The Ultimate Trade Show Disaster Preparedness Guide

A wise man once said that while you can’t control what happens to you, you can control how you react in any given moment. Trade show managers understand the importance of keeping a cool head in the midst of a challenge. More important still, however, is to plan ahead and be fully prepared for worst-case scenarios. With this handy guide, you can do just that.

Shipping and Deliveries

Use redundant labeling on shipping cases. Clearly label all shipping cases with luggage-style hang tags on handles as well as sturdy stick-on identification labels (including your logo, if possible). Also, be sure to number each case and indicate the total number of cases (i.e., 1 of 4, 2 of 4, 3 of 4, and 4 of 4) so you’ll know immediately whether a case has gone missing and which one it is.

Take photos of all shipping cases and their contents. Keep a log of what’s inside each one so you can prove exactly what went missing.

Create a master shipping spreadsheet. If something goes missing, you’ll need to quickly access the shipment tracking numbers and vendor contact details for every case or package being shipped to the show.

Have marketing materials shipped to your hotel. Packages that get processed at the show dock require a second/separate bill of lading — something FedEx and UPS doesn’t provide — so small-packages delivered there won’t get to your booth until the proper paperwork is manually generated.

LIFO = Last In, First Off. If you ship your own flooring, be sure it gets loaded LAST so it can be the FIRST item off the truck. You can’t set up your display without the flooring, so getting this item delivered to your booth first will speed up your display build.

Deter potential thieves. To prevent theft, consider using black shrink wrap instead of clear shrink wrap on palletized shipments. (Thieves generally won’t steal what they can’t see.)

Exhibit Damage and Repairs

Know your cleaning options. Consult with your exhibit supplier as to the proper way to clean any fabric displays that get soiled. Depending on their construction, machine-washing may be recommended over spot-cleaning.

Create a basic display repair kit. Purchase these items ahead of time, then split up the list and have each member of the sales team pack two or three item in their carry-on luggage:

  • Duct tape
  • Swiffer® Duster
  • Stain remover pens
  • Twine or small cable ties
  • Wood scuff remover pens (to touch-up wood-look furniture or flooring)
  • Hair dryer with COLD AIR setting (to gently dry damp fabric graphics)
  • Magic Eraser (can remove scuffs from frames and substrate panels)
  • White cotton gloves (for handling fabric graphic skins)
  • Handheld fabric steamer (to remove wrinkles from fabric panels)
  • A thumb drive containing electronic files of all of your printed marketing collateral (in case you need to reprinted your graphics at a local print shop)

Pinpoint the location of the nearest Walgreens or Walmart. Other items that can be helpful in cleaning up a dirty display can be purchased on-the-fly, including:

  • Carpet cleaner
  • Febreze
  • 303 Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Dawn dish detergent
  • Shout Wipe & Go wipes
  • Tide To Go Stain Remover Pens
Sales Team and Key Show Personnel

Book a block of hotel rooms well in advance of the show. You probably won’t yet know which members of your sales staff will be attending, but you can always change the names later.

Plan to arrive at least two days ahead of the event. If graphics get damaged and you have to have them reprinted, or you have to rent a temporary exhibit because your shipment has gone AWOL, you’ll need at least one extra day to pull everything together.

Have a plan for natural and man-made disasters. We don’t like to think about it, but daily news headlines are quick to remind us that unexpected catastrophic events can happen anywhere at any time. Create a simple disaster plan to help ensure the safety of your sales team by:

  • Selecting a pre-designated emergency meeting point away from the show venue where all staff members can regroup. Better yet, select TWO meeting points – one to use in case of emergencies at the show venue, and another for emergencies that might arise at the hotel. These meeting points should be sites that are open 24 hours a day and can provide restrooms, food and water.
  • Creating a file with important details for each staffer attending the show, including the team member’s name, email address and cell phone number, their arrival and departure dates and flight details, their hotel name and contact phone, and their primary emergency contact information.
  • Making sure staffers know the name and address of the closest medical facility.
  • Using a mobile event app to quickly broadcast important updates to staff members, partners and clients attending the show.
Other Tips

Never select a booth space near a floor drain. Exhibitor magazine is full of horror stories about exhibitors whose carpet got soaked due to a municipal water pipe or other drainage problem.

Rent your flooring from the general service contractor (GSC). If stains show up on carpet or vinyl flooring gets torn during show setup, they are obligated to replace it.

Check with the GSC about electrical power availability. Some venues do not offer 24-hour electricity to booth spaces – so if you need to leave electronics there to charge overnight, you’ll have to pay for that service.

Insure your exhibit. Don’t just assume it’s 100% covered under your corporate umbrella policy. (Often, those umbrella policies will require a fairly high deductible on assets that were damaged off-site, anyway.) Exhibit insurance coverage options include:

  • Released value or limited liability
  • Additional valuation or trip transit coverage
  • All-risk insurance (door-to-door coverage)

(See this article for an excellent discussion of the pros and cons of each.)

Don’t rent the small stuff. If you need an extra power strip or extension cord, send one of your staff to Walmart or a local hardware store to buy one. Markups on small items rented through your GSC are obscenely high.

Did you find this guide helpful? Do you have your own list of disaster preparedness tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.


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