How DIY Can Spell Disaster For Your Trade Show Booths

Posted by Danielle DeBenedictis on Sep 23, 2014 8:30:00 AM

Thanks to the wide enablement of free flowing information on the internet, there is a noticable trend towards the Do-It-Yourself route: Instructional YouTube Videos, WikiHows, endless Pinterest idea boards... It seems that every answer and money saving tactic must be reachable on the end of a Google search, and as simple to execute as following a 10-step checklist.

This brings us to the question, Why spend money paying others to do something that looks simple enough?


Although I have to admit some DIY projects are quite effective (I mean, have you ever built a fruit fly trap out of vinegar and soap, or created electrical wire organization with a toilet paper roll??), when it comes to big investments in your Marketing Budget, cutting corners can come back with a fierce bite. It’s just not something you want to take a gamble on and be accountable for in the end.


If you catch yourself uttering any of these, it may be beneficial to think twice and ask yourself, are all of your bases really covered?

“I’ll ship it myself.”

Trade Show Booth Shipping

This may be one of the most common sentences we hear on the DIY front. Whether it’s part or all of the booth, exhibit managers believe that having the shipping within their control will prevent mishaps and save on costs.

Reality: Shipping your booth's different components with various shippers leads to much more confusion and room for error. I’ve witnessed instances where shipments from the same booth end up being combined onto only one of the outbound trucks, pieces that went completely M.I.A. and late arrivals to the booth due to lack of attention to specific show rules and timelines.

Trust me, let’s avoid having to run up and down the shipping dock seeking out “Ned” on “Truck 35” for that shipment you thought would get unloaded at 8:00am on the day we need to start building at 8:00am. If a central person is coordinating and responsible for all the moving parts and pieces, all you have to worry about is those pieces creating your amazing final product.

“We’ll take care of the electrical.”

Trade Show Booth Electrical Services

Simply ordering any show service for yourself is more complex than filling out a form or picking up the phone and relaying a credit-card number. There are processes that must be in place every step of the way to make sure mistakes aren't made, that items are delivered to the right place at the right time, and that the proper services are ordered.

Reality: No matter the size of your program, the process of trade show exhibiting coordination takes a lot of organization and pre-planning skills. If you aren't prepared to do it 100% by yourself, it is worth offloading all that paperwork and small details to a source that you can rely on not to miss any of the fine print. 

Disasters that have occurred due an insistance by Exhibit Managers on handling the service coordination include: forgetting to order a necessity, missing discount deadlines, and resorting to last minute costly solutions.

Plus, when one person is the orderee and another is the on-site supervisor, the likelihood of wires getting crossed and overlooking important details increases. This leads to a lot more running around trying to piece together missing information. When your exhibit house orders the services for the exhibit that they have created, they know exactly how much electrical is needed, exactly where it is needed, and what other service components are necessary to create the entire Branded Environment as a whole.

“I’ll just vacuum the booth each day.”

Trade Show Booth Cleaning

Yes, cleaning costs from the show sometimes are ridiculously inflated to an almost unjustifiable point. After all, you vacuum your own home, how hard could vacuuming your booth space be? 

Reality: Besides vacumming in those throbbing feet being the last thing anyone wants to do after a full day of exhibiting, it's really not always the best choice. It may save you some money, but it definitely won't save you any time, comfort or sanity. 

We had a client one time that insisted on vacuuming her new 600 square foot exhibit herself. At her request for even more cost savings, we did not have a project team member stay throughout the duration of the show to tend to any needs that may occur.

We then received a frantic call after the first day of the show. The household grade vacuum she was attempting to use kept clogging due to the new carpet used in the exhibit. I'm sure a few choice words were used while she lugged that bulky vacuum around the booth space, choking on dust as she continuously emptied that bag. 

We ended up sending over a local crew member to take care of the booth for her and the following year she budgeted for show-provided cleaning services. The industrial sized vacuums used by the professional cleaners and being able to simply show up in the morning to a freshly cleaned floor was definitely worth the expense after all! 

“I’ll oversee the labor.”

Trade Show Laborers are not typically the same people who designed the exhibit. All they know are the plans and instructions communicated to them prior to and during the build. There are two things we recommend to drastically decrease the risk of errors during install:

1) The team that builds the booth should be in close contact with the company that knows the workings of the exhibit inside out.

2) The Project Supervisor who has been involved in the technicalities behind the design since day one should be on-site to oversee the build, stay a step ahead of the process and quickly resolve any issues that may arise. 

Trade Show Booth Labor

Reality: Labor costs money. A misstep in the process can result in a costly time delay in correcting mistakes. You may look away for a moment and turn back to see that a piece has been installed upside-down or backwards.

If you do not know the constuction technicalities of an exhibit, the most effective techniques to use, how to think a step ahead of your labor crew so that you can complete the process in an efficient manner, then you may not want to risk being a DIY Supervisor. It could actually end up costing you more in the end. 

"We have a Graphic Designer. We'll take care of that.

Trade Show Booth Graphics DIY FAIL

It's wonderful when a company has in-house designers, but when they start trying to be expert Trade Show Exhibit Graphic Designers as well, some information can be dropped in translation.

Exhibit Houses not only have Graphic Design experience, but they also have knowledge of the specific types of Design that work well in a trade show setting and of the specific materials that are best for that particular medium. 

Reality: You don't want to produce any trade show exhibit in a piecemeal way. Trying to save money by taking the graphics in-house is only going to leave room for graphic nightmares. If a graphic is damaged during shipping or on-site, whoever produced it and shipped it is accountable. An Exhibit House will know the solution for the quick and effective fix should any unforeseen circumstance occur, so it's best to just let them handle the entire package.  

Trade Show Booth Expectations Versus Reality

So you pulled it off and did it yourself. Congratulations, you saved a lot of money. The important question to ask is, did you make a lot of money from your exhibiting venture in return? If so, go take a victory lap around the office as the ultimate Trade Show Super Star and demand a raise, right now. That extra time, effort and stress put into the flawless execution is certainly worth it!

For the others that may feel overwhelmed by the details, if you are putting the majority of your focus on how can you spend less, you may be diverted from the real objective - creating a solid Brand Presence, leaving a strong Brand Impression, attracting the right audience, and, ultimately, gaining a measurable Return.

It's worth investigating that extra value an exhibit house can provide in a turnkey full-service oriented solution.

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Topics: Tips & Tricks, Brand Experience