Designing Value into Your Exhibit
Using value engineering for exceptional results
by MC² Northeast Division President Rick Rubio
Whether you’re purchasing your company’s first custom exhibit or you’re updating an existing property, the challenges are the same. In the face of increasingly sophisticated competition, you must develop unique exhibits and impactful experiences — while navigating rising costs and ever-shrinking budgets. But how do you do more with less?
The answer may be easier than you think: Maximize your budget through “value engineering.” According to the Whole Building Design Guide, VE isn’t a design/peer review or cost-cutting exercise. It’s a creative, organized effort that helps you analyze a project’s requirements to achieve the essential functions at the lowest total costs (capital, staffing, energy, maintenance) over the life of the project. (Source: http://www.wbdg.org/resources/value_engineering.php.)
So, where do you start? First and foremost, choose a partner who not only presents a clever design but can also tell you the purpose of each design element. Otherwise, you may not be aware of the hidden costs.
Here are four tips to ensure you’re not being taken for an expensive ride.
1. Understand and challenge how a design will impact show and ownership costs.
This is the most important step. Let’s say you’ve been presented an awesome exhibit design concept. You may be tempted to go along with it, but what about its long-term costs? Before you agree to a design, ask the following questions:
a. How many parts are there?
Parts are the individual elements that make up booth properties. Whether they’re assembled on the show floor or in the shop, the number of parts in an exhibit impacts its overall cost. So, the simpler the fabrication, the more affordable your exhibit will be long term.
b. Are there oversized parts?
Standard construction material sizes are 4′ x 8′ or 4′ x 10′. Smaller pieces waste materials. Larger pieces are cumbersome to build, use more materials and are more expensive to ship. Consequently, going with standard sizes saves you money.
c. Can the exhibit be reconfigured?
If you have a multi-show exhibit program, you’ll probably need size variations of your exhibit. Can you easily convert your exhibit property from a 60′ x 60′ to a 20′ x 30′? If it’s not clear in the presented design, ask the exhibit house to show you how to do this.
d. Can you change the booth for rebranding purposes?
Is your exhibit used by several divisions or business units in your company? Through value engineering, you can maintain corporate brand identity while showcasing a unique look and feel for each of the units. For example, you can rebrand the exhibit property with specific business unit colors and logos.
e. Can the exhibit go up and down quickly?
An exhibit’s installation and dismantling are some of your largest ongoing costs. That’s why you should ask, “What are the installation and dismantling estimates in hours?”
f. Is rigging necessary?
Does your booth property need to be supported from the ceiling, or can it be supported from the floor? (Hint: Floor is less expensive, but sometimes, you need rigging for stability.)
g. How does the lighting impact the electrical cost?
There’s no doubt lighting can have a big impact on the look and feel of your exhibit. And while often considered a cost-effective way to increase impact, lighting comes with “trickle-down” costs. For instance, you may need to pay for an electrician and a carpenter onsite to install and manage lighting aspects. What is your lighting’s bang for the dollar?
h. Are the graphics a standard size?
Similar to oversized parts, oversized graphics cost more money. Keep your graphics a standard size — around 51 inches. Also, remember to get your graphics into print before rush charges kick in. This is one of the easiest costs to avoid and should be one of the strategies in value engineering your exhibit.
i. How are you shipping your exhibit?
If your exhibit goes to several shows, manufacturing crates for your properties have several advantages. Because they’re better protected, smaller items are less likely to get lost, and properties can be packed efficiently so unpacking takes less time. However, crates can be expensive.
Shipping loose items may cost you less initially. But with the reduced fees come the increased risk of damage to the items and the potential costs to repair your exhibit. It comes down to a question of crate cost vs. maintenance expense.
2. Challenge materials.
Ask about alternative materials and finishing options. Some finishes can add thousands of dollars to the cost of your exhibit, even though a comparable, more cost-effective material may be available.
3. Focus on material finishes within reach.
We all want an exhibit that says “WOW!” But challenge the level of detail throughout your booth design. Components customers will touch and that are within their immediate space deserve more expensive details and a higher level of finish. Those outside of this area can be simpler.
4. Integrate rentals.
Rental components have become much more sophisticated and can be incorporated into your exhibit for a polished, smart design. Consider using rentals for conference rooms and counters.
Designing or updating an exhibit involves a number of elements to consider. While you must always keep in mind the total, finished product, give each element individual attention. Understand how the elements work together. Investigate less expensive — yet no less effective — options. Plus, take into account your exhibit’s hidden costs.
Doing more with less is certainly possible. And with value engineering, you can maintain the quality and impact of your exhibit, even in the face of shrinking budgets.
MC² Northeast Division President Rick Rubio has 22 years of trade show experience. In addition to managing in excess of $40 million in annual sales at MC², he has overseen countless exhibit programs, traveling road shows and permanent installation projects for clients such as RJ Reynolds, Samsung, Hershey’s and Canon. His leadership has made the Northeast a premier division of MC².