Savvy marketers know that trade shows are a powerful way to increase brand awareness and boost sales. It can be a profitable strategy too, as trade shows generate more than $13 billion in revenue on average in the United States. Budgeting for a trade show exhibit can be challenging but is necessary for businesses to have a clear picture of the costs of being present at these shows. It is generally understood that there are costs associated with reserving the booth space and producing the trade show display and graphics. Those costs are easily identified and budgeted for ahead of time. It is the hidden costs – those that pop up during the planning process or when staff is on-site – that can negatively impact businesses.
We’ll highlight the top 10 hidden costs associated with exhibiting at trade shows to help you better develop your trade show budget. By having a clearer understanding of these potential costs, companies can plan ahead and enjoy reduced stress and greater returns on their investment.
Furniture and seating
Your booth should be comfortable and welcoming for visitors because it serves as a meeting place for potential customers and makes an immediate impression. In order to create an inviting space, exhibit companies have a variety of booth furniture available for rent. This includes tables, chairs, literature racks, cabinets, counters, and other items. For larger spaces, some exhibit companies offer rental of more extravagant items, such as a martini bar or lounge area. Accessories such as hanging signs or banners can also enhance your booth’s appearance for an additional cost. As an alternative to renting sofas or chairs, you might consider purchasing durable inflatable furniture which is reusable and cost effective.
It is important to keep ordering deadlines in mind too, as exhibitors will realize discounts by ordering before the advanced pricing deadline. The amount of furniture you need will depend on the size of your exhibit space, but it would be wise to include this line item in your trade show budget.
Drayage and material handling
Drayage, sometimes referred to as material handling, refers to the movement of your trade show booth and related shipments from the shipping carrier’s delivery truck to your booth space in the convention center. This includes unloading the freight from the delivery vehicle, transporting the items to the trade show booth space, temporarily storing the items during the show, removing empty crates and pallets, returning those empty shipping items following the show’s conclusion, transferring your shipment back to the loading dock, and loading the items onto the carrier’s vehicle. Drayage is pre-determined by the show’s organizers and is often handled by union workers. Since drayage is calculated by weight and is non-negotiable, use caution when coordinating, packing, and planning your shipments.
Looking to cut your drayage costs? Consider purchasing your own booth and bringing it to the trade show. Portable options like the Quick-N-Fit display booth are convenient, travel-friendly, and easy to assemble.
Carpeting or flooring
Many convention centers require that booth spaces have carpeting or some type of flooring in the exhibit hall. This requires installation of carpeting and carpet padding in the exhibit space. Though the carpeting may be required the padding will be an add-on, but one that is worth the money. You’ll be on your feet for much of the day and the padding goes a long way in saving you from sore feet. Though it is an added cost, and one you may not have anticipated, carpeting provides comfort for your exhibit staff and creates an inviting tone for your booth.
Exhibitors are responsible for ensuring that the carpeting, materials, and installation labor are ordered. As with ordering furniture, the carpeting should be ordered prior to the advance pricing deadline to ensure you pay the lowest cost. When scheduling the installation be sure to do so when labor costs are lowest (e.g. weekdays during work hours).
Lead retrieval and electrical service
A critical, and often overlooked, component of your booth is the lead retrieval device. The lead retrieval device captures customer information that can be used to build profiles and added to databases. The lead retrieval is usually available as a physical device or an app and either option will come at a cost of several hundred dollars, depending on the vendor. If you choose the physical device, you may also incur a booth delivery cost for the vendor to bring it to your booth.
If you are using the lead retrieval device, electricity is a necessary utility service for your exhibit space. The exhibitor manual will have the exact specifications but as a general rule, a 10′ x 10′ booth requires one electrical outlet. You’ll need electrical services in order to power everything from your exhibit lighting to your computer equipment. Staff will want the ability to charge phones, laptops, and other devices inside the booth. Electricity will be necessary if you have AV equipment or monitors displayed in the booth. You might also consider renting power strips and surge protectors from the electrical services provider or bring your own if permitted.
Branded promotional items and booth giveaways
A popular way to drive traffic to your booth is by providing a unique giveaway. Conference attendees who stop by your booth will be inclined to pick up a fun or useful promotional item that has your brand name or logo on it. Easily visible giveaways – wearables, light up items, interactive objects – are quite popular and help to broaden your brand’s reach. The best giveaways will generate buzz among attendees and a potential customer who may have otherwise passed by your booth might be more inclined to drop in for a quick discussion about your company. Exciting promotional items come with a higher price tag than more basic giveaways though, so be sure to include a budget entry for these branded products.
Branded collateral materials, including brochures, sell sheets, business cards, and others are usually on hand at trade shows. Show attendees may pick up your collateral pieces as a reminder of your conversation if they are interested in doing business with you. The costs to design, print, and ship these marketing materials should be factored into the event budget.
Cleaning and trash removal
Trade shows usually last for several days. Once the booth has been assembled and installed, exhibitors want to make sure it looks as clean as possible to attract booth traffic. Booth cleaning services, which often consist of vacuuming and trash removal (which may be called porter services), are available for an additional fee each day the services are provided. Carpet shampooing is also available but probably unnecessary unless there is a spill or some incident that causes the carpet to stain.
From time to time, the need to repair some part of the exhibit may arise. Staff should be prepared to handle anything from replacing light bulbs to coordinating replacement for a part that may have been damaged in transit. The cost to handle any necessary on-site repairs could be steep and you will be subject to paying the charges at the exhibit manager’s discretion.
Time away from the office
Exhibitors often overlook the opportunity cost of staffing the booth. There is often a need for at least two people, and sometimes more, to staff the booth at any given time. This means that colleagues who would otherwise be productive in the office are missing client meetings, calls, and other duties by representing the company in the booth. To counteract this cost, it is beneficial for exhibit staff to schedule client meetings in the booth if possible. There will also be time dedicated to managing and following up with leads soon after the event that should be factored in as well.
Hotel and travel costs
It does not occur to many exhibitors to budget for hotel and travel accommodations for all booth staff. The exhibit management company may require that attendees stay in certain hotels near the conference and those lodging rates might be higher than hotels where your staff would otherwise stay. It is very likely that your exhibit staff will need to travel to get to the trade show, so airfare costs should also be considered and calculated ahead of time. Exhibitors will need a means to get to and from the airport; it is helpful to budget for a rental car, cab, or ride share service.
Meals and entertainment
Your staff will need to eat! There may be opportunities for exhibit staff to have a meal as part of a session or meeting. However, it would be wise to plan for three meals a day for each colleague staffing the booth. The opportunity to take a client out for a networking lunch or dinner may arise and should be considered as part of the meal budget. Exhibitors might also consider wooing potential clients with a show or other interesting attraction near the conference.
Trade shows are an effective way to connect with existing and potential customers and can lead to stronger client relationships and increased revenue. A great deal of effort goes into coordinating a successful booth presence so being aware of costs, both hidden and straightforward, will go a long way in producing positive results. Planning ahead for hidden costs will help you avoid sticker shock when you receive final invoices and help you accurately measure your return on investment.
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