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  • Writer's pictureTeam ESM

Creating An Experience With Custom Built Exhibition Stands

Updated: May 25, 2023

What Lessons Can the Exhibition Industry Learn from the Harsh Realities of Retail Life on the High Street

‘The British high street has weathered sweeping changes in society, varied economic cycles, and successive layers of property development and retail expansion’ (Digital High Street Advisory Board 2015) but the seismic impact of digital technology continues to be felt by retailers and has certainly influenced to some degree the struggles that have resulted in the closures of UK stores by retailers such as ‘Austen Reed’, ‘Banana Republic’, ‘American Apparel’, as well as the high street behemoth ‘BHS’ and now the stationery giant ‘Staples’ (

What effect might this shift from face-to-face selling to online retailing have on the exhibition industry which after all relies on the power of face to face interactions for its very survival? Will the closure of high street stores due to lack of face to face trading be reflected in the ability of organisers to draw delegates from the comfort of their offices, taking time out of their busy lives in order to do business with halls full of exhibitors promoting their goods and services?

We recently attended a racing weekend at Ascot, and noticed a very relevant trend amongst race goers which should give the exhibition industry some much needed solace if not the track bookmakers themselves. The racing was well attended, with visitors eating, drinking, and gambling extensively, however the way in which they did the latter especially was fascinating. Despite the presence of the track bookmakers offering in certain instances better odds than online bookmakers, visitors preferred to gamble via their mobile devices at online sites. The track bookmakers went home ruing a quiet day, but the racecourse itself enjoyed a well-attended race day programme.

The key lesson from this is one exhibitors and organisers MUST heed to secure the future of the industry, and one that retailers and shopping centre entrepreneurs have long accepted, if not local council legislators and administrators overseeing the high street. Racegoers rather than stay at home and watch the racing on Channel 4 or online had travelled from far and wide for the EXPERIENCE of live horse racing. They want to be there and experience the collective highs and lows of the experience together with their friends, colleagues, and other racing enthusiasts. They don’t however want to carry cash, inconveniently leave their seat or their spot at the bar, carry a drink around or have to go out into the cold. The experience of having to bet in cash and walk around the stalls of a live bookmaker is simply not valued above the convenience of being able to organise the same transaction online via their mobile phone whilst watching the racing live.

The interior of a shop in New York

In the same way, the death of the high street whilst perhaps predicted prematurely, can in many cases be attributed to simple convenience. It used to be considered convenient to visit a high street because that is where a group of shops selling diverse wares were located together. It was not, and in most instances still is not (the Oxford Street Christmas lights aside), an experience in and of itself. Therefore the convenience of online retailing is winning out. However, we see retail spaces such as Bluewater, The Arndale Centre, and Westfield London continuing to thrive because of their ability to create a controlled visitor EXPERIENCE that can be consistently delivered within a closed environment due in no small part to the work of facilities personnel and landlords.

Therefore, it stands that delegates will likely continue to leave their offices, travel from far and wide, and attend events and exhibitions as long as the EXPERIENCE is worthwhile. They will NOT do so simply because of the convenience of having a number of parties all representing one industry all in the same place at the same time as was possibly once the case. There is simply no room for complacency in terms of exhibitor attending exhibitions or organisers scheduling them and expecting the audience to just turn up.

This has to mean different things for different people, but it should mean something to everyone involved in the exhibition industry from organisers and venues through to the various agencies and contractors that supply the industry, right through to the exhibitor who all in their own way need to focus on making the experience for the delegates meaningful.

As an organisation that designs custom built exhibition stands for exhibitors we are very focused on what this means for us and always have been. It is important to us that our exhibitors experience some level of growth attributable to their ongoing commitment to live events as a marketing channel. If we can deliver this as an outcome then we are able to help organisers by driving repeat bookings, have exhibitors taking larger spaces, and encouraging a willingness from marketing teams to explore booking at other events where their goods and services might be relevant to a visiting audience. We believe we are only able to deliver on our goals by focusing on both the exhibitor and delegate ‘experience’ as we work with exhibitors to produce concepts that showcase their brands, products and services.

We know that when the delegate attends a show, much like the punter at the race course, convenience is king. They might have taken the time to attend the show, drawn by the incentives offered them by the collective exhibitor attendance and conference content, but that doesn’t mean they are going to traipse out of their way within the hall without good reason or get excited by the mere presence of a single exhibitor. Exhibitors need to learn the harsh lessons being delivered to track bookmakers at race courses across Britain.

The experience offered to the delegate by the exhibitor on their stand needs to be convenient and simply delivered. Exhibitors have a brand, and a product, service or both. The very essence of these and their benefits need to be readily apparent in order to quickly engage with the audience whilst every facet of their presence at the show needs to be consistent with what they are trying to communicate.

Exhibitors need to deliver their offer to delegates in ways in which they genuinely ‘experience’ the benefits, through shape, form, texture, and exciting people with what’s new. Teach people things. Give them new ways in which to interact with information they didn’t know, via methods they’ve never thought about before including experientially and digitally. Understand your offer, deliver it readily, and in a way which is consistent with the show that is being attended, the environment and ethos of the event as dictated by the event organisers, and most importantly do so in a way which is highly relevant to the visiting audience.

Shows that encourage exhibitors to focus on their own ‘micro’ experiences reliant on contractors that deliver those effectively, in collaboration with organisers who are focused on the ‘macro’ experience and communicating that to exhibitors and the visiting audience alike will succeed especially when backed by consistent and effective online and digital offerings that reinforce the live experience. So that ‘exhibiting’ as a marketing medium is positioned to not only ‘weather the seismic impact of changes in digital technology’ but thrive by embracing the changes in the way people do business and conduct their lives.

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