Conventions Part II - Pre-Show Logistics

Paul's picture

Attending a gaming convention as an exhibitor is, as you might expect, quite a bit different than visiting it as a typical attendee. It is a lot more work, and can frequently be somewhat frustrating.  In a previous post, I discussed my views on the utility of gaming conventions as a phenomenal marketing opportunity, as well as the pros and cons of some of the largest shows around. I’d like to continue that discussion of trade shows with an overview of the logistics that any exhibitor will have to manage, as well as my thoughts on each item and various things I wish I’d known before attending my first show as an exhibitor.

Booth Space

Before worrying about any other aspect of exhibiting at a convention, you must get booth space. For most major shows, space is made available many months in advance. I would recommend contacting a show six to nine months ahead of time to learn when booths become available. For some shows, such as Gen Con, booth space is cheaper the earlier you sign up. In addition, most major shows sell out months in advance, so make sure you secure your space early!

Booths at US shows are typically sold in 10ft x 10ft chunks, arrangeable in various configurations. Gen Con will typically allow any configuration of 10ft squares provided that their “one 10ft aisle every 30ft” plan is not disrupted. This means that you can get booths 10ft, 20ft, or 50ft wide (in the later case, eliminating part of an aisle), but not 30ft or 40ft wide (since this would require them to move an aisle. Other shows are equally picky in different ways: PAX, for example, has a set catalogue of booth shapes (e.g., 10x10, 10x20, 10x30, 30x30, 50x50), and no other shapes are available.

For a new company with limited capital, a 10x10 booth is generally the way to go. The trouble is that space and visibility in a 10x10 booth is very limited. This can be mitigated by getting a corner booth, meaning that two sides of your 10ft square face the public, rather than just one. This not only gives people twice the chance to see your booth (since they can see it from two different directions), but also gives you more options in terms of booth configuration, since people can enter part of the booth from two different sides if you so desire. Corner booths are more expensive at some shows (such as Gen Con), but are definitely worth the money.

Booth Furnishings

After signing up for a booth, you will be asked to order any booth furnishings that you would like. At most US shows, booth space is sold bare; all you get for your money is an empty space with a concrete floor. You can rent anything you’d like for your booth; carpeting, tables, chairs, elaborate display furniture, electricity, internet, lighting: you name it. However, furnishings can be incredibly expensive. You will have to weigh the relative value of various items vs. your expected benefit. In my opinion, carpet is generally worth it because it makes your booth look *much* more professional, but you can definitely get away with the cheap stuff. You also need some amount of table space and chairs, but can probably do without electricity, internet, or fancy display cases.

The other option you have is to bring or ship your own tables and chairs to the show. This can definitely be worth it, but is much more of a hassle. It is also somewhat expensive to ship stuff to the show (see below).

Shipping

If you are going to be selling product at the trade show (and you should), you’ll need to get some there. You’ll also want to have some demo games and some amount of booth decoration to draw the attention of attendees. You have two options for most US shows; drive your stuff there yourself, or ship it. Driving it yourself can definitely be cheaper if you live close by (though driving across the country in a cargo van is almost never worth it), but can also be quite the hassle. You will have to follow specific instructions from the show, which will specify when you can get in line with your vehicle, where you have to park to unload, and how much time you have at the dock. Expect to spend an entire day waiting in line and unloading if you go this route.

If you ship to a trade show, you can make use of parcel carriers or LTL carriers, depending on the volume you are shipping. If you opt to ship freight, you will unfortunately have to stick with the very small list of carriers who deliver to trade shows and who charge a premium for the service. One way around this is to ship to a shows advance warehouse, which requires that the product arrive a week or two in advance, but can come on any carrier.

After your products have been delivered to the convention center, they will be brought to your booth by staff from the expo hall. This is incredibly convenient, but also costs you a bit of money; the convention will generally charged a fixed dollar amount per 100lbs (rounded up) delivered. This fee varies depending on whether or not you arrange materials handling in advance (which generally gives you a discount), and where you send it (the advance warehouse is more expensive in terms of handling, but generally much cheaper in terms of delivery).

One perk of convention delivery handling is that, in an emergency, you can order products to be delivered directly to your convention booth. In the past, we have ordered items from Amazon Prime the day before a convention, and had them brought to our booth by convention center employees the next day.

Travel & Lodging

The final issue you have to deal with before attending a show is travel and lodging. If you plan to drive to the show, make sure you figure out the parking situation in advance; there may be inexpensive parking options near the convention center, but only if you search. If you plan to fly, take a look and see if the city to which you are flying has good public transportation between the airport and the convention center. Indianapolis does not, but most other major cities with large gaming conventions definitely do. I highly recommend taking the train in Seattle and Boston, as well as in any major city I’ve visited outside the US.

Regardless of how you travel, you’ll want to arrive in the city where the convention will take place at least a day before the show, and ideally two. Most smaller booths take about a day to set up, but there are all manner of logistical problems that can come up and will require time to resolve. At past shows, I have had to help expo hall staff track down my freight shipments, correct mis-entered furniture orders, and even help them find our booth reservation. If nothing goes wrong, you’ll likely need less than a day to set up your booth, but if something does, you’ll be grateful for the extra 24 hours.

Some exhibitors will opt to stay several miles from the downtown convention center in order to save money on lodging. While this can definitely be less expensive, conventions are physically and mentally draining experiences; if your lodging is too far away, it will be very difficult to convince yourself to return to the convention center after show hours for important networking activities, and it will cut down on your precious sleep by requiring you to wake up earlier in order to reach the expo hall on time. As an alternative for the cash-strapped, I recommend looking into non-traditional lodging options in the downtown area such as hostels. Most major US and international cities have high-quality hostels near their downtown where you can find basic rooms for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room in the same area.

That just about covers pre-show logistics! Stay tuned for next time when we discuss the being at the shows themselves!

Comments

arenson9's picture

I have opinions about alternate places to stay! Besides hotels, my go-to places to check out are hostels and short-term apartment rentals via HomeAway.com.

 

Seattle (PAX): The Green Tortoise hostel is about a mile walk away. Loved staying there. You're going to need to be willing to share bathrooms and kitchens with strangers.

 

Boston (PAX East): No luck at all coming up with a good choice either for a hostel or a rental. We ended up staying at the Hosteling International Boston, which was very comfortable and would have been a pretty good deal if there really had been six of us, as originally planned, but is just too far away from the convention center.

 

Melbourne (PAX Australia): Though we didn't end up going for it, I found a pretty good rental place with separate bedrooms for everyone and a full kitchen for less than the cost of our hotel rooms. Since there weren't any hotels near last year's location, it would have been a great choice. With the change in venue for next year, you'd probably want to stay at a hotel in order to be nice and close.

 

Columbus (Origins): Found a pretty nice rental, though again we didn't end up using it. Not quite sure whether the distance would have been acceptable.

 

Essen (Spiel): No clue! Haven't looked in this location. Hard to beat the hotel we were in, though, for proximity.

 

Indianapolis (GenCon): The only hostel is much farther away then you'd want to be if you are an exhibitor. Haven't checked HomeAway for Indy. I usually just stay in my own house. :)

jffdougan's picture

About a dozen years ago, my wife and I went to Boston for an American Chemical Society meeting (I was involved; she was a tag-along spouse). Because I had to be there at both ends of the show, we were there long enough that we got a rate break from the Oasis Guest House, around the corner from the convention center. it's a B&B, so some rooms have shared baths, and they're kind of picky about more than 2 people in a room due to licensing issues (I think). (We were in a 1 queen room with a private bath, whose current rate is $120/night for most of the year, but could be as high as $200/night during special events like the Marathon.) Free continental breakfast every morning from 7:30-11 AM should get factored into a price comparison.

In Chicago, the Hosteling International location is really hard to beat. I know there weren't Chicago cons mentioned, but I've stayed in it for another ACS meeting, and it deserves the shout-out.