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How to be a trade show cheap-ass without looking like one

Exhibiting at trade shows can help to generate qualified leads that turn into new sales. However, the costs associated with exhibiting are numerous and can overwhelm your marketing budget. We have some suggestions that can help you keep the budget under control.


It’s all in your head.

Put yourself into the proper mindset for budgeting. Some folks won’t set foot in a grocery store without at least one coupon. Some people do their research before making a purchase. You need to start thinking like them. List all aspects of the show that require money. (Hint: Just about everything!) Our Trade Show Checklist is a good place to start. Learn about them. Research them. Ask the show organizer questions. Learn what options you have for each category. Select what will bring you the best value. For example, you have the option of shipping your display to the advance warehouse weeks before the show, or directly to the show at move-in time. If you plan ahead and have it ready, you’ll often save more by using the advance warehouse option


Early bird catches the worm.

Continuing that thought, take advantage of early bird discounts. The show organizers usually offer deadline dates for discounted pricing on electrical, rigging, drayage and other booth services.  These discounts can add up to a significant savings on your overall budget.


To buy or not to buy.

If your company rarely exhibits, is thinking about revamping the entire exhibiting process, or is new to exhibiting at trade shows, a rental display might be the best option for you. It gives you the chance to take a display for a test drive to see if it will work for you long-term. Renting also lowers upfront costs versus owning your exhibit.  You don’t pay for storage, maintenance, pull and prep, or refurbishment when you rent. Note: You do, however, have to purchase the graphics, so it pays to rent the same setup more than once.



Someone to watch over me.

Ask your display provider to quote an onsite supervisor. Experienced supervisors can lower labor costs by reducing setup time and minimizing onsite mistakes. If you have issues on the show floor, the supervisor has the ability to act quickly and solve problems. Let’s say one of your graphics was ruined in transit. Sure, you can get a replacement printed at show services, but is it going to cost you. Your supervisor can explore other options for you.



doctor scale

Drop a few pounds.

We all know it costs more to ship a bowling ball than a baseball. It’s because of the weight. Consider using displays made of lighter materials, such as hollow tubular aluminum over steel or wood, and fabric graphics instead of PVC panels. Tension fabric is one of the most popular materials that help reduce shipping, labor and, of course, the insidious drayage costs.



Mind the details.

Conduct a pre-show inspection. Make sure that you and/or your display provider stages your displays, complete with graphics and lighting. This allows you to spot any mistakes, missing components or damage ahead of time, or to make adjustments to the layout. Also, go over your Trade Show Checklist to make sure you make all of your deadlines. The one thing you forgot to do may be the thing that breaks your budget.


Consider cost versus benefit.

No question that a hanging sign over your booth will help drive traffic to you. However, some trade show professionals forget how much it really costs. It isn’t a one-time expense– purchase, print, done. No way! You have to pay the expo labor to install and dismantle it– at every show. You have to pay for the rigging/forklift– at every show. You have to pay to ship it to and from the show– every time. Is it worth it? Or could you use those dollars for other ways to get attention, such as promotional giveaways or sponsorships?


One more thing…

Before you go running out of the convention center to catch a plane, double-check your billings. It isn’t unusual to find mistakes on the general contractor billings, which must be settled by the end of the show. Carefully review every item on the bill, and ask for backup on any questionable item. Once the show is over it is nearly impossible to dispute these charges.



About Joan Weis