Trade Show I&D 101

Whittle while you Work – Saving Money during the Installation and Dismantle Process


We all know that time is money but on the show floor in New York as an example on a Sunday did you know you are paying $ 261.000 an hour in overtime wages. Now that is real money. And while that may not be what you pay for that same time in Las Vegas or New Orleans – hourly rates on the show floor are still very expensive. So each extra hour and each additional laborer must be considered into your labor equation before you set foot on the trade show floor. Of course read no further if you have chosen to hire Absolute I&D because all that follows are guidelines for those “do it yourselfers” that feel the need to feel the pain. Seriously it is a great idea to understand every part of the I&D experience whether hiring it out or controlling from within.

First and foremost you must estimate I&D time accurately. If your exhibit has been used before, look at past I&D labor invoices to estimate how many man-hours you’ll need for both installation and dismantle. If your exhibit property is a new build or a first-time rental, ask your exhibit house for an estimate of how many hours it will take to set and dismantle. Correctly estimating the amount of time it takes to set up and dismantle an exhibit allows you to order the accurate number of laborers for a sufficient number of straight-time hours, which of course is the key to keeping costs down. If you underestimate labor power, you easily end up going into overtime.

Consider hiring a larger crew – a four man for six hour period, rather than a three man for eight hour period. If the extra laborer does not crowd the space you may be done without any overtime or you can sign someone out after four hours. Whatever you do, make certain that accurate, easy to understand drawings and directions are onsite at the beginning of the set-up for the lead builder. Knowing in advance whether any obstacles such as poles, fire hose cabinets or apparatus, and internet pods are in or near your exhibit space will help you proactively chart a new course and avoid wasting that time on site.

Stay organized using the exhibit-shipping inventory sheet provided by your exhibit house – which shows the exhibit components that are in each crate or case, or on each pallet – with the exhibit pieces on your setup drawings. Help your labor crew find the correct pieces needed as they go during by writing on the setup drawing that panel P3 is located in case one, and header H2 is in case three. During dismantle; referring to the same drawing will help the crew get the items back in the crate or case where they belong. By gluing photos of correctly packed crates inside their lids, the crew will make good time while dismantling and crating the exhibit; in turn this will also help your exhibit house carry out its inbound inventory more efficiently.

One of the most costly missteps is not reviewing exhibit guidelines. Make sure your exhibit setup and dismantle plans comply with the show’s rules, such as exhibit-height regulations, setback and line-of-sight restrictions, and hanging-sign rules. If they don’t comply, you’ll have to change your exhibit on site, adding labor hours, it seems always falling into overtime. If you have a double-deck exhibit, hanging signs, or rooms with ceilings, submit your exhibit plans to the venue’s structural engineer and fire marshal by the deadlines before the show. Allow plenty of time to work through their approval processes and pay relevant fees before you get to the show so your setup won’t be held up on site, pushing you into overtime. This is not an area to negotiate as these rules are rather stringent and for certain will not be changed once you are on the show floor.

Be completely upfront about all of your needs with your labor contractor before you get to the show floor – it is best if you do so before you get your price quote. To share the big picture of your I&D course of action, send the labor contractor copies of your exhibit setup drawings and service orders for hanging signs, flooring, Internet, telephone, electrical, rigging, furniture, and audiovisual. Also send a master schedule of your setup and dismantle process in advance.

If you have a branded “system” exhibit, such as Octonorm, Nimlok, Exponents, or Nomadic, relay this information to the I&D contractor when you place your labor order, and request a crew that has experience with that brand of exhibit to help speed your installation. Let your contractor know about any equipment or tools required to set up and dismantle your exhibit. This list could include anything from tape for your carpet pad and carpet, extra batteries for an electric drill or screwdriver, a special size or shape of Allen wrench, ladders, forklifts to move or lift heavy parts of your exhibit, special cleaning supplies, or a metal banding machine. Requesting these items in advance means your labor crew is far more likely to show up with everything you need, rather than hunting for the required equipment while on the clock.


Depending on the city, the contract with local labor, and the complexity and tools required to assemble your exhibit, your full-time company employees may be able to at least assist. Check your exhibitor services manual or ask the show’s general services contractor (GSC) if employees of your company can set up your exhibit to avoid hiring outside I&D labor. If you can’t set up your own exhibit in its entirety, ask if you can help. However, make certain that you have this cleared in writing before you set foot on the show floor as “at the show” ordering is the most expensive orderin that takes place at a trade show and you do not want to be caught in that conundrum. Just being a runner to go gt labels, buy water, look through a crate can save time and money.

If you are not using a local I&D company supervision can come with even more additional expenses. Did you know you can supervise the I&D yourself? And many times when you offer to do this the supervision charges miraculously disappear from your bill. Try it. Regardless of whether you use the general show contractor or exhibitor-appointed contractor (EAC), you can save 25 to 30 percent of your total labor bill (usually with a $45 to $50 minimum) by supervising your own setup and dismantle. Negotiating discounts is always a possibility especially with long term relationships and multiyear contractual agreements.

Just as EAC’s come well supplied with a hefty gang box filled with equipment you should too. To lessen the immense markups on supplies bought on the show floor from the GSC or your EAC, stock your own gang box with the materials you’ll need for setup, such as tape for your carpet and pad, nonstreak cleaner and paper towels, spare light bulbs, bubble wrap, hook and loop, stretch wrap, and a portable strapping kit. EACs often charge a flat percentage of your total labor invoice for materials. If you plan to bring your own supplies, let the EAC know in advance to avoid being charged this fee.

You may also be able to bring your own surge protectors and extension cords. The markup for purchasing these items on site is astronomical (often 300 to 400 percent). Check the exhibitor services manual or call the venue’s electrical department to find out your show’s specific guidelines.

Lastly, always ask for line-item invoices to make sure you are not being charged for items or services you did not actually use. It is very common to get charged for materials or supplies that were customer provided visqueen sheeting. Match the client copy of the “hard card” labor tickets that show each worker’s name and hours worked to the final invoice. Verify the straight time (ST) and overtime (OT) rates you that were billed. Then question any discrepancies or charges that weren’t on the original quote to make sure your company has not been overcharged.

The preceding is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many small issues that lead to major charges on the show floor. As we add to these articles you will see how the decision making process is not a simple yes or no but a complex group of answers that add up to a major amount of money without proper insight. I look forward to our next meeting.

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