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Trade Show Display Pricing editorial staff editorial staff

Should You Rent? What Requirements Do You Need?

What you budget for trade show displays depends on the complexity of what you are trying to do, the size of the booth, the type of displays, the trade show itself and, even, local labor laws and union regulations. You're not just paying for the display, but the space at a trade show to exhibit the display.

An industry standard is that your total trade show cost is three times that of the exhibit space. So, if your exhibit space costs $2,000, set your budget at $6,000. That leaves you $4,000 to spend on travel, shipping, lodging, ground transport, electricity to the booth, and any labor charges to set up your display (if applicable).

Okay, but how much exhibit space do you need and how much should you spend on it? Obviously, there's no pat answer for that. It depends on a wide variety of factors, including:

  • The significance of the trade show in terms of the amount of attention you're likely to draw.
  • The significance of what you're trying to sell or why you're attending the show (i.e., a new product innovation should have a larger budget than just "we're going because we attend every year").
  • The number of leads/sales that historically result from trade shows in comparison to other marketing channels.
  • Your overall marketing budget.
  • What your competitors have done in the past and what they are likely to do currently.
  • How many people (potential customers) you think will stop at your booth.

While these are, for the most part, intangibles that are primarily your own judgment calls, there is a standard measurement the industry uses to calculate your potential audience.

Renting vs. Buying Trade Show Displays

Historically, trade show displays were purchased. However, the growing trend is to rent displays more intricate than a simple table top or pop-up display. Rentals may involve previously used properties built for another purpose, or they may be stock modular properties assembled as required that are augmented with new graphics, new finishes and other customizations.

The advantages of rentals include:

  • Lower investment required. No upfront purchase costs, storage, insurance or maintenance costs.
  • Reduce shipping costs by renting from a distributor in the immediate area of the trade show.
  • Greater flexibility to update design and features, particularly if you don't have the internal resources to modify and rebuild exhibit components.
  • No capital depreciation.
  • If you are not exhibiting at more than one or two trade shows a year, or you are a first-time exhibitor, rentals make more economic sense.
  • More cost-effective if you need to set up displays at two trade shows simultaneously.
  • Generally, an exhibit rental is about 25% to 30% the investment of an outright purchase.

In contrast, the advantages of purchase include:

  • Greater ability to completely customize display and make "on-the-fly" changes.
  • Better ROI if you attend multiple trade shows (more than two), and trade shows represent a significant marketing channel for your business.
  • Purchase can be extended over several years of a capital budget.

Staff and Space Requirements for Trade Show Displays

Here are a couple tough questions: How much space should you rent at a show and how many people will you need to staff it? The answers are surprisingly easy to calculate.

First, you calculate the Audience Interest Factor. Start with the number of people expected to attend the show. Most shows have fairly good attendance records. Now, estimate the percentage that is likely to be interested in your products. The Audience Interest Factor says that 45% of those people will likely stop in your booth. So, let's say 20,000 people are expected to attend and 10% of them are likely interested in your product. Your Audience Interest Factor is 900, or 20,000x10% = 2,000x45% = 900.

The Audience Interest Factor not only tells you how many people are going to see you, but can give you an estimate of how much staff and display space you're going to need. Let's say the trade show is for two days, and each day is 10 hours long, for a total of 20 hours.

Divide 900 by 20 (Audience Interest Factor ÷ by total show hours). The result is 45, which represents the number of visitors per hour. Assume each visitor takes about 10 minutes in interacting with a staff member at your display. That means one person can handle six visitors and hour. To handle 45 visitors/hour, you'll need 45/6 = 7.5 people to staff your booth.

Let's staff our example booth at seven people. The industry figures that a person needs 50 square feet to function comfortably. Seven people times 50 square feet means you need a minimum of 350 square feet (possibly more, depending on how much room your display uses up). The standard single booth size is 10' x 10', which means you'll need the equivalent space of four booths to properly accommodate the expected traffic. You should plan for a display that is 10' x 40'.

This is just one way to estimate how big your display area needs to be. It might also be the case that past experience has shown that, while many visitors spend 10 minutes in your booth, the average time of all visitors to the booth might only be five minutes. That would cut your staffing needs in half, and that would also cut the amount of booth space needed in half.

In many cases, your staff will not be able to construct the booth themselves -- or may be legally prohibited from doing so. Many trade shows take place in unionized facilities where visitors are prohibited from doing certain tasks such as retrieving display materials from the receiving area, constructing a booth, or even running electrical cords. You might need to hire workers provided by the facility in order to operate your trade show booth.

Trends in Trade Show Displays


Everybody's talking, or texting or emailing or playing Angry Birds on their smartphones. So why not take advantage of it? Cutting-edge displays incorporate either a mobile app, scanable QR codes, or some way to interact with smartphones to transmit information about your company, your products, or whatever else you're promoting. It not only makes you look "in-touch" with the latest technology, it lessens the workload for your staff. Also, sending your product info to a smartphone involves a lot less cost than printing up a bunch of glossy brochures, many of which you pay to ship back to the home office.

Interactive Functionalities

Similarly, displays that allow visitors to touch and feel and select what they are interested in by themselves and at their own pace not only makes it easier on your staff, it's a way to qualify interest. If someone works their way through an interactive display and starts talking to one of your staff, that's someone who is more than a little interested. These days, when everyone is used to looking at a screen at work, an interactive screen is a familiar way to promote your company and its products/services. 

The digital trend has really seized the trade show business. Some vendors are building digital slideshows and videos right into the booth walls using flat-panel screens hooked together. These digital caves offer greater immersion for a lasting impression. Today, screens can even be programmed to recognize who is looking at them, and deliver a customized message based on such things as the age and gender of the viewer -- or the purchasing history of a customer.

The Apple Store Design Ethos

Apple stores have perfected the idea of minimalist merchandising. Trade show displays are following suit. Uncluttered, clean design, without tons of product literature and meaningless gimmicks, is considered a more inviting way to attract interest. And, speaking of Apple, the use of iPads as well as other tablets is an increasingly used medium to display product information or just put on an interesting show to promote your company.

Go Green

More and more displays today are made of recyclable materials. It's not only good for the planet, it's good marketing and, in many cases, helps reduce your costs. The days of "build and burn" disposable trade show displays are quickly becoming "build and reuse."

Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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