Furniture and flooring haven't been subject to the same
headline-grabbing, revolutionary advances as audio-visual and
multimedia, but there have still been some major changes.
At the beginning of the Nineties, the ranges of furniture and flooring
on offer from contractors were regarded as functional rather than
As a result, the choice of furniture and flooring was often the last
decision to be made.
The benefits of hiring are obvious - no storage or transport problems
and no capital expenditure, but limited choice eventually encouraged
exhibitors and designers to buy their own furniture.
Waking up to trends
Jon Baxter, director of exhibition stand design and build company Dijon
Designs, says: "Five years ago, we were buying furniture for more than
half of the stands we built, but suppliers have now woken up to current
trends so exhibitors have gone back to hiring. Furniture and flooring
used to be a last minute add-on but it has now become a point of
Roger Dauncey, director of exhibition design and build company Firbank
Kempster, agrees. "For one exhibition in Geneva we ordered furniture
from Ikea and had the company deliver it to the exhibition hall," he
says. "We felt at the time that this gave us better choice and better
value, but now the range and choice of furniture has improved. For the
same stand last year, we went back to hiring."
Dauncey also believes possibilities have opened up because some
materials have dropped dramatically in price. "Timber flooring is
It wasn't at an acceptable price five years ago - now it's almost as
cheap as carpet," he says.
Furniture and flooring contractors appear keen to respond to market
demands, anticipate trends, look for new products and be flexible enough
to cope with individual requirements.
Opex Exhibition Services, which was subject to a management buy-out from
Earls Court and Olympia last May, is one company that has demonstrated
its ability to respond to clients' requirements. The company bought in
690 chairs and 230 tables to suit one client and then added it to its
range. Opex has further investment plans and intends to look outside the
UK for additions to the range, starting with a trip to the Milan
Furniture Exhibition this month.
Opex managing director David O'Connor says: "We have invested about
£120,000 in new stock since last May, but we won't stop there. We
have a large stock of general furniture, but recognise the need to
invest in specific ranges such as for e-commerce and fashion shows. In
the first instance we consult with organisers of those shows and listen
to what the customer wants. We're always looking for new ideas."
As part of the appraisal process, Opex also talks to the staff who
handle the furniture about operational issues such as whether furniture
stacks, how mobile it is, durability and speed of installation.
Wide ranges of colours and finishes give designers and exhibitors more
choice than ever before, with one company at least being able to dye to
order to match corporate colours.
Camden Furniture Hire has an in-house workshop where fabric can be dyed
and chair cushions recovered in any colour to suit clients'
requirements. Although the service has been available in the corporate
event market for the past two years, it is new to exhibition users.
Another way of adapting furniture is by changing table-tops on bases,
either using a standard top on a different standard base, or by
specifying a particular finish and having new tops made to order.
Camden exhibitions sales manager Lynn Curphey feels that, in general,
furniture styles are much more design-led and that the choice of style
depends on the kind of exhibition and the objectives of the exhibiting
company's stand. Low, comfortable chairs in hospitality areas, for
example, where visitors are expected to stay for a while, and bistro
chairs for short visits.
Curphey also believes furniture plays an important part in the way a
stand looks. "Furniture is more than just a finishing touch and can
influence the way a stand works and is used, regardless of the stand
size," she says.
Spaceworks Furniture Hire marketing manager Dan East says although there
are only three or four main suppliers of furniture and flooring to the
corporate event market, there are many suppliers in the exhibition field
with new companies appearing all the time. "People are always looking
for new ideas and something that no one else has," he says.
East reports that beech and chrome have been the most popular finishes
over the past year. "There will always be a place for beech and chrome,"
states Avcom Services marketing coordinator Daniel Cawley. "It's
tasteful and subtle and will always be popular."
For technology and consumer shows, exhibitors are going for brighter
colours and sharper styles. "In some cases a chair is not somewhere to
sit, but another aspect to the design," Cawley says.
Decorative hardwood is a popular finish for flooring, with designers now
able to choose furniture and flooring that complement each other.
Expo Floors managing director Steve Crutchley has seen vast changes in
floor coverings over the past few years. "We have come a long way from
the days when everyone had carpet. Over the past year we have laid
everything from marble to Perstrop (a decorative substance that is mixed
and laid on site), and can now offer practically anything a client
Reeds Carpeting Contractors continually evaluates its range of carpet
colours, which are dyed to its own specification - if a colour is not
popular, it is dropped and replaced with something new. The company
supplies and fits an average of 1,000,000 sq m of carpet each year.
Reeds director Christine Reed is keen to pursue ideas that may lead to
quicker installation and lower costs. She holds regular staff meetings
to look at developments.
One popular product in Reed's range is a vinyl that looks like a wooden
floor, but is easier and quicker to lay. The latest trend, however, is
for a vinyl that looks like metal chequer plate, but is easier on the
feet and quieter. Reeds has developed its own plastic platform edging
product called Flexilock, which is easier to work with than the
traditional metal version, bends easily into shape and comes in four
"Speed of installation is critical," says Curphey. "We recently laid
55,000 sq m of carpet in seven halls at the NEC and we only had eight
hours in which to do it."
Expolapets offers a facility for clients to buy their own furniture and
store it at the company's storage facility. This makes good sense for
any firms who attend multiple shows. The company is able to source any
kind of furniture, but the typical order is for tables and chairs.
Prices are worked out on a customer by customer basis, but work out up
to 50% cheaper than hiring in furniture.
Graham Parrish Exhibitions can provide most furniture, but the most
popular order tends to be tables and chairs, cupboards and reception
units. Prices start at £35 for an ordinary round table and chairs
range from £18 upwards.
Opex's 'soave' chair comes with a leopardskin cover, and at £40
each for a set of four will still leave you with £40 to spend on a
table - maybe a black zone coffee table at £31.
Graham Parrish Exhibitions supplies all types of carpet and prices start
at £3 per sq m for cord carpeting including supply and fitting.
The carpet comes in a variety of colours and range from sun velour,
astroturf, vinyl as well as polythene to protect the carpet while the
stand is being installed.
Expolapets typically supplies velour and cord carpets or modular
flooring, in 100mm platforms. Prices vary from £5 to £9 per
Floorex sells used exhibition cord carpet at 84p per sq m, but again,
the range is limited.
The Index Group, which launched in July, comprises nine independent
contractors and has three founders - furniture and carpeting contractor
Europa International, exhibition shell scheme specialist Hirex and
electrical company RG Exhibition Services.
"Some clients have said although the one-stop shop idea is a good one,
they haven't been so happy with the service they've got," says RG
Exhibitions chairman Keith Richards. "Our benchmark will be service.
We're all self regulated and that means we are harder on ourselves than
perhaps organisers and exhibitors."
The group has drawn up a "Charter of Excellence" which includes a clause
stating that "if for any reason a member is unable to fulfil the
contract the Index group will complete the service". If any company
breaks the rules then it could be fined up to £2,000, which
according to Richards "would hurt most of the companies".
The group denies it is in competition with British Exhibition
Contractors Association (BECA).Hirex director Jonathan McWilliams says:
"BECA probably thinks we're a good thing as it helps the industry."
Tel: 0800 085 9885
- Avcom Services, Unit 2, Park View, Alder Close, Eastbourne, E Sussex,
BN23 6QE. Tel: 01323 736 357
- Camden Furniture Hire, 20 Bethune Road, London NW10 6NJ. Tel: 020 8961
- Dijon Designs, Dijon House, Long Hanborough Business Park, Long
Hanborough, Oxfordshire, OX8 8LH.
Tel: 01993 882871
- Expo Floors, 65 Cheston Road, Aston, Birmingham, B7 5EA. Tel: 0121 326
- Firbank Kempster, Brandmarque House, 2 High St, Bagshot, Surrey, GU19
Tel: 01276 453544
- Opex Exhibition Services, Earls Court Exhibition Centre, Warwick Road,
London SW5 9TA. Tel: 020 7370 8715
- Reeds Carpeting Contractors, Unit 1, 183 Torrington Avenue, Tile Hill,
Coventry, Warwickshire, CV4 9VQ. Tel: 024 7627 9708.