PhilosoRaptor Trade Show Displays Question About Price

Your Display Is Possibly Only 8% Of Your Long-term Exhibit Budget

The most important part of your trade show strategy is the exhibit itself. And here is why you should seek out higher end materials for your display.

Warning: Math Involved Here :-)

You've read all of the self help books regarding trade show marketing and you've watched countless YouTube videos that tell you how to increase ROI, maintain engagement with visitors to your booth, and generally not make mistakes while attending your show. But, what is your display?

If you are planning to only do one show in the life of your company then stop reading now. However, if you are planning to exhibit at multiple, targeted events throughout the next few years to achieve success and visible identity, you need to ensure your display is the best it can be. And, you need to stop thinking so much about exhibit cost because it pales in comparison to the other trade show related expenses.

In the past 17+ years that I've been working in the trade show display industry I've heard the question “Why is that display so expensive?” more times than I can count. It's understandable to hear such a question considering the trend we have seen for many products to drop in cost due to overseas manufacturing as well as hyper-competitive online sales. And, you really can find super low cost displays if you want to, though the quality is questionable. But in the end, the real issue becomes whether you simply care about cost, or if you care about quality and your company/corporate image when trying to attract new customers.

Let's think about cars for a moment. Automobiles are mass produced within huge chains of suppliers, manufacturers and distributors for all parts and elements around the globe. Due to the large chain and common components, automobile manufacturers are able to sell a complex product at relatively reasonable prices.

Trade show displays on the other hand are not “mass produced”. Although some exhibit hardware is indeed manufactured in factories for small scale production, it is nevertheless far below what normal mass production products are in terms of quantity. Trade show displays, even when in “kit form” are still a custom order due to the parameters that each exhibitor requires (graphics, timing, location, style, modifications, hardware prep, etc...). Sure, you can purchase a banner stand or tension fabric tube display for a low cost today and get it rather quickly. But, those items are still no where near the manufactured numbers of more common products. In addition, you are also ordering graphics that are a “one time production” that must be prepared and finished by a human just for your order. When you consider these items are “made to order” just for you, the value changes. If everyone ordered a custom car from a dealer with just the features they wanted, prices would soar.

In the grand scheme of things, exhibits are quite affordable when you consider the amount of work that goes into each unit on a personal level.

Before we get into the math that was mentioned in our sub-heading above, let's just take a moment to consider what your customer sees when you exhibit at a show. You will be positioned in a very large hall with many competitors and usually only three days to get customers to visit your display. The average time you have for a client to walk into your booth from the aisle is just 3 seconds based on what they see in your display space. If you are presenting an exhibit area that is clean, professional, has stunning but simple graphics, and an inviting opening, you may be lucky. But if your booth has low quality graphics, questionable messaging, crowded space, and economy level hardware, you may not get the visit you wanted.

What it comes down to is the display itself! It's The Display Silly!

Ok, time for that math we mentioned. And please note that these numbers are different for every company. Here we present just one equation for a small to mid sized company.

Let's say you are going to exhibit at three shows a year for the next three years (continuity in marketing is key, as well as showing up every year to let everyone know you are legit and stable). And, let's suppose you are going to use a 10x20 exhibit space in two of the three events each year. So, you need a display that can be used as a 10x20 six times but break down to a 10x10 three times over three years. 

Right away you should be looking for something that will maintain your image and message in both the 10x20 or the 10x10 configuration. And, you shouldn't be price shopping necessarily because the cost of your exhibit is going to be one of the lowest costs of your entire three-year exhibit budget.

Breaking it down (while being conservative with the numbers)...

  1. Cost to send four people to each event (4 people to ensure everyone has an opportunity to work with clients but also catch breaks for lunch, bathroom, and so on), including flight, hotel, rental car, food and such will be about $8384 each time. So that becomes $75456 over three years. And that doesn't include any entertainment expense with clients or wages for your staff.

  2. Cost to rent your exhibit space (this depends of course on location) will be around $45 per square foot. So the 10x20 space will be $9000 to reserve each event while the 10x10 will be around $4500 each event. Over three years that will be $67,500 for event space alone.

  3. The shipping of your display will depend on the exhibit you purchase. Going portable is recommended if you are starting out so you can ship UPS or FedEX. But plan ahead! Shipping overnight will cost a lot! However, let's assume you purchased a 10x20 display that will ship in six flat cases that can ship UPS or FedEx. Ground shipping on each item will run about (assuming you are going across the country) $200. So that is $1200 to ship your materials to a show. Multiply by three events (disregarding the one show that is 10x10) and you get $2400 per year to ship one way. $4800 to ship both ways for the year. Finally, that is about $14,400 for three years. And we didn't even add in the single 10x10 event!

  4. Don't forget about Drayage/Material Handling. To haul your items to your show space, either from advanced warehouse or direct to show, you should expect to pay around $750 to $1000 for this display example. On the low end, that is $6750 for three years.

  5. Additional costs in your exhibit space can also add up. These are known as Show Services. Do you need electricity? Do you need high speed Internet access? Do you require special items like water and drainage? Let's just chalk this up as incidentals and say that you will be spending another $3000 per year for these items at a minimum. Therefore, $9000 over the three years.

  6. Promotion and misc items. These of course are hard to predict. If you are a company that does proper marketing, you may have a promotions budget. That will entail advertisements before the event as well as giveaways. And, there are always countless additional costs to any business venture you can't predict. However, we'll skip this number here.

Ok, let's add up our costs. In three years of exhibiting you'll spend the following...

$75,456 on travel, hotel, rental cars, food, and personal expenses for four people.

$67,500 on renting our exhibit spaces at the convention centers involved.

$14,400 on shipping our exhibit materials to and from the locations.

$6,750 in Drayage fees on site.

$9,000 in Show Services fees.

That equals = $173,106

OH! WAIT! You haven't purchased a Trade Show Display yet!

That's right. When you look at the costs associated with attending shows on a small budget, you still see that the cost of that display you were looking at is not terribly expensive over three years compared to the cost of all other expenses.

For example, you may be looking at a mid-level upscale 10x20 display that can become a 10x10 display and costs around $14,219.10 total

(see example:

And, you may also be looking at perhaps two 10x10 economy displays that can be placed side by side to become a 10x20 that only cost $1100 each, so $2200 total. BUT, do the math!

That $14,219.10 upscale display that will show you mean business and are a top-quality company only becomes 8% of the total three year cost of your exhibit plan!

Or, just about $4700 per year. That's less than you will spend each year on travel or exhibit space rental and almost the same as shipping. Why wouldn't you get the better exhibit so you can show potential and current customers you care about your image?

Sure, you can buy the economy units and then perhaps upgrade. But first impressions are often the best indicator. If a potential client sees you at your first few shows with a low-quality exhibit and then sees you upgrade they may actually think you are not growing and are only trying to “reach” when you are desperate. But if you come in guns blazing with that upscale display from the beginning and then just keep getting higher quality exhibits from there, you are sending a message that your company means premium business.

Again, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article; there are many other factors involved in the success of a trade show. But, in my mind, you must start with a top-quality exhibit. You have about three seconds as a person passes by your booth to get their attention and have them talk to you. If your display looks low quality, the person will see your product or service as low quality. Why would you risk that? Especially if the cost is only around 8% of the total budget you plan to spend?

Jacob Norris at Displays by Area Exhibits would like to thank Mel White from Classic Exhibits for assisting with this article.