Standing Orders

Few exhibition stands hit the right note unless the budget and outside contractors are handled properly. Quality and durability are the key to long-term success.

There is a saying that only rich people can afford cheap things. Cheap things wear out faster, need to be repaired and refurbished, and can look shabby. More expensive goods are better made, last longer and, in the long run, are far more cost-effective.

This philosophy is as true in the exhibitions industry as in life. While it is common-sense to reuse a stand for several events over a period of time, such as a year, if you want your display to appear fresh and high-quality every time, don’t necessarily go for the cheapest. Rather, choose the best end-product from a reputable company. If you don’t buy a well-made stand, you will have to buy a new one every time.

It may be obvious, but if you buy a cheap stand it will be made of lower specification materials and will therefore require more refurbishment, hence greater maintenance costs. Not only that, furbished stands look refurbished if the best materials were not used in the first place.

Having said that, only about 35 per cent of the capital expenditure on an exhibition stand relates to its fabrication and construction. Viewed over the long term, it may therefore be worthwhile reusing only key elements such as reception desks, workstations, canopies, and so forth, and going for an entirely different “look” to the framework each time.

Sixty-five per cent of the price goes on storage, installation, dismantling and labour. These will need to be paid for each time the stand is used.

There is a shortage of labour in the exhibition and building industries, compounded by stringent health and safety regulations, the need for ever-increasing public liability, and the like. This makes it even more important that your event and exhibition programme is handled by a reputable company with a strong track record and impeccable credentials.

Ask potential contractors questions, such as do they have a specialist labour force wholly-sourced in-house? Will they be storing the stand in their own – secure – premises? Are the premises insured? What is the company’s procedure for looking after stands while they are in storage?

The list goes on. What are their storage charges, and are these included in the budget? Similarly, is refurbishment included in the budget?

Get them to explain their refurbishment programme. The last thing you need is a company pulling the stand out of storage two days before the next show and then looking for casual labour to refurbish and install it. Get a detailed production schedule for refurbishment and site installation. As an exhibitor, you will have enough on your mind without having to worry about the stand’s appearance, or whether it will be ready on time.

All of these things can be ascertained at the briefing stage. It is at this point that you should try to build an open and trusting relationship with the exhibition company’s team. Be as honest as you can in your brief.

Give an accurate picture of the budget – excluding space and staffing costs – and do not be unrealistic about what that money needs to buy. For example, do you want graphics included? Will these be the same at each event, or will they change depending on the show? Cost-savings can be made when graphic panels remain constant throughout a programme.

Specify how long you want the stand to last and how often it is to be used. Whenever possible, provide all the facts you can about the type and size of space you have booked at each event. The exhibition company can then produce a stand with the flexibility to work effectively at every show, avoiding expensive changes.

Briefing sessions

Similarly, after each event try to hold a de-briefing with the team from the exhibition company. With open and honest talks, areas for improvement can be highlighted on both sides, and discussions held about the way the stand worked. Avoid “nit-picking” sessions. Learn from experience before the next show, avoiding time-consuming and costly last-minute modifications.

Being specific about what is required at an early stage avoids wastage of time and money on useless designs.

In addition, make sure the contractor has a clear understanding of the exhibition programme schedule, period of time between shows and, most importantly, the show locations. In this way, accurate transport costs can be included in the budget, making suitable allowances for labour, travel, subsistence and accommodation.

Just as importantly, take a realistic view of the time it will take to transport a stand between shows. An exhibition in Manchester followed by one in London the next day does not give you sufficient time for the stand to be dismantled carefully, cleaned, transported and re-installed. If at all possible, avoid schedules like these or you will need to pay to put two stands and two teams on the road at the same time.

Make sure you obtain a firm indication from the exhibition company of what it will include in the budget. You need to know whether there are any extras you have not foreseen. And book everything early to avoid late-booking surcharges. The only extras your contractor should charge for are those you specify at a later stage.

Once you have contracted an exhibition company and the show programme is under way, it is too late to start arguing over additional costs. Changing contractors halfway through a long-term programme is fraught with difficulties and will inevitably incur additional expense. The original contractor may want to charge you for storage if it was included in the original budget. Transport costs may be charged to transfer the stand to another company’s premises. And there is likely to be a greater need for refurbishment.

Ongoing relationship

Appoint an exhibition company you feel comfortable working with, and one with whom you can build a relationship.

Again, this can be done at the outset. If you are asking companies to pitch for your business, ensure each of them is given the same, clear brief and budget, and that they have similar credentials and in-house back-up. When you receive those beautifully-presented pitch documents, don’t just look at the pretty pictures.

The visuals will give you a good idea of how the stand is going to look and work, and of the designer’s creativity. For example, has the space above the stand been used? It is also vital to compare the specifications to see if the quality of materials being used is similar. In this way, when the designs and proposals come in you can see whether you are comparing like with like.

Quality and durability are the key words when it comes to stretching an exhibition budget across a period of time. After all, would you walk into a Lada garage and expect to leave with a Mercedes?

Steve Barratt is chief executive of exhibition contractor the Early Action Group

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