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exhibiting 101

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

alk down any exhibit-hall aisle during almost any trade show in the United States, and you'll inevitably be walking on carpet. While options for exhibit flooring have increased over the last 20 years, carpet is still the most commonly used type of floor covering in booth spaces. In fact, I still see booth-space rental contracts that state that exhibitors must carpet their space. Of course, when I question that clause, show managers usually tell me they don't care what's on the floor as long as it's covered. But if you're new to the industry, you may wonder why this requirement exists.

There are numerous reasons for covering the exhibit-hall floor, from hiding electrical and Internet cables to providing a softer surface upon which staffers stand. In addition to those functional reasons, there are also aesthetic reasons, such as matching the color of your booth flooring to the rest of your exhibit components. Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that if you're exhibiting, you'll probably need flooring. Here, then, are answers to some common carpet quandaries, along with some information about carpet alternatives.

1. Is it best to rent or buy carpet for my trade show exhibits?
There are several options for securing your carpeting, and the route you choose should depend on how often you exhibit, if you plan to reuse the same exhibit for more than one show, and most importantly, how much money you have in your pocketbook. Consider the following questions: Does your budget take into account the cost to own, store, ship, dray, and lay carpet? Is it critical that your flooring be a certain color in order to match other exhibit elements or exude a particular aesthetic? Are you planning to use different colors of carpet to guide attendees to various displays or zones within your exhibit?

If the answer to those questions is "no," then renting carpet makes the most sense. Sure, you'll be limited in terms of color, thickness, etc. But if you're not particularly picky about what's underfoot - or if you'd rather not incur the hassles and costs associated with owning your flooring - you can easily rent carpet for one-time use from the show's general service contractor (GSC), from a vendor who specializes in exhibit carpet and flooring, or from an exhibit house that likely maintains an inventory of rental carpet.

2. What are my options if I decide to buy my carpet instead of rent?
If you opt to purchase carpet, the possibilities are pretty much endless. Not only do color choices abound, including custom-dyed options, patterned carpets, and even digitally printed carpets, but also thickness and quality options increase dramatically.

You can buy everything from basic low-loop commercial carpet to multilevel sculptured carpet and even shag carpet. In addition to these expanded options, you'll also be able to amortize the cost of carpet extras, such as cut-in logos, carpet-edge serging, bags for shipping, etc.

3. What flooring supplies might I need if I lay carpet in my exhibit?
Covering the floor with carpet means you will also need the following: carpet pad, Visqueen (aka contractor's plastic), single-sided shipping tape, and double-sided carpet tape. Carpet pad is optional, adds plushness, and conceals the electrical, audiovisual, and Internet cables that run under your flooring. Visqueen is a plastic covering that is laid on top of installed carpet to protect the carpet from spills, dirt, and forklift abuse during setup. It also creates a surface across which the installation-and-dismantle crew can easily slide exhibit components.

Single-sided shipping tape is used to form individual rolls of pad into one contiguous piece that won't shift under the carpet, connect the seams of Visqueen strips, and adhere the edge of Visqueen to the concrete at the aisle so it stays put during setup. Double-sided tape is used on the perimeter of the carpet to attach it to the concrete floor. These supplies are often included in package deals from GSCs, exhibit houses, and flooring vendors. Plus, if you rent carpet through the GSC, the cost typically includes the labor to lay the carpet, vacuum it once prior to the show opening, and take it away after the show to be reused or recycled.

4. What does "carpet density" refer to? And what are my options?
Carpet density refers to thickness: The higher the density, the thicker the carpet will feel under your feet. Exhibit carpet comes in three thicknesses: low grade, plush, and premium. Aisle carpet is generally 10- to 20-ounce, low-grade carpet. Plush carpet is one step above that at 26 to 30 ounces, followed by premium-grade carpet, which is 40 to 50 ounces. Many GSCs offer 40-ounce premium-grade carpet, while "premium" carpet purchased from outside vendors is generally rated between 26 and 50 ounces. Because of this inconsistency, it's best to ask for samples before buying, so you can feel the thickness firsthand.

5. Why should I pad my carpet?
You want to use carpet pad in your exhibit for the same reasons you use carpet pad at home: It provides a cushioned surface on which to stand and walk, and it's easier on your feet. There are other booth-specific benefits to carpet pad as well, including prolonging the life of your carpet by protecting the underside from sharp objects on the show floor, disguising the lumps created by electrical wiring and cables that run underneath your flooring, and providing attendees with a noticeable difference between aisle carpet and your booth carpet. That last one might seem frivolous, but trust me, attendees appreciate - and often comment on - well-padded carpet.

But be warned, too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing. If you use very thick padding (or two layers of thin padding) under plush carpet, you may be asking for trouble under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The combination of thick padding and plush carpet creates a surface that is extremely difficult for attendees using wheelchairs or other mobility vehicles to maneuver across. So while it might feel good to walk on, it's difficult to roll across.

6. What options are available when it comes to carpet pad?
Carpet pad is available in various thicknesses, from 0.44 inches to 0.5 inches. In terms of weight, the exhibiting industry standard is 6 pounds per square foot, often called 6-pound pad. It also comes in a variety of materials including: polyurethane foam (a dense, firmer version of what's used in upholstered furniture), bonded polyurethane (a patterned foam comprising different sizes and colors of recycled, chopped, and shredded pieces bonded into one sheet), and fiber (a dense pad made of recycled polyester fibers).

7. What do I need to know about shipping my carpet and pad?
First, roll your carpet around a rigid center roll (like a cardboard tube or plastic pole) to keep it from stretching out if or when it's bent during transit, and to help prevent lumping when it's unrolled and installed in your booth. Second, protect your carpet by shipping it in carpet bags (which look like oversized gym bags), inside crates that open from the sides, on long pallets, or wrapped in Visqueen. Finally, label your carpet and pad so it doesn't get lost in transit. Place labels in plastic pouches and attach the pouches to the carpet roll using filament tape.

If you plan to ship your exhibit carpet to the advance warehouse, check your exhibitor services manual to ensure that the GSC will accept your carpet and pad. The manual will also reveal the show's material-handling rate as well as the required minimum hundredweight (CWT).

8. How can I protect my carpet at the end of the show?
You've meticulously vacuumed or lint rolled your carpet to keep it pristine throughout the show, so now's not the time to let labor crews rip it up willy-nilly. Advise crewmembers to be careful when removing the double-sided tape that holds the seams together - if the tape isn't carefully removed, it could pull away the backing that keeps the carpet fibers from fraying.

After the carpet's been pulled up, ask the crew to close any cuts made in the carpet with duct tape to keep it from fraying in those areas. The last step before sending your carpet on its way is to wrap it in Visqueen or place it in carpet bags. This will protect it from damaging dirt or liquids (such as oil or hydraulic fluid from a forklift) while in transit.
It's important to note that your labor crew should not drape rolls of carpet over other exhibit properties as this will cause carpet to stretch, creating lumps that are difficult to fix. Instead, wrapped rolls of carpet (with shipping labels) should be placed directly onto pallets.

9. What other items are required to maintain exhibit flooring?
If you've purchased exhibit flooring rather than renting it for each show, there are a handful of additional accessories you will need to buy to ensure its care and longevity. First, a case to protect your flooring while in transit is a must. There are various types of shipping containers available for rolls of carpet, tiles, and wood or laminate planks, from bags and wheeled crates to jigged cases with customized compartments.

Second, purchase the appropriate cleaning solutions and floor-cleaning tools (e.g., vacuum cleaners, floor sweepers, brooms, dust mops, wet mops, etc.). If you're not sure which types of cleaners and/or devices to use, ask your flooring supplier. And last but not least, buy the tools required to assemble your flooring, such as rubber mallets and/or
specialized hand tools.

10. What other flooring options are available besides carpet?
There are plenty of alternatives to carpet out there, from sisal rugs and cork tiles to hardwood and laminates. If you want to go the Green route, consider wood flooring products made from sustainable, fast-growing trees. And if reuse is important to you, seek out vendors who participate in programs that facilitate donations of lightly used flooring to charities such as Habitat for Humanity.

If you're looking for something with a little more sizzle than sisal, consider Illumilite Panels from The Inside Track, which provide lighting under custom-printed, textured floor graphics. And if you need flexibility, Brumark Total Flooring Solutions' Altitude R&R Raised Flooring System has a reusable subfloor that allows you to change the design and aesthetics of your flooring without investing in a new subfloor. In addition to flooring materials, there are also plenty of planning tools on the market, including Freeman's Floorprint, a full-scale floor plan printed on low-cost banner material to improve the efficiency and cost of the installation process. Once your carpet (or other flooring) is laid, Floorprint goes on top of it, clearly identifying where each of your exhibit elements is to be placed and protecting your carpet from damage during setup in the process.

It's easy to forget about flooring and think of it as a necessary evil of exhibit marketing. But with all the options available, flooring is far more than just a functional covering with which to conceal the convention- center concrete. Whether you choose carpet, tile, hardwood, or any of the other available options, your flooring can make a fashion statement that will set your booth apart and make a fabulous first impression the second attendees set foot on it.e

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