Tradeshow move-in sticker shock
Over the years, I've helped manage our national tradeshow, and I've traveled to many other tradeshows across the country, many of them including heavy equipment. One thing they've all had in common: a sense among exhibitors that the rates charged by companies that help move folks in and out of the show border on excessive and aren't based in any type of reality. I'd like to address this disconnect briefly, as I feel there is room on both sides to clarify this relationship, and I think it is the duty of the association managing the show to work with exhibitors and service companies to bridge this gap.
I think this stems partially from perspective. Exhibitors see only a small portion of what actually transpires before, during, and after a show. Understandably, they are focused on their booths and their budgets, while show management and their exhibit services partner must focus on all exhibitors. The challenges on a tradeshow floor include a great deal of diversity in terms of the type of equipment and products displayed and how those items arrive onsite, not to mention how they are moved onto the floor safely and efficiently.
Second, I think the disconnect comes from poor communication. It seems most exhibitors feel that they should only be charged for the exact amount of time it takes and for one specific piece of equipment (e.g., a forklift). Meanwhile, most exhibitor service companies, or show management for that matter, don't do a good job of making sure that exhibitors understand that there is a great deal of cost and overhead built into this pricing, more than just one worker and one forklift for 20 minutes. On the other side, high fees from service companies and unclear and confusing invoicing and service kits need to be improved, as well.
It comes down to this: without an exhibitor service company managing this entire process, tradeshows would be complete chaos for move-in and move-out, people would likely get hurt, and it would move much slower. There is value to the organization and management of a show, but that value is hard to communicate on a hectic tradeshow floor, and especially hard when the bill comes to the booth at the end of the show. It's hard to prevent sticker shock.
For the exhibit services company, moving items on the tradeshow floor is their revenue center. It's what keeps them in business and generates profit for their companies, pays their employees, and puts food on the table. They face substantial risk and cost, including initial site inspections, hours of planning site logistics, warehousing costs and storage, signage and shipping costs, admin costs, labor costs, and more.
Aside from those hard costs, there is also a personal cost and emotional one as well. Over the years I have personally seen our main exhibit services contacts manage through union strikes, inadequate labor and staffing, extreme requests, angry customers, smashed booths, broken-down trucks on loading docks, and countless other extremes. Also, many of these folks who help manage the process are on the road a great deal, as much as any hard-traveling outside salesman in some cases.
I'd love to hear perspectives from other associations who manage tradeshows. How do you handle these challenges?
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