by Nicola Macdonald

When it comes to exhibition stands, the only limits are the exhibitor’s imagination (and floor space and budget), three stand building firms tell EN.

Talk to any stand building company, and they’ll tell you that physically building stands is just a small part of their process.


“We’re an exhibition hybrid company,” says Adam King, design and marketing director at Skyline Whitespace. “We’re halfway between being a contractor and being a design house.”


The firm also does graphic design in-house and works with clients to create on-stand physical and digital engagement.


“We’d like our clients to be aware that an exhibition contractor today can be more than just a company that builds a stand,” Alastair Wilkins, commercial director of Envisage, tells EN. “We no longer just employ joiners and electricians. We’re just as likely to employ marketing professionals, digital designers and audio visual technicians to create a stand.”


Just as exhibitions have evolved from a relatively standard format into an incredibly diverse range of events, stands themselves have become increasingly ambitious and adventurous.


“Personally, I feel the best build we’ve produced was a recreation of Downing Street for the Ideal Home Show a few years ago,” says Kieran Hughes, director of Event Design Production.


“It was enjoyable because we were recreating an iconic part of the UK. The sheer size of the build was daunting, but we loved it.”


Part of the joy of stand building is getting to the core of what exhibitors want to achieve, and helping that goal become reality.


“Are you looking for a hospitality stand or a brand awareness stand?” asks King. “Do you want it to be full of interactive elements? Are you looking to re-establish old relationships or are you launching something new?


“We go through all these aspects, to make sure that what we deliver is what the exhibitor will react correctly to.”


The pressure on stand builders is immense, as the look and feel of a stand can make or break a trade show for exhibitors, and those buying the stands are becoming more discerning in how their money is being spent.


“Companies are less likely to spend money without questioning the return,” explains Wilkins.


“We try to be as concerned as we can about the return on their investment, and how much they’re spending,” adds King. “We don’t want them to waste money, because it’ll only come back to us. You also people who are trying to spend a budget, because that’s what they’ve got, but they don’t need to spend it all here.”


The challenge for many exhibitors is finding the right budget balance; buying a suitable stand size and being able to kit it out with an appropriate stand.


“Sometimes we might tell them they’ve spent too much money on their space,” continues King. “They should reduce the space and spend more money on the stand. People are spending a lot of money on the floor space and then they don’t have the budget the dress it. It’s like having an expensive house in Mayfair with furniture from IKEA.”


Many exhibition stand providers offer stand rental services, which can help exhibitors who attend one show a year eliminate storage costs.


In addition to cutting down on costs, rented stands can be reused, and exhibitors are less likely to ‘build and burn’ their stands.


The customer journey


While thinking about the customer journey through a stand was once entirely the exhibitors’ nut to crack, many stand build companies offer advice to their clients on how their space might be perceived by customers during the show. Some people have a detailed brief, but often it’s based on a previous stand they had, says Wilkins.


“We use our briefing workshop with the client to make sure that it isn’t just a repeat of a previous stand. As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” he adds.


At Skyline Whitespace, King says the team designs stands more now with accessibility from the front backwards, because some clients have started using a kind of tiered evaluation process.


“When you come to the desk you might be asked a couple of questions, and then if you get past that you might go to the demo station, then you might get to come and sit in a comfortable area.


“People are almost vetting their visitors to see if they’re worth talking to, and not timewasters looking for a free cup of coffee.”

Exhibitors, both seasoned pros and first time attendees, are thinking more about stand layout and design than ever before.


Stylistically, stand designs often imitate the theme of the shows themselves, explains Wilkins.


“I feel the trends tend to go with the industries, rather than the individuals. For example if the show is associated with beauty, cosmetics, or weddings then the designs are often tall, clean white minimal builds with architectural lighting. Alternatively, if the show is associated with defense, construction or gaming then the stands seem to be designed and built with more functional, albeit high quality, designs.”


One area where some clients might have slightly unrealistic expectations is in the turnaround time for a stand design and build project.


“It would be amazing for any design and build company if we could make more people aware of the time it takes to design, re-design potentially several times, calculate, order materials, and produce an end product,” says Hughes. “This is especially important during a busy event period. During that time a lot of build companies use the same suppliers for certain materials. There are so many more risks involved for both clients and us when the time frame is very short.”


“Stand themselves have become more intelligent,” says Wilkins. “They can use RFID, measure wifi signals to gain data about the number of visitors; the time they spend on the stand etc. The familiarity of the iPad tablet means that no stand today is complete without its touch screens.


“Stands are also using more interactive technology. VR is being used on stands, both as an attractor and a way for stand designers to present their designs.


Alongside the love of everything tech, stand hospitality is also on the rise, says King.


“Recently we’ve seen a trend towards stands that are more hospitality-based,” he explains. “In the old days, you would come for a demonstration, talk to someone and then get sent away. Now it seems that a lot of our clients want to provide a comfortable area where you can come and sit down.”


Stand design and build companies will no doubt continue to strive for high quality, original stands, built after close discussion with clients. Stands are no longer just a space in which to do business, but an immersive, customer-oriented experience built with the exhibitors’ needs and goals in mind.

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