Selecting An Exhibit Builder; It’s Not Complicated If You Know How

A few weeks ago I was asked by Natalie Relf, an associate editor at Exhibit City News, to answer several questions about selecting the right exhibit builder for an exhibitor’s trade show program. To follow are Natalie’s questions and my answers. If you have any comments or experiences you would like to share with us, please e-mail me at: [email protected].

The full article, “Best Practices: Finding the right builder” can be viewed on The Exhibit City News website.

Q1. How can a client choose the best contractor according to their needs (ie., are they building a 100 x 100 double-decker vs. a 10 x 20 pop-up.)?

There are several ways for an exhibitor to choose the right exhibit provider.

A. First, you (the exhibitor) must allow for the proper amount of time to complete your research and final analysis. An exhibitor should get started 12-18 months before his or her show date for larger exhibit productions and 6 to 12 months ahead for smaller spaces. Keep in mind, it’s never too early to get started. While time is a commodity that seems to harder to find, it is still one of the most important factors determining the success of the project and should be prioritized.

B. It is important when selecting your exhibit partner, especially when bidding out your trade show exhibit production, that you (the exhibitor) are able to compare apples with apples. The best way to do this is to give each bidder the exact specifications to bid on; including all show related services as well as an exhibit design. This is extremely important. The exhibit design package should include renderings and construction drawings of the exhibit you would like built. Assuming you are looking for a custom exhibit solution, consider bidding out the exhibit design work first. Once this is done you can submit the design specifications to the provider for a construction quote. Another option is to simply take a project that was previously fabricated and ask your bidders to provide a quote on the production of that exhibit. This will allow you to compare the quotes submitted by the bidders but also to compare their quotes with the actual cost of the exhibit. Be sure to ask for an itemized quote so that you may conduct a line-by-line comparison. A trend we are seeing is procurement personnel getting heavily involved with exhibit RFP’s. They tend to ask for rates and markups as a measuring stick to compare suppliers. While rates can be important, they are not an accurate measurement of the actual cost to the client. By requesting suppliers to bid on an actual project, the client will have a more accurate picture of the cost. This can be done even if the client isn’t looking for a new exhibit but wants a new supplier to offer costs for maintaining the program. The client can supply the exhibit specs in the RFP and the show schedule so each supplier submits the cost for each event including handling, shipping and show service costs. While these will be estimates, they will paint a much more accurate picture of what the client can expect to pay.

C. Finally, do your homework. Request an “RFI” (Request for Information) from the provider(s). In my opinion, this should be a simple questionnaire such as; where are they located, number of employees, number of years in business, general description of services provided, URL, main contact, and at least 3 customer references as well as 3 supplier references. You can find out a great deal about the provider by asking the right questions of both customers and suppliers.

Q2. What are some of the crucial factors to consider when choosing an exhibit builder?

A. Have they produced projects similar in scope to what I envision my needs to be?

B. Do they know my industry and/or do they currently produce exhibits for clients in my industry? Are they working directly with my competitor?

C. Will I (the exhibitor) be considered a big fish or small fish in their pond. Being too small may mean you get less attention while being too big can mean you are taking a risk that the provider may not be able to provide all the services you require.

D. How long has the company been in business and are they financially sound.

E. Finally, do I think I can work with them. It is important that you feel your exhibit provider is your marketing partner, willing to do what it takes to work with you to achieve your goals and objectives.

F. How will the relationship work? At Creatacor, we provide a single point of contact for all communications. This is strategically important as our client has one person who is an expert on their project and program. While there is a team working behind the scenes, it is much easier for the client to have one person that can answer all questions.

Q3. How does the company decipher what the clients’ need? What criterion are those decisions based on?

At Creatacor we have an extensive questionnaire that gathers information about the exhibitor’s trade show program and expectations including but not limited to these items:

A. The exhibitor’s corporate identification and how they want the company to be perceived by their customers

B. Products and/or services to be represented at the event(s)

C. Is there a desired method to demonstrate products and services? Live demos, group presentations, self guided tours, etc.?

D. Marketing strategies and objectives

E. Specific exhibit design requirements

F. Exhibit design likes and dislikes

G. Pre-show promotion and post show follow plans

H. Supporting events or sponsorships associated with the event

I. Other trade show or event participation plans

J. Prioritized desired results by which their exhibit program will be measured.

Q4. How can the client tell if one company can meet those needs better than another?

By following the advice noted in question 1, an exhibitor should have all the information they require to make an educated decision. Price alone should not be the determining factor when selecting your exhibit provider. It is extremely important that the exhibiting company’s contact person, that is the person or people who will interact and work with the exhibit provider on a daily basis, be comfortable with the provider and that there is a sense of partnership. Many times exhibitors select the provider based solely on price only to find out that they do not receive the “added value” that comes with a solid partnering customer/supplier relationship.

Q5. What is involved in building the “best” possible exhibit?

These questions must be asked to gauge success of your trade show participation. If after the show the answers to those questions is “Yes”, then the exhibitor has achieved their goal of building the best possible exhibit for his or her company.

A. Will the exhibit communicate the personality, culture and the best overall marketing message for my company?

B. Will the message ring clearly with my customers and prospects? A post show survey and follow my be required to answer this question.

C. Will my products and/or services be represented the best way possible with my marketing strategies and objectives in mind?

D. Will the exhibit physically meet the demands of the event (enough people space, product demo space, conference rooms, information fulfillment area, product demos, graphics, etc.)?

E. Will my pre-show promotion activities and actions provide the desired results?

F. What are the plans for following up with prospects and existing customers after the show?

G. Will my exhibit integrate with my advertising, website and other supporting activities, events or sponsorships associated with the show?

H. Will my exhibit work for my other trade shows or event participation plans? I. Will I meet the desired results by which my exhibit program will be measured.

Q6. Are there any new service trends making contractors more user friendly?

The trend in exchange of information continues to parallel advances in technology with a fantastic array of communication devices and software. Excellence in “Customer Service” has been and always must be the number one priority for an exhibit provider and that starts with communications. Communicating and obtaining accurate information to and from a supplier or your exhibit partner is essential for the exhibitor to make decisions and take actions that will optimize their trade show and event participation. At Creatacor we offer web integrated programs, which include: show scheduling, budgeting, asset management, graphic production, portable exhibit programs, job cost tracking, shipping and logistics, and many other points of information designed to help an exhibitor manage their entire trade show program.

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