Whenever you get a lull in your trade show schedule, it’s a good time to evaluate whether your current display is up to the challenge of your upcoming show calendar. Often, summer is a slower time for exhibitors, with fewer conferences to attend, which is perfect for taking stock of your current exhibit properties and making long-term plans.
For the trade show manager, investing in a new display may be one of the biggest decisions ahead. Fortunately, you’ll find options to suit your needs and your budget. Perhaps the most important decision is whether to rent an exhibit, refurbish an existing exhibit or buy a new custom display. If you take the time to consider the questions that follow, you’ll likely arrive at the best solution for you.
No matter how large or small your business, rentals and refurbished exhibits can help you make a much larger impact at trade shows at a reduced price. Using either option can significantly enhance your image depending upon your current exhibit design. If your budget allows and you want to make your exhibit a perfect fit for your brand and your company, then investing in a new custom booth may be your best choice. After all, you can get exactly what you want. But keep in mind your entire show schedule – not just your largest show – when making plans.
How much space do you plan to use at different events and how will you use it?
How you use your booth space depends on a number of factors, including the importance of the show to your marketing plan, the size of your budget, the image you want to convey, the business activities you want to conduct, and even the parameters of the event.
Some shows allow considerable latitude in what you can do in your exhibit space – everything from product demonstrations to food and beverage service to live entertainment. Other shows will not permit handouts of any kind. Do your homework when signing up for new shows so that you know whether you can display your business to its best advantage.
What is the importance of each show?
A good exercise is to rank the shows in your schedule from most important to least important and plan for a right-sized exhibit for each.
Not every show is equally important to reaching your best prospects. Consider where your largest competitors exhibit and how much of a splash they usually make. If you want to be considered a leader in your market, your space at that show needs to be comparable to your top competitors. The largest companies usually invest in the largest booth spaces with custom exhibits that allow them to have several areas within their booth to serve a variety of purposes.
If you have one or two shows that demand a significant booth presence, you may want to consider augmenting your regular booth with rental components. It can make economic sense to invest in a modular custom exhibit designed to expand with rental elements for one or more top-of-the-line shows. For example, if you will be handing out product samples at only one or two shows, consider renting the display materials needed for that part of your exhibit. If you only need a private conference room for one show, rent it or incorporate refurbished booth materials.
The optimal booth space starts at a 10x20 foot environment with audio-visual capabilities, counters for displaying products and other amenities. Of course, exhibitors with the money and market muscle to go big will exhibit in much larger island spaces and depending on your requirements, this space can be a typical 20x20 space or a more unique configuration like a 40x80 booth space getting a big bang for your buck.
Conversely, if you are looking to move into a new market, you may want to experiment with a starter rental booth. If it is a less-important show, you may begin with the smallest booth space and simply rent a skirted table and bring along pop-up graphics. That way, you can determine whether the show is worth a bigger investment next year. For smaller shows, you can save big money by using rental exhibits decorated with custom, brand-building graphics.
Should you rent?
You may decide to rent a booth for any of a variety of reasons: you have different booth space sizes and configurations, you have two shows at the same time, you have a show overseas, or you just don’t want the continual expense of storing a booth.
If your trade show budget is constrained, but you still need to make a big impression, consider the cost advantages of rental displays. You can determine all your display costs upfront because a rental exhibit comes as a bundled package, including design, booth hardware, custom graphics, freight, set-up and dismantle.
If you have one or two shows that are larger than the others or two shows that overlap, then renting a larger booth for one or more of those events may make economic sense. Rentals are a perfect solution for international shows where shipping costs are high. You can also rent components to add on to your existing display as needed.
Depending on the size of the exhibit that you regularly use and ship cross-country, it can be less expensive and just as effective to rent the entire exhibit for certain shows than to pay to ship a big, heavy booth.
Should you refurbish?
Many companies will consider a refurbished exhibit when the marketing budget is tight. You may choose to either buy a used exhibit and pay for it to be refurbished, or to have an exhibit that you own refurbished.
When evaluating whether it makes sense to refurbish existing booth materials, consider the age of your booth and its wear and tear, its weight and shipping costs, and the labor required to set up and take down the display. Although refurbishing your booth may save you money at first, be prepared to know the costs of sending it to your shows and having it installed and dismantled.
Depending on condition, used exhibit materials can be professionally refurbished to fit any color scheme and brand identity. By changing the finishes, the colors and the graphics through refurbishing, your display can gain a brand new look for less expense than starting brand new.
If you’re interested in buying a refurbished exhibit, look for warehouse sales from exhibit design firms and even online listings of used trade show booths to get an idea of what is available.
Should you buy a new booth?
Here are some indicators that it’s time to invest in a new booth. There is nothing to compare with a new custom exhibit made just for your company. But you can also consider augmenting a new custom booth with rental exhibits or rental components for particular shows and purposes.
Seven Great Reasons to Get a New Booth
- Your current trade show display is plain worn out.
An old exhibit with dents, scratches, kinks and stains held together with duct tape will not favorably represent your organization and brand image. A worn-out exhibit can deter potential visitors and might even make your booth staffers want to wear paper bags over their heads.
Or you may have seen a new exhibit that you really liked at a trade show. You loved its design, layout and shape and you know it would be perfect in every way. If so, you can work with an exhibit firm to design a new exhibit that mirrors the overall design you love, while custom-fitting it to your needs and brand image.
- You have a new marketing message, a new name or a new strategy.
Whether you are going through a rebranding, launching a new product or entering a new market, your trade show display may no longer match your corporate image and how it is portrayed on your website or marketing collateral. If your company was involved in a merger or acquisition, then you may need to evaluate whether you need a larger exhibit or if your show schedule needs to change due to duplications.
It’s also possible that a perfectly good trade show display no longer fits your needs. Over the last several years your exhibiting strategy may have changed along with the needs within your booth space. You might consider trading in your old exhibit for a new one and save money in the process.
- You need different sized displays.
Maybe business is booming and you signed up for a larger booth space next year. Or you decided to add room for meetings, demos, presentations, and storage at one or more shows. Or perhaps your budget is tighter, so you want to exhibit in smaller spaces to lower your operating costs. Perhaps you’ve decided to exhibit at ten smaller shows rather than two larger shows and you need a new smaller booth. The time may have come when you need more than one booth or you need a modular booth that can be configured for different booth spaces. Do the math on your show schedule, booth spaces and exhibit configurations.
- You are exhibiting at shows that overlap.
As business grows and you identify more shows that match your target markets, you may need to sign up for shows that are either scheduled at the same time or are too close to allow time for shipping and set-up of the same booth.
A similar scenario can happen when you have multiple geographic markets. Your sales reps or dealers may be asking you to send out a display for their local events. It’s great if they want to promote your company and products, especially if they are even willing to pay for the booth space and staff. For smaller, local shows, you may want to invest in a durable, easy-to-assemble display with graphics consistent with your approved marketing messages, which can be easily and inexpensively shipped and installed.
- You have shipping problems.
Let’s say your old trade show booth is too heavy and the cost of shipping is getting out of hand. Or your company is reaching out to overseas markets where sending your current exhibit would be too costly. With all the new lightweight display materials available today, you might even pay back the expense of a new booth with the savings on shipping and labor over time.
Worst of all is when your shipping company has lost your trade show display. People make mistakes, even the good people who work at shipping companies. So when your display goes astray, your shipping company should step up to pay for a replacement exhibit.
- Your existing trade show exhibit just won’t work anymore.
If your current display can’t be reconfigured to work for different booth sizes, it may pay to invest in a flexible design that can fit a variety of spaces instead of purchasing multiple booths. Another common complaint is that your old booth takes too much time and labor to set up. In that case, it’s time to consider a new exhibit design that can make your exhibiting life easier.
- You are new to exhibiting and want to test the waters.
For start-up companies and growing companies that want to try out the effectiveness of trade show marketing, a new exhibit, whether custom or rental, can help you make a good first impression when introducing your new company or your new product at a trade show.
What are your options at various shows?
It’s never too early to read the exhibitor manual for any given show and evaluate your options. The exhibitors’ guide helps you understand the rules of the trade show and what you can and cannot do with your booth space.
The show organizer usually provides a number of rental options from official suppliers for the elements that you may not want to purchase and ship from show to show, such as carpet, tables, chairs, and lighting. Keep in mind that the rental items offered by the show organizer will be limited and may not fit the overall image you want to portray. If you are particular about how your booth looks, check out your options at independent exhibit design firms. For many rental items, you are not limited to just the suppliers recommended by the show organizer.
The conference organizers also should provide a list of exhibitors. Depending on your marketing strategy, you may want to be close to exhibitors that are also prospects or far away from your largest competitors. It is best to apply for booth space in the corners, entranceways, or other high-traffic areas. You want to see a steady flow of traffic by your booth. It is worth paying extra for a high-visibility space if it is a critical show.
Regardless of whether you rent, refurbish or buy, it pays to know your deadlines and plan well in advance. Many shows have long lead times for reserving space, and arranging for a high-end rental exhibit can take time. Waiting until the last minute to decide about your booth space and exhibit components may mean you are too late to get the best placement or that you will incur rush charges.
So if your schedule seems a little slow right now, remember that the next rush is right around the corner. There really is no time like the present.