It's hard to budget for a trade show events - so how do you do it?

February 18, 2020

Your in charge of driving leads for the sales team.  You have decided that attending a trade show event that brings a large number of your target audience to the show is your best bet.  Budgeting for a trade show is no easy task, but once you know more about the show services you can expect to pay for, you can create a realistic budget that won't break the bank. If you're new to exhibiting at trade shows, the number one issue that you'll need to understand is how to estimate adequately for a show. No matter what industry you are in, the sticker shock can be real when businesses find out all the expenses that go into exhibiting.  Before you sign up for a trade show, learn more about all the different costs involved in attending and exhibiting at a convention center hall.

1.  Estimate the cost of the Exhibit booth space custom trade show exhibit

In order to exhibit at a trade show, you'll need a booth space, and you'll need to secure that space from the industry show itself. Depending on your industry, your desired location in the exhibit hall and the size of your booth space needs to be addressed and this can be just the beginning of your budgetary concerns.  Typically prime locations cost more per square foot, but it gives you better foot traffic, but if you make your booth enticing, you may not need that location.

Once the booth space has been secured, you'll then need to rent electricity, water, internet, and possibly furniture, or even catering services. Some conventions are pricier than others, but you should expect that at a large industry show, you may be spending thousands of dollars on just securing a space and obtaining the necessary services for your booth.

2. The real cost of your trade show booth

Your trade show exhibit is what sets you apart on the trade show floor. It can attract potential prospects and leads, or it can turn people away.  Depending on the size of your booth, you have to decide whether to buy a custom exhibit, modular or pop-up display, or opt for something totally unique and different.

Modular trade show displays can cost between $2,500 and $20,000, depending upon the accessories purchased. While the materials may seem pricey for purchase, it ends up saving you money in the long run, because you set up the display yourself, and it's reusable and can be reconfigured at times. Often, the display is stored in a smaller plastic type case that can sit in your office until you use it next verses the storage of a large wooden crate.

Larger displays (more than 400 square feet) can pose complex budgetary questions. Your business will need to decide what type of display you want: a fabric system, a hybrid display, a custom one, or double-deck trade show exhibit. The price of these various displays varies depending on the size of your booth space.  And then you need to look at rental verses purchase options.  This will depend on how many shows you plan on attending.  But understand that your larger exhibits will be $25,000 and up depending on the size and complexity.

A good rule of thumb is to work with an exhibit manufacturer that guarantees their billing so you can trust that the estimate you're given includes the exhibit rental or purchase, any installation as well as dismantling, shipping, and storage. Some costs are not controlled by the exhibit manufacturer like dryage, cranes to hang a hanging banner, or electrical.   So you need to understand those costs because they will show up on your credit card.  If you opt instead to obtain your exhibit from the show's general contractor, you may find exorbitant fees and post-show bills that could easily blow your budget.

3. Drayage and installation and dismantling

Many small business owners don't know this, but there are lots of fees associated with getting your trade show exhibit to the convention hall and then setting it up. One such fee is drayage, which refers to the transportation of your exhibit from either the convention hall's loading dock or carrier vehicle to your booth space. Depending on how you pack the exhibit, it may require more effort to transport it to your booth space. This can drive fees up even higher.

Once your exhibit has been delivered to your booth space, it needs to be installed prior to the show. If you're working with an exhibit house, they will set these services up for you, but if you've obtained a booth from the show's general contractor, you may have to pay fees for union labor to install your booth plus additional fees to take it down. When you're working with the general contractor's labor, sometimes they won't guarantee labor rates and the rates are dependent on the location, day of the week it is setup/taken down, and the actual time of day. Further, if you make any changes to your exhibit, you could incur additional fees as well. You don't want to end up with an exorbitant post-show bill so read all the rules and understand how the process will work.  Even making sure you have labels to ship everything back can be something that is overlooked yet saves money.

4.  Additional show services cost

Convention rules generally dictate that you have to obtain any food or beverages from the show's general contractor. Even having water in your booth for your staffers can be costly and a pain.  If you don't read your show guide carefully, you could get incur a hefty fee for providing food to show attendees that wasn't provided by the convention hall's catering service.

If you host an event, such as a happy hour in your trade show booth, then you should ask to pay for items on consumption to lower your costs. Further, food and beverage items should only be provided to people who qualify as leads, not any attendee on the show floor. 

Take a look at all the potential additional costs that a show may have.  READ the exhibitor manual and understand what you can and can not do!

5.  Any pre-show or post marketing efforts

Prior to your arrival at the trade show, you'll want to promote your presence. Ideally, you'll want to alert customers, prospects, attendees and industry influencers and press about your presence. If you've got a healthy marketing budget, you can combine email marketing by buying or using a email list and service with a targeted pay-per-click advertising campaign, as well as social media and retargeting efforts. If you don't have a large marketing budget, you can accomplish your marketing goals with a combination of your sales team calling on customers and prospects, social media efforts and an email marketing campaign like a postcard mailing. Allow yourself a few months before the show so you remain top of mind yet send out reminders the week of the show to double your impact!

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