Should You Rent or Buy a New Display for Your Next Trade Show?

When it comes to showing your wares and showcasing your skills — both as a company and as an individual — there’s no better venue than the trade show. In fact, over 40 million people attend a trade show, conference, or other professional event every year. That’s an enormous percentage of the population, especially when you consider that the bulk of that audience has a marked desire to be there.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see why trade shows are so important. Whether you represent yourself, an advertising firm, or a cookware manufacturer, there is a trade show out there for you, attended by consumers and entrepreneurs alike. The idea behind trade shows, after all, is to showcase the next big thing, the features that make your product or service great, or whatever novel piece of tradecraft you have to show off.

Getting the Right Display for Your Booth

Most participants at trade shows decide to display their wares in what is colloquially called a “booth.” Generally, everyone is allotted a certain amount of space, and the best way to use that space is to invest in a pre-made or easily fabricated “display.” These displays can be simple or elaborate — though there is certainly something of an arms race for the attention of consumers trending towards the elaborate.

Displays are designed to grab the attention of the passerby, to present your company in a sleek, professional way and to efficiently transfer information to anyone who might be interested. These displays have to accomplish a lot. It’s no surprise, then, that when to rent and when to buy trade show exhibits can become a big question — with important implications for your team and your business.

There are benefits to renting trade show displays, and there are benefits to buying trade show displays. What works best for you and your company will depend greatly on your needs, your experience and your budget.

Is Buying or Is Renting a Trade Show Exhibit Right for Me?

We should start out by saying that there is no one right answer to this question, or to any of the questions posed in this article. Every business owner should take the time to examine all possible outcomes and reflect on what your company truly needs to accomplish.

That said, there are some basic criteria to consider when making your decision.

Trade Show Frequency

As a general rule of thumb the cost of renting a display is somewhere around 33% of purchasing a display. If your company attends less than three trade shows a year, renting may be the best option. However, you may use your display for projects other than trade shows (creating video for the internet, for example), and this may influence your final calculus.

If you attend more than 2-3 trade shows a year, you will see how purchasing a display may be more beneficial. It’s important to keep in mind that there are additional complications tied to owning your own display, storage not least among them. But such ownership does give you added flexibility if, for example, you wanted to attend a new trade show.

The more you use your display, the more sense it makes to purchase one rather than rely on a rental.

Do You Need a Custom Display?

On a car, a custom paint job is much more expensive than a factory pain job. The same basic principle applies to your trade show display. A stock display — one that uses stock graphics, inserts  and sizes — is a much less expensive option than a custom display. As such, stock displays tend to be more frequently used when a custom display is not specifically called for or required. Due to their nature, stock displays tend to be a much more common option when it comes to display rentals.

Custom displays are perfect for those shows that require a little extra attention getting or in which the product or services displayed requires a little extra pizzazz. Every product is different, of course. Custom displays are a way to draw people to your booth. The necessity of a custom display can be determined by looking around your booth: the higher the competition, the more likely it is that you may require a custom display.

If you are uncertain whether you would benefit more from a custom display or a stock display, talk to us at AGP Exhibits, and we might be able to use our experience to point you in the right direction.

Is This Your First Trade Show?

The next question in the trade show exhibits rent or buy debate is a pretty simple one: Is this your first trade show? We ask this because, when it comes to buying versus renting trade show exhibits, people often try to figure this out before their first trade show. And that is not necessarily the wisest course of action.

After all, your first trade show will provide you with much information:

  • How many people you can expect to swing by your booth
  • Ways you can get additional people to stop by (and ways you could, unfortunately, accomplish the opposite)
  • The general attendance of the trade show you are attending
  • The general layout of the trade show space (including high traffic areas)
  • The level of competition common at the trade show
  • Whether further tradeshow participation will be rewarded


In other words, there’s a lot you can learn from your first trade show. So, making long term decisions like purchasing an expensive display might be best deferred until after your first trade show, at least.

What’s Your Budget?

Before you can properly articulate the benefits of renting vs buying trade show exhibits, it’s helpful to have a firm grasp of your budget — as well as to know what that budget can get you. Sometimes, the costs of a custom display can add up very quickly, especially if you do not have a strong handle on everything you are asking for. Knowing how much everything will cost you beforehand will help you make an informed decision.

The more modest your budget, the more renting might make sense. However, if you are looking to make an investment over the long term, buying is a great option. Knowing what you have to spend — and how much makes sense for what your company is hoping to get in return — will bring clarity to the solution.

How Do I Know?

If you are having trouble deciding which route to take, consider the chart below:

Buying Or Renting trade show displays chart

Some Cases When Renting is Preferred

While there are plenty of cases in which the decision to buy or rent trade show exhibits will depend on your business model, your desired outcomes and your marketing plan, there are some cases where it is much more cut and dried. These are the cases when the benefits of renting vs buying trade show displays tip completely in the direction of renting. These may include the following:

  • Your company will be attending multiple shows at the same time: It should be no surprise that the same display cannot be in two places at once (thanks to the laws of physics). Now, again, if this is something that happens often you’ll obviously want to consider purchasing a second display, but that type of trade show presence is usually quite rare. For most companies, renting a second display is the only sensible option, as it will allow you to attend the rare trade shows on the same day.
  • You only plan to use the display once: If your entire objective is simply to attend one trade show, or if you know you are only going to use the display once (maybe, for example, you’ve ordered a custom display, but there is an important trade show between your order date and your delivery date), then renting is a strong option. The same can be said, of course, if this is your first trade show, as we discussed above.
  • You don’t have storage space: Not every company has a warehouse that it can use to store all of its equipment. Many companies operate with a very small — or very densely packed — square footage. In either case, if you don’t have the space to store your display, then renting is the only sensible option. Properly storing a display will ensure that your investment is around for years. Displays that are not properly and securely stored tend to deteriorate far more quickly.


So you might be asking, is renting a trade show exhibit right for me? Well, if you fit the above cases, then the answer is probably yes.

What Should You Look for When Renting Your Trade Show Display?

As with any investment, you will want to make sure that you protect yourself, your company and your finances by getting the best deal possible. When you rent a trade show display, you should keep a checklist of the following:

  • Make sure the display comes with clear instructions.
  • Ensure transportation of the display
  • Make sure your graphics work for the display you’re renting.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with how versatile this display is.
  • Ensure you’ve double-checked all the dates involved.
  • Ensure you return the display in good condition.
  • Investigate any insurance policies that might be necessary.


Some Cases Where Buying is Preferred

Just as there are some instances where renting is the clear winner, there are some cases where it makes much more sense to buy than it does to rent. And here are some of those cases:

  • You want something custom-made: As we discussed above, custom signage can get to be expensive, making it impractical for rental purposes. In order to get a custom display, you will likely have to invest so much money in that display that giving it back to someone else at the end of your trade show does not make much financial sense. It’s better, in those cases, to purchase your custom tradeshow display — that way you can use it over and over again in order to get the best possible return on your investment.
  • You have plenty of storage space: If storage space is not an issue for your business, then that makes purchasing a tradeshow display a much simpler proposition. This is especially true if you have an abundance of storage space — which means that while some displays can be configured to fold and bend for easier transportation and storage, they do still require significant space to store. If you’ve got it to spare, then buying a display makes a lot of sense.
  • You’re going to use your display a lot: You would never rent a car that you drive on a daily basis. The costs would skyrocket (think about the mileage) and such a proposition would make no financial sense. You would simply be using the vehicle far too often. The same is true of trade show displays. If you’re going to be using your display often, it makes sense to spend the money to ensure that it will always be available in the way and shape that you want it. You’ll also save money in the long run — while buying is something like three times more expensive than renting, you will only have to pay that fee once.


In these conditions, purchasing a trade show display simply makes a little more sense.

What Should You Look For When Purchasing a Trade Show Display?

When you purchase a trade show display, you want to make sure you protect yourself and your company by looking for the following criteria:

  • Compare the price of the display to your budget — is renting a better option or are you comfortable buying?
  • Will your custom graphics be ready and applicable?
  • Do you have the expertise to assemble and disassemble the display?
  • Will the display meet your trade show needs?
  • Is the display new or used?
  • Is the display custom or stock?


Should I Rent or Buy a Trade Show Exhibit? Some Pros and Cons of Renting vs Selling Trade Show Displays

As always, there are some pros and cons when it comes to the old trade show exhibit rent or buy conundrum. When you rent a display, you are gaining some flexibility. Renting is also considerably less expensive than buying — at least, in the short term. On the other hand, when you buy a display, you have much more control and many more customization options. However, you also have to find a place to store that display as well as a way to transport it.

What this boils down to is that when you start thinking about your display needs, the clearer vision you have for the future and the better your decision will be. If you need a display to meet your long-term, high trade show volume needs, then buying is the way to go. If you’re going to go to one or two trade shows a year and you just need a basecamp for all your information and activities, renting is the best bet. Whatever your needs — renting or buying — it’s recommended that you enlist the help of professional display designers and creators.

At AGP Exhibits, we have a great deal of experience helping customers and clients through this decision-making process. If you need help determining your trade show needs, contact us today. Talk to us and we’ll get you set up for your next trade show, whether you’re renting your display or buying your display.


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