Follow these budget-friendly fixes when your exhibit needs a little TLC. By Betsy Earle
Trade show marketing is a rough-and-tumble business for all involved: exhibit managers, staffers, suppliers, and, of course, the stands themselves. After just a few shows, your shiny new booth can start looking a little rough around the edges due to the normal wear and tear of shipping, installation and dismantle, as well as general use on the show floor. And on top of the cosmetic dings and scratches, your stand can appear a bit tired when attendees encounter the same floor plan and
in-booth experiences at multiple shows, creating the impression that your company has nothing new to offer.
In a perfect world, these problems would easily be remedied by a new build. Unfortunately, few exhibit managers are in a position to procure a new exhibit at the drop of a hat. So since many of us are left to make do with what we have, here are my low-cost tips for extending the life of your exhibit – at least until you have the budget and executive-level buy-in to purchase a new one.
Employ a Little Elbow Grease
White is a popular color in exhibit design, but it is an unforgiving hue when it comes to showing signs of wear. A deep and thorough cleaning can work wonders on a dingy exhibit, and I'm convinced that Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are one of the most miraculous inventions of all time. These little rectangles can quickly and safely tackle scuffs, stains, and marks on countless hard surfaces, turning everything from countertops to storage-room doors from drab to fab. Some exhibit managers also use them on white silicone-edge graphics (SEGs), although I'd advise checking with your supplier before taking one to your own fabrics. The last thing you want to do is turn a small mark in the corner of an SEG into a blotchy mess.
While your sleeves are rolled up, don't overlook easy-to-forget areas, such as the bases of display units and other parts of the exhibit that are close to the ground, which are easily soiled by attendee foot traffic and handling during I&D. Finally, be mindful of transparent elements, e.g., the windows looking into your enclosed conference room, that would benefit from more than a quick spray of cleaner before show opening.
Swap Out Damaged Surfaces
If your countertop and other flat-surface woes are more than skin deep – think chipped laminates and serious scratches that no amount of scrubbing or stain markers will fix – then the time is right to replace them. This can be a relatively inexpensive remedy, as you're just purchasing the top of a unit, be it a welcome desk or product-display table.
If your exhibit uses shelves of any sort, give these a careful once-over as well. In my experience, shelving tops the list of exhibit components most susceptible to damage. However, like counters and tabletops, it can be easily replaced. But before you spring for an apples-to-apples substitute, consider this a chance to introduce a new color, texture, or material that can make an outsized impact for a small investment. For example, just because the majority of your exhibitry boasts a wood-grain finish doesn't mean you can't add a complementary aesthetic, such as faux concrete or tempered glass.
Recoat Your Extrusions
Many of the aluminum frames used in portable/modular exhibit systems are either powder-coated or treated with an anodized finish. Both offer cosmetic and protective benefits, but deep scratches and gouges are sure to occur over time. Instead of replacing your marred frames with new extrusions, ask your exhibit house or a local metal shop if it can apply a fresh powder coat that will make them look good as new. It may also be possible to have the extrusions finished in a different shade, giving you a budget-friendly opportunity to introduce a refreshing pop of color.
Turn Toward the Light
Effective lighting can make or break any booth, and it can definitely spruce up your timeworn stand by making it look more modern and welcoming. LED arm lights are an inexpensive add-on, and some can be operated by battery pack so you don't need to pay for an additional outlet or worry about complicated wire management. LED puck lights and lighting tape/tubing are also fantastic at adding illumination to hard-to-reach areas, such as shelved displays and other small recesses. Another recent development is the use of floor-mounted multicolored LED units that uplight exhibit walls and other vertical surfaces to create expansive light "washes" capable of changing the ambiance of your entire stand with the push of a button.
Flex Your Creative Muscles
Let's say your logo's been redesigned, the stock photos on your back wall are now bordering on cliché, the colors of your hard-infill panels are dated, and your exhibit-marketing wallet is nearly empty. Rather than despair, put on your thinking cap and look for an outside-the-box solution. One of my clients was once desperate for a refresh and could afford little more than a gallon of paint. So that's exactly what we purchased: a bucket or two of chalkboard paint, to be exact. The result was an engaging, Instagram-worthy backdrop attendees decorated themselves with multiple colors of chalk. I've also seen exhibitors use hook-and-loop fastener to drape beautiful fabrics from their damaged Sintra panels. My point is that from paint to PVC board, there are means of freshening up a stale stand that don't have to break the bank.
Tweak Your Floor Plan
If your exhibit isn't so much worse for wear as you feel stuck in a spatial rut, consider taking a step back and assessing how your stand's components can be repositioned to create a new look. This could be as simple as shifting a few modular elements to totally rethinking the layout using the exhibitry you already have. For example, what if you moved your reception desk from its front-and-center location to an angled position at the corner? Or perhaps the freestanding L-shaped pop-up wall you normally place near the aisle could be moved to the middle of the booth to create a dedicated area to showcase a particular product or service. Depending on the complexity of your stand design, it may be best to work with your exhibit house to identify all the available options, but you'd be surprised how rearranging a few elements can result in a like-new look and feel.
On a similar note, if the "bones" of your exhibit are solid but you worry that you're boring attendees with the same-old, same-old displays, look for ways to increase engagement by incorporating an interactive experience, such as a hands-on product demo or in-booth game that reinforces your company's marketing messages. In some cases, making space for an experiential activation may necessitate scrapping one or two of the humdrum, static elements that booth visitors have seen before, but their presence will hardly be missed by attendees busy learning about your goods or services in a dynamic, memorable way.
After reading these tips, those of you who are thinking of purchasing a new exhibit may be wondering what steps you should take to ensure the longevity of your upcoming investment. First, I highly recommend opting for modular exhibit components whenever possible, as these will allow you to make incremental repairs and updates to your exhibit as needed. Second, many reputable suppliers offer warranties on items such as hanging signs and pop-up banners, so give your dollars to a company that stands behind what it sells.
At the end of the day, as face-to-face marketers, our booths are representative of our respective brands. It is therefore essential for us to make them the best they can be, regardless of our abilities to spring for brand-new designs and components whenever it suits us. But armed with this advice, you'll surely be able to prolong the life of your show-floor workhorses – provided you're also armed with an ample supply of creativity and Magic Erasers. E
Betsy Earle, CTSM
managing director and founder of Event Driven Solutions LLC. Earle obtained her MBA at the University of Miami and earned her Diamond-level CTSM designation in 2018. Exhibiting101@exhibitormagazine.com