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The Hidden Costs of Exhibition Stands

Things for an exhibitor to consider.

piggybankHere we take a look at some of the things an exhibitor often isn’t aware of when they commission a custom built exhibition stand.  Let’s take it as read that the exhibitor knows the cost of the stand space (which can vary greatly from show to show), but what other costs might be generated on the exhibition stand contractor’s side that might not be evident to the exhibitor?

Exhibition stand design tenders

Let’s start at the beginning: the tender process.  For an exhibition stand design & build company, a pitch for a prospective client is an expensive game.  If you consider telesales & email marketing, an initial briefing meeting, design drawings and presentation meeting as a bare minimum, each exhibition contractor tendering is probably spending around £750 on each enquiry, regardless of whether they win the work or not.  Factor in that a stand builder will on average win one in four new tenders, then each confirmed job has cost £3,000 to generate.

That figure can be cut with the use of email and ‘phone for briefing and presentations, but the design costs are fixed, and the fact remains that each job won must pay for several lost tenders.  I recall a few years back winning an exhibition stand tender, only to find out that the company had invited twenty four other companies to tender.  24!  Even worse it was for a £5,000 job.  That £5,000 tender probably cost the industry in excess of £10,000.  Whilst it is wise to get a second, third or even fourth opinion (depending on the size of your exhibition project and budget), to get twenty five tenders in for any job is a tad excessive in my opinion!

Exhibition stand design revisions

exhibition stand builder NEC blueprintsWe’re living in the real world: design drawings do not come free, even if they are advertised as such.  As a rule, anything that takes time to do will cost money.  This is true regardless of the industry you are in.  For an exhibition stand builder design revisions are expected, as it’s rare we hit the nail on the head first time, but some requests from exhibitors do test our patience sometimes!  I have experienced some silly requests over the years, the worst of which must be “We want to put ‘.com’ after our logo – can we have a new set of visuals showing this?”  Err…really?  Can you not imagine it?

Design revisions when you have already been awarded the job aren’t so bad, but it’s not uncommon to do three or four sets of drawings and still lose the job.  If revisions are needed, try and address all the points in one go, and decide what you actually want before asking for drawings.  I once did eight sets of exhibition stand drawings for one client who couldn’t decide what she wanted, and version eight was almost the same as version one!

Exhibition stand builders’ overheads

The bigger the company, the bigger the overheads, and each job that company does must contribute to those overheads.  This is true of all businesses, so hopefully will be understood by the exhibitor, but I still come across some who seem to think that workshops, transport and staff come free!  Small exhibition design and build contractors are often ‘one man bands’ working from home or small premises, and can cut those overheads dramatically, especially for smaller exhibition stands.  The flip side is that if you want the back up of office staff dealing with your requests when your contact is busy elsewhere, you may want to deal with a larger company, and you will pay more for that extra service.  A small company may however give you a more personal service and continuity of the project from start to finish as one person will often deal with the job from brief to site.  It’s swings and roundabouts – you pay your money and take your choice!

Sub Contracted Exhibition Services

Most services an exhibition stand contractor offers are usually sub contracted out.  Carpet, furniture, graphics and audio visual are the ones that some contractors claim to be ‘in house’ services that are actually contracted out.  Some companies will have in house graphics, and maybe some audio visual and furniture, but most will have very limited stocks and/or get other specialist companies in to supply them.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, as it’s the standard way of doing things, but be aware that any sub contract service will have a mark up on it between the sub contractor and the exhibitor.

Exhibition stand transport

This side of the business becomes more apparent the smaller the stand.  Running one large vehicle to the exhibition halls with a large stand and staff to unload will cost almost
as much as running a smaller vehicle to the same venue with the same labour to unload.  The cost is in the time taken unloadingand the staff needed – the size of the load will not have a great impact on the overall cost.

Once you start going abroad, you add extra fuel, wages and hotels and/or flights into the equation.  Typically it can cost several thousand pounds to take a stand from the UK onto the continent.  For a stand with a £50k budget that may not be a problem; for a stand with a £5k budget it may only leave a few hundred pounds to actually build the stand, and that’s not going to go very far!

On site management

There are different ways of approaching on site project management, and each has it’s pros, cons and cost implications:

1.  Let the foreman building the job run everything: the cheapest way of doing things and providing the job isn’t too big and the foreman is a ‘client friendly’ tame carpenter, not a bad idea.  Particularly useful for overseas projects as it saves on air fare and hotels, but make sure they know the job inside out and have all the information they need.

2.  The multi tasking project manager: this is our usual way of operating – project manager/designer/graphics man/av person/brochure rack putter-upper all rolled into one.  Usually the person who has seen the job through from the start, so knows everything on the job and can multi task to save money on fitting graphics and some of the smaller, less skilled jobs.  The down side comes when the job gets too big and one person can’t oversee it and do other things also.

3.  The dedicated project manager: a rare breed these days, usually recognised by wearing a suit and doing lots of pointing.  Once a job gets past a certain size this person is a must have and shouldn’t be distracted by having to fit graphics or driving the van back to the workshop to pick up a fridge!  They are however an extra cost on a job, but one worth paying for – a kind of insurance policy or vaccine, as prevention [of cock-ups] is far better (and cheaper) than the cure.

So, if you have a £10k budget, don’t be surprised to see the person managing your stand also getting their hands dirty doing graphics fitting and the like.  On the flip side, if you have a £100k stand and don’t have someone from your stand build contractor project managing and not much else, you may be in for a few ‘issues’ at some point.  You get what you pay for in most things, and on site management is one of those things.

Storage and reuse of your exhibition stand

“Do you want to keep it?”  An often asked question at the end of a show.  For the exhibitor, worth considering before the show finishes; in fact best considered before the stand is built, as often a custom built exhibition stand will be built differently if it is intended to be used multiple times.  A typical saving on a custom built stand will be around 20% for the subsequent refits.  You’re saving the workshop time and materials of the initial build, offset against refurbishment costs to make the stand look like new each time it is installed.  The more components of a stand that are purpose built, the bigger the saving should be; the more stock items that make up the stand, the smaller the saving.

this-way-up-26559-300There will also be a storage charge between shows, either built in to the next refit or charged separately (usually yearly or quarterly).  Warehouse space doesn’t come free, and if a stand it taking up space it needs to be paid for at some point.

Bear in mind that a refit cost will be based on the same stand space and configuration.  If the existing stand has to be chopped around and added to to fit a different space, there’s extra work involved and therefore extra costs.  Also remember that if you keep a stand for a future show it will look the same as it did the first time it went in.  Obvious when you think about it, but some people seem not to realise!  And if you start changing the stand to look different….you’ve guessed it!  It costs.

Whilst this is not an exhaustive list of possible costs associated with an exhibition stand, I’ve tried to cover the main points that I’ve encountered in the last couple of decades in the exhibition stand design & build business.  The one area where mpd creative tries to make things easier in this respect is to be transparent with our clients, giving them warning of potential costs and trying where we can to offer the best value solutions.