Exhibit like an expert: shell schemes and small spaces

First time exhibitors, sole traders and small businesses may find they need to make the most of a small budget and a small footprint. While larger, more mature brands often build huge, bespoke stands to wow the crowds, smaller exhibitors can still achieve a big impact at the trade show with limited resources and real estate.

When you sign up for a small pitch or a shell scheme stand, it can be a challenge to make it stand out. You’ll be surrounded by dozens of stands with an identical footprint, all competing for footfall and attention. Dave Roberts of Ancoats Guitars exhibited multiple times during his first year of trading. His steep learning curve puts him in a fantastic position to share his experience and help others to maximise their presence.

What’s on offer?

When you enquire about exhibiting at a trade show, you’ll have the opportunity to select your pitch. Depending on the event and venue, you may be able to choose the size and position of your pitch. 

When Ancoats Guitars exhibited at The Guitar Show in Birmingham, space was at a premium, and prime pitches hard to secure. As a result, Dave found himself a little bit off-the beaten track:

I was a bit tucked away in the corner, so unless anyone made a specific effort to venture my way, they wouldn’t get the full-frontal impact of my display.

Wherever possible, then, make sure you consider the position of the stand you’re booking, and get in early to secure a good spot. There’s usually a site map available, so look at the position of entrances, exits, facilities and food stalls to identify a pitch with a good amount of footfall. You may also have the option to select a space only pitch, or a shell scheme.

What is a Shell Scheme?

Although the name sounds like it should be a type of fraud, a shell scheme can be a smart investment! ‘Shell scheme’ is the exhibition industry term for an off-the-peg pitch package. Typically, it will come as a pre-built booth with some basic appointments like walls, flooring, lighting, power and maybe some simple furnishings like chairs and tables.

Shell scheme trade show

While the template these schemes provide can create a convenient backdrop for your display, there are also some disadvantages to consider. You might find that a shell scheme stand can limit your creativity when it comes to booth design, so it’s important that you customise the booth so that you can stand out from other similar stalls. 

The elements included in the ‘shell scheme’ will vary from event to event, but should be set out in the information pack provided by the organiser. When Dave exhibited at The Guitar Show, he had a 4m² shell scheme to play with.

As you can see, Dave’s pitch was enclosed on two sides as it was the end booth. Front facing generic signage, power supply, carpet, table and chairs were all provided as part of the package.

Customising your shell

The benefit of a ‘shell scheme’ is that the basics are taken care of for you. Depending on the event, it’s likely that they will provide a great blank canvas for you to embellish with your own exhibition materials. Here’s what Dave managed to achieve with his pitch:



A ‘shell scheme’ that includes screen walls or fabric partitions will also grant you a degree of privacy. You’ll feel better able to have a private meeting with prospective clients and partners and visitors are less likely to take a shortcut through your space. You can also hide any unattractive storage or technology at the back behind stands and banners without the fear of being clocked from the rear. Dave found that there were both drawbacks and benefits to the shell scheme:

The sheltered nature of the shell scheme had its pros and cons. On the negative side, I felt less visible in the room. On the positive side, the partitions made the space more room-like. It made the booth more conducive to meeting potential guitar-buyers and consulting with them about their custom requirements.

Just the space?

The alternative to a ‘shell scheme’ is likely to be a ‘space only’ pitch. As you’d expect, you’ll be allocated a certain square footage, and little else. Really, when we consider space only pitches, we tend to be looking at two very different uses of space.

Firstly, at the entry level, “space only” might mean a space in a row of trestle tables where you can put up your displays and lay out your wares. If you’re lucky it might be a larger area where your can space out your elements and welcome visitors.

Secondly, at a more advanced level, it might mean a larger space that’s left devoid of appointments so that you can come along and erect your own bespoke stand. If this is the stage you’re at, there’s some fantastic info in our piece featuring advice from industry expert Andy Hickinbotham.

However, here we’re focussing on those smaller pitches where you have to make the most of every square inch. For many events, especially those on a smaller scale, ‘space only’ could be your only option. In that case, it’s up to you to define your space, ramp up the professionalism and put your stamp on the event.

Making the most of your space

When Ancoats Guitars exhibited at the North East Guitar Show and the London International Guitar Show, Dave had a space only pitch on both occasions. As part of a row of stands, each using a trestle table, Ancoats Guitars stood out thanks to some striking printed display materials from Solopress.

T-Shirts and Caps just makes me seem more of a ‘real’ brand. With the stickers, you do end up giving a few away to bored kids, but maybe that message will filter through to parents that might become customers!

For height, and to create a backdrop, Roller Banners were a fantastic element of the display. The design featured the logo right at the top so that it was visible above head height and above the guitars.This made it clear to visitors whose stall they were admiring.

The Printed Tablecloth increases brand coverage, hides the scruffy trestle table and creates a hidden space underneath for storage. As a lesser used element, it also introduces a real point of difference in contrast to the surrounding stands.

Stickers, T-shirts, Caps and Brochures create extra reasons to approach the stall, as well as dialling up the professionalism and bringing home the branding, 

Having something for visitors to take away is essential for me, because my customers will need to spend a bit of time considering the specifications of a custom instrument. A leaflet or brochure lets them do that at their leisure.

Be prepared for whatever’s there

In reality, both shell scheme stands and space-only pitches have aspects that you’ll need to consider ahead of time. The right choice between the two will depend on your needs and goals, but for many smaller trade shows, you may not have that choice. Dave’s kit of Ancoats Guitars display materials is versatile enough to create a great looking stand whatever he finds when he arrives at the event.

With careful design and execution, you too can create a distinctive display with adaptable materials that will serve you well at numerous shows.