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Exhibit overseas: Planning for UK and European tradeshows

Exhibiting outside the U.S. can be a concern. This is especially true if faced with an unknown language, different practices and a lack of experience in not only the venue of your tradeshow, but also the city.

There is a different philosophy to exhibiting in Europe and the UK. European booths tend to be more structural with a mixture of pre- and on-site build. It is unlike exhibiting within the U.S. where there is a minimum of on-site installation using pre-fabricated elements.

The farther east one exhibits, the more on-site build there is.

There are many reasons for this difference, but the general feeling is the different approach to selling across the Atlantic.

Tradeshow selling in the U.S. tends to be more direct and ‘aggressive’ with the sales people requiring a minimum of booth structure to support him or her. Whilst in Europe, the selling process is more subtle, and the sales team require a more imposing booth structure to support with the overall selling process.


The most important factor with any tradeshow is planning in advance and, with an overseas tradeshow, allowing more time.

If your tradeshow is in England, then a major obstacle has already been overcome — the language. We speak the same language although our pronunciation of certain words is sometimes different.

Decide what booth you require, either a system or custom build. Then, choose the right exhibit house. This may be a U.S. exhibit house with international contacts, a recommendation or a company that is a member of the Event Supplier and Services Association (ESSA), the UK’s approved supplier association. If you’re going with a UK exhibit house, it is important that it has worked regularly within the U.S. to understand American practices and what you, as an exhibitor, expect.

An obvious difference between exhibiting in the U.S. and Europe is that drayage does not exist ‘over here’ – a massive financial saving!

With the majority of European and UK shows, your chosen exhibit house can use its labour to deliver booth material directly to your booth at the venue. This is done either using hand carts or with the rental of forklift services at the facility. These costs are normally included within your exhibit house’s quotation.

It is also important to decide if your booth will be a build and burn or be used for several shows. Generally, custom booths are not crated in Europe or the UK. Booths are typically supplied on a rental basis unless the exhibitor specifically requests an outright sale unit since the manufacturing process is different from the U.S. system.

Each exhibit house retains a stock of basic elements, such as:

  • 4-inch platforms usually in a 3’ x 3’ module;
  • Stock walling based on either a 2400mm, 3000mm, 4000mm or 6000mm height by 1000mm wide. These walls are generally decorated, covered in fabric or laminated; and
  • Electrical fittings.

All other display units are then custom-made, subject to design requirements.

If a fully customised booth is required and crated, then the exhibit house will produce this as an outright sale item. When manufacturing a booth in the UK, the practice is to use a lead carpenter who will oversee the booth construction. This carpenter will also lead the installation/dismantle team on all installations. It is rare to ship the booth to a venue and then use a separate installation team to install.

Another major difference is that exhibit houses will give you a fixed-price contract for fabrication and installation/dismantle. Some exhibit houses can also offer a full pre- and post-show marketing package.

The cost given will include manufacture, transport, and installation and dismantle. Graphics are usually a variable cost until final graphics are agreed. Exhibit houses also normally order rental items to complete the booth, such as carpet, furniture, electrical mains and electrical installation, rigging, floral, water and waste connections, A/V, telephone and Internet connections.

Generally, the majority of booths are built on a -inch platform with an invalidity ramp somewhere on the perimeter. This is because we are not allowed to use flat electrical cable as in the U.S., so all cabling and, if required, water and waste piping, is laid under this platform. It is very rare to use padding under a carpet. Carpet rental also tends to be used for one show and then disposed. Cost for this is less expensive than carpet within the U.S.

Electrical supply ranges from 208 to 240 volts, so if you are using U.S.-originated equipment, a transformer will be required.

It is also common to include a sink and waste with running hot/cold water in your booth for entertaining. Food and beverage service is very limited compared to the U.S.

Overall, the process is similar to exhibiting in the U.S.

Your exhibit house is briefed; a design is produced and submitted with a fixed-cost quotation. When this design has been approved with costs, full working drawings are produced and supplied for approval. Construction is usually completed within four to eight weeks, depending on the size of the booth, and it is rare to pre-build a booth, unless specifically requested. The booth is then loaded into the exhibit house’s trucks and driven to the venue.

At the venue, the trucks are unloaded by the exhibit house’s crew and delivered to booth side. The firm’s crew handles installation.

There are no labour unions within the UK, so install crews tend to be multi-talented, being able to install, complete electrical installation and apply graphics, though this is subject to complexity. Otherwise, a graphic shop will produce and install graphics.

Your account manager will meet you at your booth at an agreed time and guide you through the final installation, attending to whatever requirements/alterations you may require until your booth is complete.

The final act will be to clean your booth and vacuum carpets. The majority of UK events include daily cleaning within your booth space contract.

Subject to the size of the booth, you can request a daily switch on of power and attendance for maintenance, but this can be costly and is rarely requested unless the booth package is in excess of $100,000.

The total cost for booths, manufacture and installation in the UK should be about 25 percent less expensive than an American equivalent. This is based on the following: Labour rates are a fraction of U.S. rates; there is no labour union within the UK; there is no equivalent drayage charge; and labour tends to be multi-talented; one crew member can handle several functions.

Invoicing is generally in UK pounds, and the normal process is a 50 percent payment on contract with a second payment on the opening show day or within 30 days of the show opening. A third invoice will also be sent for additional items requested, late graphics, etc.

Following a recent change in UK tax laws, No VAT (Value Added Tax) is payable if the contract is with a company without a UK address, regardless of where the exhibition takes place.

Dress code at UK/European tradeshows is slightly more formal than within the U.S., with a suit and tie for a man and a business suit for ladies as the accepted attire.


Because Western Europe is relatively small, most exhibitors use an exhibit house based in their country of origin. It is a normality for exhibit houses to truck exhibits to each venue from country to country, and it is rare to use another exhibit house in a neighbouring country to build/install your exhibit.

The overall process of exhibiting is very similar to the UK, but note that each country has different health and safety rules.

As in the UK, there are no labour unions or drayage throughout Germany, so the process of I&D (I/D) is exactly the same as within the UK.

Fire safety rules are prevalent all through Germany, and your exhibit house should meticulously check all material used to build your booth. At some venues, fire marshals will actually test the fire resistance of your materials by setting alight certain samples.

One major advantage of exhibiting in Germany is the German punctuality. If an on-site supplier confirms a time to meet you at your booth, he or she will be there exactly at the time agreed.

Within German shows, hospitality is very important, and virtually all booths there will serve either beer or some form of snack, be it a Bratwurst, pretzels or sandwiches. There is also a lower drinking age in Germany, and 16 is the minimum age for beer and wine, with liquor being available to 18-year-olds.

Formality is also important to Germans, and at a tradeshow, it is the norm for males to wear a suit with a tie while conservative business suits are expected for women.

At most tradeshows, although German is the home language, English is generally spoken, so ‘getting things done’ is not usually a problem. As a respect to your host company, all brochures should be translated into German with English as the second language.

Throughout Germany, there are six main venues in Hanover, Berlin, Leipzig, Essen, Frankfurt and Munich. All are large established venues with proven infrastructure.

Exhibiting in France can be quite testing as the French attitude can be quite self-protectoral and isolated.

Unless someone within your team speaks fluent French, then communication is a major problem. If there is not a fluent French speaker at your booth, then an interpreter is a must.

The French tend to believe in the attitude: “Lorsque vous etes en France vous parlez Francais,” which translates to “When you are in France, you speak French.” Brochures need to be in French, and all A/V material should lead in French.

The basic process is the same as with other European countries. Whereas there are no exhibit unions or drayage costs, the French laws and regulations can be multi-tiered and difficult to negotiate.

The majority of tradeshows tend to be in Paris with some of the higher-end luxury tradeshows in Cannes.

As with Germany, there is high respect for fire and safety, but with Cannes, it is taken to another level where even the event organisers have very little control over the local fire officer.

Particularly in Cannes, there is an underlying requirement that everything has to be purchased in France for approval, although this is not the reality.

Tardiness is also a major issue within France where waiting for suppliers can be highly frustrating as most suppliers work on their own time frame.

Hospitality, like in Germany, is common within French shows with more focus on beer and wine, but there is less formality here, and the practice of kissing twice on the cheeks, called “faire la bise,” is an accepted way of greeting people.

One great advantage of exhibiting in France is the availability of superior restaurants and French wine. It is unusual to find non-French wines in restaurants.

Exhibiting in Spain and Italy are, I believe, very similar. Both are southern European countries with a slow Mediterranean approach. Getting things done can be a very slow and frustrating experience, and the concept of time, when or how quick, does not really exist. When building in the halls, everything stops for a long lunch where it is common for all tradesmen to sit down together at a large table and eat and drink wine/beer.

On the plus side, regulations are quite liberal, and the whole process of approval, although slow, is far easier than mid-Europe.

The attitude to building your booth within these countries is also completely different. It is quite common for an exhibit house to deliver the machinery, lumber, paint and other materials to booth side, and then build the booth from scratch then and there. The concept of build and burn is more prevalent here than other European countries.

Because of this method of building, many international exhibitors use either UK or German exhibit houses because of their approach to pre-building exhibits prior to arrival.

Barcelona and Madrid tend to be the leading venues in Spain while Milan, Rome, Turin and Bologna are the most popular in Italy.

There is little formality at these shows, and again, hospitality is common at booths.

When exhibiting in these southern European countries, it is very important to understand the lifestyle of the country, mainly caused by the hot climate. Everything shuts down for at least two hours at lunchtime, and the whole process is slow and relaxed.

Courtesy of Chris Murphy, CEO, The Iguana Group

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