So, you’ve decided to dip your toe in international trade show waters.
Taking the leap across the pond is both exciting and daunting, especially when it comes to face to face marketing in a foreign country and ensuring you are showcasing your brand in the best way possible.
Finding a booth builder in the states is difficult enough, but here in the states we have the luxury of jumping in our cars or a short flight to scout out an exhibit house, tour their facilities and meet the team in person. In some cases you can even see sample materials, test prints and view the booth build progress in a builder’s warehouse – so you know what you’re getting well before the opening day of the show.
But what do you do when you’re trying to secure a builder internationally? Most of us don’t have the time or budget to visit a builder overseas that is likely going to be building one stand for you for a specific show, not a custom rental that you’re going to be using over and over for years to come. What criteria do you use for selecting a builder overseas?
Horror stories abound from the world of using contractors abroad...
The exhibitor who paid the deposit only to have the Indian stand builder become unresponsive after they received the money.
The exhibitor who showed up at the show in Brazil only to find an empty space where their stand should have been.
The Chinese builder whose renderings looked great but the finished product left a lot to be desired.
Selecting an international partner is not a job to be taken lightly.
Here are a few tips to help ensure you’re sourcing a reliable, quality builder to help your company stand out at your next overseas show, and guidance on making the final selection.
Google it. Do a basic Internet search for stand builders who service the country the show is taking place. For example, “stand builders in Dubai” or “custom booth builders in Shanghai.” Look at their portfolio. What other companies are their current customers? Have they worked at that show or venue before? Do they work with other U.S. companies? Do they offer client testimonials? Is their portfolio varied; i.e. do they build small, medium and large stands? Modular and custom? Single story and double decks?
Ask show organizers, friends, and trusted colleagues for recommendations. This is gold, if you ask me. I’d rather have a personal recommendation from someone I know and trust vs. blindly selecting a company off the Internet. Make sure the recommendation is experienced in the region you are looking to build in, and not just a U.S. stand builder who once did a job in London for a customer.
Don’t skip the RFP. I strongly discourage going to one single builder and asking for a proposal. Make sure you’re getting, at minimum, three proposals from three different builders to compare. There’s also no harm in asking a builder to submit two versions. I usually ask for a “budget friendly” option as well as a “bells and whistles” version to see the designer’s level of creativity, and perhaps to see if there are elements from the “bells and whistles” version that could be incorporated into the budget version to meet somewhere in the middle that satisfies both our aesthetic needs and our wallet.
OK, you have your proposals from several builders….now what?
Don’t jump to the price tag. Look at the designs objectively first. Can you eliminate one or a few because they don’t have the quality you’re looking for, or lack a wow factor? Don’t settle on a mediocre design because that’s what your budget allows for. More on that to come…
Rate the builder’s level of responsiveness and English speaking abilities. It’s easy for things to get lost in translation, literally, when you’re dealing with builders overseas. It’s important that you are able to clearly communicate with your builder to ensure you’re all on the same page and your expectations will be met. All shows come with hard deadlines, so it’s also important that your builder – no matter what time zone they’re in– responds to you in a timely fashion. I’m not saying they need to be up at 2am to reply to your message, but generally they should get back to you within 24hrs – max. And if they don’t have an answer for you immediately, they should at least acknowledge that they’ve received your message and are working on it. Having a U.S. point of contact can also be a major benefit when building a booth internationally, but it is important to make sure any U.S.-based company has significant international experience.
Will you have one main POC, or will multiple parties service your account? There’s no right or wrong answer here, but if you’ll have multiple contacts, I would ask them to ensure they communicate with each other – so you’re not repeating information over and over, thus limiting errors or misinterpretation.
What does it cost? This is very important, but remember that everything is negotiable. You’ve now eliminated the crummy designs and found one that stands out – but *sigh*, it’s over your budget. You now know what quality of work the builder is capable of – so don’t be afraid to ask them to scale a design back or recommend what can be eliminated or changed to come closer to your budget. Perhaps they can provide a high quality carpet instead of wood laminate flooring. Maybe it’s not important for all graphics to be backlit, so ask them to select one feature image to backlight and go with front-lit for the rest. Do you really need a 2x2 video wall – or will a large 60” or 80” LED suffice? Also, if they don’t include venue fees like electricity, water connections, etc. in their price – ask them for a good faith estimate so you have a better idea of what your bottom line will be when all is said and done.
Create your own terms and conditions and ask the builder to agree to them before a contract is signed. Nobody wants to be standing on the show floor one hour before doors open and your stand is not complete. Establish reasonable and realistic expectations, as well as consequences if they are not met. If the builder won’t comply with your reasonable requests – maybe this builder is not the one for you! (RUN!)
Ask for references. If they stand by their quality of work and have happy customers, those customers should in turn be happy to provide a personal recommendation on their behalf.
Hopefully you can now rest easier knowing you’ve selected a stand builder that will help make your next overseas trade show a rewarding experience!