Understanding the Differences Between U.S. and U.K. Trade Show Terminology

June 7, 2023

The majority of trade shows that American businesses attend will be on U.S. soil, but there are also significant benefits to exhibiting in the United Kingdom. With the second-largest population in Europe and the sixth-largest economy in the world, the U.K. is a global business hub and an important bridge between the U.S. and Europe.

While the events industry in the U.K. has many similarities to that of the U.S., the terminology used can vary significantly. Below is a glossary of common industry terms and how they differ between the U.S. and the U.K.

“Trade show” (U.S.) Versus “Exhibition” (U.K.)

The immediately obvious distinction between U.S. and U.K. events terminology: “Trade shows” or “trade fairs” are most commonly referred to as “exhibitions” in the U.K. 

“Booth” (U.S.) Versus “Stand” (U.K.)

In the U.K., the word “stand” or “exhibition stand” is used to describe a trade show booth. The words “booth” and “stand” are largely synonymous, with terms like “corner booth” or “peninsular booth” being replaced with “corner stand” and “peninsular stand.” You may occasionally hear U.K. exhibition professionals use the word “booth,” but this will almost always be in specific reference to a shell scheme.

“Pipe and Drape” (U.S.) Versus “Shell Scheme” (U.K.) 

The “shell scheme” is the U.K. equivalent of the “pipe and drape” booth system but with some significant differences. It’s used in the same way, to separate businesses exhibiting side-by-side, but unlike pipe and drape, shell schemes are constructed of solid walls held together by an aluminum modular framework. 

They come in a variety of configurations and sizes, typically between six to 24 square meters with 2.4m-high walls and a fascia that usually includes the stand number and brand name, or a custom-branded banner. Because the walls are solid, graphics can be attached directly to the structure, making shell schemes more customizable than pipe and drape.

“Bare Booth” (U.S.) Versus “Space Only” (U.K.)

The alternative to shell schemes, the U.K. equivalent of “bare booth” is referred to as “space-only” and is, as the name suggests, an allocated space in the exhibition venue where exhibitors build their stand.

“Kiosk” (U.S.) Versus “Counter” or “Plinth” (U.K.)

A “kiosk,” the freestanding structure for products, promo materials and demonstrations, is referred to as either a “counter” or “plinth” in the U.K. The two words are often used synonymously, but “counter” generally refers to a surface that is used like a desktop, with ongoing activity, while a “plinth” is used for product, literature or decorative display and will be left alone other than to replenish these materials. 

“Exhibit House” (U.S.) Versus “Exhibition Stand Contractor” (U.K.)

Companies who design and build exhibition stands, known as “exhibit houses,” “display builders” or “trade show booth builders” in America, are referred to as “exhibition stand contractors” in the U.K.

The U.K. exhibition industry does not have the same union labor regulations as the U.S., meaning exhibitors can hire whomever they want to install their stand. This means that the company that designs and manufactures the stand will usually be the one to install it unless exhibitors choose to build it themselves. 

“Show Decorator” or “General Service Contractor” (U.S.) Versus “Onsite Contractors” (U.K.)

While exhibition stand contractors will generally be responsible for stand installation, U.K. venues also have their own onsite contractors responsible for on-site services like electrics, rigging, running water, waste collection and disposal, internet access and, in some cases, carpet and furniture. These industry professionals, known as “show decorators” or “general service contractors” in the U.S., are referred to as “onsite contractors” in the U.K. 

Other Important Differences 

As well as the differences in trade show terminology, there are some other significant differences between the U.S. and the U.K. to keep in mind. 

Electrics: The voltage and frequency of electricity in the U.K. are different to the U.S. While the standard voltage in America is 120v at a frequency of 60Hz, in the U.K., it is 230v at a frequency of 50Hz. This is important because devices designed for the wrong voltage present a significant risk of fire or even explosion. 

Measurements: U.K. measurements are quoted in meters and centimeters, rather than feet and inches. One meter is approximately 3.3 feet.

No “drayage”: Some venues will charge for storing your surplus materials during the show, but any handling of your stand materials will be done by yourself or your contractor and isn’t something you’ll be charged for.


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