How To Organize Setting Up Your Exhibit (Part 1)

Imagine that you’re part of the set-up crew at a trade show, and you’re assigned to install a booth that should take a few hours, at most. But instead of a half day of work, you’re tied up for two entire days. Why?



The trade show manager for this exhibit forgot to have lines for electrical and internet installed under the carpet, so you’ll have to dismantle a section of the booth you’ve already assembled to allow technicians to get in and pull the lines.

Next comes the fancy new exhibit header that you and your team are ready to hang. But it’s not. No matter where you look, you can’t find it. Is this frustrating to you as an installation crew member? Sure. But it’s equally frustrating—and frustratingly expensive—for the trade show manager.

The sad thing is, this all could have been easily avoided. No matter how much pre-planning went into this trade show manager’s efforts, things fell apart at the most important time because of poor on-site organization.

But there’s good news. This doesn’t have to happen to you. Here’s how to make things go as smoothly as possible during set up.

1) Visit the site the afternoon before scheduled set-up:
Your goal is to personally inventory your freight and verify your show orders. Do this after you’ve checked into your hotel and gotten your bearings. Then head over to the exhibit hall while the contractors are on hand to answer your questions.

2) Thoroughly inventory all the items in your booth:
Thorough means thorough: all the crates, cases, cardboard boxes, cling-wrapped pieces, carpet or other flooring rolls, loose pieces and equipment that’s too heavy to walk away. You should have a checklist for doing this, based on the plans you made before the show, so check that “supposed-to-be-here” list against what’s actually there. If the lists match, you’re golden. If not, see #3.

3) Search for what’s missing:
If there’s a discrepancy between your lists, now is the time to begin your search. Start at the drayage desk. They don’t know what items you’re looking for, but they will know how many pieces they delivered to your booth, and they know who delivered what to the hall. Each carrier provides the drayage people with a bill of lading, which they keep a record of (primarily so they can compute your drayage charges).

Compare the bills of lading they have against the list of items that you found in your exhibit when you did your own check. If the drayage total is equal to your list plus the missing item, then you know that your freight is somewhere in the hall. The drayage service should check the hall for you, but don’t leave it up to them. Do your own search, and start with neighboring booths.

Sometimes your previously delivered freight may have been in the way of a forklift driver, and your stuff was shoved aside, unceremoniously, into the wrong booth.

Another place to look is in booths with similar company names. If you’re the General Widget Company, look for other “Generals.” If you’re a division of a parent company and other divisions (or the parent company itself) are also exhibiting, it’s possible your freight could have gone to one of these booths.

The next place to look is the loading dock. It may be out there, waiting its turn to be delivered. In the throes of cartoon wish i'd planned earlierthe chaos going on out there, it might simply have been overlooked.

Finally, expand your search to the entire hall. Chances are good that your missing freight will turn up in one of these places.

But what if you’ve checked your list against the bills of lading and your lists match, but you’re still short of freight? This most likely means that your missing item has not been delivered to the hall yet. If it was supposed to be there by now, call your shipper right away and tell them exactly what’s missing.

This is where giving yourself a jump on set-up by arriving early will help you avoid a panic on move-in day. But what if the day in question is a Friday? Do everything you can to get the problem resolved that day, but also get contact names and numbers that will be useful over the weekend.

Weekends can be a very frustrating time to locate or replace freight, but it’s better than it used to be in the days before Fed Ex and cell phones. Most important, keep checking on your missing freight periodically. And remember that, just because you made a call, all will not go smoothly after that. If someone’s made a promise to follow up, hold them to it.

You may find that you’ve arrived at the show before any of your freight has seen the drayage dock. If that’s the case, confirm that your shipments are on their way and try to get an approximate delivery time. Plan to be at the dock when your freight arrives. This makes it possible for you to keep an eye on it, ensure it’s delivered to the correct booth, and note any damage that might have occurred. Here’s a tip: if you’re there to direct the unloading of your freight, ask the workers to place it around your booth, instead of in it. It just saves labor and time when you begin setting up.

Next week, we’ll cover the rest of your day-before duties, as well as what needs to happen on set-up day itself—and how to avoid a sack full of hassles in the process. Another way to avoid hassles is to work with the right exhibit supplier. Here at American Image Displays, we can be the partner you need to make every aspect of your show go more smoothly, from storage to delivery to set-up, and everything else involved. To find out how we can help you, call us at (425) 556-9511 or email [email protected].