fter more than 20 years on the show floor, I've learned two very important lessons about myself. First off, I live by the following motto: It's better to have it on the show floor and not need it than to need it and not have it. Second, I hate paying too much for anything, and the marked-up prices for supplies sold on the show floor are too rich for my budget.
CEM, CMP, CMM,
is an independent exhibit-management
consultant, trainer, speaker, writer, and an Exhibitor conference
I've assembled an arsenal of packing materials, tools, cleaners, and miscellaneous items that go with me to every show. Here are just a few of my exhibit-marketing must-haves.
Packing Materials and Adhesives
D Containers: If wooden crates are out of your price range, consider purchasing large, reusable boxes you can assemble on pallets, called D containers. Picture an oversized cardboard box on a large pallet. It takes five pieces to assemble each container: a rectangular wooden pallet, a box bottom, a three-sided panel, a separate side panel for easy loading, and a lid. D containers vary in size from 48-by-39-by-40 inches to 58-by-41-by-45 inches and break down to about 12 inches tall, with the pallet and cardboard panels folded up inside. I can generally use the containers three to four times before I need to cannibalize the undamaged parts and toss out the broken panels.
D containers can be purchased from companies selling packaging materials and boxes and cost about $50 to $75 each, depending on the quantity you buy.
Portable Strapping Kit: If you're going to use D containers, purchase a portable strapping kit so you can secure the containers to pallets. These three-part kits include buckles, half-inch polypropylene strapping, and a knife. Strapping kits with metal banding are also available, but are heavier and harder to cut.
A portable strapping kit costs less than $50, and is worth every penny since you can pay more than that on show site just to have one pallet banded by your installation-and-dismantle contractor. Kits weigh less than 15 pounds for 3,000 feet of strapping and 300 buckles, making them easy to ship.
Bubble Wrap: If you have to ship items that need extra protection, opt for Bubble Wrap. It comes in various sizes of bubbles, and even in bags so you can just slip your fragile items inside.
For products that are oddly shaped or hard to wrap, use adhesive Bubble Mask, which sticks lightly to whatever you're wrapping. It comes in varying widths of 6, 12, and 24 inches, and is perforated every 12 inches. It's reusable, peels off easily, and sticks to just about everything (but isn't recommended for finished wood surfaces).
Black Stretch Wrap: Clear stretch wrap is the norm in our industry, but I've learned to love opaque black stretch-wrap film for securing my cartons on pallets. Keeping the cartons' contents under wraps will deter potential thieves from peeking inside to see if there's anything worth stealing. And, if you happen to misplace a wrapped pallet on the show floor, the black wrap will help you differentiate your pallet from the sea of brown cardboard wrapped in clear plastic.
Black stretch wrap costs between $20 and $30 a roll, and is usually sold in cases of four 1,500-foot rolls.
Bright Paper and Spray Mount: If you want your black-wrapped pallets to stand out, create your own shipping labels on neon-colored paper. Called "Bright" or "Astrobright," this type of paper is generally available in various reams of 8.5-by-11-inch sheets containing five colors, and is both laser and ink-jet compatible.
I use these brightly colored labels to avoid mix-ups on the show floor. For example, if you fail to remove inbound shipping labels from your crates once they arrive at the show, there's a good chance they'll be shipped back to that address instead of the outbound destination. So I use one color for my inbound labels, and another color for my outbound labels.
To adhere my labels to boxes and crates, I use 3M Co.'s Artists' Spray Mount. Both paper and Spray Mount are available at office-supply stores.
Tear-by-Hand Tape: If you've ever been bitten by a tape gun, this product is for you. It is good quality packing tape, made by 3M, that seals securely but has little microscopic cuts along the edges that allow you to tear it by hand. It's more expensive than standard packing tape, but it's worth the investment.
Hook and Loop: I never leave home without at least two 25-yard rolls of hook-and-loop fastener (one roll of hook, one roll of loop). It's the best way to attach graphics to your exhibit. You can purchase rolls of hook-and-loop fastener in a number of widths and colors, and in various strengths of bond and adhesive. Prices vary by manufacturer and width, but beware of knockoffs with inferior adhesive.
Gaffer Tape: Gaffer tape (aka gaff tape, gaffer's tape, gaffing tape, or cloth tape) is a tough, fabric-backed adhesive tape used extensively in the entertainment industry. The tape is manufactured in many colors, but most commonly made in black, red, and white. It's perfect for bundling wires in your booth and taping down cords to carpet because unlike duct tape, it doesn't leave a sticky residue behind when you remove it.
Cleaners and Polishes
Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover: If you've ever had an in-booth carpet stain, Folex Instant Carpet Spot Remover will be your new best friend. I've been using it at my home for years, and found out early in my career that it even removes printer ink from booth carpet. It also works great to clean cloth-covered rental chairs.
Folex can be found at most home-improvement stores and discount retailers. A list of retail outlets can be found at www.folexcompany.com. I buy it by the gallon for about $15 a jug, though a 32-ounce spray bottle costs less than $8.
K2R Spot Lifter: At about $6 per 5-ounce aerosol can, K2R Spot Lifter literally lifts spots and stains on clothes and fabrics into its powder as it dries. The cap of the spray can has bristles on it and can be used to help brush out the remaining powder and stain residue. You can find it at your local drug store or grocery store.
Novus Polishes: When it comes to making your plastic literature racks, light boxes, or surface laminates shine, think Novus Polishes. The company manufactures three different products - Novus 1 to clean and polish, Novus 2 to remove fine scratches, and Novus 3 to remove surface abrasions and deep scratches in plastic.
You can purchase the polishes separately for about $3 per 2-ounce bottle, or in a set, known as the Novus 1-2-3 Trio, in varying sizes starting at $15 a set. You can find Novus at most home-improvement stores.
Sprayway Industrial Strength
Glass Cleaner: This aerosol all-purpose spray cleaner is my weapon of choice for wiping down exhibit surfaces and keeping glass display cases shiny.
It's gotten really hard to find multi-purpose aerosol cleaners, and this brand is reasonably priced and readily available at large discount warehouse stores like Sam's Club.
Miscellaneous Exhibit Supplies
Kart-A-Bag Luggage Cart: Produced by Kart-A-Bags Manufacturing Inc., these carts come with a 10-year warranty, and I use them to schlep my luggage, equipment, and heavy boxes of literature around the show floor.
Before you debut your Kart-A-Bag at a show, consider the following:
1) Union rules may prohibit you from using a four-wheeled cart on the show floor, 2) the coveted carts have a tendency to sprout legs and disappear (I've lost two this way, as show labor likes to use the carts to transport their tool boxes), and 3) some airlines won't let you put a luggage cart in the overhead bin, so be prepared to check it or stow it under the seat.
To find a list of local distributors, visit www.kart-a-bag.com.
Visqueen: Also known as polyethylene, construction film, and roofers' plastic, Visqueen is the heavy plastic sheeting that show contractors use to protect your exhibit carpet during setup. Visqueen is a brand name, but you can buy it or the generic equivalent from any home-improvement store in 100-by-20-foot rolls in 4- or 6-millimeter thicknesses. The sheeting comes in clear and black, but I recommend only using the clear, which has an opacity that resembles wax paper. The black Visqueen is as slippery as ice, and becomes a safety hazard on the show floor.
This plastic sheeting protects your carpet from dirt, oil, and hydraulic fluid from forklifts and hoists. But it allows your laborers to easily slide your exhibit structures a few inches one way or another to align with truss, electrical, etc.
WD-40: In addition to fixing squeaking hinges, this lubricant can also be used to dissolve the sticky stuff that gets left on exhibit surfaces (such as the residue from the adhesive backing of hook-and-loop fastener). You can buy a small can for less than $5 at a home-improvement store.
Note that some convention centers and event venues ban WD-40
because it's a flammable liquid, but I've rarely had problems with a very small container when used sparingly.
Double-Sided Adhesive Tape: One of the least expensive, but most used, supplies to have in your arsenal is a roll of double-sided adhesive tape. You never know when you'll need a quick fix in your exhibit. My I&D crew lovingly refers to the type they use as "booger tape." Regardless of what you call it, keep it handy.e
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