Cultural Differences in Approach to Trade Shows

Differences in how trade show displays are approached vary with the location: in South America, Europe and Asia it is much more common to have what is known in the industry as “build and burn” exhibits, which are exhibits which are fabricated and set up just for the life of the one show. In North America it is more common to have exhibits that are purchased, and then used many times for different shows before they are either re-purposed, or disposed of. In Europe, trade shows have much longer hours, and are more about having longer meetings and actually closing deals than in North America, therefore displays are built more to facilitate longer meetings, including more comfortable seating and hospitality such as food and beverages.

Tips for exhibiting at international shows

In 2007, Scan Display built exhibition stands at two overseas shows. Scan exhibited at Exhibiting Show in London for the first time, and built two stands for local clients at a medical show in Madrid.

Scan’s MD, Justin Hawes, says Scan has learnt some valuable lessons from its work overseas. He believes companies exhibiting at international shows face a whole new set of challenges. They should consider the following factors:

Planning in advance
Good planning is critical to ensure that exhibiting is a success, wherever the show. However, it becomes even more important for companies exhibiting abroad. Coping with the inevitable hitches associated with exhibitions is tougher on foreign soil. Exhibitors don’t have their own resources on hand to make any last-minute changes and everything seems to take longer as result of factors like greater traffic congestion in foreign cities.

Local representation
It is an advantage if the company contracted to build the exhibition stand works with a partner or subcontractor in the country hosting the show. This means that resources are on tap and there is access to people who are familiar with the local venue, suppliers and regulations. It also helps to have someone on your team who speaks the local language, especially when managing crises.

It is a good idea to reduce the amount of freight as much as possible and source equipment and print work in the host country. Freighting is both expensive and unpredictable. As a result of a customs strike, Scan’s team in Madrid battled to clear the stand materials and equipment and started building the stand three days later than scheduled.

Safety regulations
Each country has its own safety regulations for exhibition stands and overseas’ regulations are more stringent than local regulations. At Exhibiting Show in the UK, Scan had to submit a detailed engineer’s report as its stand was over three metres high.

Exhibitors should ensure that their stand builder is familiar with the regulations of the country hosting the exhibition.

Stand design
It is advisable to keep the stand design and construction as simple as possible. Exhibiting at an international show is challenging enough without pushing the design and construction boundaries.

Cultural differences
Exhibitors should consider that their target market at the show has different values from visitors back at home. While Scan’s give-away of popcorn at the local Markex shows was a great success, the same marketing tool was a failure at the UK Exhibiting Show. Visitors were suspicious of accepting food from strangers, and those who took the snack wanted it with sugar rather than the salt requested in SA.

Exhibitors need to be aware from the outset that exhibiting overseas is an expensive exercise. There are the freight, travel and accommodation bills to foot. In addition, the contractor costs in the UK and Europe are about three times the local costs. For example, installing a plug point costs approximately R150 in SA and R1 500 in the UK.

Dti claim
Through its Export Marketing & Investment Assistance programme, the dti may partially compensate companies for expenses incurred while exhibiting at international shows. While there are a number of qualifying criteria and the application process is lengthy, it is worth pursuing.

VAT refund
South African companies can claim the VAT portion of certain expenses incurred while exhibiting in some foreign countries. There are a number of consultancies that assist with these claims on a contingency fee basis. Exhibitors are required to submit their original VAT invoices and a valid tax clearance certificate.

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