Home TypeFeatures Build-up and breakdown times – does the industry have a problem? 

Build-up and breakdown times – does the industry have a problem? 

by Nicola Macdonald

It’s a contentious issue. Some in the industry feel tighter and tighter build-up and breakdown times are making sites unsafe, while others think the problem might be exaggerated, so what’s the truth? 


Andrew Reed, managing director – events & exhibitions, William Reed

This is an interesting subject, which is being slightly taken out of context as the only venue that has changed its build times is Olympia.

This is only due to the capacity that we have in West London. The equation is ‘amount of time available X the size of the task; divided by the number skilled people’.

The real issue is around the quality of the part time staff that are available to the contractors. They have to be part-time, as all of the basic infrastructure has become commoditised so there is little opportunity to make any money on, say, installing shell scheme.

From an electrical point of view, these people have to have basic qualifications but for other tasks you don’t need any qualification.

The real question should be, “is there a sufficiently qualified pool of competent staff for all of the contractors to draw down on so we do not have a serious incident?” We need to be asking the right questions opposed to focusing on sound bites!


Andrew Abbotts, operations director, Teem Services

With ever-increasing commercial pressures and lack of available London based space, tenancies are becoming shorter and shorter and turnarounds tighter and tighter.

The knock-on effect is longer working days, night shifts, early starts and very late finishes. Unfortunately, many stand designers, still searching the wow factor for their clients, do not always embrace the time limitations and will try and create stands designed for one extra days’ build.

It is not uncommon for a contractor’s first question to be how many hours late working they can have.

You would assume that tighter build and especially breakdown times would lead to an increase in accidents. Surprisingly our records do not reflect that but what they do show is a significant rise in near misses, poor working standards and working at height infringements.

The laws of probability dictate it is only a matter of time before a serious accident does occur. This is the inevitable outcome of people rushing, especially on one-night breakdowns. Some breakdowns are more demolition sites rather than controlled dismantling.

For all the complaints about tighter tenancy times I fear they are here to stay. It is far from ideal, but we are in a competitive, commercial world where money talks more than ever. However, there are improvements everyone can make. Organisers can draw floorplans better and design out where pinch points will occur.

They can schedule builds so work is spread out and people are not fighting for space. They can give space for ladder and tower storage, so contractors do not have to wait for trucks to arrive on breakdowns. Companies can produce more realistic designs to fit time frames.

Venues also suffer operationally. There is barely any time for essential maintenance work to be done. Mark outs are often done a month in advance and out of date come show time.

Mains men and plumbers are often still pulling through into tenancy start, putting themselves at higher risk of being struck by vehicles.

It only needs a motorway closure, serious accident or terrorist threat to mean a show will not be out in time soon. Logistics contractors are having to take away more uncollected items than they ever have before at the end of tenancies. With such tight turnaround times there is no margin for error.

What will happen when you come in for your show to be met by a mass of stands from the previous event? One for the lawyers I suppose?


Miriam Sigler, director, Ways & Means Events

Ask any operations manager working a short breakdown what the first thing they think when the hall has emptied and it’s time to go home, and I would bet you it’s some version of, “Phew! We made it!’

A short breakdown is absolutely doable for some shows, and often preferable for all involved. It’s less cost for the organiser, more bookings for venues and quicker turnaround of kit for contractors (plus an opportunity to actually make it home every once in a while for the ops manager!) – until something goes wrong.

As with everything in event planning, any good ops manager will have planned the get in and get out in detail, trying to anticipate where the problem areas are likely to be and ensuring everything happens in good time.

However, there is always that one element that is out of your control; a crash on the motorway; a forklift breaking down; a lift not working – all of which can have a dire effect on getting out of the halls on time.

There are of course ways around this, as always team work, goodwill, favours and problem solving are key, but on a short breakdown there is very little room for leeway, especially in a venue with back-to-back bookings

There are certainly times when a short breakdown is just not suitable. It can put huge amounts of pressure on the contractors and endanger exhibitors who are rushing to pack up while stands are being ripped down around them.

Something or someone ends up being compromised. Contractors being told to put more people on the job at their expense, ops teams begging for favours and venue staff staying on just that bit longer – again – to help out. This isn’t a long term or sustainable solution.

Breakdown times need to be considered with just as much importance as build. It may be the least glamorous part of the show cycle, but it’s just as valuable as build or open.

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