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Floors Galore
Carpet isn't the only choice when it comes to covering your share of convention center concrete. Here's a collection of options to elevate your exhibit flooring to new heights. By Candy Adams
When I got into the trade show industry in the early '90s, carpet was the de rigueur exhibit-flooring option. In fact, exhibitor services manuals usually specified that you had to put carpet in your booth. You didn't have a choice in the matter, unless you wanted to willfully break the rules (and you know how I feel about that). The only exception to this practice occurred at smaller shows held in hotel ballrooms. In those cases, exhibitors could opt to lay their own carpet on top of the ugly multicolored ballroom rug, or use the venue's existing flooring.

Fortunately, booth carpet has come a long way since the '90s, and it now comes in inlaid, patterned, and printed varieties. You can even get carpet with stick-on graphic overlays. Plus, it's more eco-friendly, with much of it being manufactured from recycled plastics. But even with all the advancements in carpeting, it's not the only exhibit-flooring option on the market anymore. From interlocking tiles and rolls of vinyl to wood and laminates, flooring is making new waves on the show floor.

When it comes to flooring tiles and panels, sizes vary greatly. Some tiles are only 1-by-1 foot, which is great for small checkerboard patterns. Other styles are delivered preassembled in either 1-by-1-yard squares or 4-by-2-foot rectangles. This type of flooring sometimes comes with precut channels underneath for guiding cables, or a grid that raises the tiles off the floor, allowing cables and plumbing to be run underneath.

Furthermore, most vinyl, plastic, and laminate flooring is significantly lighter to ship than carpet and pad. It also provides more flexibility in terms of changing the size and shape of your exhibit flooring, and might even take less time to install than its shaggy counterpart because a majority of varieties can be assembled without tools. As an added bonus, most modular-flooring manufacturers sell custom shipping cases, carts, and/or bags for easy shipment and storage between trade shows.

In terms of aesthetic options, the sky's the limit. You can get interlocking real or faux wooden tiles or planks, commercial-grade carpet squares, antifatigue foam rubber interlocking tiles, solid-plastic or perforated-plastic tiles, and even rollable vinyl-laminate sheets that resemble faux wood or stone finishes.

Some exhibitors use dissimilar colors of flooring within their booth spaces to define different products or areas of activity. Others mix and match their tiles to create custom looks. To help you chose the right flooring for your next exhibit, here is a rundown of the most common types on the market today.

Wood Flooring
Wood flooring, whether it's real wood, a composite of wood materials, or vinyl made to resemble wood, offers a variety of grains, colors, and finishes, from high gloss to satin and flat. The most common wood flooring for exhibits comes either in planks that fit together with tongue-and-groove fasteners or slide and snap together, or tiles that come in 1-yard or 1-meter squares that drop into a metal frame.

The Green trend in wood flooring involves the use of bamboo, a fast-growing, replenishable resource. I've found bamboo slats attached to a backing to make 5-foot-wide sections that can be cut to any size, rolled up, and shipped in plastic or cardboard tubes. Bamboo flooring comes in a variety of natural and dyed colors to accent any exhibit's color palette. Buyer beware, however, as bamboo's Greenness has been called into question. Some argue that since bamboo is shipped here from China and other parts of Asia, the carbon footprint created by the ocean liners hauling it to the states negates the benefits of such a highly renewable resource.

Foam and Rubber Squares
Lightweight, available in a wide array of colors, and easy to snap together like pieces of a puzzle, foam and rubber squares are also gentle on your exhibit staff's feet. That's because the foam provides more cushioning than average unpadded carpet. What's more, these squares are considered one of the most environmentally friendly flooring options since they can be made from recycled rubber.

However, one of the downsides of this type of flooring is that many varieties need to be installed after they have been sitting at room temperature for 24 hours (depending on the raw materials used in manufacturing). If the waiting period isn't observed and there's been an extreme change in temperature from the storage area to the show floor, the connectors could get damaged during installation.

Plastic Tiles
Modular floor tiles come in a variety of textures including everything from industrial-chic diamond plate to warm faux-wood tiles. They're also available in a rainbow of colors to match any exhibit's color palette. Plus, if you're willing to pay a little more, you can get the manufacturer to create tiles using the exact Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors you desire to correspond to your exhibit.

Another feature of some plastic tiles is a nubby or ribbed nonslip surface, adding the benefit of safety to your exhibit. For example, if you have liquids in your exhibit (e.g., soda, bottled water, coffee, etc.), you can use perforated plastic tiles made of a specific type of polypropylene so the liquid drains away from the surface. I've found a number of interlocking tiles with various perforation patterns that would provide a clean look while allowing some moisture to drain.

Vinyl Cushioned Flooring
Rollable-vinyl, cushioned flooring is basically a foam pad covered with either a layer of color or faux wood grain and then laminated in polyurethane. It comes in a variety of thicknesses, with most options ranging from one-eighth inch to one-quarter inch.

For added versatility, the flooring comes in various widths and lengths, and is simply unrolled in your exhibit and taped to the floor. Aside from the easy installation, the biggest benefits of rollable flooring are the wide range of finishes and the built-in foam padding, which is easy on staffers' and attendees' feet.

Artificial Turf
If you want to go really green in your exhibit, consider artificial turf. While I've seen actual sod used, I wouldn't recommend it based on the preparation needed to properly lay it. So go with the next best thing. Turf can provide a great themed look for outdoor- and sporting-gear companies, landscaping firms, and even mowing- and agricultural-equipment manufacturers. Artificial turf is available in tiles and rolls of varying dimensions.

Custom-Printed Flooring
With technology advances in printing and durable materials, high-quality, full-color-printed trade show flooring is now an affordable possibility. A reverse graphic print using ultraviolet (UV) ink is applied to clear 75-millimeter sheets of vinyl. Then, a protective sealant is added to the back of the graphic, thus producing a durable, long-lasting, printed surface. This unique type of flooring is both highly reusable and recyclable, making it a feasible Green option to consider if eco-friendliness is a goal.

Regardless of which type of modular flooring you opt for, make sure the color and finish aligns with your current exhibit's aesthetic. After all, flooring may be underfoot, but it's still a design element that can speak volumes about your brand. E

Candy Adams
"The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit project manager, trainer, speaker, consultant, and an Exhibitor Conference faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com

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