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exhibiting 101

Candy Adams,
is an independent exhibit-management
consultant, trainer, speaker, writer, and an Exhibitor conference
faculty member.

t my first job as an exhibit coordinator in 1991, I was told there was an old exhibit languishing in storage that was a cross between a dinosaur and an albatross - big, extinct, and useless to our company. My boss's exact orders were, "Get rid of it any way you can. I'm tired of paying storage on it." So I asked my vendors to put the word out to local exhibitors that I had an exhibit for sale. As luck would have it, my transportation agent found a new home for the relic, and my company paid him a commission on the sale. What's more, the beastly booth didn't end up in a landfill. It was a win for my company, my vendor, and the environment.

Fast forward 20 years to 2011. While exhibit houses and exhibit managers make efforts to "go Green," the reality is that being Green comes at a price. And when the recession hit, exhibitors' desire to be Greener quickly took a back seat to their desire to stay fiscally afloat. That typically meant making do with the exhibit properties on hand, no matter how outdated or beat up they were.

But with the recession easing its grip on the economy, I think it's time to revisit the three Rs of environmental and social responsibility: reduce, reuse, and recycle. It's also time to add one more R - rethink. Namely, rethink how you manage and dispose of your exhibit properties. So before you trash your unwanted exhibit, check out the following options to see if there is a better fit for your booted booth.

Assess Value

Before deciding what to do with an old exhibit, you first need to figure out its value. You'll want to know what ongoing expenses you're incurring to maintain the unused properties. Your accounts-payable department can give you current figures on your ongoing expenses such as insurance and exhibit-house storage.

Considering these figures, compare the costs incurred with each option: 1) the cost to keep it until depreciated and continuing to pay to store and insure it, 2) the cost to advertise, set it up for potential sale, and pay outbound material handling and transportation (generally borne by a buyer) minus the potential profit from the sale, 3) the commission that would be due if you sold it through a reseller, or 4) disposal costs paid to your exhibit house for material handling, transportation to a landfill, and landfill fees.

Whichever option you choose when it comes to giving your booth the heave-ho, check with your corporate accounting department to ascertain its value on your company's books prior to pulling the trigger. As capital assets, most exhibit properties are placed on either a three- or five-year depreciation schedule, and may have already been fully depreciated and "written off the books" as having no value to your company. If it has not reached a zero asset value, your departmental budget may be hit with a one-time expense if the exhibit is decommissioned and disposed of.

Once you determine the value of your exhibit, you can decide what you want to do with it - sell it, recycle it, donate it, or trash it.

Option One: Sell It

Exhibitors sell inactive exhibits for various reasons, including company mergers/takeovers, exhibit-program growth or contraction, change of branding (corporate colors, logos, etc.), change in number or size of the products being displayed, or elimination of the ongoing cost of ownership (such as storage, shipping, material handling, and setup fees), etc. Perhaps the most altruistic of reasons is that selling an old exhibit is a Greener (and less expensive) alternative to trucking the property to a landfill. Plus, it allows the seller to recoup some of the original build costs, which can be added back into the exhibit-marketing budget.

What's more, there's a robust market for pre-owned exhibits. I called one of the most active and experienced exhibit resellers, Jason Wooten of ExhibitTrader.com. He shared with me that listings for well-designed exhibit properties in good condition and solidly constructed with design and setup documentation have a very good chance of selling in three to six months for 25 percent to 35 percent of their original value. "With some displays, the only answer may be to dispose of or recycle them in a responsible manner," Wooten says. "However, most can be sold, and selling a display does not have to incur any additional expense or use any additional resources. Better yet, the revenues generated by reselling a display greatly exceed those offered for scrap and rebates."

Additional online resources for selling and buying exhibit properties include Lucky Exhibits and even eBay, where you can list your booth under the site's "Business & Industrial" category. Other listing options include industry publications and local newspapers. And I recommend checking with your exhibit house - depending on your booth's age, aesthetic appeal, condition, and future rentability, the exhibit house that manages your property might be interested in acquiring it and adding the booth to its rental inventory. If your exhibit house doesn't see your booth as a moneymaker, it might be willing to consign your exhibit for a percentage of the sale. Though you likely won't get much cash if you go this route, it's better than paying never-ending storage, insurance, and disposal fees on an exhibit property that you're no longer using.

Here are a few things to include when it comes to marketing and selling your unwanted property:

 Documentation. The key to a high resale value and a quick sale is good documentation. Review all of the photos and info you have of both your exhibit and packed crates. If your booth can be set up in multiple configurations, it's an additional selling point to have photos or renderings of the various setup options and individual pieces (e.g., stages, demo kiosks, reception desks, etc.). If you don't have well-lit photos showing various elements and angles of your exhibit, have some professional digital shots taken at your exhibit's final show.

If you have the original design renderings, include those as well. Exhibit resellers and buyers love computer-aided design (CAD). Most larger custom and custom-modular displays are first built electronically in these programs. If you don't have these, be sure to have clean copies of all your setup blueprints, elevations, and plans. Then compile documentation showing a full inventory of the exhibit properties - a buyer will also want to know the number and size of counters, stages, meeting rooms, and any other furnishings that will be sold as part of the exhibit.

 Ongoing costs. Exhibit buyers are typically concerned with the ongoing direct costs, so make an outline of your typical direct show expenses: handling/loading fees, transportation requirements and costs, installation-and-dismantle invoices, etc. Buyers will also want to know the exhibit's manufacturer or builder, the age of the exhibit, the number of times it has been used, the current condition including any major (noncosmetic) flaws, a record of any refurbishment, and the property's current location.

 Price. Obviously, you'll also need to set a price for your retired exhibit and a limit on the expenses you'd be willing to incur to sell it. Potential expenses that could be incurred typically arise should the buyer want to see the exhibit in person. So you'd need to cover the costs associated with pulling the exhibit from warehouse storage as well as partial or complete setup for viewing. Preparation for shipping and transportation to a new owner are other potential expenses; however, these costs are at the discretion of the seller and are generally paid by the buyer.

Option Two: Recycle It

If your exhibit is in such disrepair that selling it just isn't an option, recycle it. Depending on the material, you could get a modest amount of cash back, and some exhibit companies even have their own recycling programs.

As part of their Green initiatives, exhibit companies are incorporating a higher percentage of recyclable materials into their products, including aluminum and cardboard. And, some flooring providers will recycle your booth carpet when you purchase a new one from them.

If your exhibit house doesn't have a recycling program in place, call your city's waste-management or environmental-services department. It will likely be able to tell you what exhibit materials can be recycled, and where.

Option Three: Donate It

If your efforts to sell your excess exhibit properties fail, and recycling doesn't appeal to you, you could donate them to a local charity, nonprofit agency, or school for use at fundraisers and events. Not only will your company be doing a good deed; it will also be able to write off the donation on its taxes. To find nonprofits willing to take an exhibit, list your booth on your local www.freecycle.org or www.craigslist.org site. Mention that you're willing to donate the exhibit property to nonprofits for the tax write-off. Nonprofit organizations typically have standard forms to fill out that state the value of the gift/donation, or they write a letter thanking you for the donation and stating the fair-market value. Any documentation you receive from the nonprofit should go to your tax department so they can determine if any additional paperwork is necessary.

In addition to paperwork, another consideration for donation is transportation. Decide if you'll haul it to a designated drop-off location or if you want the recipient to pick it up. I've had an exhibit house offer to drop off the booth, and I've even had the nonprofit to which I donated an exhibit keep it at the exhibit house and negotiate for reduced-cost storage.

Option Four: Toss It

Obviously, selling, donating, or recycling your unwanted exhibit properties is the ideal solution. But, if you're stuck with a white elephant that nobody wants to reincarnate, you still have three options: 1) offer it at no cost to your exhibit house to use as a rental, 2) hire your exhibit house to manage the disposal, including warehouse handling, hauling it to the local landfill, and paying landfill and/or hazardous waste fees, or 3) use it one last time and pay the show's general services contractor (GSC) to dispose of it for you after its last show.

If you choose option one and give your booth to your exhibit house, you're out from under the responsibility of insuring it and paying storage on it, and you avoid having to pay disposal fees. But you also haven't made any money selling it. Conversely, if you decide on option two and hire your exhibit house to handle the disposal, you no longer have to pay insurance or storage fees, but you have to beware of unethical charges for the disposal fees. I've seen pieces of my old exhibit appear as rental property offered by an exhibit house after I paid to have the booth dumped in a landfill. Finally, disposal costs will be offset by the transportation savings in not having to ship the exhibit back to a storage facility if you select option three. However, discuss all aspects of the disposal process with the GSC and show management so you are aware of all of the costs associated with dismantling the exhibit on site.

No one wants to pay for something that's outlived its usefulness. Luckily, most of the aforementioned options offer some sort of cost benefit. With that in mind, it's time to rethink one more thing - an old adage. After all, your trash can also be your treasure.e

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