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The Event Owl Blog

The Exhibitors Paperwork Curse

by Julie Whalley | 06/06/2017

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Not wishing any disrespect to the many organisers I know and work with, but sadly too many others do not understand their Exhibitors needs and pains as well as they should.  In this blog I describe what it's like to be a one person, small business start up, who started out trading at events with her delicious cupcakes.  Many artisans in the UK start out this way, and many rise to dizzy heights selling to retailers nationwide.  Their businesses are time critical.

Before I started organising events I ran my own small cupcake business (well before the boom started!), trading at local events large and small.  I’d been made redundant, again in three years and was at a loss, but family recipes came to mind. It was hard work. Icing sugar was constantly up my nose, all over the work surfaces, the floor and the house never stopped smelling of sweet, deliciously, buttery cupcakes.  There were days I’d turn up for an event with 300 little sweet topped buns, and due to the weather, come home with 200 fresh, it dampened the soul. My waistline and that of my neighbours, increased.

Searching for suitable shows, festivals and markets, and trying to track down the right person to grab a trade stand form off, was not easy.  I’d spend many an hour at night, after a full day of baking and decorating, not only doing my own business admin, but filling in trade stand forms for events.  I was not alone.

I spoke to many other exhibitors, everyone found the same old, same old being asked for again and again. These trade stand ‘application forms’ were a mix of simple and straight forward to the mind bogglingly complex, and for a 6ft table, or a 3m x 3m gazebo pitch,and became more painful to complete as the months and years progressed.  Some forms were online. Some systems saved my details, others did not.  Some of my documentation was accepted on some systems in one format, others wanted another type of format. 

Then there was the issue of many an online system not giving me a copy of what I’d sent, nor even acknowledgement that I had been accepted! Many a time I had to check with the bank just to find out if a cheque had cleared so the Organiser could check I'd even applied! 

Some organisers were not organised at all it seemed, and had excuse after excuse:

‘We’re only a small volunteer team’

‘Our Exhibitor organiser only works on Tuesdays until event week’

‘We’ve all got other jobs, we meet once a month to discuss the show and exhibitor applications’

'We sent the forms by email some months ago, did you not get them? Sorry we are full now'

On the other hand, exhibitors commented:

‘There’s for too much duplication when you’ve previously had a stand with the organisers’

‘Too many different versions of Application forms, Risk Assessments, why is there no industry standard for these?

‘Printing long forms out to have to then fill in by hand and either we have to post – costs us a fortune, or scan and email’ what a palaver, so painfully time wasting, especailly if they say they never got it. We lose out time and time again’

‘Filling in separate sections for different contractors, such as lifting, power, car parking, water – this means filling in our name and address five or six times or more times for some events, thinking of not going again’.

‘They put up Adobe forms on their website, we don’t have the facility to fill that form in online we have to download it, print it and then complete it by hand, then scan it – its too long winded’

‘I get so peed off that no one lets me know what stage my application is up to, I only find out once they bank my cheque’

And so the comments continued.  Do any of these sound familiar?

Many a time I had to chase organisers not only for the acceptance of my application but a receipt and the set up details. I was also plagued by organisers wanting more information for something they had forgotten, or my insurance had run out, could I send them a copy of the new document.  The cheque was not in the pack (it had been, I had taken a copy for the front sheet with the cheque stapled to it and sent it recorded – as I did all of them! More cost) could I send another and so it went on.  They had not received my application via email, could I send it again (I had a delivered and read receipt notice on my emails!) The time away from my cupcake business was unbelievable as these organisers rarely worked during the evenings.

This was just my experience, and I vowed to alleviate the majority of this palaver when I created Event Owl after doing the job manually for a few years.  I’d be fascinated to hear your experiences when applying for your trade stands at events, good and bad.

I genuinely believe that the more we air our grievances in the event world, the knowledge shared via our Owl community will help build better Organiser, Exhibitor relationships and help to strengthen our local economies.

Next time we’ll look at this from an Organisers point of view then combine the responses!