Portable Trade Show Displays: Ideas & Inventory

Custom Exhibits | Exhibit Design | Portable Displays
April 21, 2022

The proliferation of exhibition display websites makes buying a portable trade show display easy. Perhaps too easy. Most exhibitors, especially new ones, know very little about display hardware and graphics. They see beautiful images of custom exhibits with great prices and the convenience of point and click. What arrives, however, may not match the pretty picture or the online description. More often than not, the hardware, the graphics, and the packaging leave a trade show newbie scratching their head wondering, “What have I done?”

Let’s make this easy… or at least a little easier. Below is a quick introduction to and about portable trade show displays. Plus, we’ll cover some rules of thumb about portable displays so you can make the best decision for your business. 

Why Portable Trade Show Displays?

Sadly “putting the cart before the horse” is a common mistake when buying a portable display. Exhibitors become fixated on size and price instead of asking the following:

  • What are your marketing goals for the show or shows?
  • Is this a short-term or long-term purchase?
  • Will we need accessories like shelves, locking storage, tablets, or monitors?
  • And who will be assembling the booth?

It’s easy to pigeonhole portable display buyers. They want something cheap and easy, and they ignore advice about quality and design. That’s an unfortunate, and more often not, incorrect assumption. 

Yes, portable trade show displays are ideal for a small business with a DIY spirit, a modest budget, and a limited number of shows each year. They’re also perfect for a Fortune 500 company that attends smaller shows, events, and meetings. Most corporate exhibitors want an attractive, durable, and easy-to-assemble display. They value features like modularity and accessories like monitor mounts, tablet enclosures, and literature trays. Price is important but not at the expense of their brand.

Portable Trade Show Displays – Next Steps

Once you’ve answered the questions above, then selecting the right display gets easier. It’s time to start shopping. Portable displays come in many styles ranging from inexpensive banner stands to upscale portable modular systems. Some pack in a carrying bag no bigger than overhead luggage. Other systems require roto-molded cases with wheels. “Portable” can include a tabletop display or a 10 x 30 inline. Most assemble without tools… but not all do. Even a basic fabric or vinyl backdrop is considered a portable option. 

Price doesn’t necessarily reflect quality. It’s possible to buy a solid portable display but have issues with ongoing support. Or the packaging may not be designed for UPS or FedEx shipping. Price is more often an indicator of modularity, creativity, and uniqueness. 

What you buy is just as important as who you buy from. There are two options: an online display website or a local provider. Both can supply you with similar products and prices. Much will depend on your short and long-term trade show marketing plans and whether a provider can support your evolving trade show program with products and marketing advice.  

5 Trade Show Portable Displays by Exhibits NW

1. NEXT! | Fabric Display (10 x 10) 

trade show portable displays

The NEXT Modular SEG Fabric System combines the upmarket hard panel looks of custom SEG Extrusion Systems with the lightweight, no tools, ultra portable world of pop-ups.

2. SYKN-1033 | Symphony Portable Display (10 x 10)

pop up trade show displays

The SYKN-1033 Symphony blends easy tool-less assembly with elegant design and clever accessories. With Symphony, there are no compromises… Simply a beautiful upscale display at a price that’s thousands less than most custom modular exhibits.     

3. VKN-1961 | SuperNova Lightbox (10 x 10)

portable display

The VKN-1961 is an attractive, practical, and portable lightbox designed for the serious exhibitor. The portable design includes SEG fabric and direct print graphics, shelves, and a monitor mount. There’s also a pedestal with an angled standoff graphic, an iPad stand, and locking storage.

4. TFN-523 | Hybrid Inline Displays (10 x 20)

trade show portable displays

The TFN-523 is a powerful visual design with practical features like a large monitor, back wall counter, and locking storage. The reception counter contributes to the graphic messaging and offers a convenient swivel iPad or Surface Tablet Mount.

5. SYKN-2028 | Symphony Portable Lightbox Display (10 x 20)

pop up trade show displays

Create the perfect portable display by selecting from stylish back wall shapes and distinctive counters and workstations. The mix and match flexibility encourages unlimited design possibilities. Need a different look for your next show? Symphony’s SYKN-2028 modular SEG frames are double-sided and re-configurable. 

What to Consider Before Purchasing a Portable Display 

#1. Too Good to Be True Prices

We’ve all made this mistake. Many portable display websites show really low prices, which are merely the starting point. You then have to add graphics, accessories, cases, and shipping which can increase the price by as much as 3X to 6X.

Not all portable websites are constructed this way so it’s important to compare the “build a bear” pricing with the “what you see is what you get” pricing.  

#2. Quality

Unlike cars, appliances, or smartphones, there are no consumer reports for portable displays. And let’s be honest, the rating system on most websites is suspect. Sure you can watch a video, which may or may not be helpful.

Higher-quality systems with a proven track record tend to cost more. They use sturdier frames, stronger connections, and better cases and packaging (but more on that later).

Always ask about the warranty and the return policy. Quality display products are backed by strong warranties and reasonable return policies.

#3. Assembly

Assembly matters but probably not as much as you think. Some require tools. Others do not, which shouldn’t be the only determining factor when choosing a portable display. Is the assembly process intuitive? Are the parts labeled and numbered? How stable is the display when it’s done?

Remember… you will be assembling the display multiple times over months or even years. Each time it should be faster and easier to set up. If not, then the overall fit and finish may be suspect and/or the materials of questionable quality.   

#4. Graphics

Most portable systems rely on fabric graphics for the larger images (like the main back wall) and direct print graphics for smaller images (for counters or headers). If you’ve shopped for a TV recently, you know the same size screen can vary in price, often by hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Graphics vary too. Low-quality graphics are printed on older machines, using thinner materials, and use less ink per square inch. They may look fine until you place them next to higher-quality graphics, like your competitor in the booth beside you.

Just as important is the fit on the frame. It must be perfect or near perfect. Too loose and the graphic appears sloppy and cheap. Too tight and the images are distorted and fitting them to the frame is like putting pants on a sleeping bear.  

#5. Replacement Parts

Assume you will misplace or break a display part at some point. Because you will. It happens. When considering a portable display, always ask the following questions:

  • Are replacement parts available? Is there a catalog with prices?
  • How long will it take to receive the replacement part?
  • Is the replacement part guaranteed to fit?

Some portable systems are considered disposable by the manufacturer. If you lose a part, then your only option is to buy a whole new display. With others, getting a replacement part to match your frame is nearly impossible.

Better portable displays are designed and manufactured with exact-fit tolerances and interchangeable parts. The parts are available via quick ship.

#6. Packaging

Very few buyers consider packaging when buying a portable display. THAT’S A HUGE MISTAKE!

Poor packaging contributes to lost parts, damaged components, dirty graphics, assembly frustration, and overall long-term satisfaction with a portable display. The vast majority of portable displays are shipped using temporary packaging like shrink-wrap, paper, disposable foam, and tape. These are all tossed away at the first show. Then what?

Some portable systems use reusable packaging, like foam inserts, nylon bags, and heavy-duty corrugated boxes. Everything has a spot and every item is protected during shipping. This ensures that the display looks new for much longer and makes it easier to assemble since the components are organized and protected.  

Inventory Options for Trade Show Displays

Of course, portability means things are easier to transport, no matter who’s transporting them, and no matter where they’re transporting them to. That is, these things are easier to steal or simply misplaced. Two ideas here for keeping track of your trade show inventory.

First, mount some cameras. They can be real security cameras that take actual footage of your booth or just props–the idea is for people to see them and think twice about trying to make off with anything.

Second–and this is especially helpful if you’re looking to make actual sales at the trade show–bring an inventory management system. These days, you don’t even need a whole laptop to do this. Just pack a tablet with a camera that can scan barcodes and update your software before and after the show with your inventory numbers. This way, you can at least cut down on user error.

Are Pop Up Trade Show Displays Right For Your Next Show?

It depends. Pop-up Displays have been a mainstay in the trade show industry for over 40 years. And for many good reasons. They are inexpensive, easy to assemble, pack quickly, and versatile. Twenty years ago, ⅓ to ½  of the displays at a typical regional trade show would have been pop-ups. They are excellent visual billboards but less effective for companies with physical products to show or sell on the show floor. Their success over the years has become a burden. Let’s use cars as a metaphor. Pop-up Displays are dull sedans in a world of flashy SUVs. 

That said… 1000’s of pop-up displays are sold every month. For a post about the history of pop-up displays and the features and benefits, see Display History — Portable Pop-Up Displays

Final Thoughts on Portable Trade Show Displays

Purchasing a trade show display, regardless of the size or price, is a sales and marketing investment. If you’ve ever walked a trade show floor and said to yourself, “Seriously dude?!” about someone’s display then you know the harm a cheap portable display can do to your image. Before buying an exhibit consult with an Exhibits NW Exhibit Professional to discuss your needs and marketing goals.

Schedule a Call

If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form, and we’ll contact you shortly.

Schedule a Call
If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form and we’ll contact you shortly.