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Trade Show Labor

The secret ingredient to any successful trade show or exhibition is often the talented labor force working tirelessly behind the scenes. Their effort and expertise ensure that your show runs smoothly, efficiently, and within budget. As an exhibitor, this workforce can become your greatest asset, helping you turn your vision into reality. 

Of course, the multitude of teams on the show floor can be overwhelming at times. So to help navigate the chaos, this guide will help you make the most of your interaction with labor at your next trade show or event.

On Location Trade Show Labor
Trade shows are complex undertakings, involving a multitude of tasks that demand highly specific skills. And while the list of personnel involved in the entire trade show lifecycle can be exhaustive, we’ll focus here on those typically needed on location at an average trade show:

  1. Installation and Dismantle Labor: These are the professionals who set up and take down your exhibits, including signage and floor coverings. They ensure that everything is in its place before the show starts and everything is packed away properly once it's over.
  2. Electrical Labor: Any lighting, audio-visual components, or electronic displays in your booth will need the expertise of electrical labor to install and maintain.
  3. Plumbing Labor: If your exhibit involves water, gas, or air, you'll need the help of a plumber to ensure all connections are properly installed.
  4. In-Booth Forklift Labor: They help with lifting and moving heavy items around the exhibition space. Often, this position requires certification or a forklift license.
  5. Hanging Sign – Rigging/ Hanging Sign Assembly: If your booth has hanging signs, rigging professionals will handle their installation and dismantling safely and efficiently.
  6. Equipment/Lift Labor: They operate the machinery used to hoist or transport bulky items. 
  7. Scissor Lift Labor: These are the professionals who use scissor lifts to access high or hard-to-reach areas in your booth.

Trade Show Labor Companies
The labor you contract can depend entirely on the specifics of the show you're exhibiting at. Some may require you to engage the services of on-site laborers they’ve already contracted with, while others might stipulate that you use union labor. 

To determine which is required, consult your trade show packet or the event's official website for that show’s specific policies. You should be able to find information on staffing, vendors, and unions that are available.

Trade Show Union Labor
More often than not, the labor required to pull off a successful exhibit is covered by a union. To find out what is or isn’t, check your exhibitor service manual, which usually contains a section devoted entirely to union labor. 

This section outlines the specific jurisdictions of various unions at the convention venue. Frequently, union labor is essential for tasks such as moving freight, electrical wiring, rigging signs and banners, and assembling exhibits. A union may also have firm regulations about when you’re allowed to schedule or perform specific tasks.

However, there are exceptions where an exhibiting company's full-time employees, working under a General Services Provider, may handle certain tasks, like setting up an exhibit within specified size and time constraints. If you're uncertain about what you can handle without union labor, reaching out to the show's operations manager is advisable.

Display Labor Installation and Dismantle
"I & D" contractors, or Installation and Dismantle companies, offer on-site labor to help set up and take down your exhibit. And while it’s easy to overlook the importance of build-out and breakdown, getting it wrong can cost you big time.

Overhead costs, including equipment deliveries and city management fees, are covered by these companies. They bill clients only for the hours worked on-site, though rates often include a minimum charge of four hours. However, some I & D companies may waive this minimum, so it's worthwhile to inquire about this when scheduling with them. 

Conversely, labor provided by the show’s General Services Provider may be less expensive, as they often waive the four-hour minimum. 

How Can I Save Money on Labor at a Union Trade Show?
While labor is an unavoidable expense at any trade show, there are several strategies you can adopt to keep costs in check:

  1. Know the Discount Deadline: Often, trade show organizers or service providers like GES offer early bird discounts. Make sure to order or schedule your labor needs before the discount deadline to enjoy these savings.
  2. Understand Straight Time vs. Overtime Hours: Labor rates can differ depending on the time of the week and the hour of the day. Scheduling your labor needs during normal business hours on weekdays could help you avoid paying higher overtime rates.
  3. Consider Rental Booth Packages: These packages often include not just the booth space, but also labor, material handling, and shipping. GES, for instance, offers rental booths with custom fabric displays for select shows, with the cost of installation and dismantling included in the total booth price.
  4. Bundle Services: Look out for services that bundle multiple needs into one. GES Exhibit Systems+, for example, combines materials, labor, and material handling for select shows, providing a cost-effective solution for exhibitors.

Understanding the roles of different personnel and planning effectively can save you time and money, and ensure a smooth, successful event. And of course, if you need a guide to help provide top-tier service for your next trade show or exhibition, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

Focused on Exhibitor Success 
Helping exhibitors have a successful show is our top priority.  If you’re looking for a partner to help with exhibit planning details, download the exhibitor budget worksheet and continue reading our next article in this exhibitor roadmap.

If you are exhibiting at a GES show, click here to find your show and look for GES Exhibit Flooring+, discount flooring packages, and GES Exhibit Furnishings+, discount furniture packages as well as Exhibit Systems+, trade show booth rentals with custom fabric graphics.