Trade Show Tips

Out of the country: Book Accommodations Early

    Hotel rooms are definitely at a premium for megashows. Some companies block hotel rooms years in advance. The later you book hotel rooms, the more expensive and farther away from the show you’ll be.

    Leave international shipping to the experts. Your best bet is to work closely with one of the official freight forwarders listed in the show manual. Make copious lists of the contents of every crate or box you’re shipping, noting the dimensions and weights (usually in kilos) of each. Then be ready to complete a lot of paperwork, including commercial invoices, bond guarantees, etc.

    Pick up and read a country-specific guidebook. The pocket-sized guides are the easiest to carry around with you at all times.
    When in doubt, dress up. The dress code outside the states is much more formal than at similar shows held in the United States. You don’t see many company logos on T-shirts or theme outfits. Business attire is normally the dress of the day.

    BYOB. That is, bring your own badges. Many foreign shows do not provide badges – for booth staffers or attendees. As an aid to booth visitors, print tiny country flags on staff badges to indicate which languages the staffer speaks.

    Expect to see exhibits built on the show floor. Shows aren’t held “back to back” in Europe, as they are in the United States, so there is time to actually construct exhibits from the ground up on site. Exhibits, which are called “stands” in Europe, are generally built on small risers, elevating the entire structure by a couple of inches. Electrical wiring and plumbing are tucked under the risers.

    Expect booth carpenters in Germany to take “beer breaks.” This is “culturally correct.” You will be viewed as an “ugly American” if you make an issue of it. There are no I&D unions. Skilled I&D labor is usually provided by your exhibit house. Drayage is also less structured and regulated, and it is usually handled by the official contractor. Electrical requirements are different. Don’t forget to analyze your power needs for the show, and ship your power transformers and plug adapters. They’re difficult to buy once you are out of the states. (Do not try to rip one of the prongs off a U.S. electrical plug. This has been tried and is definitely not recommended unless you want to fry your equipment.)

    Buy extra carpet padding. Floor covering in the stand varies from finished hardwood risers and painted floors to the standard carpet provided by show management, which is more like a felt indoor/outdoor carpet by U.S. standards.
    Food and beverage service is expected.

    Be prepared to pay VAT. If you’re not familiar with the Value-Added Tax, many countries levy a tax on all goods and services purchased there. These taxes are fully refundable; however you are required to submit the original bills along with several complicated forms, then wait to receive your refund. One alternative is to have all expenses from international shows routed through one designated person in your accounting department, who will accumulate the original copies of bills for filing after the show. However, this person will probably never speak to you again and lose all subsequent expense reports you turn in.

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