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LIVE TRADE SHOWS ARE BACK: WHAT TO EXPECT

by Ed Zilinskas, E.V.P. of Business Development at Lab Exhibits & Services

“What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak [and] there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances.” ― Wayne W. Dyer

As restrictions are starting to loosen and vaccine numbers are climbing, we are beginning to see things returning to some semblance of normal. Live trade shows are also slowly finding their way back onto people’s calendars. However, there may still be some hesitation to attend.

I recently had the opportunity to produce a display for one of the first in-person trade shows since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. I thought I would share some observations that may be helpful for you to consider as you plan for your own trade shows and prepare your staff.

The below are my observations from participating in the Florida Tow Show, an annual indoor and outdoor event. This year the show opened on April 8th with an evening kick-off party and ran through the 10th. The Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace hosted this event, and the Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida sponsored it.

LIVE TRADE SHOW OBSERVATIONS

Transportation

  • If you are on a tight schedule, be prepared for some changes that could upset your agenda. I flew from O’Hare Chicago via United Airlines, and my original flight at 6:20 a.m. was consolidated into a later morning flight. My new flight was then overbooked. Overall, the airport was busy and well-staffed and United Airlines was doing their best to try to keep their plane at full capacity.
  • Rental Car and Ride Share companies were all running smoothly. 

Food & Entertainment

  • Each establishment we visited outside of the hotel was well-staffed and had good service; of course, they required masks. We did notice some local restaurants were out of business due to the lack of tourism.  
  • The Orlando Theme parks were open with limited capacity and were enforcing strict safety protocols for all visitors.
  • Our event evening Kick-Off Party went without a hitch.  The hotel catering department was well prepared to provide individually wrapped sandwiches and guided people responsibly through the serving lines.  The cleanup process was constant and hygienically responsive.

Hotel Accomodations

  • The Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace is a Disney World Resort property and governed by The Reedy Creek Improvement District, or as they are fondly called, “The Mouse Police.” Reedy Creek seems to have a stricter set of standards for their properties than typical area hotels, and therefore the venue had another level of rules and regulations to satisfy. I thought the staff at this venue did an outstanding job. 
  • The Hilton was at full capacity and was able to bring back approximately 100 furloughed employees for the week of the event. Guest Rooms were sanitized before our arrival and sealed with a label stating so. 
  • Our quarters were only tended to upon request, and the hotel was excellent about satisfying those requests on demand. 
  • All staff and guests wore masks and social distancing recommendations were in place whenever possible.
  • Front desk registrations had Sneezeguards for guest interactions and hand sanitation stations were located generously throughout the facility.
  • The elevators also had posted capacity limits.

Exhibition

  • The event property ran like the hotel, with the same safety protocols for the indoor exhibits.  
  • Masks were not mandatory for the outdoor exhibits, but many people still used them.  
  • All exhibitors were quick to make sure their guests were comfortable and felt safe by sanitizing common surfaces, social distancing, and respecting mask requirements. I also noticed fewer people engaging in the traditional greetings such as handshakes or hugs. Most used fist bumps and waves.
  • The event manager, Mike Seamons, mentioned that preshow registration was at an all-time high, with less on-site registration. With that said, they were still prepared with double the number of on-site stations to keep the lines to a minimum for safety and comfort.
  • According to Mr. Seamons, the show’s US domestic attendance was up 2% from 2019, putting it at an all-time record.
  • Some of the prospects we met within our booth traveled from as far away as Alaska and Puerto Rico, but some US companies still have travel bans in place for their employees. The international crowd could also not cross our borders to attend, thus preventing more significant attendance numbers.
  • Both the indoor and outdoor exhibits were busy and well attended. This event is a “Selling” show, and most of the exhibitors had products and equipment to sell on the spot. Some deals close well into six figures, and sales were booming. (Excuse the pun) 
  • Some of the comments I heard from the exhibitors were as follows:
    • “I wasn’t expecting this great of a turnout.”
    • “We should have brought more staff and equipment to keep up with the demand. We have sold out of everything, and we could have sold more.”

KEY OBSERVATIONS

  • Do not underestimate your needs for Staff, Products, and Equipment within your booth space.
  • Train your staff on “Boothmanship,” and remember to include protocols regarding guest safety and comfort due to Covid-19.
  • Try to plan as many meetings in advance as possible, so that time efficiency is at a maximum.
  • Increase your marketing efforts to draw the attendees to your booth, not unlike sending an invitation for a party. Customers and prospects need to know you are exhibiting.
  • Any attendees that participate in a Live trade show shortly after the pandemic will not waste time and money to be there.  Attendees will arrive with a purpose, so be ready to engage, qualify and close deals or obtain commitments when possible.
  • Since travel bans are still occurring for domestic and international corporations, a Virtual Exhibit Solution should be considered to support customers and prospects restricted from attending the Live Event. 

At Lab Exhibits & Services, we are currently developing virtual environments that will serve as extensions of live events. Please allow us the opportunity to share our ideas with you and help you create opportunities for the coming year.

Please email me at ezilinskas@labexhibits.com for additional information or for free copies of my RFI, RFP, Design Questionnaire, and General Proposal templates. “Boothmanship” training is provided at “No Charge” upon request.

Ed Zilinskas, E.V.P. of Business Development at Lab Exhibits & Services

As a 30 year veteran of the trade show and custom exhibit industry, Ed has grown his display creation skills from the ground up. He has taken his experience as a show floor supervisor and coupled it with his executive-level design and marketing vision for his customers. He has excelled at helping his clients develop unique and functional displays that promote their brand, communicate their message, and create a positive and memorable experience for their target audience.