Today’s Trade Show Displays
With one or two exceptions, small cars in the 70’s and 80’s, whether domestic or foreign, were designed for the frugal, the poor, or the seriously brain addled. You prayed they would last 75, 000 miles. You accepted the fact that no one would ever give you a thumbs up at a stop light, and you set your sights on a girlfriend or boyfriend who respected “value” and “inner beauty. ” Small cars were unloved, and the manufacturers did very little to make them loveable.
The history of portable trade show displays is not much different. Through much of the 80’s and 90’s, they were functional rather than beautiful. Pop ups were lightweight and convenient, and if you could afford mural graphics, often attractive (if at times fragile). Folding panel systems were more durable, but regardless of how many detachable graphics, lightboxes, shelves, or backlit headers were added, they were folding walls with carpet. And they were heavy. Laminate modular systems upped the ante a bit since they mimicked many custom features. These were an improvement, but the prices were no longer portable.
Times Have Changed
Over the past 7-8 years, trade show display manufacturers have evolved, much like the auto industry. Smaller products come in far more designs, in a wide range of price points, and can be basic or upscale. No display category speaks to that more than “hybrids. ” Hybrid displays are much sexy than pop ups or panel systems, without necessarily sacrificing the benefits of portability or modularity. Hybrids combine engineered aluminum extrusion and large format tension fabric graphics with just about anything else that makes sense. And because metal can be bent, hybrids move beyond squares, rectangles, and 90 degree corners. Curves elevate simple designs into alluring, attractive, and lightweight displays.
Does that mean hybrids are custom displays? Not necessarily yes, but not necessarily no. The very nature of a hybrid display makes it somewhat of a chameleon. For example, they can be simple 10 ft. kits between $4k to $8k, or ground-up island designs between $60k to $160k. It’s their upscale look and adaptability that make them popular choices. Hybrids can pack in portable roto-molded cases or ship in custom crates, all depending on the complexity, scale, and features of the exhibit.
What Makes Them Different?
So what makes similar hybrids different from manufacturer to manufacturer? Design for one. In that respect, it’s very similar to buying a car. There are certain looks that appeal to us, and others that don’t. Features are another. For example, you may need locking storage, a large monitor option, or an iPad solution. Not all manufacturers or designs will address those requirements. Finally, there’s assembly, packaging, and quality. Except for design, this is where you’ll find the biggest difference between hybrid display manufacturers.
Assembly: You have a choice. There’s the ‘bag of bolts” approach, where assembling a hybrid requires multiple tools, loose parts, and generic instructions. Unfortunately, there’s no rule of thumb since price doesn’t dictate ease of assembly. It depends on whether the manufacturer values easy assembly and custom instructions. Manufacturers who value easy assembly design their systems with attached knobs and connectors. This approach limits the number of loose parts, and all components are numbered (and referenced in the instructions). There’s a night and day difference between a “bag of bolts” vs. “knob and attached connectors. ”
Packaging: Few exhibitors think about packaging when purchasing an exhibit, but they should. Quality manufacturers sweat the details. They make sure that packing is just as easy as unpacking. They remove the guesswork. They don’t rely on bubble wrap and lightweight disposable foam, but die-cut foam packaging, fabric lined crates, and permanent jigging.