How to Quickly Make Your Trade Show Set-Ups Easier

You’re a trade show manager, so you’ve done this a million times: walked into an empty exhibit hall, looking for a particular patch of concrete where your trade show exhibit will soon be set up. Maybe the space is marked with a name or number, or maybe it’s not identified at all yet.cartoon wish i'd planned earlier

But for the next few days, it’s yours. And you’ve paid dearly for the privilege of setting up shop here. There’s the cost of the exhibit, booth space rental, shipping, set-up crew, marketing your participation in this show, getting your booth staffers and company big-wigs to the site…and the list goes on.

You also know this: you’re going to have problems. They’re not your fault. You’ve prepared for this event for months. But things just have a tendency to slip through the cracks, and to do so at the most inopportune times. Stuff happens…

And you’ll need to come up with solutions to these problems, usually under the pressure of time. So if you can shorten the amount of time you spend on the little foul-ups, you’ll increase the amount of time you have available to focus on the big things.

To that end, here are some ideas to help you save time, frustration and effort on the show floor, dealing with the little frustrations that plague trade show managers, and quickly make your trade show set-ups easier.

1. Keep your gang box fully stocked:

You’ll need more than tools to set up your trade show booth. If your display requires nuts and bolts, sooner or later (and probably often), you’ll lose some of those. You get to choose between searching for a buck’s worth of hardware in an unfamiliar city over a weekend, or going to your gang box and grabbing a few from your stock.

What you’re exhibiting will determine what you keep on hand in your gang box. If you’ve got lots of electronics in your booth, you should have simple repair tools and parts in your kit (like a soldering iron and solder, spare connectors and power cords). If you’re displaying products that require unique parts for assembly or repair, keep extras of those items on hand.

Take notes at the next few events about what you needed and didn’t have, then make sure you pick up enough of those pieces and parts to be sure you won’t run into problems at your next show. You might also want to include things like earplugs, Alka-Seltzer, a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher. This well-stocked gang box is an asset you will never regret having—and it just might save the day sometime.

2. Find out if it’s a union show:

There’s a big difference in the rules (you read your trade show exhibitor’s handbook, didn’t you?!) between a union show and a non-union show. Set up and dismantle rules are different. Rules about what you can bring in yourself, or need to have shipped are different. Rules about what you can even plug in yourself or need to have a union worker do for you are different. This is vital; you don’t want to be faced with problems, delays, extra charges or even fines for violating the union rules.

3. Put your crates on wheels:

It seems like a simple idea, but I’ve seen many exhibitors struggling over and over, trying to move heavy cases and crates without wheels. Don’t make the same mistake. Your crates (as well as your gang box) should be put on large, solid, swiveling casters. Putting your crates on wheels simultaneously provides space for a forklift to easily move your boxes.wood crate with large wheels and protected corners

You know how frustrating it is to sit around waiting for a forklift to come to your space and move things out of the way so you can set up. With your crates on wheels, there’s no need to wait—you can move things yourself, and get to work.

Don’t go for wheels with locks (or brakes) on them. You’ll probably never set up on a hillside, so they’re unnecessary. Besides, they can easily be broken in transit.

4. Avoid empty sticker shock:

The purpose of putting “empty” stickers on your crates and cases is so they end up back in the right booth at the right time. For this reason, put a heavy-duty stapler and clear packing tape in your gang box. Don’t rely on whatever they put on the back of those stickers to adhere them to anything (and if you’re concerned about your health, don’t lick them!). Staple them to crates and tape them to cases and cartons. That way, you won’t be waiting eternally for a crate that’s lost its sticker.

5. Meet your staff:

An hour or so before the show opens, schedule the final pre-show meeting in your booth to go over the basics of good booth staffing etiquette. Tap one of your veteran booth staffers to go over these items with anyone who shows up late, or isn’t scheduled for the first day of the show. Don’t take this responsibility on yourself—you’ll have enough to do with last minute fires to put out.

Since we’re talking about staffing, consider keeping statistics for how many leads each staffer gets per show (or per hour they’re on the floor). This will tell you who will do the best job for you next time. You’ll weed out low-performing people, and end up with more leads overall.

In Conclusion

Last, but far from least, play well with others! When you’re setting up your exhibit, you’re the host in your booth. Consider taking along a cooler filled with sodas for the crew (keep the alcohol aside until set-up is finished). Let your people know it’s there. If you’ve arrived earlier than others from your company (or you’re already familiar with the venue), inform the late arrivals about where to find good food and other conveniences, like drugstores and coffee places. You’ll earn good will for doing these things, and a happy crew will work harder and better together.

Stuff always goes wrong – it’s inevitable. The mark of the consummate pro is to have a process for recovering from those inevitable problems. You can’t predict every possible problem, but you certainly can predict some of them, and have a couple of fall-back plans ready.