Trade Show Displays: Purpose, Styles, & Selection
Trade Show Displays are tools for showing your company brand and advertising your products. They are used in trade shows, conventions, and business conferences; these gatherings occur in many different locations all across the globe. Some trade shows are huge, with thousands of exhibitors and tens of thousands of attendees and visitors wandering the aisles, with the convention lasting for many days. Some chamber of commerce conferences can be limited to 10 exhibits and only last for a few hours. Across the range of these advertising requirements, “trade show displays” is the generic term for the structures used for displaying the vendor’s company name, logo, tag line, and various product or service offering information.
Given the wide range of places where these display stands are used, and the many years they have been successfully used to promote business and products, it makes sense that there are lots of different sizes, styles, and construction methods used to create them. These different exhibition stands can be categorized or grouped in different ways. One common discriminator is the required size of the trade show display; this can range from the smallest unit – a tabletop display, where the exhibitor literally has a table that they stand behind, to exhibition displays that take up hundreds of square feet of booth space. For the biggest shows and product types, such as automobiles, trucks, and airplanes, one can easily imagine that the space required for actually demonstrating a product is enormous!
In the United States, trade show booth sizes are established in 100 sq. ft. steps, with the smallest normal space being a 10x10. Inline booths are arranged side by side, back to back in a line, and range in size from 10x10, 10x20, 10x30, etc. Trade shows also offer island spaces, which are normally at least 20x20 spaces, and called islands because they are surrounded on all sides by aisles. Thus, the trade show display used in an inline booth has a back side that will never be seen by visitors, while the display stand used in an island booth space will be seen on all sides, and must be designed to take advantage of that factor.
Over the years, trade show displays have been built with wood and metal structural components; the modern trend is to use light-weight structures, primarily metal, that pack up quickly, ship inexpensively, and are easy to setup and take down. This isn’t as important for custom exhibit stands intended for use in very large shows; but the vast majority of exhibitors are small and medium sized businesses with medium sized products or services – this majority focuses on display stand portability and ease of use. Other advantageous design factors for the typical exhibitor include the capability to easily swap out graphics, so that the same display stand can be used at different shows, for different markets and products.
Within the subset of trade show displays that are designed to be light-weight and portable, there are still thousands of options regarding look and style and function. Construction alternatives include pop up frames, a range of display stands build with metal frames, metal tubes and extrusions, and also truss displays, also typically made from steel extrusions.
Truss displays are the heaviest of these portable trade show booths, but offer structures that can support lots of product, as well as the advantage of being a “tinker-toy” tool, meaning that you can build one shape today, and a completely different shape tomorrow. The newest truss designs use space-age composite truss, developed from the aerospace industry, and offer the advantages and design features of truss, combined with a much lighter weight, meaning lower shipping costs, lower drayage fees, and shorter and easier setup and dismantle times.
Pop up frames are historically the least expensive full size trade show displays, and are made from light-weight aluminum tubes and extrusions, designed to expand and collapse using accordion like frames. These frames are used to construct pop up displays with panels of fabric or mural graphics that are hung from the top of the frame. Newer designs of these pop up frames use a single fabric panel instead of a series of panels. This single fabric is stretched over the front of the pop up display frame and is normally left in place on the frame even when folded up for shipping. These more modern designs weigh less than traditional popups, and take less time to setup and take-down.
Molded aluminum tubes and extruded aluminum frames are used in a wide variety of modern trade show displays. These exhibit stands are sometimes called modular displays, tension fabric displays, and hybrid displays. They can employ fabric graphics that attach with Velcro, or pillow case like graphics that slip, just like a pillow case, over the assembled frame and zip up to finish the assembly. Newer designs also use button holes and plastic tips to hold the graphic, allowing instantaneous changing of graphic panels.
The very latest in hybrid display technology uses silicone edged fabric graphics (SEG); meaning that a silicone strip (or in later designs, a flexible silicone bead) is sewn into the edge of the printed fabric graphic. That bead is then pushed into the slot in the frame extrusion, creating a very nicely framed display for your branding and product pictures. SEG graphics combine glare-less, easily folded, dye sublimation printed full color fabric graphics with an attachment method that is quick and secure, framed by light-weight aluminum extrusions.
These extrusions come in curved and flat shapes, creating trade show displays with an enormous range of looks and styles. The extruded metal forms are designed to quickly slip together; most extrusions use a hex key or screwdriver to simply lock the extrusions together. The latest technology incorporates a knob on the extrusion that is simply tightened by hand, so that absolutely no tools at all are required for setup or disassembly of these "best of breed" new generation hybrid trade show displays.
Almost all of the different exhibit stand construction methods mentioned use designs that allow exhibit booths to be linked together, so that the 10x10 can be extended to 10x20, 10x30, etc. The best trade show display designs also offer the capability for double-sided graphics, so that the front-facing 10x10 stand can not only be made into a longer 10x20 display, but can also become a double-sided display to advertise company branding, products, and services in a medium or large sized island configuration.
There are many selections in exhibit booth design, but the process must start with a clear understanding of requirements. The prospective exhibitor needs to make sure they understand the sizes of their anticipated booth spaces, whether they need to be concerned with inline or also potential island configurations, and whether their graphics need to be changed frequently or not.
Exhibitors should then consider the importance or trade-off value between price, weight, and setup/disassembly time. Most reputable trade show booth suppliers offer consulting services to help clients understand the trade-offs. So long as time is taken to understand both the requirements and the choices, the results should be versatile, great looking trade show displays that will last for years – stands that are truly investments with good ROI, and not just poorly planned expenses.