Event Design

Saving Millions on Exhibit-Hall Design and Build

How SAPPHIRE NOW's open-floor exhibit pieces have been designed for 'perpetual use.'

SAPPHIRE_NOW_Orlando_2016_013_FWhen Senior Director of SAP Events Keegan Hooks, CMP, told a group of meeting professionals during our behind-the-scenes tour of SAPPHIRE NOW that she had saved “millions” by splitting the design and build of the show’s “assets” between two companies, more than a few jaws dropped. I was among the group of corporate and association meeting planners taking part in the PCMA Road Show in mid-May, sponsored by Visit Orlando and the Orange County Convention Center, where Hooks’ 19,000-attendee business technology event was just getting underway.

As Hooks later explained to me, by separating out the design and build of the “big pieces” of this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW open-space show floor — including meeting centers, a keynote stage, a lunch room, and “content centers,” where short presentations were given — SAP saved money, but creating them with their future use in mind compounded the cost savings.

Separating the design and construction was a new concept for SAPPHIRE NOW. “Just because you design it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will build it,” Hooks said. “I don’t think anyone’s done that before, but I didn’t want to go down a path of all or nothing, because I don’t think that’s competitive in the marketplace.” So Hooks took the winning design package from Sparks and put it out to bid for build, which Freeman won. 

“We had a budget for the build, and it’s a cap expend[iture],” Hooks said, “but I wanted to understand the perpetual use of it. What is it going to cost to tear it down, to bring it back to our warehouse? We built very modular units that we’re hoping to utilize through all of our trade shows and other conferences within North America.”

For instance, some of SAPPHIRE NOW’s demo pods and topic areas were double-sided this year. “Some topic areas were single-IMG_0087sided, so if we needed something to be smaller, we could have made it single-sided; just pull off the back side of it and the back side becomes a huge branding opportunity,” she said. “It takes that huge topic area and breaks it down. It’s four different pieces all together, but you don’t have to use all of them. You could use just one, which is the projection piece of it in the podium, because it’s all built-in, and you could project right there. The podium has the wires for it, so you don’t even need any of the other three sides, or you can use the back side or you could use the other sides — so it’s very modular in the way it was designed, so that we can have flexibility with it.”

Unfortunately, Hooks said, exhibit fixtures are more often constructed for one-time use — a short-sighted, costly, and unsustainably minded approach. “You build something, it’s beautiful, and that one program is the only time it’s used,” she said. “I can’t afford to ship it to a trade show across the country because it’s cheaper to rent a table than to ship and put up my own piece that I own. It saved us tons of money not just in the build, but in the perpetual use of it for three years. I think that is what a lot of planners miss when they’re looking at a build — what is going to cost me in the future?”

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.