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Rena PattonAug 7, 2019 9:40:41 AM3 min read

Trade Show Vendors - An Exhibitor's Guide to RFIs, RFQs and RFPs

When planning your trade show booth design, you want it to combine both excellent quality and value. A challenge like this involves a lot of comparison shopping – but it has to be done in a structured, methodical way, that includes the selection of your trade show vendors.

Luckily, there are easy, industry-standard ways to get it done.

Getting detailed information from trade show vendors is an ongoing process, one that usually takes several rounds. Once you’ve reached the final decision-making point in the design process, you should try to have five or fewer vendors to choose from. 

You navigate this process with a set of three documents:

  • Request for Information: A broad, top-level overview of a problem to get vendor input.

  • Request for Proposal: A specific project outline vendors can respond to with a proposal.

  • Request for Quotation: This lists exact details for the solution the vendor must deliver.

These vendor communications documents streamline the design process of getting from point A to point B with a detailed solution that matches all of your requirements. They first developed in construction, but are now widely used because they prevent oversights and duplication of efforts.


What Details Should You Include in Each Document?

The three different documents build on one another, but you do not have to use all three of them in any one process. Each document is self-contained for the step it represents: Done right, it is all vendors need to see to know whether they can help you effectively.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what to include each step of the way:

RFI - Request for Information

  • State your broad challenges and expectations in relation to the event you have planned.
  • Ask open-ended questions about the vendor and its capabilities to get yourself situated.
  • Remember, the RFI is a fact-finding document, so no question is too big or too small.

RFP - Request for Proposal

  • Outline your detailed business goals for the event – what you want it to achieve.
  • Provide details whenever possible, like how many staff you’ll have at the event.
  • Establish specific requirements you’ve defined and any specific things to avoid.

RFQ - Request for Quotation

  • Create an item-by-item breakdown of the exact deliverables you need and their specs.
  • Provide the specific timeline for when you need all of your trade show items.
  • Go directly to an RFQ only if you have a “proven formula” for a specific trade show.


Best Practices for Using trade show Vendors 

You should start the process of interacting with vendors as early as possible in your trade show planning. That’s especially true if you have not done many trade shows in the past. Although quality vendors should strive to respond to requests within 30 days, this timeline can’t be guaranteed. Plus, you want to leave plenty of time to refine and implement the final solution.

In general, aim for these timeframes:

  • Request for Information: 180 days before your scheduled event.

  • Request for Proposal: 120-150 days before your scheduled event.

  • Request for Quotation: At least 90 days before your scheduled event.

If you’ve done many trade shows before and already know your requirements well, then you can go directly to the Request for Proposal stage. An RFP allows some leeway for the vendor to suggest creative solutions to problems without having to reinvent the wheel.

Many vendors prefer an RFI-RFP approach because it allows them to bring their specific skills to the table in a creative way that may add unexpected value to your project. An RFQ should only be used when you have the precise details of everything you need in advance.


What If You’re Not Prepared for a Formal Process Yet?

If you’re not quite ready for a formal vendor communications process, don’t despair.

Most trade show vendors are glad to schedule an informal “discovery session” to find out more about your needs. In the long run, it’s a good idea to shift into a more formal process so you have plenty of information and several vendors to choose from.

To find out more or get personalized advice, contact us today.