Trade show regulations prompt creative thinking
Blood’s Catering & Party Rentals, White River Junction, Vt., took part in a trade show the last weekend in March 2011. We have been displaying our products at this local trade show for the past 25 years and have used 20-ft.-by-20-ft. tents for the last 15 years. We always have taken great pride in decorating our booth and trying to make it look nicer than all of the others.
When we paid our deposit to reserve our space this year, we were not made aware of the new regulations. The local fire inspector had determined that tents larger than 10 ft. by 10 ft. were no longer allowed because the building’s sprinklers cannot spray water under them.
The only way we found out about the new regulation is that we were doing an event in the same town and we were told our large tent couldn’t have a top on it. Of course, we asked why and after it was explained to us, we then questioned why we were allowed to do it for an event in June 2010. We also questioned why the inspector has no problem with allowing large campers inside the building or tractors and cars that are carrying fuel. After explaining that 30 percent of my business is based on the tent and its accessories, I realized my pleas were falling on deaf ears so I had to go to plan B.
At the beginning of the week of the trade show I made a call to my preferred vendor for draperies and had them send me 50 yards of gold material which we used to completely cover the frame of the tent while keeping the top mostly open for sprinkling in case of a fire. After ordering the material we came up with a plan of how we wanted to cover our frame. I gave the design to my rental manager and told him to go with it. He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll cover the whole frame and no one will see an inch of the framework.”
After spending about eight hours that week designing and building custom pieces to attach to our frame, the tent was ready to go up first thing Friday morning. The show started at 2 p.m., so we didn’t have a lot of time. Our rental manager had all the custom pieces laid out with the frame and ready to attach. After three hours of stapling and pleating — all of which was learned at the Events & Tents pre-show workshop at The Rental Show — our structure started to take shape. By 1 p.m. we were done and the last details under the tent were complete. We kept the accessories under the tent relatively simple because we had an involved decorating project overhead.
Three people we knew came to see us on the morning of the trade show. They were surprised to see us and asked what we were going to do. They know we always have a tent and they told me about two other vendors who had pulled out of the show because of the restriction. I told them I was upset about the new regulations, but that we always come up with a booth design incorporating a “wow” factor, so this was only a minor setback. I was very pleased that the design looked great and it incorporated a look that I had never seen before with pleating on the top and legs.
The whole weekend of the show we had people asking what we did and how we did it. They said the covered frame looked beautiful and they liked it better than the regular tent. I told them it was our new product called “not a tent” because they are not allowed. They then asked, “Would you do it on a job?” to which I answered, “Yes.”
I learned later that there were many underlying issues way beyond this show and that those issues probably would be addressed in the near future. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get answers to what would be allowed until the week of the show, which didn’t give us much time to plan ahead. The sad part is the trade show is a fundraiser for our chamber of commerce as well as a great draw for 12,000 people to see our products and services, so it is something businesses and the general public look forward to for a long time.
We survived the long show hours through the weekend and breakdown went fast. I took away from this show a lesson that you always need to have a plan B, just in case.
Brendon Blood, general manager, Blood’s Catering & Party Rentals, White River Junction, Vt., and president, ARA of Vermont, can be reached at 802-295-5393
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.