Exhibiting in the United States:  Understand and Navigate the Major Differences

Exhibiting in the United States is different than exhibiting Internationally; however, the U.S. market is extremely large and lucrative; therefore, understanding and overcoming the differences is well worth the effort.

Following is a guide to help you navigate some of the differences between exhibiting in Internationally and exhibiting in the United States.


The Stand (Booth)

One difference you’ll note right away is that the size of the stand (booth) is calculated based upon square feet rather than square meters. Additionally, space is sold in 10’ x 10’ blocks, which are equivalent to 100 square feet (9.29 square meters), whereas, outside of the US, stands are often sold in square meters and the stand spaces are different configurations.

Pay special attention to the rules and regulations about stand (booth) construction, which vary from country to country and show to show.  As an example, in the US, a 10’ linear booths is typically restricted to an 8’ high backwall.

While raised floors are common for exhibits around the world, you might consider rethinking them in the United States. Raised floors can be beautifully designed and are not prohibited in the United States, but because they’re less common, Americans often complain about them due to accidental loss of balance.

Also, remember that, while union electricians will lay cables under flooring and install monitors and lights, any extraneous devices you have will need to be 120v (or you will need to have appropriate adaptors), which is the voltage used in the United States.


The Players and their Roles

Following is a description of the different contractors and the roles they perform in the U. S. exhibition market:

Show Organizer – owns and produces the show, creates the content, and invites attendees and exhibitors to participate.

General Service Contractor – is selected by the Show Organizer for each U. S. event.  For the NAB Show, the general contractor is the Freeman Company.  The general contractor offers all the services an exhibitor would need to participate in the event.  Services include everything from custom exhibit rentals, to flooring, labor, shipping and even marketing and experience design.  The general contractor operates an exhibitor service center onsite where exhibitors can get help and arrange for any of their last-minute needs.

Exhibit Designer/Builder – is contracted by the Exhibitor.  The exhibit designer builds and stores the exhibit components.  Additionally, the exhibit builder may be contracted by an exhibitor to manage their display and associated services for the many shows in which they participate throughout the year.

Exhibitor Appointed Contractor (EAC)is selected by the Exhibitor and or the Exhibit Builder.  Exhibitor Appointed Contractors are typically hired to provide the labor to supervise, install and dismantle the exhibit and associated services onsite.  Exhibitor Appointed Contractors can also provide furniture, rental displays, carpeting, audiovisual, and other services an exhibitor may need. All EAC’s must be approved by the convention center and show organizer to protect them from any accidents that may occur during booth setup.

Labor the workers who perform the different aspects of labor required at a show.  Union jurisdictions vary from state to state and even venue to venue.


Show Services

Some of the services which are provided at U.S. shows are “exclusive”, which means that exhibitors are required to use the sole official provider for that service.   Services which are typically exclusive are drayage/material handling (see more about drayage below), electrical, plumbing, hanging signs/rigging, internet, and catering.  These services are typically provided either through the convention facility or the selected general service contractor.


Material Handling (Drayage)

Material handling is the unloading of materials at the dock, delivery to the booth, storage of empty containers, and reloading of those materials back onto the outbound carrier (freight company) or personally owned vehicle.

In the U.S., material handling is an exclusive service that is performed by the general service contractor. This is an expense which cannot be overlooked. On average exhibitors can expect to spend as much as 15% of their final tradeshow cost on the transportation of booth items from a carrier’s delivery vehicle to the booth space and back again.

Material Handling/Drayage fees are based on CWT (which is weight per 100 pounds). In the U.S., basic drayage rates can range between $85 per CWT to about $125 per CWT. There can be up to 24 different material handling categories and additional surcharges, and these can vary from show to show. Most trade shows process each loose item separately and calculate drayage fees using whole CWTs. This means, if you ship an item that weighs 409 pounds, you will be charged as though it weighed 500 pounds. So, be careful when packing items.


The NAB Show has made some revolutionary changes that make exhibiting at the NAB Show and navigating the international differences easier and more cost effective than ever before:

NAB Show Cares understands the challenges of international exhibitors, who are exhibiting in the US, and we’re constantly adding new programs and services to improve your experience.

Sign up for email updates.   Or, if you have specific questions or feedback, reach out to:  NABCares@nab.org