Navigating the US Exhibit Market: An Introductory Guide for International Exhibitors

For many exhibitors who attending tradeshows in Europe, Asia or the Middle East, exhibiting in the US, for the first time can be a daunting and potentially expensive experience.

Different terminology and language, a specific design approach, union labour rules and…‘what the heck is drayage?? ‘

Iguana Group has over 30 years’ experience working throughout the US, in all the main convention venues. We have managed numerous UK and European clients through the total exhibiting process. If you follow the American system, it can be one of the easiest places in the world to work. If you fail to understand how this system works, then you can easily double your budget!

This is a brief, informative guide, based on our experiences, on the differences between exhibiting in Europe and the land of the Stars and Stripes

The Atlona tradeshow stand was designed to work as a kit in both Europe and the US, and has been installed in venues including Las Vegas, Denver, Orlando, San Diego and more.

Units & Terminology

  • Get your basic terms right! An exhibition is an expo, and an exhibition stand is a booth. There are many other unfamiliar terms that you will need to get used to e.g. plastic covering for carpet is called “Visquine”
  • Forget the metric system, you will need to measure distance in feet and inches, and weight will be in pounds and ounces or even hundredweight.
  • Electrical power is still measured in volts, amps and watts – but US runs on a 110-120V AC supply (Europe generally is 230-240V). There’s a good chance that any electrical kit you bring from the UK will not function on the US power supply

Pricing Practices

  • Be prepared for a shock. Exhibitors used to paying European prices will need to get used to paying significantly more for an equivalent booth in the US, sometimes 2 to 3 times more.
  • Costs vary wildly depending on which city and state you are looking to exhibit in, which is largely driven by the workers unions and associated cost of labour. Southern and Western states (Orlando, Texas, Nevada, California) tend to be more affordable than Northern and Eastern states (New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania).
  • EVERY quote you receive in the US will be an estimate. Expect your final invoice to change based on the actual hours taken and materials used.
  • Watch out for hidden extras. Don’t be surprised to get a bill for $60 for a roll of sticky tape or $80 for an extension cable. Everything is charged for!
  • In some strong union-controlled venues (e.g. the Northern and Eastern states mentioned above) you will ONLY be allowed to use labour from a union-approved provider. And they are very good at enforcing this…
  • Overtime is king and exorbitant in the US. Expect to pay one rate for standard time (usually weekdays 08:00 until 16:30) and a higher rate for weekends and evenings. In some states you may find a third, even higher rate, for Sunday working.

Show Services

  • With very few exceptions, all show services are provided either by the venue itself, or with a general service contractor (GSC). The main GSCs you will encounter in the US are Freeman and GES, and you may also come across Shephards.
  • Electrics: Sockets (aka power outlets) will need to be ordered from the venue or GSC. They will charge you for the hire of the sockets and an hourly rate for the install and dismantle, also any sundries that are used in the installation (tape, extensions etc). ONLY a union-certified electrician is allowed anywhere near electrical installations
  • Rigging and banners: Usually referred to as hanging signs in the US. Here you will pay for a team of riggers (often called a Condor Crew) who will rig your sign from the rafters using a cherry picker in whatever way they see fit. Watch out again for “sundries”
  • Flooring: Raised platforms are rare in the US due to the inevitable lawsuits when a visitor trips over them. Expect to have carpet laid on top of single or double padding (underlay). Carpet is usually “rented” from the GSC or purchased and re-used for other shows.
  • Furniture. If you hire furniture direct from the GSC, expect it to be basic and very expensive. Most exhibitors purchase their own furniture.

Freight & Material Handling

  • If you are shipping anything from Europe, allow 6-8 weeks lead time before the appropriate freight deadline. The last thing you want is for your kit to miss the show due to getting held up in customs!
  • The preferred option for delivering your kit is have it shipped to the “Advanced Warehouse”. This is more straightforward than having it freighted straight to the show stie itself (the “Marshalling Yard”). There will be a deadline for receiving freight at the advanced warehouse, usually around 10 days before the show.
  • Whether you ship to Advanced Warehouse or direct to the Marshalling Yard, the GSC will charge you drayage (or material handling) to move your kit to the booth. This will be based on the total weight handled (to the nearest hundredweight) and will include the booth build itself, any of your products, literature – basically anything that you can’t carry to the booth yourself!

Design & Construction

  • A major noticeable difference at a US tradeshow is their designapproach. In general an American exhibitor keeps their ground level structure simple and functional. Branding and impact tends to be through a hanging sign, which virtually all exhibitors with a decent booth size will invest in.
  • To avoid heavy drayage [weight] charges, lightweight materials are king in the US. You’ll see a lot of lightweight aluminium frames with tensioned fabric prints for walling and graphic display.
  • Generally the two main options in the US are; 1) a “rental” system booth, using an existing booth construction system with pre-made display units, hanging signs etc. or 2) a custom booth, fully bespoke and manufactured from a custom system or timber.
  • It is extremely rare to see a paint finish in the US, painting tends not to be tolerated on-site so all walling is pre-made and finished, usually with laminate or fabric coverings.
  • Bear in mind that if you purchase a booth in the US you will either have to pay for storage after the show, or if you decide to dispose of it there will be a trash fee. This does not apply if you go for a rental option.
  • REMEMBER: with any design, labour is likely to be your highest cost. The easier and quicker the installation, the lower the final!

Why use Iguana Group for exhibiting in the US?

  • The Iguana Group has extensive experience facilitating US exhibitions for companies based outside of North America. We can provide a full turnkey service and take the hassle out of exhibiting in a new location.
  • We have extensive experience estimating services in the US and rarely incur additional costs for our clients.
  • We know how to design a booth that works at a US show
  • We can look at all options, including rental, custom build in the US and even custom build inthe UK and shipment to the US. Surprisingly, the latter is often a more cost effective option.