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fixing snafus
illustration: Regan Dunnick
Best-Laid Plans
While all the electrical wiring had been completed, it hadn't been laid out according to plan; plus, the carpet and padding were nowhere to be found.
Plan A
In exhibiting and in life, stuff happens. Plans go awry, items go missing, and sometimes the you-know-what hits the fan. But according to Buddhist tradition, peace and prosperity have little to do with what happens in life and everything to do with how you deal with it.

As a design consultant at The Trade Group Inc., an exhibit house in Carrollton, TX, I was reminded of this maxim while helping to set up a 30-by-40-foot exhibit for a client at MinExpo International 2016, a show that is held only once every four years, typically in Las Vegas. The event attracts roughly 2,000 exhibitors, and the show floor often tops 840,000 square feet. So to say MinExpo is a massive undertaking is like saying the 2016 presidential election was "a little out of the ordinary."

In addition to the challenges of this monster show, our client also had a few hurdles to clear. Not long before the event, her company acquired a number of existing firms within the mining industry in an effort to expand its range of services. These acquisitions set in motion a cascading chain of issues, including the client's exhibit. Instead of displaying the line of products in its usual manner, the booth had to accommodate the additional companies and some of their products within the same 1,200 square feet. What's more, due to internal fluctuations inherent in almost any acquisition process, the exhibit underwent a host of last-minute changes regarding layout, equipment placement, electrical needs, and more.

Nevertheless, our team accommodated all changes as they came our way, and in fact, prior to the show we'd completed a full trial run of the booth setup in our warehouse. So as the event approached, we had a firm plan for the newly revamped design. And it was a good thing we did, because our setup strategy involved a bit of a time crunch.

MinExpo has a weeklong installation period, and the show's general contractor assigns exhibitors specific days to move in, run wire, rig, install, etc. My client's exhibit was scheduled to begin install on Friday, with the show opening on Monday. A few items, such as electrical and carpet, would be laid beforehand, but the bulk of the install would start Friday at 8 a.m. In addition, the client wanted to avoid as much overtime labor as possible on Saturday and Sunday, so she was pushing for a one-day install for all key components. The tight schedule definitely put us in a pinch, but given our setup trial run in the warehouse, I was confident we could complete the work in the time allotted – assuming everything went off without a hitch.

Thus, my installation crew, along with Robert (a setup supervisor) and I, flew into Vegas on Thursday morning. After dropping our bags at our hotel, we headed over to the convention center around noon. But as soon as we caught sight of the booth space, we spotted two critical problems: While all the electrical wiring had been completed, it hadn't been laid out according to plan; plus, the carpet and padding were nowhere to be found.

Plan B
A quick comparison of our installation plans versus the electrical work installed in front of us revealed the root of the problem. The electrical lines were indeed laid according to plan – the old plan that had recently been revised to accommodate the needs of the newly acquired firms that were now part of the exhibit.

Once we identified the issue, Robert simply called in the show's electricians, drew a big red "X" through the old plans, and handed them the new set. He then supervised to ensure that all lines were properly rerouted.

As all of this was going on, Robert and I assumed that our carpet and pad would eventually arrive. But nope, we had no such luck. To make matters worse, neither the shipping company nor service-desk reps had any idea where our carpet had ended up. And by this time, it was already 5 p.m., giving us only a couple of hours until the marshalling yard stopped receiving shipments for the day.

At that point, we knew that getting new carpet from our Dallas warehouse was out of the question. And even though we had a warehouse in Las Vegas where we stored miscellaneous exhibitry, we knew two hours wasn't nearly enough time to get it pulled and shipped to the marshalling yard before it closed.

So even if we shipped the carpet first thing Friday morning, the chances of getting it laid by midmorning were supermodel slim. And since our client wanted to avoid overtime labor, we needed every minute of Friday's install time to get everything up and ready.

Rather than risking a setup delay, Robert elected to rent carpet from the show's general contractor, as a rep assured us that the carpet and pad would be laid at the crack of dawn on Friday. With the crisis seemingly averted, we all headed back to our hotel for some shut-eye.

Bright and early the next morning, we hit the show floor once again. But the same old problem was there to greet us: Our carpet and padding had yet to materialize. So Robert hightailed it off to the service desk, where reps told him that installers were running behind schedule, and there was nothing to be done. That rep, however, didn't know Robert.

Not wasting another minute of precious install time, Robert and his team started erecting the exhibitry in the exhibit-hall aisles. While the exhibit's 20-foot-tall identification tower couldn't be installed until the carpet was laid, the crew got to work on the kiosks and reception counters that would be positioned around it.

After an hour or two, the carpet and pad were finally delivered to the space. But at that point, the installers were AWOL. While he was itching to simply roll out the materials himself, Robert knew union regulations prevented him from even moving them. So again he stormed off to the service desk. Since the crew was indeed behind schedule, management soon granted Robert a variance, allowing our team to install the carpet ourselves.

Ultimately, then, we finally laid the carpet, moved the fully assembled components into their proper locales, and erected the central tower. And just as the client had hoped, all major exhibitry was installed on Friday, keeping overtime labor on Saturday to the bare minimum. Despite all the stuff that went wrong, we went with the flow, dealt with each issue as it occurred, and managed not to freak out in the process. In the end, the client had very little knowledge of what actually went awry, thanks to our quick-thinking team and their ability to readily accept – and effectively deal with – the situation.

— Spencer Murray, design consultant, The Trade Group Inc., Carrollton, TX

Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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