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Melody Gravely
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05.14.20

“Behind the Scenes” of Vulcan Tradeshow Planning

I recently had the opportunity to chat with both Joyce Grooms; Trade Marketing Manager for Hobart and Robert “Bobby” Walthall, Marketing Specialist from Vulcan Food Equipment Group to get an in-depth look at their roles and what they consider to be the keys to success when it comes to planning for our industry’s largest tradeshows.

How many times have you walked the busy aisles of NRA and stood in awe of the production in front of you? Elaborate booth designs, new shiny equipment, cooking demos – you name it. These shows take countless months of planning, preparation, and the occasional pushy email – but the result is almost always something spectacular.

The brainstorming, collaboration and planning that happens behind the scenes is responsible for the thought-provoking brand statements we can make when exhibiting at a show like NRA. So, what exactly goes into planning something like this? Let’s dive in!

Booth Location & Travel

It is important to know that while there are many standardized processes that come along with planning a large tradeshow, each individual show presents different challenges and a unique set of nuances those planning must overcome. Different venues, different locations, different sized booths – all these factors must be accounted for when planning.

Specific to NRA, the planning process begins about 14 months prior to the actual event. Since we have been exhibiting at this show for the last 88 years, we are fortunate enough to make our booth selection soon after options are available. Booth space is selected this early to ensure that vendors can request the necessary space to accommodate their vision (and in our case equipment).

“The layout of each ITW FEG booth is determined by the surrounding booths and proper allocation of space among brands,” said Grooms. “When we select booth space, we always choose along the main aisles. Our goal is to position ourselves along the high traffic paths and near busy intersections to maximize the visitors in the booth,” she said.

In Robert’s world, planning hotel room blocks start a year in advance. Hotel space must be reserved early in the block to ensure availability and any special pricing. Luckily, once the “hold” is in place, this task does not require much attention until closer to the show the following year. The challenge is predicting/determining how many rooms you will need, a year in advance.

“I request information from potential attendees within the organization around February [prior to the show] to fill the room block,” said Walthall. “Show housing requires a complete list of names by the beginning of March. Any room block without names are forfeited back to Show Housing,” he went on to say. Bobby manages room reservations and acts as the liaison between the attendees and the housing authority.

Booth Structure

When it comes to the structure itself, there are many moving parts. The physical booth is managed by a third-party company who is responsible for ensuring that all parts are accounted for, graphics are in good condition and everything needed to assemble the booth is available. Mix and match panels provide customization options and graphics are chosen accordingly by marketing within each individual brand (for example, Vulcan, Wolf, Berkel, etc.).

Both Joyce and Bobby work with the marketing teams within the brands to determine their space needs and propose layouts while Product Managers determine which products will be showcased. Conference rooms and storage spaces are built into the booths for impromptu (or planned) meetings with reps, dealers, and customers. 3D images are then created and distributed among all vendors to ensure that the specifications are understood. Armed with these details, many of the unseen tasks can be taken care of.

Electricity, water lines, compressed air, floor padding and carpeting, AV – all these items are ordered and installed based on the need of each specific booth and their placements are governed by the layout previously determined with the group. Understanding the layout of the booth and placement of equipment is key when ordering. Does the water line need to come from the ceiling, or should it run along the floor? How many watts of electricity are needed to power a specific piece of equipment? “All of this is taken into consideration when placing orders,” said Grooms.

So where does the equipment fit into the equation? After all, we must display something, right? As the show date starts looming, Bobby begins working closely with the business units to finalize their equipment selection. Once the list is complete, he works with customer service to place a formal order for the pieces needed.

Setup & Tear Down

Once orders are finalized and the show nears, it is time to think logistics and setup. While there are many third-party tradeshow-specific companies that offer installation services, ITW FEG typically opts for having this done with our choice of vendor. Booth structures are sent to an advanced warehouse determined by the conference and awaits setup. Equipment, however, is shipped directly to the show after being inspected and tested internally. This helps us to minimize any improper handling or damage.

Setup for the show typically starts about four days before opening. A labor team sets up the structure, equipment is rolled in, AV is installed, and the final touches are placed. Equipment is wiped down, signage is added, trash is removed, boxes are taken away and we are finally ready for a successful show – but it doesn’t end there!

Tearing down and packing up is just as much part of the process as preparing and setup. The nice thing is while it takes four days to setup, it only takes one day to tear down. Equipment is carefully packaged, shrink wrapped and sent back to its respective manufacturing location. AV equipment is disconnected, and the structure is taken down and shipped. Once the booth is all cleared out, final bills are paid and then the planning for the following year begins!

From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes when planning for NRA. Oftentimes, we’re so distracted by the full production that we don’t take the time to appreciate the hard work it took to make it happen – so thank you to all who make this show happen for us each and every year!

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