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Best Practices: Finding the right builder

A dynamic exhibit space is the tradeshow’s holy grail. It’s essential to find the ideal exhibit builder since design concepts vary greatly in size and intricacy. The right fit is obtained through a variety of factors such as research, consultation, affordability and advocacy.

Deciding on a builder
In-depth examination is key to acquiring a contractor capable of bringing a brand to life. Some crucial features when choosing the right company include its history, past and present clients, the types of services offered and past execution.


Stevens Exhibits begins the client-builder relationship by listening to what the customer wants, not just trying to interpret their needs.

“There are a number of factors that influence the selection of an exhibit contractor,” said Julie Mckernin, vice president of marketing and sales, Stevens Exhibits/Displays Inc. “One of the most influential would be the company’s history of building a wide range of designs and styles.”

The size of the company shouldn’t necessarily be a predominate factor either.

“Often, when choosing an exhibit builder, an exhibitor thinks bigger is better,” said Don Szabo, vice president of program strategies, Gallo Exhibits. “Yes, the larger exhibit houses have a diversity of resources, and resources are important, but it is the capability to correctly leverage all of these resources for a client that is so important, and then to skillfully execute within the deadlines. This comes with experience, which is a crucial factor.”

Communication is the main building block that lays the foundation of a successful project. Discussion time can bring customer ideas and needs to the table for a clearer understanding of the project vision. According to McKernin, if company representatives leave a meeting with potentially new or existing clients, and have to return to the office and decipher, they’ve missed the whole meeting. The builder should begin by listening to what the customer wants, they shouldn’t just interpret the client’s needs.

“Regardless of the size of the exhibit, an exhibitor should look to partner with a company that provides a consultative approach,” said Szabo. “A smart-thinking exhibit house, uses the consultative process to strategically discover a client’s needs and overall brand direction, and how best to meet those needs to deepen brand equity.”

The bidding process is another area that can hamper a successful build.

“It is important when selecting an exhibit partner, especially when bidding out the tradeshow production, that the exhibitor is able to compare apples with apples,” said Tom Lemery, president and CEO of Creactor Inc. “The best way to do this is give each bidder the exact specifications to bid on, including all show related services, as well as an exhibit design.”

Budget limitations can also make or break planning strategies. Most providers can service any exhibitor’s funding, but if the customer doesn’t have the basic budget planning handled, things can go south quickly. Lemery suggests asking bidders to provide a quote on production. This allows for side-by-side quote comparison, but also to compare quotes with the actual cost of the exhibit. He also recommends asking for an itemized quote to conduct a line-by-line evaluation.


Creatacor is offering show scheduling, budgeting, asset management and logistics to help exhibitors manage their tradeshow program.

“While rates can be important, they are not an accurate measurement of the actual cost to the client,” said Lemery. “By requesting suppliers to bid on an actual project, the client will have a more accurate picture of the cost. This can be done even if the client isn’t looking for a new exhibit, but wants a new supplier to offer costs for maintaining the program.”

Deciding on the best builder to do the job can be difficult when free enterprise has made competition so fierce. Only by doing the homework is the client prepared enough to settle on the right fit. Strong affiliations make the production process significantly easier as well.

“Price alone should not be the determining factor when selecting your exhibit provider,” said Lemery. “It is extremely important that the exhibiting company be comfortable with the provider and that there is a sense of partnership. Many times exhibitors select the provider based solely on price only to find out that they do not receive the added value that comes with a solid relationship.”

Szabo recommends asking a few questions to determine if the company is successfully meeting client needs such as: Are they becoming a strategic partner, one that is bringing valuable information and insight to the table? Am I comfortable with putting them in an internal strategy meeting, which may or may not be directly tied to a tradeshow requirement? If the answer is “no,” then the builder is not meeting your needs.

“The preferred exhibit provider shows a strong willingness to truly immerse themselves in the company so that they can better understand the needs and challenges’” said Szabo. “The company then puts together a concise process plan to meet those challenges.”

The time spent researching a contractor can save time later in the building process. Lemery maintains it is never too early to start conducting research, giving a window of 12-18 months pre-show for larger productions and 6-12 for smaller ones.

“While time is a commodity that seems harder to find, it is still one of the most important factors determining the success of the project and should be prioritized,” said Lemery.

By examining previous or current customer backing, the client can also gauge success rates and ability. Tradeshow real estate is not cheap. The best way to maximize it is by choosing a provider that understands its clients. The best way to tell is by petitioning those who have gone before.

“If existing clients can’t tell or support a compelling story of past experiences, you may as well shut your doors and close up shop,” said McKernin. “Advocacy is the best supporter of credibility and integrity.”

Building the best possible exhibit
Every company wants to put their best face forward at a tradeshow and achieve their ultimate branding goals. And in the end, the vision must be realized by the exhibit builder.

According to Lemery one way of achieving those ends is by asking:
• Will the exhibit communicate the personality, culture and the best overall marketing message for my company?
• Will the exhibit physically meet the demands of the event (enough people space, product demo space, conference rooms, information fulfillment area, product demos, graphics, etc.)?
• Will my exhibit integrate with my advertising, website and other supporting activities, events or sponsorships associated with the show?
• Will my exhibit work for my other trade shows or event participation plans?
• Will the message ring clearly with my customers and prospects?
• Will my products and/or services be represented the best way possible with my marketing strategies and objectives in mind?


Gallo Exhibits is using hybrid solutions, allowing exhibitors to work their way into an exhibit by utilizing rental and purchase components.

Once all parties are cohesive about what the client wants, it can be realized effectively. According to McKernin, there are many factors, ranging from material selection to style, but the most important component in building the best exhibit is meeting client objectives and supporting their brand.

Szabo agrees.

“It begins by understanding the exhibitor’s challenges,” he said. “Many times, exhibitors fall victim to preconceived designs, coming up with the design first and then adapting it to meet the challenges. Instead, it is important to extract information including challenges, and then allowing that information to drive the design process.”

User-friendly service trends
The tradeshow is a living, breathing entity that is always evolving. And new service trends are bringing diverse options to the provider’s arena. Gallo Exhibits is using what they call hybrid solutions, allowing exhibitors to work their way into their dream exhibit by utilizing rental and purchase components to fit within their budget.

“A trend clients find advantageous is to work with a strategic partner that has multi-faceted offerings,” said Szabo. “A situation where it would normally require the client to coordinate with five or six vendors can be handled through one point of contact thus saving time and resulting in better execution of the total project. The offerings may include digital marketing, mobile programs, traveling exhibits, permanent installations and museum services.”

Creatacor is offering web-integrated programs, which include show scheduling, budgeting, asset management, graphic production, portable exhibit programs, job cost tracking and logistics to help exhibitors manage their entire tradeshow program.

“Excellence in customer service has been and always must be the number one priority for an exhibit provider and that starts with communications,” said Lemery. “Communicating and obtaining accurate information to and from your exhibit partner is essential for the exhibitor to make decisions and take actions that will optimize their tradeshow and event participation.”

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