hen we think of the various components that make up an exhibit, our minds usually go to large back and side walls, towers, information counters, hanging signs, and demonstration kiosks. But there's another design element that is sometimes thought of as the stepchild of exhibit properties that needs just as much attention: furniture.
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Before you go doubting the importance of exhibit furniture in the overall scheme of things, I'll impart the old adage about design: "Form follows function." But to that I'll add my usual exhibit-industry amendment, ". and function follows goals." Think about the environment that needs to be established. For example, an exhibit geared toward conducting business meetings might feature furnishings similar to those swanky options found in a corporate boardroom. Conversely, if the goal is to stimulate casual conversation among attendees and staffers, laid-back furnishings such as overstuffed loveseats and plush arm chairs paired with low tables will do the trick. And when a no-frills training environment is on the docket, classroom-style furniture such as long wooden tables and rolling desk chairs fit the bill. If a brief presentation or product demonstration is on the exhibiting agenda, consider using a "bum bar" against which attendees can lean rather than rows of chairs. Less strategic uses include employing furniture to create a certain aesthetic, reinforce a brand's attributes or
image, support a marketing theme - or sometimes just fill up empty space.
Whatever the reason, exhibit furniture is often a necessity, and it likely needs to exist in some form at your next trade show. But before you purchase custom pieces, bone up on the types of rentals available and the benefits associated with each. You might find that renting your in-booth furnishings makes a lot more fiscal and logistical sense in the long run.
Reasons to Rent
One of the most obvious benefits of renting versus purchasing furniture is that renting doesn't have any initial upfront costs. That fact could turn furniture into a capital-equipment budget item compared to a per-show expensed item, depending on the amount of furniture needed and your company's policy on purchasing assets. Rental furniture doesn't have to be stored in a corporate warehouse or exhibit house, which eliminates warehouse handling and storage fees, and negates the need for expensive custom crates in which to store or ship the items.
What's more, renting on show site from the general service contractor
(GSC) or the official furnishings contractor negates the separate transportation and material-handling expenses typically associated with shipping heavy furniture. (Buyer beware, this cost is sometimes buried in the bottom-line rental pricing.) Plus, so-called "special-handling" surcharges that usually occur when blanket-wrapped furniture is mixed in with other crated and palletized exhibit components are nonexistent.
In addition to zero storage and shipping costs, rental exhibit furniture is also essentially maintenance free. When you rent furniture at each trade show, you don't have to worry about maintaining, refurbishing, or cleaning the items. And on the off chance that rental furnishings arrive at your booth space damaged, simply report it to the vendor, and it will likely grant a no-cost replacement before the show floor opens for business.
When it comes to flexibility, rental is king. Different looks can be easily
created to suit your booth space and furnishing requirements should they change from show to show. From modern, sleek metal furnishings to colorful, curvaceous plastics and more conservative wood pieces, the possibilities are endless. Even if the same primary pieces are rented for every trade show, things can be kept fresh by simply adding a new chair, side table, or decorative accessory.
Standard Rental Furnishings
There are two primary rental-furniture options most commonly found in exhibits: standard and custom. To decide which route to take, answer the following question: Are you simply looking for utility, or are you in search of utility plus eye candy? If you just want a piece of furniture to serve its basic function, standard furnishings are likely going to meet your needs. But if you want a little something extra to establish a theme, step up to custom rental furnishings.
Standard rental furniture is the most basic exhibit furniture and is generally rented by the GSC. The GSC's catalog of furnishings is found either in the exhibitor services manual or online. These standard furnishing
are utilitarian in nature and are known for their ability to be stacked and moved without being damaged. In short, the term "stylish" doesn't usually come to mind when you see them. This no-frills category of rental furniture typically includes round and square tables on pedestal bases with matching stackable chairs (with or without arms), basic stools, square and round display pedestals, lecterns, computer kiosks, and folding tables.
If you need to rent the standard draped rectangular tables, they generally come in lengths of 4, 6, and 8 feet, all measuring 2-feet wide, and in standard 30-inch table-height and 42-inch counter-height options. These fold-up tables are typically provided with thin white plastic stapled to the top and a pleated polyester fabric available in a variety of colors stapled to three-and-a-half sides. These tables are multipurpose in that they provide a display area or writing surface on top and storage underneath, which is concealed by the fabric skirt.
Other more unusual items on the standard rental-furnishings order form are product-display cases or showcases with differing amounts of glass and shelving, extra pipe and drape, pegboard and accessories, whiteboards and bulletin boards, various sizes and heights of hanging garment or bag racks, literature racks, coat trees, easels, wastebaskets, and even mini refrigerators.
Note that if you're renting furnishings through the GSC, there will generally be pricing options listed on the order form, with discounts available for placing an order online and meeting discount deadlines, which are usually three weeks to a month before the show.
Custom Rental Furnishings
Custom rental furniture is generally more than just functional; it also looks good. Think of the couches, chairs, and tables found in a corporate apartment or airport frequent-flyer club. These types of pieces can be rented from some GSCs, from official subcontractors if the GSCs don't stock the particular pieces you want (in which case the subcontractors' catalogs and order forms will be included in the exhibitor services manual), or from outside vendors. Furnishings that fall into this category include plush sofas and loveseats in faux leather or luxe fabric, easy chairs, benches with concealed storage, upscale wood or glass end tables and coffee tables, wood or metal tables with glass tops, director chairs or stools, table and floor lamps, and office furnishings such as wood desks, rolling desk chairs, credenzas, file cabinets,
and even bookshelves.
But if you feel custom pieces are worth the typically higher price, choosing from the exhibitor services manual's furniture catalog isn't the only option. There are numerous outside furniture-rental companies that specialize in exhibit rentals, generally located in the larger show cities such as Las Vegas and Chicago. If only the trendiest, most ergonomic, or eco-friendly options will do, these vendors might be the best bet.
Some exhibit houses with larger rental inventories also stock rental furnishings, while more unique or unusual furnishings and accent pieces can be rented from prop houses that specialize in theme and period furniture.
Remember that there will be ancillary charges for renting "outside the convention center box," which may include delivery charges for transportation and labor, wait time to unload and reload, and separate per-pound material-handling fees. Some rental companies also require that you either provide an insurance policy covering the rental furnishings or place a security deposit that would cover replacement costs should the properties not be returned in the same condition as they were rented.
Regardless of the type or style of exhibit furnishings you ultimately decide on, there are rental options available to save you from schlepping
in a boring card table and flimsy folding chairs. After all, your booth - and its furniture - will speak volumes about your company and leave an impression on attendees. Make sure the message is a positive one.e