Trade Show Booth Design | A Modular Revolution

by Jun 4, 2019

The Rookie

My first experience with a modular trade show booth design was about 5 years ago, it was also my first time working a trade show. So with a five minute tutorial from my boss, I found myself with a pile of aluminum frames, two union laborers, and a 30×40’ booth to build. To say I was lost would be an understatement. At least I thought I was…


No Tools Required?

It didn’t take long to figure out that five-minute rundown was all I would need to get the job done. Modular systems are assembled with tool-less connectors and hardware making them easier to assemble than a piece of Ikea furniture, without their Swedish instructions. It was amazing to watch how quick an empty space became full of structure.

Looking at the custom fabricated booth next door, I watched five guys struggle to put up a similar wall fabricated out of wood. In the same amount of time my team had already built out two full rooms. It quickly became evident how simple these modular systems are to work with. 

The More You Know

So fast forward five years and I’ve gotten a good number of shows under my belt. From event to event, I’ve spent more time talking with other exhibitors, and heard some pretty wild trade show war stories. From freight companies not tying down a load, to entire parts of custom structure arriving in pieces. I have definitely had my share of headaches over the years, but none as extreme as these. The durability and packability of a modular system alleviates these logistical woes.  


 Managing I&D at countless shows has given me a sneak peak into the astronomical budget beater drayage can be. The amount of money it takes to move a few pallets 200 feet was mind blowing to me. Just a small box under 50 lbs. could cost upwards of $45 to take to your booth. You could ship it across the country for that price.

Breaking Down the Numbers


Let’s say an 8×8’ wooden panel weighs about 100 pounds, building a basic square structure (4 walls) would be about 400 pounds of material to handle. The same amount of structure could be created using just twelve 8 pound aluminum panels, coming in at just 96 pounds. The drayage fee at San Diego Comic Con is $1.23 a pound.

Booth Structure Weight of 1 Panel Booth Size Total Booth Weight Drayage Fee (per pound) Total Drayage Cost
Wood Panel 100 lbs. 8×8′ 400 lbs. $1.23/lb. $492.00
Aluminum Panel 8 lbs. 8×8′ 96 lbs. $1.23/lb. $118.00
Difference 92 lbs. 304 lbs.




That’s a savings of $374 for just a 8×8′ booth – over 75% difference!  

Legos for Adults

Building with modular exhibits is like having a giant bin full of legos. Need a curved piece? No problem! Want to put in a window? Use this piece. One of the major plusses for modular design is the amount of customization they offer. Just one system can be constructed in so many ways, you never have to have the same booth twice. I’ll admit it, I still like to play with legos and I like to think that creativity is what makes us good at what we do.



Some of my favorite design elements that I’ve seen over the years working this type of trade show booth design have to be the giant modular light boxes we’ve produced. They add such an eye catching element in a clean and modern package it’s hard to tell whether it’s a T.V. or just a backlit graphic . 

Modular exhibits also offer more graphic options than traditional exhibit fabrication. SEG fabric graphics are one of the most popular solutions for exhibit displays today. These lightweight dyed panels tuck into the a small channel in the aluminum extrusion and allow for seamless images that can cover multiple panels and thus, a much larger wall space than traditional PVC panels.

What’s Next

When I’m not traveling for shows, or writing, I get time to sneak a peek at the advances modular exhibit systems are offering. The latest tech in these systems are LED tiles, and they are currently the hottest thing in modular systems, literally:


These tiles can be configured in any size, and even come in curved versions. This technology is creating booths like I’ve never seen before. From massive two-story screens, to entire structures being used as a display, LED advancements are the direction booth design is heading. The kicker here is these LED display systems are only available for modular exhibit systems.


 The Bottom Line (For Your Budget

We all know that no matter what exhibiting can be a pretty expensive undertaking. It’s been clear to me that in terms of cost savings, show after show and year after year that you will see with a modular exhibit system far surpasses any of the benefits custom fabrication can offer. I am also not saying that these systems are cheap.


Buying a full booth’s worth of frames and components does still have a high upfront cost. However. if you plan on doing multiple shows over the course of a year, the savings on things like shipping, drayage, and labor will begin paying the system off quickly.


If you only exhibit once a year and find the upfront costs too high, there is always the option of renting a modular system show to show. Going this route is another great option for having a custom booth on a budget. Either way modular systems are both the future of, and the most budget friendly, trade show booth design options.


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