MOBILE UNITS: Total trailers - Mobile unit suppliers are broadening their services as the battle for business hots up. Emma Reynolds reports

As the British weather heats up, so too does competition in the mobile unit market. As a result suppliers are broadening their offer so they can provide more than just a trailer. In addition to storage, maintenance and delivery, mobile unit suppliers are offering an increased range of customer services including advice, design and graphics facilities.

Whether hiring or buying a mobile unit there is no guarantee that clients will know exactly what they want or where to take it - especially if they are a first-time user. Going to a supplier that can advise on such matters can help take the headache out of any decision-making.

Torton Bodies managing director Clive Andrews says: "The idea is not to make a quick killing, but to give them a unit that's right for the job. There have been times when we could have sold expensive units to customers and have instead lost out on business by advising them to get a smaller one."

Listen to people

Masters Exhibitions technical marketing manager Steve Scovell adds: "It's important to listen to people and give them what they need. We help them decide what vehicle to use and then design the interior. We're not square-box merchants, we can build curves into the interior if that is what's wanted.

Masters' clients include HSBC bank and wine house Ernest & Julio Gallo.

Companies may also want to avoid using a separate graphics firm. Some suppliers including Torton Bodies and Masters Exhibitions feature in-house graphics divisions, while other firms such as Marketing Vehicle Logistics (MVL) can arrange to have them outsourced.

Event Marketing Solutions (EMS) uses a specialist graphics supplier for clients that want such a service. EMS managing director Keith Austin says: "We talk to clients so they understand the function of the mobile unit. We make sure that there will be a one- to two-hour build-up time for just two people, which will help keep the cost down."

Lynton Showpoint Group has a management service that includes delivery, build-up, breakdown and graphic design. It also provides a roadshow manager who remains with the unit and works as part of the client's team. Lynton Showpoint sales director Glynne Stockell says: "We can guide customers through the pitfalls and remove all the aggravation. It's a comfort factor for clients."

Repeat business

Many suppliers know that a successful event is likely to generate repeat business, and so offer some form of event management service to customers.

MVL is part of the Heart of England Group, which also boasts its own corporate event venue. Its 16-strong event management team can also be used to help plan mobile campaigns.

MVL event coordinator Joanna Davis says: "We provide drivers, who also perform event manager roles, and promotional staff for sampling campaigns. We can advise on marketing strategy by looking at the customer profile and identifying which events they should target."

MVL was behind a three-year campaign for Cadbury, which finished last year, in which a trailer toured festivals and schools in the Birmingham area.

EMS helps customers with site selection and event promotion by matching client requirements to a database of events and venues. It will also advise on additional marketing methods such as direct mail or radio and undertakes post-event analysis to help improve the next campaign. Austin says: "The route to market is complicated so you need to make sure you have covered everything. You need to identify objectives and expectations prior to the event so we can say if they are realistic."

Trailer suppliers can also research venues to make sure they know which ones are best suited to particular clients and their campaigns. Professional Exhibitions (Pro-Ex) marketing and PR coordinator Trevor Jones says: "This is a vital part of any mobile campaign. The best trailer in the world is useless if no-one sees it.

Pro-Ex also sources corporate clothing and giveaways, and provides promotional staff from its database.

Deciding factor

As the role of the mobile unit supplier develops, the more difficult it becomes to set rack rates, but money is not the only deciding factor.

As EMS's Austin says: "I used to sell to customers on the vehicle alone - now I sell on service. People don't just come to us to purchase a trailer, they buy a solution to their problem."

CASE STUDY

Professional Exhibitions (Pro-Ex) was commissioned to design and operate a mobile unit for an Arthritis Care roadshow in 2000 after the UK charity was awarded lottery funding to raise its profile and promote its work.

Pro-Ex liaised with Arthritis Care's disability awareness consultants during the design and build process to ensure that it delivered the most suitable vehicle for the year-long promotion.

The company settled on a purpose-built unit that was 13.9m long and 7m wide. It offered full disabled access via a hydraulic lift and the 50 sq m interior had a flexible layout that included office space, counselling areas and a kitchen. Pro-Ex designed the trailer so that build-up would take no longer than two hours with a crew of just one.

The Pro-Ex team researched each of the 48 venues on the roadshow to make sure the locations were suitable, and to liaise with police and local authorities about routes and health and safety requirements. A rotating team of three drivers delivered, set up and manned the trailer and remained with the volunteer workers at every site to make sure everything ran smoothly at the events.

Arthritis Care roadshow coordinator Duncan Innes says: "If I were to point to one thing above all others that ensured that the roadshow was a success, it was the expert, professional help that Pro-Ex provided for us throughout the planning and delivery of the roadshow."

The unit attracted about 250 visitors each day during the first 12 weeks of the campaign.

CASE STUDY

Torton Bodies won a commission in 1996 to design and build four trailers for MG Rover Group. Torton stores and maintains the trailers and two years ago produced new designs for the car manufacturer. Torton teamed up with The Russell Organisation on the interior design.

Rover dealers have to book the trailers through Torton and the company provides driver managers who not only deliver and set up the units but remain on site to help with the event.

During peak seasons Torton provides back-up units from its hire fleet.

These trailers are also liveried with MG Rover graphics.

CASE STUDY

Geronimo Public Relations appointed Event Marketing Solutions (EMS) earlier this year to manage the logistics for the Department for Education and Skills' Aimhigher roadshow. EMS sourced Vipex to manufacture the five seven-metre trailers, designed by Twisted Media, that will tour schools for the next three years to promote higher education.

EMS handles the build-up and makes sure all technical equipment is set up correctly. It is also responsible for maintenance and transporting the trailers to a secure area at the end of each day.

"It was our job to turn the logistic concept into a working reality," says EMS managing director Keith Austin.


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