Bling My Booth

Cost Cutting tips in your exhibitor kit

Written by Susan Ratliff on December 15th, 2008. Posted in Uncategorized

Everyone is pulling in the reigns on spending so now is the time to revisit some basic ways to cut expenses from your next tradeshow budget.  Exhibit marketing is a team effort. The team extends beyond your sales and marketing departments and includes the tradeshow promoter and the convention services company too.  As your tradeshow schedule expands around the country it is wise to cultivate a close relationships with the various exposition services that dominate the industry. 

Here in Arizona one of the more innovative and receptive suppliers is Modern Expositions  Their General Manager, Randy Breen, is a hands-on leader who brings many years of experience in the planning, production and execution of tradeshows to this convention services organization.  Customer service is at the top of his list of priorities. He knows from the tradeshow floor level what an exhibitor needs to be successful and his competent crew delivers efficient, helpful assistance.  Give Randy a call.  If he can’t help you he knows a company who can.

Here is some information that will assist you in getting the most from your service providers and shipping company.  Understanding your exhibitor Kit will save you money and headaches.

Your exhibitor kit

When you make a commitment to exhibit in an expo, you will receive an exhibitor’s kit from the promoter or the show decorator that is managing the event. It may be mailed as a hard copy, but most likely will be accessible on line. When the exhibitor kit is available on a website you have the opportunity to read the entire kit, but only print those forms you need.

The kit will consist of page after page of instructions, restrictions and rules you must follow as an exhibitor. It will also include helpful information, critical deadlines and important order forms that, if read and followed in a timely manner, will save you time, money and headaches.  I suggest you create an on site book for every show.  This can be a folder or a binder that will have copies of all the pertinent documents, signed forms, authorizations, certificates, contact persons, billing information and payment permissions for everything you need.  Document all communications with everyone pertaining to the show and keep all their contact information in this file for easy reference.    Following are some of the most important areas of information covered in the kit.

Installation and Dismantle

In the kit there will be specific times assigned to your company for setting up and taking down your display. This is particularly important due to the enormous number of companies that must bring in exhibits through the loading docks. If the show is local and you have a portable exhibit you will be setting up by yourself, you might be permitted to drive your vehicle onto the dock and unload your merchandise, but you must then remove and park your vehicle before you can return to take your things to your booth. If you are shipping exhibit materials, you will need to make arrangements for services such as warehousing, delivery, drayage and labor.  Each is explained in detail below.

Union Labor

In many states, labor unions rule the trade show convention halls and you cannot so much as plug in a light fixture without paying a union worker. You are permitted to set up your booth by yourself, provided one person can do so in thirty minutes or less with no tools. This time restriction is unrealistic for most exhibitors.  Otherwise, you must consent to use union workers and the documentation outlining rates and rules will be provided in the Exhibitor Kit. Union rates are usually very expensive averaging $75 per hour, per worker during regular day hours, increasing to overtime after 4:00 PM and time and a half on weekends and holidays.  Along with the labor rates comes the cost of equipment rentals. If you need to place a header on your center kiosk you might need a forklift.  To hang shelves you might need to rent a ladder.  Hanging signs above an exhibit will require a scissor lift.  The use of any of the show services equipment necessary to complete your installation and dismantle will result in a charge to you.

If you cannot or do not wish to set up your exhibit yourself, and don’t want to pay union labor there is a very important page in your exhibitor kit you will want to pull out as soon as possible.  It is the Non-Official Contractor form.  This form allows you to hire an outside company of your choice. These non-official contractors must present certain business information and provide a certificate of insurance to the convention services company or decorator, in charge of the show. When you arrange for labor you are taking money out of the pockets of the convention services company so rules and deadlines must be strictly followed.  The non official contractor paperwork must be in the hands of the decorator thirty days before the show so make it a point to send it well in advance of the deadline to prevent any problems.  Keep copies and records of all paperwork and communications.  Call to confirm you’re your documents were received by show management, because if they do not have a copy on file by the due date, then your contract labor or staff will not be permitted to erect your display and you will be forced to pay the labor rates of the contractor.


Save money on installation & dismantle services

Pack several sets of setup instructions inside your exhibit cases. Include pictures of the completed booth in all configurations you normally use.  Take pictures from several different angles for clarity.  Show details of where counters, shelves, monitors and computers are located. Include pictures of all graphic applications and where graphics should be mounted.  Send along a touch up kit with paint, cleaning supplies, rags, assembly tools and a hand vacuum.  Get the cell phone number of any contract laborers or supervisor and give them yours. Make sure a dependable staff member sets a time to meet the exhibit installers to confirm the proper booth configuration and graphic positioning.  Hiring your own installation supervisor would be wise.  If the laborers set up your exhibit incorrectly or different from your preference because there were no instructions in the crates or they were difficult to decipher it could be very costly to take it down and reinstall everything.

If you wish to ship your crates and containers of show materials in advance, you will need to contract drayage services. Drayage is the service of moving your freight from the loading dock to your booth space then picking up your empty shippers, storing them and returning them to your booth when the show is over.  In a small event at a hotel you may be permitted to store a few cases behind your booth or under a table, but this will not be the case at most convention halls.

Drayage is an expensive service, billed according to the weight of your shipments.  The fees average $1 per pound of weight with a minimum of 100lbs. The key to saving money on this service is keeping accurate documentation on the weight of your freight. If such documentation is not available, the company can weigh your containers themselves and charge fees from those numbers. Obtain a weight ticket from your freight carrier and always check it against the drayage bills to prevent overcharges. Ship everything in advance in one shipment to minimize weight charges.  Document everything and keep copies of all forms in a show folder and bring it with you to the show.

Electrical Service
There will be a special order form in your kit pertaining to electrical services. There is usually a separate company working with the show decorator to provide all the electrical needs.  You must calculate and determine your voltage, wattage and amp requirements before you fill out the order. It’s easy to count your watts from your bulbs in the lighting fixtures you use, but if you plan to bring video equipment, computers, or multi-media electronics, it’s best to consult your audiovisual provider or speak to the electrical contractor first. Consider the amount of electrical cords that you will need to run everything.  If there are too many thick cords that will cause a hazard if run under the carpet, you might be required to pay for a ceiling drop where the electric connection comes from above into your display.  There are new flat electrical extension cords now available too. Take advantage of special discounts by ordering early. Bring your own extension cords, converters, bulbs and attachments so you will not have to rent anything at the last minute. The electric company is only responsible for bringing service to your booth.  You will again be charged for labor to lay the lines. Do not plug in any electrical cords or run any wires without first checking with the electric supplier.  Familiarize your self with the early bird discounts and the rules in your kit and cut costs at your next event







A Marine’s journey

Written by Susan Ratliff on November 22nd, 2008. Posted in Uncategorized

I know this is not about tradeshows or exhibits or business, but it is such an incredible story that happened close to home that I wanted to share it.

A little background:  My husband’s father passed away a year ago on July 4th. Independence Day.  He was a decorated Marine who served during World War II, so if he had to go, that was pretty perfect timing, considering. 

Here’s the story:  My husband’s Mom is 84, still lives by herself and works every day.  She came home last Monday to find the arcadia door smashed in and the house ransacked by thieves.  We are pretty sure she surprised them when she opened the garage and they escaped out the back door.  She called my husband who went to her house to comfort her and review the damage.  Drawers were emptied, closets opened, jewelry and money gone.  The house was a mess with glass everywhere. The police were on their way.  After a thorough inventory they had another surprise.  Dad was gone.  The burglers actually stole the beautiful cremation urn that rested on the table in the living room.  Its finely crafted shape and blue velvet drawstring bag must have made it look very valuable.  Unfortunatly the thief did not realize the true value was in it’s beloved contents. Can you believe that??  On Tuesday, which just happened to be Veterans day, I am at work telling this story to a business associate who owns a Public Relations firm.  She was taken with the incredible details and the irony of the date.  She immediately had an idea for getting the urn back.  She called her assistant who made a few phone calls and in 20 minutes I had five TV stations on the phone begging to speak to the victim, come to the house to view the scene, get a picture of the deceased or the urn, etc.  You know, a real media frenzy.  No way would my husband or his Mom agree, plus she was really scared at this point and did not want anyone to know how, why or where this happened. I certainly understood and wanted to protect her.  I also knew that some media attention might help locate the urn.  We decided that I would tell the story.  In the next hour two TV camera men and a reporter came to my business office.  I wanted to stay anonymous so they filmed me in shadow and only used my first name.  I repeated the story and described the urn with the funeral home’s address on the bottom, hoping for a good samaritan or a thief with a conscience.  Luck was with us.  Shortly after, the funeral home called and someone actually found Dad.  How fitting that although he went away on the 4th of July, he returned on Veterans Day.  Those Marines are amazing!!


Student entrepreneurs get exhibit marketing tips

Written by Susan Ratliff on November 17th, 2008. Posted in marketing

Last week I went to Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona to speak to the students of Mike Lisi’s business class.   Every year his students start a business, select a product or service to sell, develop a business plan, create a marketing strategy then sell their wares at a business tradeshow at the school.  Mike has asked me to come in for the last few years to teach his class what I know about marketing and how to sell successfully from a tabletop exhibit space.  It’s so interesting to see the product ideas they come up with and their concepts for company names and logos.   Their ideas included donuts, original artwork, water, knit caps, decals and jewelry.  My favorite part is seeing their enthusiasm for simple suggestions for improvement like adding a descriptive tag line on their business cards so customers know what they sell or collecting leads from prospects so they can solicit additional sales after the event.  They have no clue about merchandising and are thrilled to learn that they can display their goods in baskets and cover cardboard boxes with a sheet from home in order to elevate their items and bring them closer to eye level.  Working with students who have little exposure to business and marketing practices and watching them discover the simple basics that turn a product into a profit is really fun.  I wish them luck and look forward to my next opportunity to influence and educate some of the entrepreneurs of the next generation.

Meeting Professionals International learns about tradeshows

Written by Susan Ratliff on November 16th, 2008. Posted in Meeting Professionals International

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the first ever AZMPI Educational Conference organized by the Sunbelt Chapter of Meeting Professionals International. Chapter President Deborah Gardner and Conference Chair Mike Stawiarski put on a super event.  I taught a workshop about how meeting planners and service suppliers can maximize their relationships at tradeshows.  It was a gorgeous day at the Mesa Convention center where I met some interesting and talented people and took notes from some great speakers.  I learned how to maximize my Linked In account with that social networking guru Chip Lambert from  It is amazing how many people around the world are tapping into this form of communication. Linked In is geared to businesses so if you are a business owner I urge you to jump on this bandwagon or you will be missing out on a powerful marketing tool.  We also heard from the Chairman of the Board, Larry Luteran, who also happens to be a Senior Vice President of Hilton Hotels.  The economy might be down, but Hilton isn’t worried.  they are building an obscene number of new hotels around the world, as we speak.  One of the highlights of my day was hearing the side-splitting rantings of the one and only Professional Summerizer in existence. Dale Irvin is a humorist who has a quick wit and keen perspective about the things around him.  He did a terrific job as the MC for the day. If you want a laugh go to  If I wasn’t giving a workshop I would have attended some of the other sessions myself.  I heard that Arlene Rosenberg, Ed Scannell and Lisa Barham did a fabulous job.  I was just honored to be there among such a powerful group of people.  I admire the efforts of the meeting professionals and the suppliers that plan, produce and support the millions of events, conferences, tradeshows and meetings that happen around the world.  It is through their behind the scenes efforts that we experience the fantastic education, entertainment, food and fun we enjoy countless times a year at these functions.  I had never been to the outdoor amphitheater at the Mesa Convention Center and really loved our lunch on the lawn.  It was a beautiful day and we followed up the Conference with a cool coctail party on the patio at the Marriott next door.  Just thought you might like to know.  Also, if you are looking for a really fun career, check out the options in the hospitality and meetings industry and join MPI to get connected.

Creating graphics that work for your tradeshow display

Written by Susan Ratliff on September 22nd, 2008. Posted in understanding graphic design

 Clients often ask us why they can’t use pictures on their website or enlarge a 4” photograph to use as their 8’ mural or why the images from their brochure won’t work as their display graphics? We understand that trying to figure out what artwork and images have the correct resolution so they can be blown up large enough to look great on your display is confusing.  The other concept that is difficult to grasp is the fact that having the properly formatted artwork is not enough.  It takes three steps to get your artwork in your hands.  First you must provide us with the company logo, pictures and text messages you want to use.  Next a designer must to sit at the computer and create, size, format, crop, edit, composite, color match, assemble, layout and finish all the elements of your artwork to make it look professional and ready for print.  Lastly,  production begins and they are enlarged, printed and mounted.  Production requires anywhere from 3-7 days from your approval of a proof.


It is important to know is that your display graphics will look only as good as the artwork they are created from.  In this age of the digital camera, everyone assumes that the gorgeous photograph you took on vacation, that great graphic you have on your website or those wonderful images on your brochure can be magically enlarged for use as the 10’ background picture on your exhibit.  There is a huge learning curve associated with understanding how digital graphics are designed and how artwork resolution impacts the appearance of the final image. The simple truth is, unless you have pictures, logos, fonts or illustrations originally created in a format that can be digitally manipulated, you will not be able to turn a 3” x 4” picture from your brochure into a 6’ mural for your tradeshow booth.  There is something called DPI, (dots per inch), that determines the resolution of an image.  The resolution determines whether your words and pictures will look crisp and beautiful or a blurry, jagged mess.  To ensure perfection, the images you select for use on your display should be created for large format reproduction in design programs like Illustrator or Photoshop by someone with graphic art and design knowledge who understands that your goal is to enlarge them for use on your tradeshow display. 


Remember that the clock starts ticking the moment the designer sits down at the computer so brainstorm with your sales and marketing teams about the graphic images and messaging you desire. Share your ideas with your display consultant. They have the expertise and insight on what will look the best and attract your target audience. They will save you time and money by helping you conceptualize a preliminary layout and marketing message before it goes to the designer.


Gather useable artwork from the printer who printed your business cards and letterhead, have pictures scanned into the correct resolution or purchase large format stock photos on the internet.  You can hire your own designer  to create your display graphics or use the graphic design services provided by your exhibit house. A designers services will cost approximately $100-$150- per hour.  This may seem expensive, but upon completion the artwork will be yours to use on your website, flyers, brochures and advertising.

I hope this helps you understand what it takes to get that marketing concept from your mind onto your exhibit.  Let me know what frustrations you’ve tackled on this topic and if this explanation helps.