Costly I & D Budget Busters and How to Avoid Them

Costly I & D Budget Busters and How to Avoid Them

By Susan Ratliff, Business Development Manager, Exhibit Experts, Speaker

Wouldn’t you love to live in a perfect trade show world where your booth space is magically transformed into the exhibit of your dreams at every show without a graphic hitch, electrical snafu or extra charge in sight? Unfortunately, many of us experience only nightmares when it comes to booth installation. Frightful mistakes that consume multiple resources, waste hundreds of man hours and cost millions of dollars happen every day in exhibit halls across the country, and you are paying for part of it.

My husband has seen it all during his 15 years installing and dismantling displays and supervising labor crews. Some of his stories would curl your hair! You probably have horror stories of your own. Poorly constructed exhibits, no client supervision, mistakes on service orders, forgotten instructions and missing equipment are just some of the problems that cause delays for your I & D people and rack up ridiculously high charges to your company.

Between deadline pressures, shrinking budgets and preparing the sales strategy, your time is split between multiple departments as you coordinate final show details. It’s easy to shift responsibilities for previewing, preparing and packing your exhibit properties to the warehouse staff.

Maybe you’ve contracted a reputable exhibit house to maintain, store and ship your booth. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily prevent problems. It never hurts to periodically review errors with your account executive and discuss preventative procedures. No matter who takes on the task of getting the exhibit ready to ship or who oversees installation and dismantle at the show, eliminating these costly budget busters will save you countless headaches in the future.

Budget Buster # 1: Not setting up your display before it ships.

Believe me when I tell you, you don’t want to get to the show and find out that your counter top has a chunk missing, three of your spotlights are burned out, you forgot the cables to all five TV monitors or your new product display was built wrong. Getting any help from the show decorator for last minute emergencies will cost you dearly. Rushing around looking for a quick fix at the closest hardware store will not be cheap. If a supervisor is not available, the hired labor will sit around waiting for instructions or worse yet, guess at what to do next.

Don’t risk discovering unforeseen surprises on site that will delay your installation, triggering major headaches and extra charges. Set up your trade show display a few months before it ships. Review the booth configuration with your sales staff to confirm that traffic will flow appropriately and that they have what they need to facilitate their goals.

Check to see if the electrical needs are correct and the layout matches the schematic you send to the electrical contractor.

Take a critical look at the exhibit structure. Is there enough storage for collateral and valuables? Are your products displayed to their best advantage? Is there enough counter space to conduct multiple transactions and lead generation? Is everything in working order?

What about the graphics? Are the product photos still relevant? Is the marketing message still engaging? Are they stained, torn or wrinkled? Schedule this review early in your planning process so there is plenty of time to order what’s missing, fix what’s broken and clean what’s dirty.

Oh yeah, that is easier said then done, right? Last minute graphic changes, product additions and booth reconfigurations are all too common. If your exhibit is too large to set up completely then inventory everything in sections. Creating a checklist of every item in your booth is not a bad idea.

If you leave this job to the exhibit house then request an inventory list and confirmation of the booth review, photos of the assembled display and photos of the packed crates/cases before they ship. You can never be too prepared.

Budget Buster #2: Not meeting the installers at the booth before they start work.

This is one of the top complaints from I & D companies everywhere. Ignoring this important assignment could add thousands of dollars in extra fees to your labor bill. No matter how early installation begins, how late the company reception lasted, whether drinking was involved, or the golf course is calling, someone must be assigned to meet the installers at the booth before they start working.

Even if you’ve done everything right to prevent budget buster number one or feel confident that your exhibit house has this covered, I suggest you double check that someone will be there. Not convinced of how important this is? Here is a factual scenario illustrating how this vicious money wasting cycle unfolds:

It’s set up day. The labor crew arrives on time and begins to unpack the crates. Every crate is emptied, but no instructions, pictures or drawings are found to show them how to erect the display or configure the booth. No company representative is on site and no one answers the cell phone number provided. No one answers a call to the exhibit house either.

Four installers, costing you $93 an hour each, stand around for 30 minutes contemplating how to begin. The electrical lines are laid so they decide to install the carpet. No pad is listed on the work order and no one is there to notice the mistake. No electrical schematic is available, so the carpet cut outs for electrical lines will not line up with the outlets. The crew erects the display the way they think it makes sense. They take a guess as to where the counters should go. Too bad the electrical cords to your computer monitors will not reach the outlets there.

Multiple sets of graphics are unpacked, but there is no way to know which graphics should be used for the show. Still no answer on the cell phones.

Four hours later, when the bulk of the booth has been set up, your representative finally arrives. She is visibly upset claiming the product displays are in the wrong place, the eight-foot tower should be 12 feet high and the graphics are not correct. She demands that the displays be dismantled, moved and reinstalled and a different set of graphics be put up. Unfortunately, the other graphics are in the crates that went back to the warehouse and half the crew left for another job.

Here’s how these budget busting mistakes would cost you $3500.

  • 30 minutes of labor time lost when four guys waited around for instructions.
  • Representative pays to have set up instructions faxed to the show from the exhibit house or printed in the business center.
  • The display is completely disassembled, moved and reconfigured.
  • The carpet pad, which was never ordered, is now purchased at the day-of-show pricing.
  • Labor installs pad, cuts and re-tapes carpet.
  • Another 4-hour minimum is required for labor to make the changes.
  • Extension cords are rented. The electrician must move the lines.
  • The electrician is busy. One hour later he works on the changes.
  • Drayage charges are incurred when the crates are retrieved in order to get the correct graphics out.
  • It’s after 5 p.m. so overtime pay kicks in. You are now paying time and a half to four guys for four hours.

Money saving tips for the future

Reduce your stress, preserve your budget and maybe save your job by hiring a supervisor or assigning a staff member to meet the I & D foreman at the booth before installation begins.

  1. Send the decorator or I & D company a copy of the exhibit assembly instructions, electrical schematic and an overhead floorplan of the booth configuration showing where each display element goes. Include photos of every graphic and where they belong along with photos of your packed shipping containers.
  2. Laminate additional copies of everything and place them in an envelope marked “Set up Instructions”. Put them in one of the shipping containers then label the container indicating their location.
  3. For extra protection have your supervisor or a sales person bring along a digital copy of all the instructions plus all the graphic artwork files in case any graphics are lost or damaged and need reprinting at the show.

There are other budget busters we can talk about later but eliminating these two immediately will result in improvement to your bottom line. Until next time, have a super show.


Susan Ratliff is The Exhibit Expert. An award-winning business owner, author, speaker and event producer, Susan is a respected authority on tradeshow, consumer show and event marketing. Opinions are her own. Reach her at 

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