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How to Plan for a Trade Show Without Breaking the Bank

Catherine Hess
Catherine Hess

Avoid hidden costs associated with trade shows.

Small businesses have unique challenges, one of which is often cash flow and budget. Growing your business costs money, and expenses often come in the form of hidden costs you don't see coming.

One of the most popular ways to gain business today is through attending trade shows. These shows, which provide businesses a chance to showcase their products, can be incredibly expensive, though. There's the booth space, the physical exhibit itself, the costs of drayage, travel and more. Fortunately, you don't have to be surprised with a huge bill at the end. Let's discuss how your trade show strategy can help you avoid these costs. 

Choose your show carefully

It can be tempting to dive right into exhibiting at a big national show your largest competitors attend. However, that may not be the trade show your customers are attending. Do your research and find out where your customers go, if they attend trade shows or conventions and then select a show based on this demographic. Don't just try to copy the big guys in the space or you may find yourself paying just to be among them. 

Read the fine print on trade show materials

Ah, the fine print. This one has gotten many a new trade show exhibitor in trouble over the years. Did you want to pass out ice cream cones at your booth to draw in attendees? Better read the fine print to ensure the trade show doesn't force you to use their catering or you could get stuck with a massive bill at the end of the show. Did you want to show a video? Better find out if you'll need to rent electricity, power strips and WI-FI from the convention center or show location. Often, these little gotchas add up to a whole lot of painful prices. One national show will charge for tiers of Wi-Fi. If you want what your phone carrier can produce, it could be upward of a few thousand dollars. 

Work with a trade show exhibit house that offers an all-inclusive bill

Did you know many trade show exhibit companies charge you one price up front and then after the show deliver a separate bill to you? Don't get hoodwinked by this deceptive practice. Instead, choose to work with a trade show exhibit house that offers a price guarantee. Installation and dismantling may warrant a separate bill, but you shouldn't be hit with hidden charges after a show because you made your exhibit purple instead of blue. Ask whether design is included and where your small business can save. Many trade show exhibit houses offer a variety of exhibit options from modular to system exhibits or even hybrid designs. These possibilities can all save a business owner money instead of jumping into a fully customized trade show exhibit. 

Combine shipping to avoid high drayage costs 

Did you know that there's a charge to deliver your trade show exhibit to the exhibition floor? If you had your exhibit shipped to the convention center loading dock, you could be paying again for drayage. Drayage refers to the costs associated with moving your shipment from one location to another. Depending upon weight, size and whether it's able to be forklifted easily, your drayage bill could be outstanding. Maximize your shipment by combining materials into one pallet or leaving the marketing goodies in your suitcase to avoid the extra weight. 

Book travel well in advance and only bring necessary staff

Many businesses get overly exuberant and decide to bring a small army of staff members to the trade show. Unfortunately, bringing a large number of staff members also costs a lot of money in transportation, food, shelter and more. Bring only the necessary staff until your small business has grown to eclipse even your largest competitors. Remember to book travel well in advance and make use of reward programs as much as possible so you're able to save money. Check your state's labor laws to ensure the staff you do bring isn't hourly and in need of being paid for travel and overtime. Being aware of these potential costs from the beginning can save you money on pay and avoid a potentially expensive labor claim down the road.  

Exhibiting at a trade show can be a fun way to acquire customers face-to-face, but it can also be expensive. By doing your research and keeping these tips in mind, you can avoid some of the surprise costs often associated with exhibiting.  


Image Credit: pcruciatti/Shutterstock
Catherine Hess
Catherine Hess,
business.com Writer
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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.