How Much Should I Spend on a Trade Show Display? A Guide to Trade Show Display Budgeting

If there is something that business professionals across countless industries can agree on, it’s that trade shows provide an unrivaled return on investment. There is no better way to meet more people — whether they are potential customers, partners or vendors — in a short amount of time than through an effective trade show display.

The Business Expo Center offers some useful statistics that put the value of a trade show into perspective. To start, 99% of attendees at trade shows report that the face-to-face experience offers unique value. Furthermore, 90% of attendees report that they were not called for a face-to-face meeting by exhibitors outside of the trade show experience during the 12 months prior to the show.

not finding you at event

That means that 9 out of 10 attendees aren’t finding their way to you at any other time during the year.

Finally, the average cost per face-to-face meeting with a prospect at a trade show? $142. The average cost of a face-to-face meeting at the prospect’s office? $259.

one-on-one meeting costs

However, in order to get the most ROI out of your trade shows, you need to know a thing or two about trade show budgeting. While we all want to make as big of a splash in the exhibition hall as possible, there are limits to what we can spend. And depending on your goals and the size of your budget, you may have to make some sacrifices.

So we’ve put together this handy starter’s guide on the average trade show cost. We want you to feel prepared to make those tough decisions, all while helping you understand that you can still make a big impact with a modest investment. Whether your company is big or small, there are ways to benefit from the superior ROI that comes from displaying at a trade show exhibition.


Start With Your Goals

set trade show goals

Before you even start to crunch numbers, you want to get a handle on your goals for a trade show. This will help you better understand what you need while clearly defining what you don’t. There are a lot of bells and whistles that can come with large displays, and depending on your goals, they may be valuable tools for meeting those objectives. However, if you discover that certain elements are in fact superfluous to your vision, then you should know that ahead of time so you don’t end up paying for them! Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the display?

Of course, every display is supposed to help you make face-to-face connections with potential customers, clients or associates. However, depending on your industry, meeting this very self-evident goal can actually mean a wide range of things. At some shows, a large, ostentatious display complete with a light show and smoke machine may very well help you make valuable connections. However, there are other contexts where being over the top may actually dissuade prospects. Start by determining what makes sense for your industry. The best way to determine your purpose is to look at other displays from previous trade shows.

  • How many people are available to staff your display?

staffing your trade show booth

A big, over-the-top display will be pretty useless if you can’t afford to have anyone staffing it. Remember, you are trying to entice prospects into making a face-to-face connection. A prospect isn’t going to make that connection with a display. They’re going to make it with a person. If you will only have one person available to staff the display, you may want to consider something more appropriately sized. A single staff member could get lost among the crowds in a large display. Conversely, if you have a large team already in line, you want to make sure that your display can accommodate multiple, simultaneous face-to-face connections.

  • Do you need privacy?

Depending on your industry, a public face-to-face connection may be a bad idea. Perhaps you are working in a field where prospects don’t want to be seen negotiating or exploring options. Perhaps your business includes sensitive information. Or maybe you just want to provide prospects with a personal touch, uninterrupted by the bustle of the trade show floor. Regardless, if you want to include space for privacy, you are going to have to have more than a single display banner.

  • Does technology need to be incorporated?

If you are working in the tech industry, obviously you will want some of that expertise incorporated into your display. Such a display will have certain technical requirements, and you will need to factor those into your trade show display budget accordingly.

Getting Concrete With Tour Trade Show Budget

Now that you’ve set your goals, it’s time to really crunch the numbers on your trade show cost.

Let’s look at a costs breakdown from MarketingProfs. When calculating your budget, you may be focused solely on the physical trade show display cost. However, the cost of the exhibit on average only amounts to 12% of the overall cost of displaying at a trade show. 28% of the cost goes towards renting the space on the exhibition room floor. That means the cost of the display and the space you are setting it on only accounts for 40% of the average total cost of exhibiting.

trade show exhibit cost breakdown

After you have your display set up, keep in mind you need to have people staffing it. Even if they aren’t paid hourly for their work, you still need to factor in travel and accommodation costs.

booth staffing costs

According to MarketingProfs, this accounts for another 21% of your average budget. Included in this portion is also the cost of entertaining prospects. Depending on your industry, the expectation for entertaining can get quite costly.

Shipping your trade show display

You also need to keep in mind that logistics cost money too! That’s another 9% of your budget going towards shipping your display. And that’s before the additional 10% that goes toward on-site logistical concerns, such as lighting costs and carpet rental.

While we’re on the subject of logistical costs, we should take some time and discuss drayage. While many of those new to the trade show circuit may be unfamiliar with the term, it makes up an important part of your budget, and it becomes a more serious concern the larger your exhibit is. Simply put, it’s the subcontracted set-up and tear down costs that come with any sizable exhibit.

Drayage rates are measured according to the hundredweight (CWT). That means that the rate is multiplied against the weight of your crated exhibit divided by 100. According to Handshake, average drayage costs are $85 CWT for exhibits shipped in advance to a warehouse, $76 CWT for items shipped directly to the trade show floor and $99 CWT for items that require special handling considerations.

cwt costs

So if you are shipping a 2000 pound crate directly to the trade show floor, it will cost you $1,520 in drayage.

The remaining 20% of your budget will likely go towards promotional materials and give-aways.

cost of trade show give-aways

However, we feel we should note that “give-aways” are some of the most poorly named business investments. You are doing anything but “giving them away.” In fact, you are making an investment, leaving prospects with something to remember you by. If your brochure or branded item pops, it can quickly find its way to the top of a prospect’s pile of promotions. By being on the top, you are greatly increasing your chances of increasing your business. So while you want to keep promotional materials in perspective with your goals and the size of your business, you also don’t want to skimp on this part of your budget just to save money. Like every other aspect of your display, promotional materials should not be measured as simply costs but instead in terms of ROI.

Renting vs. Buying

If you are a small company with a tight budget, you may be sweating after reading the costs breakdown listed above. But keep in mind, we’re talking percentages. If you have a small display in an intimate exhibition hall, your 9% shipping may just amount to the cost of gas when you pack the display in the back of your truck and drive to the event.

However, if you are sure that you need a big, eye-popping display but you don’t think you have the room in your budget to buy one, you should also consider renting.

What then is the value in renting?

  • Renting Provides Flexibility:

By renting your display, you will find your exhibit is flexible in more ways than one. To start, you will have financial flexibility, since your liquid capital won’t be tied up in ownership costs. You will also be able to adjust costs in accordance to trade show size requirements. Perhaps there is one very large trade show in which you want to put on a large display, but most of the time you’re displaying at a much smaller scale. By renting, you can scale your display accordingly, saving on the investment costs in a rarely used large display.

Finally, renting lets you try out new display layouts without making a full financial commitment. This is a great way to get a sense of how your staff may work within a sizable exhibit while giving you the chance to play with various traffic flows or display positions.

  • Cost effective — Especially for Start-ups:

While many companies like the flexibility of not have capital tied up in display ownership, renting is also a very sound financial decision for a company that needs to think about the most cost-effective option in the short term. This is especially true of start-ups. Because of the tenuous nature of start-ups, investing large amounts of money in a display only to find it ill-fitted to the business a year later could be catastrophic for a growing company. While start-ups certainly have an eye on the long term, so much of their financial focus must understandably be trained on the here and now. Renting is a great way to get the most bang for your buck without potentially foisting a burdensome display on the company’s future.

  • Easier Logistically:

Finally, When you rent a display, you remove much of the logistical headache. You don’t have to worry about storage between shows or the cost of end-of-use logistics — which can be significant if you are trying to get rid of a large display. Renting can also help cut down on logistical costs if you plan on exhibiting overseas. If you can rent a display in the country the trade show is, you won’t have to pay for international shipping or worry about customs.

However, while there are a number of contexts in which renting makes a lot of sense, there are also a number of drawbacks.

  • Limits Your Options:

You have much more design control if you are building your own display. If you want a giant fabricated version of your product, that’s not something that you will be able to rent. If you want lots of custom technology embedded in your display, again you aren’t going to have that option available. Instead, renting comes with a lot of very attractive but limited display options.

  • Higher Long-term Costs:

Of course, as is the case in any purchasing situation, renting does not build equity. Every time you rent, the amount saved over buying will diminish. If you plan on doing the trade show circuit regularly, you can quickly go from saving money to losing money on renting. Furthermore, if you own your exhibit, you can work on streamlining its operation, whether in terms of operational costs or staffing. With renting, you won’t be able to customize your process and thus find additional savings between trade shows.

In the end, the long-term costs of renting are a deal breaker for many established and consistent companies. Even if renting saves you 50% on a display, renting the same display three years in a row will end up costing more than simply buying the display in the first place.

Ways to Cut Costs

There are other ways that the budget minded exhibitor can cut costs beyond opting for renting. Let’s take some time and go over our favorite cost cutting tips for trade show exhibits.

  • Make Literature Digital:

While some industries still expect printed takeaways at trade shows, the advent of smart phones has given displayers another, far more cost-effective option for trade show literature. Instead of a brochure, invest in an app that is designed specifically for your prospects. You can make it easy to download by including a QR code as a part of your display.

If you are in the tech industry, going the digital route may even increase your appeal with prospects who may be puzzled by an analog solution. You can also consider including a tablet in your display that will allow prospects to quickly input their contact information, providing you with a means to reconnect with them at a future date.

  • Use a Trade Show Consultant:

use a trade show consultant

Although this may seem like an additional upfront cost, you can actually save a lot of money by investing in a trade show consultant. Because every trade show venue is a minefield of unexpected logistics and potential higher costs, a trade show consultant can ensure that you are getting the job done right from the beginning. Trade show consultants make themselves familiar with all of the most commonly used exhibition halls so that they are fully aware of the little idiosyncrasies that can end up jacking up your operational costs. Just remember, logistical errors are far more costly than employing a trade show consultant.

  • Consider Weight, not Just Size:

Drayage is calculated not by the time spent moving your exhibit but by the weight of what is being moved. You can find considerable savings — even on large exhibits — simply by focusing on a display that is constructed with durable yet lightweight materials. Fortunately, exhibit design companies are listening to the desires of the consumer and working hard to provide sturdy displays that are exceptionally light. So don’t think of costs just in terms of square footage covered but also in terms of crated weight.

  • Use Predesigned Displays:

While we may all have a vision for the perfect, one-of-a-kind oversized display to represent our company, the truth is that that level of customization is expensive.

Fortunately, exhibit designers have developed a wide range of prefabricated displays that can still be fully branded with your company’s identity. While your exhibit may not be one-of-a-kind in terms of layout, it will still be distinctly you as it is emblazoned with your logo and branded art.

Additionally, many of these prefabricated displays come with a number of modular options, meaning you can easily give your exhibit a customized touch without the full cost of complete customization. By going with a predesigned display, you can get a lot more size at a much lower price point.

  • Time Your Shipping:

You may have noticed that the lowest drayage rates are for those exhibits that are shipped directly to the trade show dock. By getting your exhibit there directly, you can save considerable money in third-party labor fees.

However, if you can’t conceivably time your shipping, consider going with a third-party shipping contractor. By outsourcing storage and shipping to another company, you may be able to find considerable savings over the standard exhibition hall drayage rates.

Stick With APG Exhibits

In the end, whether your rent or buy, go big or stay modest or go to a trade show once a month or once a year, putting together a trade show exhibit is an investment. And there is no better way to be confident in your investment than by trusting APG Exhibits as your trade show display partner.

For over 30 years, we’ve provided businesses and institutions with industry leading quality and value with our display solutions. Whether you are looking for a small banner stand or a fully appointed walk-through display, we are ready to make your brand pop.

If you’re looking to rent a display, we offer a number of excellent options that will give your company the financial flexibility it needs to grow.

Ready to invest in a display? We offer a wide range of options for every size company, from tabletop displays to full-size trade show exhibits.

If you looking to use one of our innovative predesigned displays, we have a number of beautiful options that are sure to make your brand shine. If instead you want to go the truly customized route, our design team is ready to start collaborating with you!

In fact, if you aren’t yet sure where to start, our design services team has worked with countless brands to help them transform their wildest dreams into reality!

There isn’t a company too big or small for us to handle. There isn’t an industry that we don’t have experience with. No matter what your goals or budget, we have the experience to help you look your best when you’re making those valuable and crucial face-to-face contacts on the exhibition floor.

So contact us today and find out how we can help ensure that you get the maximum ROI for your trade show initiatives!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply