SUPPLIER SOLUTIONS: Following fashion - When choosing furniture and flooring for a stand, companies and designers are increasingly thinking fashion not function. Jane Stanbridge finds out which styles are currently all the rage

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

extremely popular.

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.

Adapting furniture

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.

Latest trend

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

sq m.

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.

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