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July 2, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: Innovation and Creativity in Stand Designs

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By Kim Muller

Trade show exhibitors know their stands are probably one of the most important elements in face-to-face marketing. According to a recent article Bob Dallmeyer wrote for UFI, 75 percent of all visitors arrive at an exhibition with a predetermined agenda as to whom they plan to see – and often what they plan to evaluate and buy, too. Creating an eye-popping, functional and attractive exhibition stand is therefore imperative in helping swing the otherwise determined buyer in your general direction.

Full Stretch Display (FSD) shared some international exhibition design trends with their readers earlier this year, citing collaboration zones, balance and contrast, social integration and custom design as some of the expected trends. Whether these reach South African shores or not remains to be seen, although some things – like Meetings Africa’s social media wall and related app at their 2015 trade show – are pointing toward an increase in integration between the virtual and real world.

“We believe that there are going to be big and exciting changes in our industry over the next few years,” says Laurette Sibiya, Marketing Executive at SSQ Exhibitions, “changes to show formats and infrastructure, and changes to how clients are going to want to exhibit themselves and communicate their brand and service offerings.” SSQ Exhibitions has invested in a number of systems to streamline operations, with their designers attending local expos and talks by industry leaders to ensure they stay on top of leading trends, materials and regulations. The company won Best Over Lander Vehicle Stand: Nissan at Getaway Show 2014 and Silver Best Indaba Stand Award: Sun International at Tourism Indaba 2014, among many other accolades.

Sibiya says that one of the biggest trends in the local industry at the moment is a focus on sustainability. Most organisations in Southern Africa are aware of the event greening movement and the Event Greening Forum is making a huge difference in standardising and encouraging these practices in the exhibitions sector. “Thanks to increased awareness on the importance of being green, clients are gradually getting into the habit of re-using their complete stands, or even a few stand elements,” Sibiya continues. “In addition, as an alternative targeted brand experience, clients are also dedicating a greater focus towards activations in the form of roadshows and mall displays.”

A great example of the green movement is Scan Display’s own initiative of rolling out LED lighting on exhibition stands, now with almost 90 percent of their stands using this lasting, environmentally friendly option. Justin Hawes, Managing Director at Scan Display, says that greening is definitely more economical. “We are re-using a lot of elements and materials and this generates a big saving. We are also seeing more steel being used. We used steel shipping crates with their sides removed to create the skeleton structure of Scan Display’s Markex Johannesburg 2015 stand,” he explains. Scan Display is an established leader in the exhibitions sector and a multi-award-winning company with a focus on greening events. They recently provided the infrastructure for the upmarket We Are Africa show, as well as Cape Town Art Fair, which had 600 running meters of seamless walling.

Hawes goes on to say that they have seen a greater demand for custom built stands – one of the international trends FSD cited in their report. “A lot of our clients are going with smaller stands, but they are spending more per square metre on their stands, using custom elements to make an impression. They want sophisticated, unique displays,” he says. “Another industry trend is the growth that we see in the more innovative exhibitions and events. The more niche and novel shows are really taking off.”

Although international trends generally take time to trickle down to South Africa, clients are ever-aware of the trends taking place overseas, according to Sibiya. “Some of our international clients are mandated to align with international designs, often produced from foreign head offices.” She goes on to say, however, that local shows are often categorised a level or grade lower that international expos and as a result, are not allocated the same types of budgets as that of European and US shows. “With that said, we’re more than happy to produce designs that flaunt a South African flair, depicting our striking uniqueness and richness in diversity.”

US stand building trends are not as prominent in South Africa as Eurocentric ones, says Hawes, and this is mainly because of their drayage charges, which limit the scope of designs and the material used. “I do see European influences coming through in our local markets,” he continues. “Two years ago at Euroshop, we saw a lot of eco-friendly materials, raw wood and other unusual substrates being used and I have seen this trend filtering through into local exhibitions.”

Although the depreciation of client budgets remain an industry challenge, the exhibition sector on the continent has been performing well, according to a recent UFI report. Hawes says that locally, the size of the industry has been maintained. “Innovative shows are growing, some other shows are decreasing in size, and we also are seeing a consolidation of some events.” He goes on to say that power outages are creating quite a problem of late in local circles. “We have implemented solar power at our Johannesburg and Cape Town offices and we will continue rolling out with solar power throughout our operations,” he concludes.

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