Trade show booth rules can often be confusing and difficult to comply with. If you’re trying to manage the logistical issues of transporting your booth and materials, setting everything up, and preparing your strategy, then the last thing you want to worry about is getting in trouble with the venue owners for not following one obscure rule! To make matters worse, every trade show is going to have different rules. But before you start to worry, know that there are several standards that remain relatively consistent among all U.S. trade shows. If you educate yourself on what those are, then understanding the rules for different trade shows will be easier.
Though trade show booth rules vary by location, most shows have consistent rules regarding booth size, display height, structural stability, music, food, laws, and more. In order to play it safe, you should plan to avoid playing copyrighted music, overflowing outside the boundaries of your booth, obstructing people’s view of other booths, or causing a distraction. However, there are many other rules you need to be aware of too.
Not all booths are created equal. There are four universal types of trade show booths, each with different sizes and price ranges. Before you start thinking about how you want to set up your trade show booth, you need to know the difference between these types of booths and their limitations. This is true regardless of whether you plan on building your trade show booth or buying one custom-made. Once you know that, you can make the decision about what is best for you and your display plans.
The linear booth is also called the “standard booth,” because it is the most common type of booth in most trade shows. It is also usually the cheapest option. A linear booth has other booths against the back and sides since it is in the center of the trade show floor.
The standard size for linear booths is 10’ by 10’, and participants can only enter the booth from one side. Because the booth is up against other booths on three sides, the front is the only side that is accessible.
Perimeter booths are a lot like linear booths, except they only have neighboring booths on either side. The back of the booth is up against the showroom wall, so these booths quite literally form a perimeter around the rest of the trade show.
Perimeter booths are also similar to linear booths in the fact that they share the same dimensions. They are also typically 10’ by 10’, making them almost exactly like the linear booths. However, because it is against a wall, perimeter booths can often have taller displays.
Peninsula booths are the ones that cap the end of a row of standard booths. Only their back wall is against other neighboring booths, and they can be accessed from the front and both sides of the booth.
Because peninsula booths take up the width of two linear booths, their dimensions are typically 20’ by 20’. However, depending on the venue, they can also be larger than this. They are typically more expensive than the linear or perimeter booths.
Island booths are the most unique type of booth. They do not have any neighboring booths in contact with them, so they can be accessed from all sides unless the booth vendor has made the specific choice to block off one or more of the sides.
Island booths are typically 20’ by 20’ but they can often be much larger depending on the location. Some island booths can be choice locations for vendors, but they usually come with a hefty price tag.
The maximum height limit for a trade show booth depends on a few different factors. First of all, it depends on the height of the ceilings in the venue. You obviously cannot exceed the height of the building. Another factor is that the venue owner could set an arbitrary limit to the height that your booth is allowed to be. Also, in general, the height limits for the different booth types are going to be different as well.
Before committing to any designs that meet these height requirements, be sure to contact the venue owners for specific information. These heights are just generalizations, and although most venues abide by these specifications, they won’t be definitively true for every different trade show.
Because they are considered “public accommodations,” trade show booths must comply with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That means that your booth should be set up to accommodate individuals with disabilities, whether their disability is with mobility, sight, or hearing.
In order to provide an equal experience to all individuals visiting your booth, you should keep the ADA regulations in mind when you are laying out your booth’s design. If your booth is elevated, or has elevated sections, then you will need to include ramps for individuals in wheelchairs. You should also keep promotional resources and handouts within reach for everyone.
If your booth has any promotional videos playing, you should include subtitles for hard-of-hearing and deaf individuals. Additionally, if you have knowledge that a deaf individual will be visiting your booth, you are legally obligated to provide a sign language interpreter for them.
Failure to follow the ADA’s guidelines will result in hefty fines, which increase with repeated violations. If you are found in violation of the regulations once, you can expect to pay up to $55,000. Subsequent violations will result in fines of up to $110,000 each, so make sure you take the time to ensure everything is compliant and accessible.
When designing your booth layout, you also need to ensure that you are being compliant with the line of sight rules. This means that you are not allowed to obscure a person’s line of sight to another booth. Nothing in your booth may conceal or obscure anything in the booths around you. Even though trade show booths can be quite tall, the displays within them must adhere to specific height restrictions, while all banners and signs should not be in the way of a person’s view of the booths next to yours.
The front half of your booth is the part to really think carefully about. You may not place any items or displays that are taller than 4 feet at the front of your booth. You also cannot have banners, hanging signs, canopies, graphics, shelves, signs, or anything of the sort in that space in the front of your booth.
On occasion, variances for this rule can be granted. However, do not count on being given an exception, since this is rarely allowed.
Almost all trade shows have a “confines of the booth” agreement in the contract. What does this mean? Well, the rule is pretty much what it sounds like. Everything about your trade show display and strategy must take place within the confines of your allotted space. You cannot have any lights, banners, or signs outside of your booth space, including overhanging displays.
This also means that you will not be allowed to exit your booth to pursue conversations or to distribute marketing materials. Keep your sales pitch for those that actually enter your booth, or you could get yourself in trouble with the venue owner. Even having your employees wander around to converse with show-goers could violate this rule.
When setting up your booth, you need to make sure that your displays are secure and stable enough to withstand reasonable handling. Anything in your booth could end up getting poked or prodded by curious visitors, so you should make sure that nothing can be easily knocked down.
Additionally, there may be wind blowing through the exhibit hall while booths are being brought in and assembled, so your setup must be able to withstand that without toppling. You may also need to prepare for tremors, jostling from neighboring vendors, and other booths setting up around you. Most importantly, double-check all shelves and tables to ensure that they were assembled correctly and will support the weight of anything you place on them.
Refer to the temporary building code regulations for the city in which the trade show is taking place for more specific information.
Providing your booth with additional lighting can be a great way to make your trade show booth stand out, since you can illuminate your exhibit space a lot more clearly and emphasize sections of your display with directional lights. It can be an important aspect of design, but it can also be an intrusive and obnoxious way of drawing attention to your booth.
All your lighting should be directed towards the inside of your booth and should comply with the confines of the booth rules outlined by the convention center owner. You cannot allow for lighting stands or bulbs to reach outside of your allotted booth space. Instead, you need to make sure that all stands, electrical cords, and fixtures are safely within your booth.
If part of your display involves light that is brightly colored, spins, pulsates, or has some other effect, then you should bring it up to the venue owner. If your light show distracts from or interferes with other booths, or if it does not fit the atmosphere of the event, you will not be allowed to use it. Additionally, lasers and strobe lights may present health hazards, and won’t be allowed in most shows.
If you intend to play music in your booth, there are several regulations regarding the use of speakers and music that you need to be aware of. The area of the exhibit is tightly packed, and you should be courteous to your fellow vendors. Under no circumstances should you allow the noise level in your booth to disrupt the activities of the vendors around you. Sound should be kept at a maximum level of no more than 85 decibels when measured in the aisle in front of your booth.
In addition to the overall amount of noise your booth produces, you should also be aware that any speakers should be directed towards the inside of the booth. You should never have speakers projecting sound or music out towards aisles or other booths, or you may be forced to shut the sound off.
If you intend to play music, be aware that you will need to comply with all the applicable copyright laws. You should contact an authorized licensing agency such as the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) or the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) to pay copyright fees for any music you play in your booth. Those agencies then forward the paid fees to the appropriate composer or publisher that owns the music rights.
Music and sound is just one part of a complete checklist for trade show vendors. For more information on what else exhibitors should bring, read our article Trade Show Exhibitor Checklist: Plan For Success.
Before you put a bunch of snacks on your trade show packing list, be aware that some exhibit halls don’t like it when vendors hand out food or beverages. This is especially true if your business is not in the food industry. If you are handing out food, then people are less likely to eat the food that the venue owner had catered for the event. If you hand out food at your booth, you may be fined an amount of money equal to the loss of revenue you cost the catering company.
However, not all trade shows are the same. There may be instances in which it is perfectly acceptable—or even encouraged—to bring your own snacks to distribute. Be aware though, that any alcohol present at the show can only be distributed by the licensed caterer.
Failure to follow the rules of the trade show could result in your booth being shut down. You may also be forbidden to appear in future trade shows, so do not take these regulations lightly.
Some trade shows require a Certificate of Insurance (COI) before you will be allowed to even purchase booth space. Your insurance must be able to cover comprehensive general liability (CGL) for all exhibitor-appointed contractors and the exhibiting company itself.
Understanding trade show insurance can be difficult, but it is definitely not something you want to skip over. If you can’t provide the required paperwork, you might not even be allowed through the door!
Sometimes, the venue owner may partner with an insurance company to make things easier. This makes it easier for the venue owner to monitor who has insurance and who doesn’t, and it makes it easier for the vendors to reach out if they have questions about the policy.
No one wants to think about the possibility of being unable to attend a trade show because of something outside their control. However, sometimes things happen, and you may need to cancel your attendance. When this happens, the more notice you can give the venue owner, the better. Being able to give enough notice could make the difference between getting or not getting a refund for the trade show fees.
Usually, refunds for cancellations are structured to offer partial refunds depending on how much notice is given. The earlier you can notify the owners of your absence, the more of your deposit you are likely to have returned.
Although each trade show is different, a structured refund policy might look something like this:
Remember that a refund policy is not obligatory. A trade show might not offer refunds at all, and if they do, the time limits may be more strict than the ones outlined above. Communicate with the venue owner if you have any questions.
When you’re getting ready for a trade show, you already have your hands full with designing your layout, complying with trade show booth rules and regulations, and coordinating all the different elements of your strategy. Don’t let the logistical challenges of moving your booth and materials to the show be another thing that is stressing you out.
With R+L Global Logistics, you can leave the transportation to the experts while you work on getting ready to give it your all on the trade show floor. We can handle the packaging, safe transportation, and secure storage of all your trade show materials so you don’t have to. With our unmatched trade show freight service, outstanding customer support, and 24/7 availability, we can work closely with you to understand your unique needs and challenges to offer you the best service possible.
While you worry about the trade show booth rules, we can worry about making sure your booth and supplies get to you exactly when you need them, regardless of if you need domestic or international delivery.
What are you waiting for? Request a quote now, and you could go into your next trade show feeling confident!