may not be focused on reducing costs.  To implement these strategies requires very careful work and work done by a person or team with a lot of experience with trade show cost reduction strategies.  Typically, the exhibit company member that completes each task either does not have the depth or the breadth of experience to maximize cost savings.