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Suitcasing – what’s to do?

 The Trade Show Code

The Trade Show Code newsletter explores what to do when the law, the contract, the rules, your ethics and honor are all intertwined.

Volume 1.1, July 1, 2018  ---   Suitcasing – what’s to do?   

The Shot Show Trade show says: “”Suitcasing” refers to the practice of companies or persons who come to the Show as attendees but “work the aisles” from their suitcase (briefcase), soliciting business from other attendees and exhibitors.”

The nice thing about this issue is that both show managers and exhibitors agree that suitcasing is bad.  .    I’ve used the Twitter hashtag #Suitcasing and it brings up a dozen citations of articles that I reviewed to write this edition of our Trade Show Code editorial.  

There seem to be a few basic responses to suitcasing:

  • Most say: “Throw the bums out,” with variations of blocking future shows.
  • A few consider it an opportunity to prompt the offender to upgrade to a paid position.
  1. One talked about creating a networking event for the violators that cost less than a booth.
  2. Some said once they informed the suitcaser what was not to be done, the perpetrators bought a booth.
  • A third category says it’s trespassing and that’s a crime, and these people should be arrested.

Should there be a standardized code?  A policy that exhibitors and show managers can agree on:

Here are four internet stories that have ideas:

Michael Hart:

Mark Anderson:

Exhibitor Magazine:

Traci Brown:  Who re-tweeted this:

Our suggestion of “The Code” is that suitcasing should be considered an opportunity and those apprehended should be given the opportunity to come clean and buy in.   They need tough-love and their act of suitcasing is a “tell” you can use to bring them into the fold.  They need to be shamed and fear that their companies will be blacklisted in their industry by their unethical cheating. There is money to be made here and an opportunity to not have “a distraction event” on the show flow with a confrontation.

There needs to be open communication between the eyes and ears of exhibitors and show management.  Now that every exhbitor's booth personel have camera phones, the show management should set up an email address so photos and comments about suitcasing can be sent in real time to show management -- show management are the poeple who need to control suitcasing, and they simply need a better ear to the ground.. 

Using a twitter hashtag like #BookExpoSuitcaser  and publicly posting photos seems attractive, but openes the posting person to harrasment and response from the accuesed suitcaser.  Better to send the photos to show management, and when they see as many as needed they are able to make a decision about the infringer.  Sort of a nomination process.  Therefore show management needs to establish an open line of electonic communication with exhibitors.  The old days of having to wait in line a show service booth is asking the exhbitor to leave his booth to seek a solution -- that's something many exhibitiors can't do for staffing reasons. 

However, I see that if a show is fully infected with suitcasing, a one-off actual police arrest and the perpetrator getting walked off the floor could put the fear of god into those remaining, and they just maybe: 

  1. a) Will stop, and
  2. b) Be more receptive to becoming paid participants.

The arrest ploy will have to be carefully done and have:

  1. Lot of entry door signage,
  2. Clear agreement to the contract for entry to the show floor.
  3. Your show manager’s general counsel’s agreement
  4. Buy-in from the local Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  5. Pre-planned tweet to gain control of social media, and maybe a front-page story and pictures in the show daily

I’ve reached out to sources citrated above and will add comments to this The Code editorial if received.

# # #

Comments below:

Comment from Jim Kabbani -- Tortilla Industry Association:  "The way our show handled suitcasers is by creating a special registration category called Non-exhibiting Vendor, and it is rather expensive (fee almost half of the cost of a booth). If they pay it we don't bother them. If they object on the basis that they are coming to evaluate the show and decide whether or not to buy a booth next year, I have my sales manager escort them for free and then they leave. If they try to  sneak in as an attendee then suitcase they are escorted out by security"







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Convention Match to be offered by Trade Show Council.

The problem is both exhibitors and show managers should know about, test and participate in more shows.

The service will help both trade shows and exhibitors find each other.

The service will be depoyed at soon.

---Mitchell Davis

Executive Director

Trade Show Council.

Sponsored by Broadcast Interview Source. Inc.



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Trade Show Council name adopted by old Exhibitor Rights Council.

Council welecomes all participants in the business.

The mission of the Trade Show Council is to foster communication among all participant in the trade show business for the greater success of the business.  A code of best practices is being worked to be called the “Trade Show Code” – a code of best practices that the Trade Show Council suggests for all participants.

The Trade Show Council started out as the Exhibitor Rights Council made up a small group of exhibitors who over their decades of exhibiting faced lots of inconveniences – that where the original 26 inconveniences manifesto came from.

Later this core group of exhibitors realized they were not alone if having grievances and reached to recognize others involved and asked them to share their options too.

The “Council” is based on these types of participants:

  1. Exhibitors – Those with physical presence at a show.
  2. Sponsors – Those who buy advertising and promotion related to a show.
  3. Contractors – Those who provides services.
  4. Vendors who sell – Those who sell booth or other equipment to exhibitors
  5. Vendors who rent – Those who rent equipment to exhibitors’.
  6. Attendees – Those who attend tradeshows.
  7. Information providers – the speakers and presenters who keynote and lead sessions – this includes authors.
  8. Show managers – Like Reed Events that runs book expo.
  9. Venue owners -- McCormick Place is run by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.
  10. Consultants in the industry 




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Convention Score to be offered by Trade Show Council..

Questions will be asked based the inconveniences list first offered on June 27, 2018.  See the list here:

We'll use the same FormSite system we used for the Navigator Score that instantly shows the person taking the quiz their score and allow them, to share it with social media.

Here’s an example of how the FormSite systems works – We also offer a Navigator Score for our other business that connects cruise ship passengers and professionals:

See more info our Cruising Society and Cruising Council at and

More info soon on the Convention Score quiz – if you are a reporting covering this please advise and we will get an embargoed copy the news release once available – Request from Mr. Davis at:

The questionnaire will be at:




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Trade Show Inconveniences?  Here's 26, and a request that you share yours.

Anything inconvenient ever happen to you a trade show? The show manager writes the contact and sets the rules. We, as exhibitors, have limited leverage to get more equitable terms unless we all get together and tell the show managers they have to be fair, reasonable, and clear so we can all succeed. 
Here are 26 Inconveniences I've experienced. I hope you'll relate some of yours that I can add to our The Exhibitor Rights Council Twitter Feed;
These are questions that we as exhibitors should be having conversations with our show managers about. 
1) Abrupt show closing that results in pushing people out of the hall. If the stated show close time is 5:00 PM, it is logical that you don't let more people in, but we request that 15 minutes elapse. Sure lights should flash a few times and announcements made, but it should not look the running of the bulls with the exhibit crews rolling carpet at 5:00. Nope – ring bells at 4:45 or 15 minute before closing. If you extend 15 minutes after closing time, then people will want to stay 20 minutes, then 25. If it's a union shop, they'll be collecting 1.5 time or more and then that will increase the cost of the booth rental.
2) No refund on cancellation of show, including "acts of god." I was on a show floor at 9:00 AM on September 11, 2001. That show had just opened when the news reached us about the horrific attack on New York's World Trade Center. Then the floor cleared and some exhibitors even abandoned their booths. Does your show have a clause that reads the show management will be the sole determinate of any refund in the event of show cancellation? Or, is the policy fair and in the event of a show cancellation the monies paid to show management are to be refunded. Only the monies paid to the show and not freight or booth costs. 
3) Suit-casing is the practice of non-exhibitors or sponsors soliciting sales on the show floor. I've even had sales people from competing shows badger me to exhibit at the competing show. Does your show have a pro-active stance with your staff on the floor to track this and stated phone number to call and report infringement? Are there signs at hall entry that explain that the practice is banned? 
4) Is there a seniority system for exhibitors to allow priority of longer term exhibitor to enter the space draw prior to newer exhibitors? Is the list public or secret? Sure, different sectors of the floor can have different rates and with levels of sponsorship exhibitors can jump to earlier space draw. As an example, the $50,000 plus sponsors pick before the $25,000 sponsors, but seniority is how they pick within class. This means that if the longest term exhibitor buys the highest class he/she gets to choose space first. And yes, the show manager could offer only 30' X 30' islands in the front at a triple foot rate. 
5) Does the show manager want deposits or full payment in advance of booth location choice? Does that show manager sell booths from a floor plan so the exhibitor knows their location and who has already purchased in the area at time of selection? Are we buying a "Pig-in-a-Poke" when asked to pay before space issued?
6) If an exhibitor is asked to change their selected booth location, does the exhibitor have the right to refuse and receive a full refund of monies paid? This is to encourage show management to always make great offers in the event an exhibitor doesn't like the new suggested place. The show manager should bear some risk. What risk?
7) These questions relate to use of employees of the exhibitor vs. temporary or contract employees of the exhibitor – that some shows define as having full time employ of exhibitor for the previous six months.   
a. Can they bring in exhibit materials for booths up to 10'x 20' with hand-power rolling like hand trucks? 
b. Can they assemble and erect their booth?
c. How do you define "employees" vs. "contractors"?
8) What percent of the exhibit show hours are exclusive show hours where the show manager does not have competing programs? Does the show manager have an aggressive "no out-boarding" policy to prevent related groups from having events to draw attendees away from show floor? How many show managers even know what out-boarding is? 
9) Is the show manager proactive in helping exhibitors learn how to do better shows so they: a) make a better show for all, and therefore with greater success "grow the show"?  b)Does the show management suggest tools like or others?  c)Some shows offer a 30 minute "how to do shows" educational event prior the show, and I've of a show that offers a $50 discount on the exhibitor's next show if they attend the training.
10) Does the show manager make attendance and demographic information (including attendee job title) available to prospective exhibitors?
11) Hotel Poaching. Has the show sponsor clearly informed participants about who the official show booking service is and warned us about the fraudulent booking companies? Does the show allow exhibitors into the main room hotel block on the same terms as attendees?
12) Is drayage charged fairly? Is drayage charged on total weight with a minimum? For billing are separate shipments deemed to each have weight minimums. That is: will one shipment of 200 pound be billed the same as two shipments of 100 pounds received on different times? Is this a per day or per truck difference? That is, will the charge be different for two shipments off of separate trucks on the same day, or if the carrier splits a shipment of separate trucks on the same day? Is there a small package rate that is separate from the general weight charge?
13) In the event outbound weight is different than inbound, for instance if many brochures, samples or books are given during the show, away will the outbound drayage be based on actual weight?
14) Can the exhibitor use their own contractors and not those specified by show management?  …and if so in which classes of service.  i.e. it makes a lot a sense for show to be the exclusive contactor for water or gas, but carpet install should be easier to allow the exhibitor to do.  
15) Will the show site or union rules be provided 30 days before show or with initial solicitation?
16) Do the exhibitors have an ability to express their needs to show management with input from small and large exhibitors with: a) An exhibitors' committee, b) an exhibitors' meeting before or during the show with space provided as a courtesy by show management, or C) a representative governing body of the exposition? A tip of the hat to the old Trade Show Exhibitor Association for that, too bad they disbanded.
17) Are your show management trained industry professionals, or are your volunteer board members interacting with exhibitors? Once in a rush to raise money at a show where I was the longest standing exhibitor with #1 seniority an incoming association president stated this extortive statement to me: "It's $50,000 or you'll be in the back of the hall." 
18) Line of site guidelines. In a row of 10'X10' booths, can an exhibitor block the view into the next booth, and what are the rules? This is a sight line issue, for some shows forbid full walls blocking next booths, while some allow them. Shouldn't we as exhibitors be told this before we spend thousands of dollars on a booth? 
19) Will everyone be badged, with color codes so we know who the whales are, and will the badges be scanable.?  Could there be a QR code on the badge and an app the exhibitor could download?   Or do we have to be held hostage by the official show scanner rental scam? There are simple apps that would be compatible with our smart phones, and that would mean every booth rep could scan a badge.
20) We need to ask: "We are bona-fide exhibitors who do other shows in the industry, may we walk your show this year in anticipation of exhibiting next year?" Will there be an on-site booth sale office where we can select location for next year, and what date and time can we visit and be able to buy? Seeing a show in action is the best way to figure out if that show can work for you.
21) How big is your show and is it growing or shrinking? How long has it been in existence? Is it held in the same city each year or does it move from year to year? Where has it been the last three years? Are there regional shows besides the annual one?
22) Can we get a copy of last year's show guide? Is there a "show daily" and can we see last year's and a rate card to advertise?
23) What other offers do you have to promote our show? We've rented lists to pre-mail, ads in program and website, and even had our booth promo and number printed on their admission tickets. Lanyards? At a Book Expo show they sold hanging banners that Amazon bought all around the show.
24) May we apply to speak on any of the panels? What are they talking about in the panels? Are the subjects at hand the issues that your buyers are coming to the show for? Do exhibitors have any say in the topics (if not for the current year, future events)? This is one big tell.  …and is it good to consider is a show is of value based on if the presentation are such they will attract  the best buyers to the show.   If there is MUST GO session the will attract best buyers will show allow your sponsor that one panel, and have a table in the room, or brochures on all the seats?
25) Once I was at show and the show sold ads on the carpet.  This foot print advertising on the carpet in front of my booth was leading people to a booth in the back.  Can you acknowledged that you will not advertising on the carpet in front of my booth?
26) Is the show properly promoting the show so buyers will actually show up? In the UK the court in the Dataliner Ltd v Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association ruled that the show did not properly promote the show and the exhibitor was awarded damages.   AOne exhibitor won a  lawsuit and then the show settled out of court with many others.  As exhibitors we should hold the show manager's feet to the fire. There needs to be a dialog between exhibitors and managers – and the shows need to be up front about how they are marketing and the type of people who will attend.  …and as some shows like book expo, that also does Book Con, have both a professional show and consumer show on back-to-back dates in the same location it is clear that we should know about both. 
Solving these inconveniences comes down to being solvable with better communication and respect.
May I ask you to share any incidents you've experienced at your shows that we add to this list? Please don't names for we would not want to embarrass anyone.   You can send your comment to Mitchell Davis at:  --- Please use the subject: "Comment on Inconvenient new release.
Mitchell P. Davis, Editor
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