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A Practical Guide to Onsite Trade Show Services

Onsite Trade Show Services

  • The basics of Onsite Labor
  • The basics of Onsite Electrical / Internet
  • The basics of Onsite Audio / Visual Rental
  • The basics of Onsite Housekeeping Services
  • The basics of Onsite Exhibit Security Services
  • The basics of Onsite Freight

Onsite show services include all services available at the show site. Subcontractors typically provide these services for show management.

Onsite Labor

Show management contracts with a union or non-union labor company to provide the show site installation and dismantle services (I&D). The designated labor company may also provide the decoration (pipe and drape, aisle carpet and registration counters). They are also responsible for ensuring the installation is completed on time and the facility is cleared after the event.

Using onsite labor is convenient but not mandatory. Exhibitors can contract with any labor company as long as the labor company complies with the local rules and regulations as well as the show policies and procedures. The onsite labor contractor has a service desk onsite, and their labor forms are conveniently included with the show forms. If you need more labor on the show floor, you can easily request it. Most exhibitors use the show labor since it is convenient.. Those that don’t use onsite labor generally have a working relationship with another labor company.

At a union regulated show site, the unions define what you can do during set-up and dismantle. Generally there is a ratio of a few laborers to one company representative. You are permitted to handle all your products. The labor crew is responsible for handling display components, power tools, and ladders. However, most crews are flexible if you demonstrate good faith. 

Planning is very, very important. Remember to schedule time for flooring and electrical before you schedule a set-up crew to your booth. Likewise, plan for a delay in getting your crates delivered to your booth space at the conclusion of the show. There are lots of crates to be delivered, and it always takes time coordinate the deliveries.

Onsite Electrical and Internet

The show contractor also provides electrical and Internet services. Only licensed electricians can set-up and dismantle electrical wiring and connections in your exhibit. It the most literal sense, this includes screwing in a light bulb, but most exhibitors take this to mean the wiring and circuitry. Electricians review the wire grounding and the breaker loads, and look for exposed or unsafe hacker wiring and connections. Electricity is the primary threat on the show floor. High power runs everywhere. Fires are a real danger when you consider all the wood, carpet, and plastic concentrated on an exhibit hall.

Electrical Requirements

Your show binder includes a form for ordering electrical services. You order electrical quantity by watts and amps. You specify outlet location(s) with a floor plan schematic of your booth. Most people are unfamiliar with how to add up all their electrical needs. Your booth might include a variety of lighting fixtures, a lead generating machine, and a few computer workstations.

Wiring between outlets to fixtures and electronics poses the most obstacles. Exhibits in the US require 3-pronged grounded power cords, which translates into the larger wires. You have to determine how to hide these bigger wires. Buildings hide wiring under the floor, in the roof, and in the walls. Exhibits don’t always have that option. They hide wires under sub-flooring or carpet padding, or drop power from the ceiling overhead.

If you have a lot of electrical requirements in your booth, then consider adding a list of the items to the electrical floor plan you send in with your order. Better yet, indicate where on the floor plan the electrical items will be needed. Electricians are very good at reading and extrapolating electrical information. They frequently catch errors and make adjustments on the fly, thereby saving you time and hassle during the exhibit set-up.

If you have questions, call show management. These are routine questions for show management.

Wiring Your Booth Space and Exhibit

You have two options. Power can be run beneath your flooring or dropped from the ceiling. If you choose the floor, you will want your flooring to hide the wiring. Carpet padding does a good job of this, and plush carpet on top of 1/2 carpet padding conceals wires even better. Other flooring such as wood and flooring tiles require a channel routed in the underside of the material for the wiring. Whenever possible, request that the electrician use flat cords rather than round cords.

Companies use a ceiling drop when it makes sense with the booth configuration and the power loads. A ceiling drop is more expensive than running wires across the floor. If you are considering a ceiling drop, call show management to discuss the ceiling configuration over your booth space. Also discuss the option of floor outlets. Show management can help you determine which is best for you.

When you select an exhibit to purchase, make sure you understand, and are comfortable with, how the booth will be wired at the show. Just as important, make sure you communicate where you expect electrical devices in the exhibit, including all lighting fixtures. Be proactive about wire management and discuss with your exhibit consultant during the design phase.

Adding Internet Access

Internet access has become commonplace in exhibit halls for every industry. If you want online access in your booth, you will need to order it just as you would electrical. You don’t need to calculate power, but you may need to include a floor plan indicating where you want the connector(s) placed. Most show halls, including hotels, have installed high-speed wireless access to the facility making Internet access even easier. 

Onsite Audio/Visual

You can rent computers, LCD screens, projectors, and much more from the show A/V contractor. It can be expensive but not nearly as expensive as purchasing the equipment. Also, the risk of freight damage is eliminated.

Your show binder will have A/V forms from the show A/V contractor. There is typically a discount if the equipment is requested in advance.

Onsite Housekeeping

To keep your exhibit looking great throughout the show, there are two options. You can arrange to have your exhibit cleaned during the show with an onsite service, or you can bring a vacuum and cleaning supplies and perform the task yourself. Onsite housekeeping companies contract with the show decorator to provide the service to exhibitors. Your show binder should have a form for ordering this service. Cleaning typically includes vacuuming the carpet and emptying the trash. Cleaning fingerprints from windows and laminate surfaces remains the exhibitor’s responsibility.

Consider having plastic placed over the carpet during set-up. It isn't cheap, but it is effective against spills, trash, and forklift tire tracks. You will remove the plastic immediately before the show opens.

Cleaning Tips
Vacuuming your booth daily is a good idea if you have any kind of a plush carpet, especially if it is very light or very dark in color. If your carpet is new, then plan on heavy fuzzing for the first few uses. Whether you use a cleaning service or do your own booth cleaning, it’s a good idea to have a cleaning kit packed in you booth that travels from show to show.

Here is a list of items to include in a cleaning kit.

Cleaning Kit Contents:

  • Glass cleaner
  • Laminate polish
  • Paper towels
  • Scissors
  • Knife, razor, or box cutter
  • Velcro
  • Multipurpose screw driver with flat and Phillips heads
  • Finger polish remover (acts like lacquer thinner for removing adhesive gum)
  • Clear packing tape
  • Carpet tape (in case you need to tack a corner down)
  • Duct tape

Onsite Exhibit Security Services

Exhibit halls can be a magnet for pilferage and espionage. If you want to guard against either of these, the show contractor can assist you in securing your exhibit area. The onsite security provider can post a security officer in your booth for the times you specify. You order security services with a form included in your show binder.
Pilferage can occur from labor, attendees, or employees. Because shows are known for giving away free stuff (incentives), some folks simply take this invitation a half step further. It’s a nuisance when pilferage involves promotional incentives, but it can be catastrophic if it is a product or prototype that will be missed by attendees if it is gone.

Store your incentives in a lockable storage cabinet. If you don’t have one, the next best place is behind the booth or anywhere out of site.

Wait to set out your incentives until just before the show opens. Many staffers from other exhibits prowl the aisles before the show opens collecting incentives. Pack incentives or any valuable product or electronic equipment in unmarked inconspicuous boxes. Consider resealing them after each opening especially if they are not under lock and key.

Espionage can be the double edge sword of business-to-business exhibit marketing. While everyone is working to impress attendees with breakthroughs and innovations, they run the risk of providing proprietary technology to direct competitors. Make no mistake about a competitor’s willingness to take a quantum leap at the expense of a rival. There are a number of tips for protecting proprietary information. Consider having a security guard posted in the booth every day before and after show hours. The presence of these security officers will stop wandering competitors from trespassing.

Onsite Freight Services

Onsite freight shipping refers to the shipping company subcontracted by show management to provide inbound and outbound freight shipping service. Like all show services, onsite freight shipping has an advantage of convenience. The onsite freight company maintains a service desk at the show. They will be most familiar with the receiving and sending aspects of the show and facility. If you use a different shipping company and your company does not show up to pick up your freight after the show, your freight will be "force shipped" with the onsite shipping company at your expense.

Most major carriers are familiar with shipping to trade shows and the general marshaling process that occurs as trucks line up to unload their exhibit freight on the docks of the show facility. Whatever means you use, you will want to provide clear instructions to ensure that your freight is received at the show facility and delivered to your booth space.

Freight is priced by dimensional and actual weight depending on the service. For exhibits shipped ground freight, the crate contents rarely exceed the dimensional weight formula. However for exhibits shipped air freight, there are limits in size and weight. Actual weight can easily exceed dimensional weight just as shipping a large box with light contents can incur an additional oversized charge. Freight companies are set-up to provide instant quotes based on the shipment's size and weight, your zip code, and the final destination zip code. These companies extend significant discounts on standard rates according to a company’s annual shipping volume.

Freight Insurance

Regardless of how you ship your exhibit, you will want to insure it for its full retail value. Insurance usually costs around .10 cents per 100 lb. of freight. Without insurance, if your booth is lost or damaged, the standard protection from the carrier is approximately .50 per pound. So, consider if your $100K exhibit is lost in transit. If it weighed 3000 lb. and shipped in three crates, you would be paid only $1500. Alternatively if you paid the $30 insurance, you would be reimbursed the full $100K with proof of value such as the invoice. Don’t take the risk. There is a good possibility you will experience some kind of freight loss or damage over a number of trade shows. 

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For more information about trade show or event marketing, give us a call or Contact Us. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your next event.

Article Author:

Mel White, CEI

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Exhibit Weight varies depending on the packaging and the shipping method. Variables include but are not limited to:
  • Dimensional Weight vs. Actual Weight: Dimensional weight is defined as crate or case size. On most air shipments, the dimensional weight exceeds the actual weight
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For more information about exhibit weights and freight options, please contact your local exhibit representative.
Electrical, Cord, and Wire Management varies depending on the display and each exhibitor's requirements. When ordering your trade show display, consider the following electrical/wire management issues and discuss your options with an exhibit professional:
  • Inline vs. Island Displays
  • Lead Retrieval Devices
  • Computer and Monitor Cables
  • Demo Equipment
  • Overhead Lighting
  • Grommets and Grommet Placement in Counters
  • Overhead vs. Floor Power Supply
  • Flooring and Electrical Wiring
  • Options for Hiding Cords and Cables
  • Flat vs. Round Electrical Cords
  • Multi-Plug Outlets and Extension Cords
By reviewing your wiring options BEFORE you order your display, you'll save TIME and MONEY and ensure your exhibit exceeds your expectations and your installation is trouble-free.