Your trade show success is defined by your goals, whether you want to boost brand recognition or launch a new product, or to generate new leads, customers, and sales. To achieve those goals, there’s another factor to consider: the cost to attend the show. In order to calculate your return on investment (ROI), you need to know how much you’re spending, and managing your trade show costs is vital to maximizing ROI. A good trade show budget is the best way to make sure your event spending is under control and that you factor in all the hidden expenses that can quickly send your costs spiraling.
Categories of Trade Show Costs
Trade show costs come in four main categories:
1. Exhibit Costs
These include everything to do with your trade show exhibit:
- The structure
- Any fixtures and furnishings you purchase
- Packing materials
They also include the booth space you rent at the show.
2. Cost of Promotional and Marketing Materials
These include all the material you create to promote your company’s exhibit before and during the show.
3. Cost of the Services and Labor You Need to Transport and Set Up Your Exhibit
In this category:
- Shipping and drayage
- Installation and tear-down
4. Expenses Incurred by You and Your Booth Staff
Travel, accommodation, and other expenses add up quickly, especially if you have a large team to manage.
We’ll break each of these categories down one-by-one, so you know what to expect of your budget.
Booth space: Paid for by the square foot. The typical size is a 10×10 square, but most shows make larger sizes available, including 10×20, 20×30, 30×30, and even larger. According to EXHIBITOR Magazine, booth space accounts for around 35% of the average exhibitor’s budget.
Exhibit design or rental: This is the cost to either hire a rental exhibit for the show, or the purchase cost of the trade show exhibit your company owns. In the latter case, find the per-show cost by dividing the total cost of the exhibit by the number of shows you expect to attend in a five-year period. This accounts for 11% of the average exhibition budget but can vary widely depending on the amount of custom design and fabrication required.
Note that graphic design elements aren’t typically factored into the cost of an exhibit. Design elements, such as graphics and media content, are usually commissioned and paid for separately, or charged as additional on top of the exhibit design. Graphic design and production accounts for around 6% of the total trade show budget.
Extras: This category includes items such as flooring, furnishings, and lighting. These items aren’t usually included in booth rental or design and are instead purchased or rented separately. Don’t overlook these on your budget worksheet when calculating your exhibit expenses! They’re all necessary items, but it’s easy to forget that they don’t come as part of the exhibit you buy or rent.
Depending on how you set up your budget, these might be considered miscellaneous or “other” expenses, which account for 5% of the average trade show budget. The contents of this category vary depending on the company and individual. It’s generally just made up of things that don’t fit in other categories.
Refurbishment and repairs: Exhibit hardware doesn’t last forever. According to Exhibitor Magazine, the average exhibit has a shelf-life of around five years. By then, you may have to replace, repair, or refurbish a few of the components. You may want to factor replacement and repair costs into your total exhibit cost, or just deal with these expenses as they arise.
Storage and shipping crates: Crates are typically included with exhibit rentals but not necessarily with a booth you’ve purchased. Similarly, some kinds of flooring come with their own packing crates, but others do not. When you’re making purchases, clarify with the vendor(s) whether packing crates are included, so you aren’t surprised later on should you find out you have to buy them.
Promotional and Marketing Materials
Exhibit promotion isn’t usually a big expense for trade shows. For most, it comes in at around 6% of the total budget. Even so, it’s still important to make sure every penny is accounted for!
Pre-show promotion: Pre-show marketing is a good way to generate interest in your booth and get your company on the “must-see” list for as many potential leads as possible. This can be achieved as part of your ongoing content marketing strategy but could also include extras, like paid promotional spots on social media, if you want to temporarily extend your reach.
Printed marketing materials: This category includes all printed items you use to promote your booth and your company. It might include brochures, catalogs, and white papers, and any other items you print up to hand out at the show. If possible, have printed materials made up by a printer that’s local to the venue, as shipping them from your own location gets expensive quickly.
Lead-gathering and fulfillment: The method you use to gather and retrieve leads. You have several options here to manage the leads your team gathers at the show:
- Use the event organizer’s own retrieval service.
- Contract an independent lead management provider.
- (For small shows or if you’re new to trade shows) You may want to devise your own system. This can help keep costs down, and if you’re attending smaller shows, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed with large numbers of leads.
Demo products: Any demonstration items you use, including digital equipment and your own company products.
A/V equipment and production: Including any A/V gear you use to display promotional videos, social media feeds, music, or anything else you use to promote your company or attract attention. If you’re live streaming, any equipment you use for that goes in this category too.
Swag: The promotional items that everyone loves to collect at trade shows. Choose items that are relevant to your business and are genuinely useful to your audience to get the most value out of them.
Prizes: For any giveaways or promotions you use to attract booth traffic and raise brand awareness.
Services and Labor
Storage: Whatever exhibit components you own must be stored when they’re not in use. This isn’t a factor for rental exhibits, but if you own one, include any warehousing costs in your budget.
Shipping: The cost to ship your exhibit to and from the venue. Again, if you’re using a rental, shipping might be included in the rental cost. Shipping can add up to around 10% of your exhibit budget.
Drayage: This is the process of transporting your exhibit from the loading dock at the exhibition hall to your assigned spot at the show, and back again after the show is over. It’s separate from shipping the exhibit from storage to the venue, so it’s also charged separately.
Drayage can get expensive if you’re unfamiliar with how it works because the cost is calculated by weight and time. The heavier your equipment, the more drayage will cost. The longer it takes to transport your items from loading to your booth space, the higher the cost is too.
To keep drayage costs within your event budget you have two options:
- Reduce the total weight of your shipment.
- Reduce the number of separate packages you send.
Installation and tear-down: The cost of professional install before the show and dismantling it afterwards.
Utilities: This includes any plumbing and electrical work that must be done to get your booth ready, and whatever you pay to connect your A/V equipment to the Internet.
Maintenance/housekeeping: Your exhibit needs to look good throughout the show. At most events, you can arrange for this on-site, or you can reduce the costs by bringing your own cleaning supplies and doing the work yourself.
On-site repairs: If your trade show display needs repairs you’re unable to perform yourself, then you may need to use the organizer’s repair service. Show-operated repair services can be expensive, so bring along your own emergency kit, with items such as duct tape and super glue for minor repair jobs.
Generally, you can expect around 13% of your budget to go on show services, but the exact amount depends on what services you use. For instance, you can save by doing your own on-site repairs and housekeeping.
4. You and Your Booth Staff
Travel and transportation: This category includes flights and other modes of transportation you use to get you and your staff to the show. Don’t forget to also include whatever transport you use to travel between your hotel, the venue, and other locations once you’re actually there.
Accommodations: Depending on the show, booking at certain recommended hotels might score you a reduced rate. Otherwise, assign the job of booking accommodations to one member of the team to take advantage of group rates. Travel and accommodation can constitute a significant part of your budget—around 14% on average—so it’s important to keep a close eye on your spend.
Meals: Food can quickly become expensive, especially if you’re covering snacks and water as well as meals. Depending on your budget and the size of your team, offering a per diem for food may be the best option for your trade show budget.
Per diem: A daily “allowance” for each staff member, typically to cover expenses they incur at the show. It might include food and transportation, for instance.
It’s at your discretion whether you want to provide a per diem or simply pay for everything directly. The latter can be a cheaper option if you’re able to get group rates, but sometimes it’s easier to let each team member take care of their own needs.
Hidden Costs Add Up Quickly, So Be Thorough!
Attending trade shows can really pay off, with new leads and industry contacts, increased brand awareness, and the chance to keep up with new innovations. Unplanned expenses can send your costs sky-high, so to make it all worthwhile, it’s important to use a trade show budget template or worksheet to help you keep track of your spend.