“If anything can go wrong, it will.” Murphy’s Law could have been written by a trade show manager.
The best way to thwart disaster is to plan your event following the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared.” Be ready not only for the booth and the things that could go wrong with it, but also for the people that are going to staff it. Without happy booth staffers, the exhibit booth is just an expensive structure with no life in it.
A well stocked trade show supply kit is as crucial to your success as a well designed exhibit. The focus of the staff should be on potential customers. Running around trying to find office supplies, extension cords or an aspirin to cure the hangover from the opening reception the night before is a waste of time.
A trade show toolkit will always be a work in progress. Start out with a basic kit of the things that I will list here. You will learn what will need to be added after each event. Whenever you are at an event and think “I wish I had brought a ______,” write it on a Post-It note and add it to the current toolkit as a reminder. A well prepared toolkit is one that is assembled ahead of time and not the day before you ship.
The basics may seem like a given, but they are often overlooked. Usually you can find these items at a business center in the hotel or conference center. But chances are they are preying upon your panic and up charging the item by 200%.
Chances are you may not have thought about including these things because they are so basic.
Make sure you have pads of paper, post-it notes, pens that are not give-aways, business cards and business card holders, stapler, staple remover, paper clips, rubber bands, calculator and highlighters. Do not forget scissors and box cutters trying to open boxes by peeling back the tape can take forever and wreak havoc on neatly manicured nails. And shaking hands throughout the event with a newly bleeding paper cut can be painful, not to mention unsightly.
This brings up the personal items that are a must in every trade show toolkit. Often we assume that the staff will remember to pack these things in their suitcases. Chances are they are packing the night before the event, the most forgotten but most needed items are usually left out of suitcases.
A first aid kit and mini medicine cabinet are essential. Trade shows and conferences have a lot of socializing and entertaining that go along with them. Drinks tend to flow, especially if there is an open bar, and events usually go late into the night. Dealing with jet lag, different time zones, overstimulation of a show floor and being in a new city can really start to affect the body. Aspirin and ibuprofen are a must, as well as Tums and cold / allergy medicine. The circulated air in planes, hotel rooms and conference rooms often activates cold and allergy symptoms. Throat lozenges are a must after talking all day with prospective customers. Don’t forget eye drops and of course mints to keep everyone’s breath fresh throughout the day. Band-Aids of all sizes are essential. For the previously mentioned bleeding paper cuts and blisters on the feet from standing and walking in dress shoes all day.
It is beneficial to also add granola bars and nuts or dried fruit to the kit to keep your energy up during long exhibit hours. Include some bottles of water; this can run up to $5 a bottle on the show site. An essential to my tool kit are tea bags, coffee singles and powdered creamer. It is sometimes easier to get hot water from a hotel than a decent cup of coffee.
With everyone carrying smart phones with cameras, it may seem silly to add a disposable camera to the toolkit. However, this will ensure that the pictures taken for business reasons and exhibit damage documentation do not get mixed up with the ones from the parties the night before. And it will keep the images in a central location.
Since this is a toolkit, we have to make sure there are tools in it. The basic toolkit will have a screwdriver, pliers, allen wrenches and hammer. Also include extra extension cords, fabric steamer, sewing kit, glass cleaner and paper towels. A Tide laundry pen is also essential for preventing stains on your tablecloths or fabric display, as well as for the messy eater staffing the booth. Also add a packet of baby wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Some other uncommon supplies that are often overlooked are Velcro strips, Velcro sticky dots, double sided tape and safety pins. As we all know, the world is held together with duct tape. Include duct tape in colors that match your exhibit. Repairs can be made in a pinch and not be an eyesore.
The last category of must-haves includes adaptors. Most exhibits use computers, monitors, cell phones and iPads. Often the wires, cables and adaptors are packed with the electronics. But it is good to have backup adaptors in a separate place.
Also make sure you have a thumb drive with a copy of your graphics on it. Include a researched list of vendors in that area who will be able to come to your rescue if graphics or exhibit components are missing or damaged during shipping or set-up.
Keep in mind these are suggestions from my experiences on the show floor. Your toolkit may be different depending on your booth and needs of your staff. This is a good list of the basics; as I mentioned, over time, you will discover other items you may need.
It is easy to put off replenishing the kit after every event. But waiting until last minute will mean some things may get forgotten in the mad rush of travel arrangements and booth preparations. It is important to check the toolkit after each event so you can replenish any used items, or add items you left out. This will allow you to be prepared for the next event.
While it may take some time to collect all of these items and get them ready for shipment, it could be that one item that was easily available that will be instrumental to the success and success of your event.