In this post I discuss the factors you need to consider when planning a “shell-scheme” space at a trade event. Read on to discover the way that I designed my show stand for Glee, Birmingham.
Last week I exhibited at my first large trade show, and took Talking of Plants to Glee at the NEC, Birmingham. Glee is the UK’s leading garden and outdoor living trade show which brings together the whole of the gardening industry under one roof. The show runs for three days, and is attended by key buyers and visitors from across garden retail; including garden centres, multiple groups, independent shops, online boutiques and garden designers.
For me, it was a chance to meet influential contacts face-to-face, to generate leads and build a network to grow my business within the wholesale retail sector. I have exhibited at the NEC before, but this was my first trade show. Here’s the way I did it, and some things to think about if you’re planning your first wholesale show –
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Where to start
Once you have made the exciting decision to invest in exhibiting at a trade show of this size, you’ll want to get it booked in as soon as possible. This will give you time to plan your booth. Think about where you want to be positioned in relation to other exhibitors, entrances, stages and refreshment areas – choose the best spot available, and the largest footprint your allocated budget allows. I went for a 3m x 2m sized booth.
I booked Glee fairly late in the day, with just two months to organise everything. I would recommend booking as early as possible to give yourself the maximum amount of time to arrange everything needed for the event. There is a lot to think about and most people book a year in advance.
Shell-scheme VS space only
I opted for a “shell-scheme” space, rather than the “space only” option. Space only stands are usually bigger and are effectively a “‘naked” space. This option is most often used by large companies as it requires more investment and costly custom-built displays. A shell-scheme stand usually consists of three modular panels (walls), supported by a metal frame. This has a fascia board displaying the company name across the top. In general, it provides a blank canvas for you to showcase your brand. You can choose add-ons such as lighting, electrical displays and furniture. I chose to add x2 spotlights in order to light the walls of the space and show off my products better. We brought everything else with us.
Think about who to take with you. Do you require any help during the build and break-down? Will you need an extra pair of hands during the event, so that you can speak to as many visitors as possible? Don’t forget to factor in loo breaks and food – you may need to occasionally leave your booth, and you won’t want to leave it unattended. You could take a friend, family member or your partner with you, or you could employ someone especially for the show. If you have any employees, consider if there time would be best spent back at head office, or with you at the exhibition.
My other half, Tom, came with me to be my right-hand man. It helped to have him there for all of the above. It was great to have someone to bounce ideas around with, and discuss conversations we’d had with new contacts during the show. I also would have really struggled to setup and dismantle everything on my own, so I really appreciated him taking the time off work to assist me.
One of the other key factors to think about when designing your “set” is the transport you will be getting to and from the show in. If you own or hire a van you will have more space for larger displays and furniture. I decided not to travel in a van, and pack everything in our little car. It is a hatchback, Toyota Yaris, so careful consideration needed to be taken when selecting what I would take. I needed to be able to fit everything inside, including examples of my product range, display equipment, signage, our luggage and ourselves!
It is best to plan as much as possible. Where possible practice how different sections will look, or create scale mockups on your computer to visualise the whole booth. I planned the exhibition to the last detail and even had print-outs of exactly where each product would hang. These are my visuals which I created in Photoshop and referred back to when setting up. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t “perfect", as it’s only you that will see them. This stage really helped me to stay on track and not waste time, or panic during the build.
Make sure if you plan to hang/drill/stick anything from or onto the panels, that you check with the shell-scheme contractors that it is okay to do so. The last thing you want when it comes to build day is to be told you aren’t allowed to do what you wanted. I had to check the weight of the things I was planning to hang from the main structure. Luckily they said “yes”!
My Talking of Plants stand
I used a series of pegboards which were joined together, one on top of the other, and suspended from the top by s-hooks and picture hanging cord. These were 56cm x 76cm boards which could be compactly stacked in the back of our car. I chose these ones from Ikea. I then used a number of components from the coordinating Skådis range such as hooks, shelves and clips to display my product range. I had mapped out exactly what was going where so I didn’t have to work this out on the day.
The hanging pegboards worked really well as they were weighty enough to hang steadily, and they felt sturdy. It was a really effective, modular way to create a versatile, movable exhibition. In fact, at the end of show day number one, we moved a whole three panels and hung them from the front of the shell scheme to capture more interest from visitors walking past.
In addition to the boards I displayed my range of organic cotton clothing from a 3ft garment rail, which is collapsible. Space in the car (or lack of it) was always forefront in my mind when designing my booth! I also had two A2 size signs – I hung one from the middle panel, and propped one up at ground level. These signs were to display my message of “sustainable, British-made gifts” to potential customers.
On the floor I had a plastic container full of rolled wrapping paper, and a small bench (which again, could be flat-packed) with some storage boxes inside. These boxes were really useful for storing things we needed to access quickly during the day such as our phones, snacks and water, a notebook and extra business cards and brochures. The top of the bench provided me with space to display some of my best-selling products for easy “show and tell” as well as a tray containing printed price lists, order terms and printed catalogues.
Things I learned
There were a number of takeaways which I would implement when exhibiting at my next trade event. Here are the most prominent ones:
- Shout louder:
I found that my signage was not large enough, and my message was not clear enough. Visitors are busy and often heading straight for the brands they know and trust without giving too much time to glance at ranges they’ve not heard of. As a new exhibitor it was even more essential to “make” them see me. I had listed my business values and USPs in my brochure, and was good at telling people that stopped to talk to me, but if they didn’t stop, they didn’t have the chance to find out. My credentials such as being sustainable, made in England and eco-friendly needed to be clearer. Some big displays that made this clear would have been a benefit.
Next time I will also make it more obvious that I am the artist, designer and RHS-qualified gardener behind the entire catalogue of products. I think a visual display of one of my drawings would help get this message across. A time-lapse of me illustrating a new product would really capture people’s imaginations and demonstrate that I can create brand-specific, exclusive products.
- POS that inspires:
- Think like a visitor:
In general I was really pleased with how it looked. I think the bright colours attracted people to take a closer look, and having the two of us on board to explain the brand really helped. I had some wonderful feedback about how nice my rows of multiple string holders and wooden decorations looked, and how beautiful they were – which was lovely to hear. I have so many ideas for how my next shell-sheme setup at the NEC will look. It will definitely include the pegboards, but with more signage and clearer messaging.
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