Trade Show Labor | The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

by Apr 16, 2019

My Boss Is Going to Murder Me

The show floor opens in three hours and your booth is only half built. How did this happen? What went wrong? Whose fault is this? Listen up – we might have an idea. There is a good chance it was your Installation and Dismantle plan.

With the focus going into the concept, approvals, booking travel, shipping, and everything else on your plate, it’s easy to overlook I&D. This is one of the most common mistakes we see from trade show newbies, but even seasoned exhibitors can get caught off guard from time to time. Luckily it’s not too difficult to avoid this pitfall. A little forethought, working with an experienced exhibit house, and choosing the right Trade Show Labor can make build-out and breakdown a painless process.

Start at the Beginning: Design

Your I&D planning should start from day one. Part of an exhibit house’s job is knowing what works and what doesn’t when designing a trade show booth. Implementing design strategies based on an understanding of the capabilities and limitations when it comes to labor at the show is an important tool for preventing headaches come installation day.

Sure building an actual log cabin out of real lumber on the show floor would be super cool, but what are the odds three laborers would get the job done in less than three full days? This build would require a much more substantial team. With trade show labor rates averaging around $104.00/hr ( 2017 EDPA Labor Rate Survey), it doesn’t take much math to realize what type of I&D expense you’re looking at. 

We find that using lightweight modular exhibit systems is hands down the way to go these days. Forget about the labor cost on that log cabin example, could you imagine what the drayage bill would be?!


About that Log Cabin

But hey, if you want to build a log cabin, we can handle it. A properly researched trade show labor plan, clever exhibit fabrication and a strong desire to succeed where others have failed made it all possible for Sightron. All at a relatively reasonable price.



Getting a Professional Design

When you take buildout into consideration during your conceptualization and design process you don’t only save time, you save even more on your trade show labor costs. With those funds back in your pocket, you as the exhibitor winds up driving a higher ROI. Detailed 3D trade show booth designs benefits everyone, from the exhibit fabricator, shippers all the way down to a print out for trade show labor teams. 

Getting a Jumpstart: Prep Before You Ship

One of the biggest advantages of working with an exhibit house is the ability to get some work done on your booth before it even arrives at the event. Installing things like television mounts, especially when you have more than one, can eat up a good chunk of time during your build. Building furniture ahead of time is another way to speed up your installation. If you really want to get ahead of the game you can even have your graphics installed at the shop before your crates go out. Going back to the costs of trade show labor, the more you get done in advance the more distance you can get out of your budget.

When you look at a booth like the one we did for Konami below, it’s clear just assembling furniture could take a whole day of labor. In this case the cost to ship pieces assembled outweighed the cost to have them built on-site. 

Making Choices: Picking the Right Labor

There are two options to explore when making your choice about labor on the show floor. Going with a GC or EAC. GC stands for General Contractor, and are hired through show management. EAC’s or Exhibitor Appointed Contractors, are independent companies that show management approves to work on booth I&D. Both options have their plusses and minuses, and it is important to consider which one will be the most valuable to your project.

General Contractors

GCs tend to have a lot more on their plates come showtime, because of fluctuations in show size, GCs tend to offer less full-time opportunities and bring in a lot more part-time laborers for bigger shows. This can have an effect on the quality of labor you may receive during the show. Another thing to keep in mind is GCs are responsible for exhibitors AND the show itself, this causes labor to be a bit spread thin at times. On the flip side, they are usually able to offer a lower rate than you would get from an EAC.



Exhibitor Appointed Contractors

When it comes to EACs, they usually have relationships with exhibitors to work show after show and are able to attract more skilled labor through full-time job opportunities and a slightly higher wage rate. With less likelihood to be spread thin, we usually see more focus on each individual exhibitor’s project as well as increased reliability on both sides of I&D. So whereas a GC may offer a lower upfront cost, it’s important to consider the intangible benefits of having a more focused and higher skilled trade show labor team.

The Breakdown: Buttoning Up After the Show

Now that the show is over, you can let out a nice sigh of relief, but don’t forget about your dismantle. This is another thing we notice young bucks in the trade show world overlooking. Though not as stressful as the installation, carelessness during dismantle can have a big impact on your bottom line.

Obviously, again there are the trade show labor costs, so you want to get your work done in a timely manner, but there is also the value of your booth and assets. It’s important to have your goods packed in the best way possible for shipment. We recommend taking photos of your freight during both stages of I&D. When you have shots of how it came in, it’s easy to pack the same way for outbound, and it’s good to have proof everything was safe and secure going on the truck in case there is damage during shipping. It’s also good to try and get the same laborers on the up and the down (I&D). Since they unpacked they will have a better idea of how to repack accordingly. Time spent scratching your head is still time you’re paying your trade show labor!

There are lots of little tips and tricks we’ve picked up over the years. And yes, it’s good to learn from your mistakes, but if you can avoid a lot of the common mistakes we see happen to exhibitors show after show, you’re already ahead of the game. This is why we recommend working together with an exhibit house that has the experience (and possibly made a mistake or two back in the day) to help your trade show experience go headache free.

Curious on how to cut more trade show costs?

Try reading more here


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