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How To Budget for a Trade Show

Catherine Hess
Catherine Hess

Avoid sticker shock when preparing to exhibit at your first trade show.

If you're new to exhibiting at trade shows, the No. 1 issue that you'll need to understand is how to budget adequately for a show. No matter your industry, the sticker shock can be real when businesses find out the expenses that go into exhibiting.

Before you sign up for a trade show, learn more about the costs involved in attending and exhibiting at a convention.

Exhibit booth space and show services

In order to exhibit at a trade show, you'll need a space, and you'll need to secure that space from the show itself. Depending on your industry, your desired location in the exhibit hall and the size of your booth space, this can be just the beginning of your budgetary concerns.

Once the booth space has been secured, you'll then need to rent electricity and Wi-Fi, 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.

Your trade show exhibit

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 modular or pop-up display, or opt for something larger.

Modular displays can cost between $1,000 and $10,000, 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. Often, the display is stored in a small container that can sit in your office until you use it next. 

Larger displays can pose complex budgetary questions. Your business will need to decide what type of display you want: a 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.

A good rule of thumb is to work with an exhibit manufacturer that guarantees no post-show billing so you can trust that the estimate you're given includes the exhibit rental, installation as well as dismantling, shipping, and storage. 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.

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. 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.

Catering services

Convention rules generally dictate that you have to obtain any food or beverages from the show's general contractor. 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. 

Marketing campaigns 

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 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. Allow yourself a few months before the show so you remain top of mind.

Editor's note: Looking for the right email marketing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

Image Credit: Pla2na/Shutterstock
Catherine Hess
Catherine Hess Member
Catherine is the Senior Marketing Manager for Absolute Exhibits. With over a decade of experience in B2B Marketing, Catherine enjoys writing about all things Marketing, Business, and more. In her spare time, Catherine enjoys life at the beach with her dog.