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Exhibiting 101

f you ask any realtor what the three most important considerations are when purchasing a home, you’re likely to hear, “Location, location, location.” The same principal applies to booth space. But what makes one location on the show floor more or less desirable than another?

The following tips will help you understand the ins and outs of “location, location, location,” and select the booth space that’s right for you.

What Space Suits You?
First, decide how much space you really need. Just because you've had a 20-by-20-foot island space in the past doesn't mean you can't consider a 10-by-30-foot linear or a 20-by-30-foot peninsula. The space required


CTSM, CME, CEM, CMP, CMM, "The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit-management consultant, trainer, speaker, writer, and an EXHIBITOR Conference faculty member.

should be dictated by what you need to display in your exhibit, how you will disseminate your message (a theater presentation, for example, may require more room for a stage and the crowds that will gather), and the number of staff members you’ll need in your exhibit. The industry rule of thumb is to have one staffer per 50 square feet of open space. (This does not include people tied to a demo station or information counter.)

The shape and size of your booth space is also dictated by the flexibility of your exhibit properties. If you have a modular exhibit or a flexible custom booth, you may be able to change the shape of your exhibit from an island to a linear display or vice versa.

If you need more space but can't afford the hefty price tag that comes with a larger footprint, consider moving upward instead of outward. Some fairly small exhibitors sometimes find it preferable to opt for the extra installation-and-dismantle costs to build a two-story exhibit rather than pay for more space. Some shows have caught on to this tactic and are now charging a premium for using a multi-story exhibit. Before planning a multi-story structure, check with show management on additional costs and height restrictions before signing on the dotted line.

The Psychology of Space Selection
One of the more interesting aspects of booth selection is the psychology of booth location. Don't let that term trick you into thinking there's an actual science involved; it's all theories and guesswork. One exhibitor's criteria for a positive selection can be considered another's negative.

For example, one exhibitor may want the space right in the front of the show entrance; another may view this location as the kiss of death - the 'zoom zone,' where attendees zip past in search of their must-see exhibits. Other exhibitors believe there is an invisible triangle drawn from the main entrance at the front of the hall to the two back corners of the hall, and being outside of this triangle puts you out of business.

Just as some of us shop supermarket aisles by entering the store, turning right, and perusing up and down each aisle from the right side (like we drive), some veteran exhibitors believe attendees are less likely to visit an aisle space at the far left of a large hall. My personal preference is to be in the 'bull's-eye' - as close to dead center of the hall as possible, preferably on a wide cross-aisle where attendees will pass more often.

But don't despair if another wily exhibit manager has already snagged your ideal space. Studies by market-research firm Exhibit Surveys Inc. show that effective pre-show and on-site promotions can overcome the obstacles posed by an out-of-the-way exhibit space, and draw your target audience to you, regardless of your location.

The Obstacle Course
You'll want to consider where your booth lies in relation to various show-floor obstacles. The worst are the huge weight-bearing columns or fire apparatus (sometimes noted on floor plans as FA or FHC, which stands for fire-hose cabinet) - especially if they're next to your exhibit space. These obstacles can restrict your exhibit layout, since their setback regulations may require you to leave clear a specified number of feet around them. At network-heavy shows, you may also see the term PED on a floor plan, which is a restricted area where network cabling is connected to computer hardware in large racks.

Other less desirable locations include the end of dead-end aisles, smaller or remote show halls, or spaces behind enormous exhibits whose traffic patterns or attractions draw attendees away from your exhibit.

Still other factors can turn into obstacles, depending on the layout of the hall. These include proximity to entrances and exits, the attendee-registration area, stairs, elevators, escalators, restaurants, restrooms, and power sources.

Choosing a booth space located immediately in front of a hall's freight doors means you'll be the absolute last person allowed to install your exhibit, and you'll be expected to tear down immediately at show close.

Don't Get Spaced Out
If all the good spaces are taken, ask the space-sales meister to 'cut space.' The show organizer can re-section a group of in-line exhibits into an island or peninsula, for example, or two smaller islands can be joined to make one larger island. This can free up the space you need. Just because you don't see it on the drawing doesn't mean show management can't get out a pencil and draw it in.

Another option is wait listing. You can tentatively contract for a space you don't love, but could live with, and then note on your contract that you want to be wait listed for space of a specific size or configuration. You'll then have the option to switch if and when it becomes available. My best trick is to contract for the next smaller size than I really want, knowing the space-sales folks can make extra commissions by upgrading me to a bigger, better space as exhibiting companies merge, go out of business, or switch spaces. With the many re-draws of the floor plan that occur prior to the show, a more preferable space will likely become available.

Finally, if you need time to consider your space-selection options, don't be afraid to ask show management for a grace period to allow your legal or purchasing department to review the space contract before it becomes binding. To protect yourself, always get any variances in writing.

Just as homebuyers consider their wants and needs before a purchase, exhibitors need to determine their own criteria for selecting booth space. Know what you need, consider your options, and if you still find yourself in a less-than-ideal area, focus on traffic-building techniques to turn your low-traffic location into a high-traffic hub. e

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