No matter what industries they’re serving, more and more print providers are creating masterpieces for the trade show and exhibit market. They’ve found in this niche great opportunity to grow their profits. How? By offering clients top-notch product that grabs show goers’ attention without breaking the bank.
Doing well in this segment of the wide-format field requires keen attention to the swift pace of technological change, a cognizance of clients’ ever-evolving needs and desires, and a sensitivity to the value equation that spurs customers to buy. In short, lowest price doesn’t always win in trade show and exhibit work.
Among the most noteworthy trends being seen in this niche is a move to trade show displays that are lighter, more mobile, and less costly to store and transport. This is a substantial change from the past, when the landscape was dominated by large trade show displays tailor made for individual clients.
“Now it’s all modular,” said Walter Bernard, owner of Webster, TX-based Bay Area Imaging, a 25-year-old shop that began as a photo lab and in 2005 morphed into a large-format graphics provider of trade show signage. “In the past you used heavy panels and frames to put together custom displays. But today, there are lightweight fabrics and Sintra panels...Even in the large custom displays, they’re using more modular components, like the smaller ones.”
The smaller, more lightweight, and modular units are largely a response to higher shipping, storage and set-up costs. Some Bay Area Imaging clients use large systems for larger shows, but smaller and easier-to-transport displays for other shows. They may go to the same number of larger shows every year, but they don’t cart along a big booth to each one of them, Bernard said.
Companies are particularly seeking to avoid the sizable set-up costs for which many trade shows are infamous. Accordingly, Bernard’s clients have more and more demanded roll-up banner stands and lightweight exhibit materials.
They don’t need big expensive crews to set up, or trucks to transport it at high shipping costs,” he said. “It all boils down to flexibility and affordability...If you can use your sales crew that will be appearing at the show anyway, and everyone’s carrying in a banner stand, you can save a lot of money. Things are a little tougher these days, and people are looking to economize.”
This cost consciousness on the part of show exhibitors is a big factor in today’s market, he added. A few years ago, firms weren’t nearly as conscious of saving every last nickel and dime as they are today, in his opinion. “They want solutions providing the impact they seek, but at a lower cost,” he said.
The desire to economize is also negatively impacting demand for green solutions, he added. Much has been written about the demand for eco-friendly responses in the trade show industry, a field whose high turnover of materials would appear to leave it ideally positioned to lead the battle for sustainability.
“It may be in some parts of the country, but I haven’t seen much of that in Houston,” Bernard said. “Cost is far more important than sustainability issues are. We have materials that are recyclable. But they cost more, and people lose interest. If it came as a side benefit for the same price, everyone would want it.”
Stand Out from the Crowd
One other trend Bernard has witnessed is shrinking demand for pop-ups, which are systems featuring collapsible frames for easy transportability. They’ve become too much of a “me-too item” in the minds of many industry insiders, he said. “If you want to stand out, you try to find a different look.”
Also noticing a move away from what he calls “the old eight- or ten-foot pop-up” is David Merrick, founder of Nashua, NH-based BIGraphics, a shop he launched after being laid off as a printer product manager in 1996. In the 14 years since, BIGraphics has evolved into an eight-employee firm filling 9,000 square feet of space and running a multitude of printers as it services resellers like print brokers, ad agencies and sign makers, as well as a few corporations. Trade show and exhibit signage represents about a quarter of its business.