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exhibitor q&a
International Rental
We've just expanded our exhibit-marketing program to include several international shows, but it's not financially feasible to ship our booth overseas. So we're trying to decide between renting booths versus creating build-and-burn exhibits. What are the pros and cons of each option?
Shipping a booth to an international show isn't merely expensive; it can be a logistical nightmare as well. With so many steps in the process — e.g., preparing documents, completing value-added tax (VAT) claims, clearing customs, and moving your exhibit via trucks, trains, planes, and/or ocean freighters — you're bound to hit a snag somewhere. One little blip can throw your whole setup schedule off kilter, or take a big bite out of your budget.

In most circumstances, renting a booth in the host country or creating a build-and-burn exhibit is a much better choice than shipping an exhibit overseas. Both options have their pros and cons, and they can change slightly depending on the country, show, and venue in which you're exhibiting — and on the contractors you choose. Nevertheless, knowledge of the following benefits and drawbacks can help you determine which option is right for your program.

Build and Burns
Build-and-burn booths, i.e., structures that are built for a particular show and then discarded (or dismantled/recycled) immediately afterward, offer several benefits. First and foremost, they provide endless flexibility in terms of the colors, designs, and materials that you can incorporate.

When you're buying a booth for long-term use, there are multiple considerations that impact your decisions, such as the durability of the materials, the weight and cost of shipping crates, whether the design will suit your brand several years down the road, the colors and materials available through your exhibit house, etc. With a build and burn, those parameters are almost eliminated. If your contractor can find the materials and the labor you need at a price you can afford, and those materials and building processes are allowed in the show and the venue, you can build just about anything. In fact, a build and burn allows you to go a little bit wild in an effort to stand out. You can create a sports- or Olympics-themed space, a booth that looks like a dining car, or just something a little wacky that will make attendees stop and stare. A one-off exhibit like this can generate attention and memorability, but since it's discarded after the trade show, you won't be stuck with a crazy concept for years to come.

Along these same lines, build and burns (and rentals for that matter) allow you to tailor your image to each show and audience. For example, if your target market varies from 20- to 30-year-old consumers at one show to executives in their 40s and 50s at another, your one-off design and graphics messages can reflect each of these variations.

Build and burns, however, have their drawbacks. Perhaps their biggest pitfall is their impact on Mother Nature. Granted, instead of sending the whole booth to the landfill after the show, which was standard practice for years, many exhibit firms recycle build-and-burn materials by transporting them to recycling centers or reusing pieces for other exhibits. Still, build and burns are generally less eco-friendly than rental systems and traditional booths that are reused year after year and then recycled, reconfigured, or refurbished.

The quality of the materials, paint, and graphics used in build and burns can also be an issue in some countries.

For example, exhibits in China often take on an odd chalky appearance due to the poor quality of the paint used. However, a similar booth painted in Europe may look just fine. So while the variety of build-and-burn exhibits is nearly limitless, the quality of the materials may not be up to par with U.S. standards.

In addition, since your one-off design has never been built before, laborers and contractors will need to be near perfect on their estimates in order for you to stick to a tight setup schedule. To make matters worse, it's fairly common for the entire exhibit to be built from scratch on the show floor. So if your contractor isn't experienced, or underestimates the time to deliver the project, you may find yourself with only half a booth when the exhibit-hall doors open.

Finally, your booth doesn't vaporize at the end of the show; you have to dispose of it. Depending on the disposal methods used by the contractor, venue, and show, you could be hit with significant disposal fees. And if the contractor builds your booth on site, you might be charged considerable waste-removal costs for the construction debris. The key here is simply to figure any disposal costs into your decision-making process.

International Rentals
Much like their U.S. counterparts, international exhibit systems have some limitations in terms of available material and color choices. However, today's modular exhibits offer significant structural and design diversity. Twenty years ago, rental structures stood out like sore thumbs. Today, they blend in with the custom creations on the show floor.

Rental structures offer significant benefits over build-and-burn options. One plus is that you can expect a high level of quality and consistency. Most rental firms have the materials, equipment, and expertise to create custom messaging and graphics that meet your brand guidelines and offer the level of quality you expect. What's more, if you see a kiosk in an online catalogue, you can just about bet that the structure delivered to your booth is going to look almost exactly like the photo. With a build and burn, a designer's drawing of a reception desk could look entirely different than the desk actually erected in your booth two days before the show opens.

The structural capabilities and ease of use of rental systems is also a plus. Most rentals are designed to fit together safely and securely, and in a manner that ensures that installation and dismantle are quick and easy. That equates to less setup time, and thus lower costs for you, and it means that you can construct elaborate structures that have been time tested for durability and stability on the show floor.

In terms of drawbacks, creating some custom components such as graphics or branding elements can be just as expensive to rent as to purchase, so give careful consideration to possibly reusing those items at subsequent shows.

Just as build-and-burn quality varies significantly, so does the quality of rental systems. Steer clear of knock-off systems that imitate well-known brands, which typically don't offer much in the way of quality or craftsmanship. Instead, opt for time-tested brands that are widely available across the globe, such as Octanorm or Syma. Ask your exhibit house or a reputable, U.S.-based, system-rental firm to recommend partners overseas.

Build-and-burn booths and rental systems each have their high points and their pitfalls. Armed with the preceding information, you should be able to match one of these options to your exhibit program's needs and help your company save money on international shipping charges — and avoid complications in the process.

— Jeannine Swan, founder, Global Exhibit Management, Fort Worth, TX

Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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