How to Choose the Right Pop-up Trade Show Display

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by Marc Mousseau

Once you decide to attend a trade show or event, the planning work begins. How will you successfully represent your company with display graphics, literature, promotional items, and pre-show mailers? What about shipping the portable trade show display to the show, filling out show forms, installation and dismantling, and travel arrangements?

First you need a trade show display. It seems simple enough to ask, "What does everyone else use?" This question usually leads to even more questions that need answers. Finally, you turn to the Internet to get a good representative sample of trends and ideas. When you find what you are looking for, how do you pick the display that works right for your company without getting more, or less, than you need?

You will need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • At how many shows will we display each year?
  • Is our company planning to expand our marketing budget for trade shows to perhaps secure a larger booth space?
  • Will we display products or just use graphics?
  • Will we use different graphics with this display in another marketing area?

Inline Displays

Let's first focus on inline displays. These displays are 10 x 10, 10 x 20 or 10 x something. They are all in a line on the show floor. Inline trade show displays vary based on a company’s needs. Companies will use pop-up displays, folding panel systems, tabletop displays, and large fabric graphics. Occasionally, inline trade show displays can become elaborate. This usually occurs when companies use a reconfiguration of a larger display or when their market is such that they get a great return from a smaller display.

Pop-up Displays

Pop-up trade show displays are popular and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with varying prices. There is a good reason for the price difference - quality. It takes the same amount of time for show personnel to assemble a good pop-up display as it does to assemble a lesser quality one. The overhead to build one is similar for both types. That leaves the materials and labor to determine the quality. Reduce the material quality and a few dollars can be cut from the price. Cut the labor quality and realize more savings. However, it is possible to create a display that is well-made and cost-efficient. There are ways to tell if these products are worth the investment and if the manufacturer is willing to stand behind the product. The primary factor to consider is the product warranty. Better quality displays offer a LIFETIME, NO QUESTIONS ASKED warranty.

Keep the product warranty in mind when shopping for a pop-up display. Ask the right questions and make sure the warranty is LIFETIME, NO QUESTIONS ASKED. These are not gimmicks. We once had a client whose pop-up display was run over by a forklift in the Miami Convention Center. We sent it back to the manufacturer and because the product had a LIFETIME, NO QUESTIONS ASKED warranty, the client had a new frame in time for the next show.

Don't be fooled by the closely related “Lifetime Warranty.” Many have fine print that clearly states the warranty is against "Manufacturers Defects or Worker’s Defects." This is vague. Many warranties have loopholes, so, be aware that just because a warranty is offered, it does not necessarily mean it will be honored.

Again, LIFETIME, NO QUESTIONS ASKED warranties are offered by companies that are confident in the quality of their product and are willing to stand behind it—no questions asked.

You should know exactly what the warranty covers and what the procedure is for repairing a damaged frame or struts. Many of the "economy" pop-up displays cannot be repaired. Other manufacturers are reluctant to help or even impossible to find when you need customer service.

Today, some quality pop-up trade show displays are available in kits providing a single price for the display, lights, case-to-counter conversion kits, and often, graphic packages. You will find the Yukon from my company, Moose Logistics, is one of those systems. It is possibly the best quality display in its price class offering the LIFETIME, NO QUESTIONS ASKED warranty as well as metal-to-metal construction of moving parts.

The quality of the moving parts is the next most important item. These expanding pieces are metal-to-metal, metal-to-plastic, or plastic-to-plastic. Of course, a metal-to-metal connection is going to have the longest life and the least wear and tear under normal use. Metal-to-plastic and plastic-to-plastic have plastic as the same weak link. If used properly, plastic-to-plastic displays can have an extended life.

Adverse conditions such as employees eager to get off their feet at the end of a three-day show, or the new guy who got stuck assembling the display—but has never seen one before—cause premature wear and tear or damage to portable display booths. We've all seen a display set-up that looks like it's been in a train wreck. That could be why you’re shopping for a new pop-display and have read this far.

Finally, the quality of the fabric panels or the graphic panels is important. Flimsy panels will not age well. Neither do cheaply produced graphics. Make sure your Solutions Consultant properly advises you what the best quality panel or graphic panel is for your trade show schedule. If you use the display once a year and have new graphics every year, go the economy route. However, if you plan to use the display more often, or will have it set-up by different employees, make sure you buy a better quality product. All displays look great when they are new. It's how they look after repeated use that matters.

If you are in the market for a pop-up, a good metal-to-metal frame with a LIFETIME, NO QUESTIONS ASKED warranty and a sturdy set of fabric panels or graphic panels is what you need. Many smaller companies grow into larger displays needs, but many keep a few pop-up displays around for smaller events. A good display is a long-term investment. A display that does not meet both your present and future goals can be a waste of money.

Fabric Graphics

Fabric displays have become popular over the last few years. These types of displays can be effective on the trade show floor. With the continued improvement on output quality and the quality of fabrics, these styles of displays can present a high impact message in a reasonable price range. However, the investment is in the message. These large format graphic messages cannot easily be interchanged and often a company must buy an entire replacement graphic to change the message. Companies with messages that vary from show to show have found that these styles of displays are not cost-effective.

If your company is willing commit to a large format message, fabric could be the right way to make your message pop. If you decide to invest in fabric, make sure that your graphics are eye-catching, interesting, and convey your message well.

Fabric Back Walls

There are several styles of fabric back walls on the market today. The most popular are the fabric back walls that use the existing pop-up frame technology and replace the fabric panels with large format graphics. This type delivers a great look but has a few drawbacks. The most significant drawback is the fabric does not pack well. Collapsing the frame with the graphic in place often causes excessive wrinkling. Unfortunately, this distracts from your message. Your trade show display investment is too great for potential clients to remember the wrinkles in your display instead of your sales message. Also, the lack of a liner on some of these units can compromise the richness of the graphic message, lessening the needed impact.

The Duffle Display and the Duffle Display Big Fabric Graphic Back Wall are new products specifically designed to save money on shipping, as well as material handling (drayage) at shows, while still making a bold statement. This patent-pending system offers versatility, economy, and durability. The Duffle Display is, as its name implies, a trade show display that fits into a duffle bag. This system is designed to adapt to existing pipe and drape on the show floor without the need to remove the common drape wall between the two booth spaces. Also, this system comes complete with lights, literature, and a table banner that fits in a 30-inch duffle bag that checks as baggage on an airplane. Sometimes, multiple displays (up to 4) can fit in the same duffle.

Duffle Display now offers the Duffle Display Big Fabric Back Wall. This is a back wall and frame with the same impact quality as the Duffle Display system.

Again, like any large format graphic, the investment is in the message. Replacement of the graphic is less economical than other means. Is your message or branding constant? This is a question that needs to be answered by companies needing multiple messages or a variation of their message at different shows. However, if you want large format graphics, this can be achieved with the use of banner stands.

Another feature of the Duffle Display is its capacity to adapt within a larger display. This allows a single graphic investment to have multiple uses within a marketing program, which is not only an economical use of graphics, but also contributes to the continuity of your message.

If you are considering large format fabric graphics for your marketing program, you should give the Duffle Display system serious consideration.

Folding Panel Displays

Some companies need folding panel displays for their inline space. These types of displays are driven by the needs of the company. For example, many folding panel displays have enough storage and counter space and are stable enough to display products that are heavier than a pop-up display can handle. They also have a more “solid” look and can be dressed up to look more upscale than either pop-up displays or graphic back walls. Sometimes these types of displays may be more economical to use if they are part of a larger display or used in a 10 x 20 or larger configuration.

The downside to folding panel displays are cost and weight because they are more expensive to buy and own. After the first purchase, these types of displays are commonly stored at outside facilities such as your exhibit house. They also require shipping by ground freight and will incur material handling charges on arrival at the show. Also, in some cases, they require the use of on-site labor to install and dismantle.

About the Author

Marc Mousseau is President of Moose Logistics, a full-service trade show marketing company based in Atlanta, Georgia. His company provides pop-up displays, custom trade show exhibits, rental exhibits, creative services, and freight and logistical services to clients around the world. Marc is also available for speaking and consulting engagements related to this topic and trade show marketing in general.