exhibition stand design NEC Birmingham

The velcro workshop sign

By Mark Powell

“Full in-house production facilities”

Possibly the biggest lie in the exhibition industry.

Many exhibition companies use it as a selling point, telling clients and prospects that they have their own production facility, team of carpenters, graphics studio, stock of furniture, audio-visual equipment, etc…

The reality is that there are very few companies these days – especially in 2021 – who truly have the main components of an exhibition stand build all under one roof.  Even those who do design, build and project manage will hire in the services of specialist AV companies, flooring contractors, furniture hire and other services.  These areas are simply not practical to have ‘on the books’ in-house as they wouldn’t be utilised often enough to cover the wages and other costs.

The simple truth is this: if you don’t own your own workshop and employ your own carpenters, decorators and labourers to build the stands that you design, then there is only one word to describe you.


Dressing someone else’s staff in your branded t-shirts and hi-vis vests doesn’t make them yours.

Nailing up a sign with your logo on it over the door of the contractor’s workshop when your client wants to see ‘your workshop’ doesn’t make that workshop yours (yes, that does happen!).

Using the words ‘turn-key solution’ and ‘full-service contractor’ on your website doesn’t make it true.

It makes it a lie.

And in the exhibition business it happens a lot.

exhibition stand design agency

Now I can only think of three reasons for someone to lie about how their company operates.  Firstly, they think that in-house services sound better than outsourced services to a potential client, so tell those people that they have their own workshop and team of people under their own roof so that they look like a more appealing prospect to do business with.

Secondly, they are frightened that if the client knew that another company was actually delivering their exhibition stand, they would maybe approach that company direct and cut out the middleman, making them superfluous to requirements.

Third, and a twist on reason two, that the build contractor will approach the clients direct and steal the work.  Hence the increasing use of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) of late.

For me, reason #1 is just looking at things from the wrong perspective.  Over the years I’ve worked with some very big corporate clients, small start-ups, and everything in-between, and have always actively brought up the fact that we are and agency and outsource our build work.  It has never once been an issue; possibly because I actually use it as a selling point.

You see, as an agency, if we have a very small job we can place it with a very small workshop, thus keeping the overhead costs down.  Should we have a client with a large build, then we can utilise a large workshop – possibly even multiple contractors – and benefit from their larger setup and resources.  Not only that, when we don’t need those resources, we – and the client – are not paying for them to sit idle.

We have specialists that we bring in for certain jobs as needed, for electrical, audio-visual, graphics, transport.  Doing so makes us more reactive and flexible. 

Reasons 2 & 3 boil down to trust.

If you trust your clients and your build contractors to not go behind your back and cut you out of the process, then what’s the problem in admitting how you work?  I can think of no other explanation other than mistrust.  I trust our contractors unreservedly, both in delivering a quality exhibition stand and in not stealing our clients from under my nose.  Any relationship not built on trust is, well, not one I’d like to be in.

There is one other issue that crops up with agencies lying about their resources, and that’s insurance.  Every exhibition stand that is built anywhere in the world has to have ‘RAMS’ paperwork submitted before it is allowed to be built.  Risk assessment, method statement, public liability insurance, and since April 2015 in the UK, construction phase plan (CPP) under the CDM (construction (design and management)) regulations. 

Now the CPP must state who is doing what.  Principal designer, main contractor, and all sub-contractors MUST be listed in this document. 

Not a problem I hear the agencies cry; the client never sees that paperwork!  If they do state the true nature of who’s doing what, and the proper insurance policies are in place, then legally that’s fine.  It’s then just a moral issue, and a case keeping that form away from the client.

If the agency is wrongly stating that they are the main contractor though, and an accident happens on site… Well, I wouldn’t want it to be me.

As an exhibitor how can you tell if your full-service, everything in-house stand builder is actually an agency in disguise?  I’m not actually sure.  People in the industry will know, but might not be willing to say.  The lads on site might let it slip, but they’ll often be told to keep quiet about it.  You could ask for a copy of the RAMS and CPP – best from the organiser as there might be a ‘special set’ for clients…  You could have a peek at the van that your stand arrives in and see if the logo matches the company you’re paying to build it.

In the end it comes down to honesty and trust.

Violet Exhibitions are an agency.  We design and project manage, bringing in all the relevant people to deliver each stand as needed.  We have suppliers that we trust and who work with us, not for us, to give our clients a great service.  We also save a small fortune on branded workwear for other people’s staff.

I’m sure the same is true of other agencies who are masquerading as ‘full-service contractors’.  So why the lie?  You’ll have to ask them.

Violet Exhibitions Ltd  |  Alpha House  |  Coventry Road  |  Fillongley  |  CV7 8ET      tel: 01676 248 498

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