Whether you’re new to tradeshow shipping or you’ve been doing it for 20 years, you spend most of your time focused on the same three things: displays, promotional materials, and people. That makes sense because it’s difficult to have a successful event without materials to hand out, people to do the handing out, and a booth in which those people can stand.
But here’s something veterans know that tradeshow rookies tend to learn the hard way: Even when you think you’ve taken care of the big things, a lot can go wrong. Having a few little things by your side can make the difference between a temporary glitch and a full-blown tradeshow meltdown.
What are the little things? The things you’d pull out of your file cabinet or grab out of the supply closet if you were at the office, but which might be difficult or impossible to obtain once you’re inside a tradeshow venue.
You'd be surprised by the number of times something goes wrong and you find yourself wishing you had an extra extension cord, pack of labels, or other mundane item. You can save yourself the hassle of having to send someone off to scavenge for Sharpies by packing a "survival kit" to take from show to show. Your survival kit should include the essentials you need at every event (labels, forms, contact info, etc.) as well as emergency supplies for those unexpected (but all too common) surprises.
#1: Your Big ol' Binder of Stuff
Even if you forget the next three things on this list, never leave the office without your tradeshow binder—the centralized resource where you keep up-to-date copies of your inventories, contracts, and other critical information.
What’s that? You don’t have one of those binders? Well then, as soon as you’re finished with this article, go dig a three-ring binder out of the nearest supply closet, or dump the contents out of one from the HR guy’s desk, and put the following items inside it:
- Materials inventory: A detailed list of what you shipped, where it's being shipped from, where it's going, when you'll get it, and when your shipping company is scheduled to pick it back up.
- Show site services: Always bring copies of the contracts or order forms for the services you’re paying for at the event venue.
- Contact information: In addition to the location and contact numbers for the event itself, be sure that you have contact info for your team members and your shipping and logistics provider (including their weekend service number). This way you’ll be able to keep everyone in the loop when plans change or unforeseen issues arise.
- Travel itinerary: Particularly when you have several team members arriving from different locations, it's good to keep track of when everyone is supposed to get in, where they're staying, and when they need to leave for their return flights.
If three-ring binders bring back painful memories of junior high school, you can bring this information with you electronically instead. Just be sure to save everything on a network folder you can access remotely, or you’ll risk losing your documents if something happens to your laptop or tablet.
Personally, I like to carry hard copies of the really essential documents, in addition to storing them electronically—paper copies are considerably less dependent on battery power and wireless Internet.
#2: A Digital Camera
At the very least, you’ll want to be able to snap pictures to post on Twitter, Facebook, or whichever social media sites your company prefers to use. If that’s all you need, a cell phone with a high-quality camera might do the trick. If you need higher-quality photos for use on your website or in printed materials, bring a good DSLR camera, and be sure that someone on your team knows what an f-stop is.
#3: Packing Supplies
Your work isn’t over when the event shuts its doors. At the close of the show, you'll have to pack up and label all your materials again to ensure that they make it back to the office or on to their next destination. It’s not the most enjoyable part of the tradeshow experience, but you can minimize the pain by bringing all of the materials you’ll need:
- Packing tape: Lots of it. Seriously, really bring a lot. There’s a reason they sell this stuff 36 rolls to the case.
- Labels: You're just asking for your stuff to get sent to the wrong place if you leave the old labels on your boxes as you pack them up. Remove all the old labels and be sure that each box has a new label before you leave the building.
- Sharpies: Need I say more? Maybe just that you should also bring a lot of these.
#4: Emergency Supplies
No matter how well you plan your tradeshow, some things are out of your control. Bad weather, human error, or other ill-timed events can leave you scrambling to fix a problem before or during a show. It’s never a comfortable feeling, but you’ll be able to solve many last-minute crises by bringing along a sort of first-aid kit for tradeshow emergencies. Here’s what should be inside:
Pens, paper, and markers: Imagine the worst-case scenario: a shipment doesn't arrive and you're missing brochures or signs. Being able to make a quick sign, or even a sign-up sheet, on the fly is a must.
Extra power supplies: Batteries die, cords get misplaced, and outlets stop working. Be prepared to keep your essential computers and phones powered up.
Band-Aids: Your feet may take a beating, especially if you spend a day or two running around fixing problems. A few strips of plastic and gauze (and some comfortable shoes) can keep you in the game.
Backup pieces for your display: Bring backups for your extension cords, power strips, light bulbs, data cables, and anything else that might go on the fritz in the middle of an event.
Once you’ve packed up your tradeshow survival kit, check out The First-Timer’s Guide to Tradeshow Shipping for more expert tips and advice.
Photo Credit to Doug Kline: Flickr
Photo Credit to Guillaume Brialon: Flickr