Tales from the Show Floor: Philly Labor

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Recently I completed a project with a client who was exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, PA. The booth space was larger than they typically use for their shows, and they were using a new exhibit design to use within the larger space and maximize their presence at the show. I want to go through my experience to provide the process I used to successfully design and install a new exhibit in what is, by all accounts, one of the toughest places to exhibit in the country.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center opened twenty years ago and has been known to lose many shows in that time due to the local labor union. See this quote from an article in the The Philly Post last fall,

Several years ago, the Convention Center board employed a group of consultants to assess the experience of conventioneers at the facility. The consultants’ conclusion: “Virtually every customer reported that [Convention Center] show labor was inefficient, hostile, or both. The [Convention Center] labor situation is perceived as the worst encountered anywhere in the country at this time.” Read that one more time for full effect.

Well guess what? Little has changed.

Reading this and many other similar quotes, I decided to be very judicious leading up to this show, and also felt it necessary to oversee the installation in person.


When designing this exhibit, I looked to the show manual as soon as it came out to see if any adjustments needed to be made to make my design compliant. They did, and I tweaked the design to fulfill the requirements. I then had the design approved by the show management. I would encourage everyone to do this with new shows and/or exhibit designs, and make sure you get it in writing.


Long before even the design began, I started discussing the ins and outs of success at this convention center with my various labor contacts. Also, several weeks prior to the show, I had a long discussion with the city manager for the labor crew. We discussed what I could do, what I couldn’t, worst-case scenarios and how to limit their chance of occurrence.

Our production manager also put together a fantastic manual with great details like services ordered, setup instructions/photos and a timeline, for the labor crew to have onsite.

Install Day

On the install day, I showed up having planned for the worst, but hoping for the best. I met my I&D team, and have to say, it was a good one. Though we encountered a couple of issues like the hanging sign not being up, and an electrical drop missing; one of the carpenters we had on our team seemed to know the right people to get our booth to the head of the line and taken are of. They worked diligently and solved any issues quickly. We had the entire exhibit up and looking great ahead of schedule. I was more than pleased with the outcome, and of course, very relieved. I guess all of the terrible labor crews I read about, were stuck building exhibits sold by our competitors?


Whenever I do get out on the show floor for installs, I get to see first hand what my clients see every time they exhibit. Its a great learning experience for me for sure. I can say though, that like anything else, preparation is key. For this install, as with others, small issues occurred, but our detailed pre-show preparation removed any chance for catastrophe.

As far as the Pennsylvania Convention Center, it seemed to be a nice place for a show, and maybe everything is headed in the right direction for it to be a successful venue.

If you want more information on the pre-show preparation we do, or if you are going to be exhibiting in Philly and want a good labor crew, feel free to contact us.

Author: Chase Howells

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