Trade Show Display and Size Regulations
For any business, large or small, the trade show circuit offers the perfect opportunity to increase brand awareness and generate leads.
Consider these statistics from the Trade Show News Network:
- 99% of marketers say they found trade shows provided a unique value that could not be found in any other marketing measures.
- 60% of exhibitors highly value the opportunity to interface with large numbers of customers or potential contacts at once.
- 51% of exhibitors value the emphasis on face-to-face meetings.
- 47% of exhibitors were enthusiastic about the opportunity to meet with a variety of business representatives, such as customers, resellers or suppliers, all at the same time.
Skipping out on trade shows can be detrimental to your business, no matter how big it is.
If you are new to the game, designing the perfect trade show exhibit can be daunting. One concern many first-timers face is the issue of trade show booth rules/regulations. How big can a booth be? Are there limits to the amount of sound? Are there certain things you can or cannot display?
We’ve put together this guide on trade show exhibit rules/regulations to keep you in the loop. We will discuss common exhibit sizes as well as typical trade show booth restrictions.
Whether you are new to the trade show scene or you’re designing a new exhibit and want to brush up on typical trade show size rules/restrictions, look no further!
Common Exhibit Sizes
To ensure venues and exhibit design firms are on the same page, certain standards prevail among trade shows when it comes to size and floor layout. This is handy, as many companies travel to more than one trade show a year and certainly don’t want to have to customize their display exhibit for each individual show.
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Here are the typical booth or exhibit sizes you’ll find at most trade shows.
- Standard/Linear Booth
Standard booths are the most common size exhibit at a trade show. Because exhibit halls and show organizers want to maximize the space available while providing attendees plenty of space for moving around, they place booths side by side in even rows. Your booth will most likely sit directly between two other booths. Only the front of your booth will be open to attendees.
The square footage of a standard or inline booth is generally 10’ x 10’. The back wall of your booth, which is a perfect place to mount displays or even screens, is generally limited to 8 feet. There will likely be a booth with its back against the back of your booth as well, facing the other direction.
Many booth designers put shorter walls or side rails along the sides of their booth to help visually designate the space as exclusively theirs. It’s a good idea to make those side walls or rails modular or removable in case your booth is placed on a corner. That way, you can make your booth more accessible to people as they round the corner into your designated aisle.
Most exhibits halls do not permit hanging signs over standard booths.
- Perimeter Booth
If you want a little more freedom at a slightly higher premium, consider a perimeter booth. Since these booths are placed against an exhibit hall wall, they allow the back wall to be higher than a standard linear booth. The square footage of a perimeter booth is a standard 10’ x 10’, but the back wall can reach as high as 12 feet.
If you’re planning on attending a wide range of trade shows, you’ll likely be locked into paying the premium rental price for perimeter booths at all of your locations, but if your business pairs well with big visuals, the premium spot can definitely pay off! Like standard booths, hanging signs are typically not permitted in perimeter booths.
With a peninsula booth, you can get creative. These booths have a back wall backed against either an exterior wall or the back of another booth, but they stick out much further — a full 20 feet — and do not sit side-by-side with any other booths. That way, attendees can walk around three sides of your booth, giving you much more display space.
If you are placed back-to-back with another peninsula booth, this is referred to as a split island booth.
The height of the back wall dictates where the display can be placed. Because some peninsula booths are designed to be backed against a standard linear booth, the back of the peninsula booth also must maintain the 8-foot height regulation. If your booth is designed to be set up in a split island formation, the back wall can be higher.
If the square footage of your booth is 20’ x 20’, many exhibit halls will permit you to hang signs as well.
The largest and most eye-catching standard booth type is the island booth. These 20’ x 20’ booths stand alone, allowing attendees to approach your booth from all four sides.
Because you don’t have to worry about sitting your booth next to another, there are far fewer restrictions on the wall sizes of island booths. Individual exhibit halls do have limitations on the maximum height of island booths, but most fall somewhere between 20 and 30 feet.
Like a peninsula booth, island booths can include hanging signs.
Other Display Considerations
In addition to standard sizes, there are other restrictions to consider when designing your trade show display or exhibit.
- Ceilings and Canopies
Ceilings and canopies give your booth a sense of enclosure or ambiance. They’re especially helpful if your display includes some display screens, as they can cut down on glare, but there are certain regulations to keep in mind.
Different exhibit halls have different regulations for canopies and ceilings. Some may not permit them at all in standard or perimeter booths, while others may simply require ceilings and canopies to maintain certain sight lines.
As such, it’s recommended that ceilings and canopies be modular so they can be removed if you’re displaying in an exhibit hall where restrictions are more robust. This is especially true of standard or perimeter displays, as restrictions are typically more lenient with peninsula and island displays.
Additionally, make sure an enclosed booth adheres to fire codes. To ensure you’re in compliance with most fire codes, any enclosed display, including one with only a canopy, should include a smoke detector on the ceiling.
- Graphics and Hanging Signs
Typically, only peninsula and island booths include hanging signs. For those booths, there are considerations when using any suspended signage.
Regardless of how it is displayed, hang your sign under the maximum height requirement for a booth — typically between 20 and 30 feet. Your sign must be suspended entirely over your allotted space and at least 10 feet from any adjacent booth. Your neighbors would be none too happy if your sign overshadowed their display.
Theatrical lighting adds dramas to your display, but there are restrictions on the kind of lighting you can include.
Your lighting system and trusses must remain completely within your allotted display space. Most exhibit halls require drawings and plans to be submitted for approval before the trade show. You must use your lighting for illuminating the interior of your booth. You cannot point lights out towards the aisle or any other display booths.
Some lighting — such as lasers and strobe effects — can be dangerous and are typically subject to more stringent facility rules. Spinning and pulsing light effects will require additional scrutiny as well. If you plan on reducing lighting in a booth — to display theatric visuals, for example — consult with the exhibition hall, as there may be minimum lighting requirements for safety reasons.
A good soundtrack attracts attention to your booth. Whether it’s a pulsing dance beat or an instantly recognizable tune, attendees often follow their ears instead of their eyes. When setting up your DJ station, consider:
Because you are in a public place trying to boost sales with music, there are royalty issues to consider.
Three music licensing firms are responsible for making sure any music being publicly broadcast has been paid for — SESAC, Broadcast Music Inc. and The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
These firms have been known to secretly send agents to trade shows to listen for known popular songs and then check to make sure exhibitors are in compliance.
If you are found playing unlicensed music, you may be lucky and only receive a warning and cease and desist, but you can also be slapped with a hefty fine.
Paying for copyright isn’t cheap, but if you feel a song is essential for your brand messaging, it may be worth it. There are services that offer royalty-free music, often written in the style of your favorite musicians to give you the feel of an artist without infringing on their rights.
- Maximum Volume
There are limits on how loud your exhibit can be. The standard is 80 decibels. In most situations, this is plenty loud. There have been situations where neighbors compete and gradually turn up the volume. If show organizers think your display is too loud, they may come over with a decibel reader to make sure you are in compliance.
In most cases, the organizer will simply tell you to turn it down. If you are caught a second or third time, you may find the organizer pulls the plug on your display, which would definitely be embarrassing.
To cut down on the cost of liability, many exhibit halls require a certificate of comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance for your exhibit. If someone falls or trips and hurts themselves on your exhibit, the organizers want to know that person’s injuries will be covered.
Many show organizers work with a specific insurance company to ensure all the exhibitors are compliant. This is helpful as they can spell out exactly what kind of paperwork you need before the show. If you do not have the proper paperwork, they may keep you from unloading your exhibit until you do.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
When constructing your booth, make sure it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, an exhibitor must ensure their displays provide the same experience to people who are physically, visually or hearing impaired.
If your display is raised in any way, include a ramp that makes it wheelchair accessible. Have a plan in place for interpreting your display for visually or hearing impaired guests. Don’t tier your display in such a way that individuals with disabilities don’t have access to it in its entirety.
Confines of Booth
While viral marketing campaigns are popular, they have proven problematic for many show organizers. Because of this, many are including “confines of booth” clauses within their exhibition contracts. That means you can only conduct or promote your business from within your allotted space.
This is generally in response to some frustrating trade show workarounds.
First, there is the dishonest practice of “outboarding,” in which business representatives sidestep the cost of booth rental and instead rent out a nearby hotel room and make unauthorized connections at the show and invite contacts to the hotel to finish their business.
Similarly, some dishonest representatives will “suitcase” — bring brochures or other samples and pass them out in public parts of the display hall without renting a booth. Some exhibitors may use viral marketing to draw attention away from a competitor’s booth.
Trade show organizers like to encourage buzz, so if you’re interested in a viral marketing technique, such as a mascot wandering around the trade show floor, it never hurts to contact the organizers. If you can ensure them you won’t do anything nefarious, they may give you special permission.
All your surge protectors and electrical outlets should be Underwriter Laboratory (UL) certified. Read the fine print — some exhibit halls require all electrical outlets and surge protectors are rented from the venue.
All plugs must be grounded with a third prong. Again, this ensures high power equipment doesn’t become a fire hazard. Don’t use three prong to two prong converters.
Most exhibit halls require any taped down cords are done so with theatrical gaff tape as opposed to duct tape. Duct tape tends to leave residue on the floor, which can be a real pain for cleaning crews getting the display hall ready for the next trade show.
Food and Drink Restrictions
When regulating the distribution of food and beverages, exhibit organizers distinguish between food and beverage companies and non-food related companies that simply want to include food in their display.
Because food and beverage companies have certain licenses allowing them to distribute consumables as part of their business operation, they can distribute one ounce of food and two ounces of beverage without any oversight from the trade show organizers. Simply check with the organizers to confirm.
For other companies, you’ll likely need to work with the organizer’s catering company. This includes popular company-branded bottles of water. If you want to do this, you’ll likely need to pay a waiver fee to cover the lost profits from concessions.
There are special rules dictating the distribution of alcohol. If you want to serve liquor in your display, you must hire a bartender through the catering company associated with the trade show. A bowl of mints will probably go unnoticed, but it never hurts to check with the organizers before serving anything.
Keep Your Reputation in Mind
At this point, you may be getting overwhelmed with all these rules and regulations. We understand it can be daunting, but they are worth the time and money. Trade shows are places where you build your company’s reputation. You are making contacts with potential clients, customers or business partners, so you want to make an impact, but you’re also building a relationship with the show organizers.
Remember, when you invest in a trade show display, you want a high ROI, which means returning to a good trade show year after year. You don’t want to earn a reputation for flouting the rules or being difficult to work with. Sure, you may only receive a stern warning or some dirty looks, but that can hurt you in the long run.
Take, for example, the corner linear booth. This is a highly sought-after position on the exhibit floor. If you build a good reputation and rapport with the organizers, you may find these little upgrades become more available. Think of it as being nice to the people at the airline desk. When you are respectful and attentive, you may find yourself unexpectedly upgraded to first class!
Work With an Experienced Exhibit Designer
Finally, if you’re ready to make your eye-catching display dreams a reality, with a company that gets trade shows.
Here at APG Exhibits, we have three decades of national, regional and local brand support. Regardless of your size or target demographic, we have the know-how to meet your trade show exhibit needs.
Because of our years of experience, we know these rules and regulations front and back! We are well-prepared to partner with you and ensure your exhibit is up to code. If you are unsure about certain restrictions, our designers can help you find out!
When you’re creating a booth for a trade show, talk to us. We combine a personal touch and attention to detail with rapid response times and quick production turnarounds. We have award-winning artistic support, ensuring your vision doesn’t get lost in translation. Whether you have some technical questions or need a full exhibit design, our graphic designers are eager to help you.