How retail can learn from trade show designers

Trade fair construction companies and shopfitters have a lot in common. Both want to turn a passerby into a potential buyer. Both try to present their clients in the proper light. They pull out all the stops in visual merchandising and where there are no tangible products but intangible services, the brand takes center stage. Store designers can learn a lot from trade show architects in this aspect.

At first glance there is not a lot that a retailer can copy from trade fairs, since trade shows after all are only designed for a few short exhibition days. Floor covering, furnishings and technology do not have to withstand everyday life for many years. That’s why at the trade fair the aesthetics and design are more important than the practical use and cost effectiveness of use.


© Türke

But nevertheless: especially the short term use is exciting. Exhibit builders have to spot trends, visualize them and oftentimes realize them on just a few square meters. So it’s not surprising that Klaus Günter of kohlhaas messebau in our interview on this focal topic, views shopfitting as quite conservative – particularly in Germany where things are weighed out longer than for instance in Italy.

Trade fairs today however are no longer primarily about sales deadlines. If anything they serve public relations and the cultivation of one’s image. The deals are made in the weeks and months after. But proprietors also know: not every visitor immediately drops some money. When products become more and more alike, when there are more and more suppliers, particularly via the Internet, things depend more and more on your own brand.

“The way to the top“– Telling a story

Presenting a brand – that’s what trade fair construction companies demonstrate. They implement advertising campaigns from the two-dimensional world into the three-dimensional world. Brands are staged at the booth as an experience. The creative people in the trade fair agencies try to make the brand essence and the brand message tangible and visible. Retailers can learn a lot from this, because although they put their brands on their shelves, they still view themselves far too rarely as a brand name.

It helps branding presentation if you can tell a story. This way images are created in your mind that will be better remembered than dry facts. This is exactly what Atelier Türke attempted at the last EuroShop for instance. Aside from the trade fair construction company, an advertising agency also belongs to a group of companies. And on a personal level, a few years ago they came up with the image of a mountain guide who escorts his customers to the top of success. Brochures and webpage show images from the mountain world and company events take place in the mountains. Atelier Türke Messedesign attended the EuroShop with a large 40 square meter corner booth. They stacked unfinished timber floor boards with crevices measuring several centimeters which enabled you to view a photo documentary of the company’s activities in the mountains. A lawn, alpine singing, Toblerone chocolate and mountain beer rounded off the topic.

Branding presentation – you can also accomplish this by making your company’s philosophy take center stage. Green arguments meet the current trend in that aspect – and no longer just in drugstores and grocery stores. Those who sell shoes or sports equipment, furniture or entertainment electronics can also point to eco-friendly assortments of goods by now. However, this is only convincing if shopfitting is also as CO2 neutral as possible. In trade fair construction, environmental protection is so far barely a topic. After the trade shows, trash heaps are piling up. But even here there is a beginning mind shift as is evident in our interview with Simon Damböck, Managing Director of Atelier Damböck Messebau.


New technology for visual merchandising

New technology can help with energy conservation. That’s why LEDs were an important topic at the EuroShop. But the luminescent diodes not only conserve energy, they also add new ideas for visual merchandising. This is often the case with inventions. Designers experiment on how they can be used for new purposes. Trade fairs are a great visual aid for this.

New technology is used more at booths than in the mass market of stores. This is how it was for instance with digital signage. When a few years ago the first retailers experimented with in-store TV networks, large-scale projections and monitor screens had long been custom in the world of trade shows. After all, exhibitors want to show how up to date they are by using the latest technology. And what’s more: the moving images are very well suited for image building with emotions.

Trade show visitors are customers, but there are expert and consumer trade shows. If retail wants to keep track of how the public reacts to new design concepts, both events have their appeal. Consumer trade shows and their masses of visitors are close to the hustle and bustle of pedestrian areas. Expert trade shows in contrast are frequented by industry professionals. These experts are usually well prepared and have a tight time schedule. Those who want to lure them to their booth on the spur of the moment, have to offer quite a lot.


Face to face – Customers and competitors

Admittedly this doesn’t just include trendy trade show architecture and design. The human being is also important. Just like they are for the store, staff is also very important at trade shows as well. You can observe this very well on long trade show days. In the mornings the associates at the booth are still addressing the passerby, in the evenings – after standing for hours, often without seeing any day light and all the noise of the halls – they retreat more and more inside their booths and become more passive.

In the exhibition halls the rivals – or “competitors“ to be more politically correct – are only a few steps away. In the world of stores this often is no different. In shopping centers or malls they are often under the same roof just like they are in the exhibition hall. The booths have somewhat of a shop-in-shop feel, but while the hosting department store or shopping center pays attention to a minimum of uniformity, at trade shows it is far more important to attract attention. The halls are higher and therefore also offer more freedoms. Everybody tries to take advantage of this for their company.

Exhibition halls in some aspects are similar to amusement parks. The amusement ride suppliers put their carnival rides next to each other without any reference to one another. Everybody wants to stand out and everybody wants to attract the visitors. It can be interesting for retailers who are searching for new ideas to go to a different amusement park, in other words: to visit a trade show from another industry sector. And then the showcased products are less the focus than the visual merchandising and booth construction.

If you look at it that way, you don’t have to wait until the next EuroShop to learn from trade fair construction companies in terms of store layout. In February at the EuroCIS you can once again have a piece of EuroShop. The presentation of software and services poses a special challenge, because you cannot just put them in a box on the shelf. Nowadays this is also no longer enough in real stores.

René Schellbach,


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