What it’s like to exhibit at MAGIC

I’ve been waiting for the last of the trip reports from a company that did their first show at Magic but it hasn’t come in yet. Therefore, I’m going to mention some things they told me that you should know your first time out. A lot of what they had to say is very negative, particularly with regard to trade show management so it is only reluctantly that I report this second hand. Still, I think you need to be aware of what can go wrong so I can’t not say something about it. Also, some of the problems were of their own making but it wasn’t due to carelessness or laziness so there’s no reason to think any of you wouldn’t make similar mistakes without forewarning. I asked Miracle to collaborate on this document; her comments are in brackets.

Their line was mis categorized. A denim line, their booth was in contemporary men’s which is higher price points. While the venue was classy and sedate, they were out of place. Better placement would have been with in streetwear or even at Project (my pick) based on the energy factor and presence of competing lines. In my opinion, within men’s contemporary, they were stuck in a catch-all miscellaneous grouping which didn’t make sense to me. They weren’t paired with any similar lines and the traffic pattern was disadvantageous. Unfortunately, if you’re a new line with limited clout, you’re not likely to have much say over where your booth will be.

The mis categorization of the line happened for two reasons. First, they hadn’t walked the show previously. You have to do that to find a place for your stuff to hang. You want to be near other lines like yours. Second, the show management advised them to show there. While show management is generally helpful, they still have their own agenda meaning they’re looking to fill empty slots that may be their best fit, not yours.

[Miracle: I don’t think this is as much of a problem at highly juried shows, because those show organizers pay so much more attention to booth placement and overall merchandising. I have known other people to have this same problem at MAGIC and they didn’t have the problem at smaller, juried, targeted shows]

Excessive charges. One example was a $400 charge for an extension cord to get power to the booth. Now, when you sign up for a booth, you get power included, the fee includes electrical service. However, due to a mix up and poor management of the oversight (and their easy going nature), they never got power to the booth. Someone suggested an extension cord from another unoccupied booth and they happily agreed, being easy going people. They didn’t realize they were going to be charged $400 for it when they checked out. In the end they agreed to pay for it because they say they were threatened with other higher fees if they insisted on contesting it.

The newbie trade show tax. If you’ve never had a booth at a trade show, you have to do a lot of homework. As it was, they read everything, or nearly everything and they still got burnt. Most of it was due to their unfamiliarity of trade show policies. For example, they say they still don’t understand what “marshalling” meant, no one explained it to them but it ended up costing them a pretty penny.

When you show at a standard venue like this, you should know these facilities are run by unions. Organized ones. The process of unloading your booth componentry, setting it up, maintaining it and tearing it down to remove it from the facility (drayage) is highly regulated. In the case of the Las Vegas convention center, you are not allowed to unload your own booth from your truck or van. A guy comes with a forklift to pull it off for you. So, first off, your booth has to be packed onto pallets and wrapped with pallet wrap. Now, you don’t have to do that of course but then you’ll get stuck like they did. The DEs didn’t have it packed like that, so being particular about it, they unloaded each piece manually while the man on the forklift watched. The forklift driver checked off some boxes on a form he had and made them sign it. In the end they were charged $30 for each separate piece they had unloaded by hand. Plus a weight charge. Over all, they paid several thousand dollars more than they had anticipated.

[Miracle: This is one area where DEs have no leeway. This type of situation is just part of the business when exhibiting at a trade show, any trade show, no matter the industry. It’s how things are done, so to speak. It’s one reason that as a prospective exhibitor, you should try to interview other exhibitors first, even if you can’t get a hold of someone in your industry at the same show, you can find someone who has shown at the same venue. I have participated in an industry trade show (not in the fashion industry), when I was employed, so none of this is new to me, you will pay for every little thing and you will pay a pretty penny for every little thing. I worked a booth where we weren’t allowed to water our own flowers, we had to pay someone to bring water to the booth. Having said that, I do not know to what extent this is common at shows that do not take place in an exhibit hall, because part of the stringency of the regulations with regard to fees and labor, is due to the nature of unionized exhibit halls. As a side note, I have known of a show to change venues for this reason.]

In addition to Miracle’s suggestion above, read everything and if you don’t understand something, ask or search for a definition on the web. The Magic Show has a whole passel of documents (12 pdfs) related to the back end of putting up a booth. Read everything. They admit they skipped over freight and expositions services which proved to be their undoing. Again, if you don’t understand the lingo, consult a trade show glossary.

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