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Continental Shifts

If you build it, he will come.” In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” this quote represented the protagonist’s overwhelming desire to construct a baseball field.

In 2015, this message could also pinpoint how taking design-build requests from clients wanting to exhibit overseas strengthened the partnership between the leaders of San Diego-based Punch Visual Concepts and Cologne, Germany-based CHRITTO International AG.

Punch Partners Steve Phillips and Patrick Keegan along with CHRITTO President and CEO Dittmar Mueller replicate exhibits on their own side of the pond for the clients they exchange.

On their home turf, Punch and CHRITTO are separate entities, but to serve clients worldwide, they formed CHRITTO-Punch LLC in 2006.

CHRITTO-Punch duplicates exhibit programs from North America to Europe.
CHRITTO-Punch duplicates exhibit programs from North America to Europe.

They fulfill the wishes of clients who don’t want the hassles of shipping their exhibits continent to continent. For instance, this process works when CHRITTO uses an exhibit design Punch produced for a client in the U.S. and adapts the design-build to European standards.

Phillips and Mueller met and became friends at the now defunct TS2 Show in 1999. As early as 2003, their companies started exchanging clients in friendship before cementing their LLC.

Learning to communicate the differences in their countries and operations was the first step in their partnership. After CHRITTO sent a trainee to work within Punch’s headquarters for three months, the companies gained a better understanding of what each required.

Although the nuts and bolts of the exhibits may differ due to the differences in exhibiting in North America versus Europe, design aesthetics and functionality usually remain the same or as close as possible.

Building in Germany

For those who think the first step is to look for an exhibit builder when arriving in Germany, take a step back.

“You purchase exhibits in the U.S. before purchasing booth space. In Europe, the booth space is where you start,” explained Mueller. “The U.S. has standardized booth spaces, such as 10’ x 10’ or 20’ x 20’, so you can purchase the booth and ask the show organizer for the booth space and usually get the space. In Europe, there is no standardization. Some of the halls are older, and they are looking to optimize the booth space. It doesn’t make sense to purchase the complete booth.”

Built in Europe
Built in Europe

Built in North America
Built in North America

So when CHRITTO implements a design from Punch, the company not only takes into account measurement differences — such as going from feet or inches to millimeters or centimeters — but it also customizes the exhibit for what works in that particular European exhibit hall.

Booth sizes in Germany can also be larger than expected. In the U.S., island exhibits are 20’ x 20’ or higher, but in Germany, these exhibits are a minimum of 30’ x 30’.

Mueller described how clients could get their U.S. exhibit’s dimensions as close as possible to European standards.

“If U.S. clients have an island booth, they can get a corner booth in Germany,” he explained.

Bigger and heavier exhibits reoccur in Europe as drayage isn’t a problem like it is in the U.S. Hard wood raised flooring is a common sight because exhibitors aren’t allowed to run cables or water pipes under carpet.

“In Germany, there is no drayage. If the booth is heavy, we don’t mind,” added Mueller.

Building in America

In the U.S. on the other hand, a different mindset takes shape.

“Building structures in the U.S. is about ROI –it has to last, be lightweight and effective. Those are the parameters we work within. Those parameters change overseas,” added Keegan.

The bigger, heavier exhibits in Europe are rounded out by lightweight aluminum frame systems that originated on the continent to help its tradeshow industry to become more sustainable. These systems quickly spread to North America because of their cost-savings in terms of drayage and installation.

Built in Europe
Built in Europe

Built in North America
Built in North America

“When we build the booth, we build what makes sense in the U.S. Everything in the U.S. is modular and able to put in crates. We are duplicating the design. We don’t get down to the nuts and bolts of it,” Keegan commented.

CHRITTO and Punch use different frame systems as it has no bearing on the overall exhibit design. There are more perks to using lightweight aluminum frame systems in the U.S. than in Germany.

Costs from union labor and drayage add up, making it more expensive for U.S. exhibitors to use heavier materials in their booth.

These costs don’t exist in Germany. European exhibit houses provide turnkey services, including transportation and installation and dismantle (I&D), which renders union labor and I&D companies useless on the continent.

Building challenges in America and Germany

Obstacles often arise when producing duplicate exhibits in countries with different standards.

Certain laminate or pantone colors are not offered in Germany. In this case, CHRITTO uses an in-house spray-painting machine to adapt to a color. If it’s in the budget, CHRITTO imports laminate, which is preferred in the U.S.

Built in Europe
Built in Europe

Built in North America
Built in North America

Finding similar furnishings for the exhibits can also be challenging; it’s difficult to match pantone colors or reds, according to Keegan.

Luckily, according to Mueller, IKEA furniture and other international brands can be found in the U.S. and Germany. North America, in particular, has numerous furnishing options, added Keegan. Using suppliers from China is an option in the U.S., but in Germany, there are design copyright issues.

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