The Emergence of Chinese-Made Portable Trade Show Displays in the U.S.

The Waveline Media kits are Chinese-Made Portable Trade Show Displays

Waveline Media Mandarin 10ft Trade Show Display kit

There was a time when just the mention of Chinese-Made Portable Trade Show Displays in our industry sparked intense negative comments followed by an insistence that such items would never penetrate the market. The products were considered inferior, untrustworthy and a downright insult to every manufacturer and distributor in the United States. I even recall several occasions where such products and related companies were barred from exhibiting at trade events that industry insiders attend to seek out new innovations to offer our clients.

It seemed that the portable trade show exhibit world was turning a blind eye to what was happening in the rest of the industrial world in regards to China made products. Whereas many other industries were seeing China make inroads into their back yard and finding ways to still be competitive, the Trade Show Display community didn’t feel it could ever happen. Even today there are some distributors that refuse to carry these products simply because they are not willing to consider them as a viable option.

Eventually though, we began to see some portable exhibit products come from China that were acceptable quality. The key was that some companies from the US and elsewhere traveled to China to hire companies to manufacture products under their strict guidelines. These products became the first that our industry stateside found to be acceptable. Retractable banner stands being some of the first products in this vein. Not only was the quality  what we were looking for, we found that having a US firm backing it and taking care of the logistics, service, warranty and so on made it acceptable. But, it was still considered to be only a small threat. Certainly we wouldn’t see full displays with graphics come from across the ocean right?

As with any product (hardware, software, and so on), there is always a danger that it will be copied elsewhere for less. Aside from a few select exhibits that are protected by very strict patents (although it’s not unheard of for such items to also be copied creatively), most exhibits are simply structures created using multiple materials to achieve a final design, much like a home. So, if a basic home can be built for less, it will be. This is what we are seeing today. The Chinese-made Portable Trade Show Display is now a standard item in the United States and will not be going away. You can’t compete with communist labor on the same level. Therefore, with that said, it’s important to understand which products are of acceptable quality and which to avoid.

Let’s begin with the now standard exhibit hardware that is of acceptable quality. I call this “Quality Controlled Chinese Manufactured Exhibits”.

Quality Controlled Chinese-Made Portable Trade Show Displays:

Exhibits in this category were designed specifically to be a low cost alternative to products already on the market and manufactured in the United States. However, these particular products were designed outside of China and only sourced there for manufacturing with strict requirements of quality while gaining the advantage of low cost labor. Each exhibit style was built to work in a similar way to the US made version while using slightly lower quality materials. Reliability would still be a factor though as the US customer simply wouldn’t accept a faulty or cheap product. All hardware would be shipped to the US and stored in a warehouse for distribution rather than shipping direct. Only the fabric graphics would still come from China directly on each order.

Waveline Media 10ft Scallop trade show display kit

Waveline Media 10ft Scallop trade show display kit

Essentially a US based company was created, not owned by China at all, to service a need in the Trade Show Display industry. There is a support structure of customer service, warranty, quality control, customization if necessary and even rush production. Some brand names of such products are WavelineSatelliteBrandcusi and Blimp. And, these products are now considered an excellent economy solution for companies seeking a lower cost option for their next trade show. It only took about 2 years for these new products to become top sellers in the United States for portable exhibits. And, some US manufacturers that were not making displays of this type are now entering the market with similar products because they simply can’t ignore their popularity.

However, as I mentioned above, there is always someone who will make it for less. Even in China. That brings us to our next category, which I call “Super Low End Chinese Display Hardware”.

Super Low End Chinese Display Hardware:

Many new exhibit innovations begin in Europe. Some of the most creative and beautiful display hardware on the market today was originally manufactured or designed by a European company. Eventually, these products cross oceans to other markets, demand increases, and the European company must find a more profitable business model for manufacturing. Such products are then moved to Chinese manufacturing to cut costs and increase profit margin. But an interesting thing happens at this stage. You begin to see similar products appear that are of a different brand.

I can recall a few items over the years that were said to be one of a kind, only to then find a very low cost version through China that performed the same function. What happened here?

The answer is that products have a way of ‘crossing the street’ from one factory to another and being manufactured differently just enough to get away with it. Well, this even has happened to the Quality Controlled Chinese Manufactured Exhibits.

We are now seeing copies of the copies enter the market. They look the same when you view the item online and seem to have no difference in size, shape and so on. But somehow the price is even lower. I’ve had the opportunity to purchase some of this hardware to inspect it and found it to be very poorly made. There is no quality control, no finishing on edges, poor graphic quality and hemming and generally what I would consider to be a “single use” product. Some can even physically harm you if you are not careful handling them as there are sharp metal edges.

Such items are not being manufactured by companies with a purpose to create a lasting product. These items are nothing more than cheap knock offs for a quick buck. But yet, more and more of these are now available. Why? It’s because, as I mentioned, they “appear” to be the same when viewed online. In today’s Internet commerce age, how do you know what you are buying? We seem to purchase anything as long as the web site looks well designed and the shopping cart isn’t diverting to a third part site for processing.

The important thing to remember is that there are indeed some displays manufactured in China that you can rely on in the exhibit world. And you must be vigilant when doing your research to ensure that is what you are getting. Can you call the company on the telephone and speak to a representative? Can you purchase over the phone rather than online? Can you receive a quote, or a sample? Does the business you are dealing with have a physical location you can visit with a showroom? Is there a return policy and a warranty? Researching the company you are dealing with is more important than ever before.

I’ve already seen several of these Super Low End Chinese Displays come and go on the market. Some companies were simply US fronts for a Chinese based firm or individual. Some were US distributors that chose to do business with the lower end materials rather than sell the original Quality Controlled Chinese Manufactured Exhibits simply to make a higher margin on their sales. And as these companies go out of business, or switch to a different product, how will you, the customer, service your existing display?


Budget is always a concern with any company about to attend a trade show. You want to stretch the dollar as far as it will go. And with the Internet at our finger tips, you can search for hours to find what appears to be the same product for less from one site to the next. But be careful. They are not always the same. I can create a computer rendering of a product that looks exactly like another, send you multiple support documents such as set up instructions, graphic templates, and brochures explaining its virtues. But wouldn’t it be a disappointment to receive the product and find it has jagged edges on the metal that can seriously harm you and graphics that barely fit?

There are plenty of economy level Chinese made exhibits today. We at American Image Displays sell some of these. But we only sell those that have been tested and are supported by a large level of checks and balances. If it were up to me, I would sell you the American made exhibit as it is still superior quality.

But if you are looking for a lower cost option, and you’ve been online looking at these economy level exhibits, give us a call. We’ll be happy to review our products against any other you found and tell you what the differences are. Our goal at American Image Displays is your satisfaction, not only for one event, but as many events as you have planned.

Give us a call (800-676-3976to learn more.

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