9 Helpful Tips for Mastering Trade Shows on a Budget

By Lindsay Bechtel
Account Executive & Event Coordinator  at Foster Marketing

Trade shows are the only place that can get you face-to-face in front of a pre-qualified audience, but they are also a huge challenge to budget for, with hidden fees and variables outside of your control. After handling trade show coordination for clients for more than three decades, the event coordination team at Foster Marketing has created a list of nine things to consider to help stay in budget.

1. Plan Early 

This can be a challenge as sometimes you do not have approval to participate until the last minute, but getting started early will always save you more money.

  • Booth Space: Book booth space as early as possible to capitalize on early bird discounts. It also allows you to get positioned in the best locations on the floor plan.
  • Travel & Logistics: Depending on the show, sometimes show management negotiates rates with various airlines and hotels to entice attendees to come to their event.
  • Groups: Sometimes group bookings offer less expensive rates, but definitely need to beware of strict cancellation policies.
  • Show Services: Contractors at events typically have a discount deadline in place for furnishings, parking passes, electrical, etc. to help them plan early for the show.
  • New Booth: Be sure to design your booth and graphics far enough in advance to avoid rush charges.

2. Booth Design

Be forward-thinking when it is time to begin designing a booth.

  • Rent vs Purchase: If you plan to use your booth more than three times, it is more cost-effective to purchase than to rent.
  • Size: Modular booths give you multiple sizing options and flexibility to have different layouts depending on the event. For instance, purchasing a 10×30 booth that can be broken down into a 10×20 and 10×10 saves you money in the long run.
  • Graphics – Fabric graphics have come a long way since they were first introduced to the market. They offer a lightweight, cost-effective alternative to other materials and because of the lower cost to reprint, it enables you to customize your message each show without a huge investment.

3. Furnishings

Below are some easy ways to save hundreds of dollars at each show.

  • Invest – Purchase flooring, tables, chairs, etc. at a fraction of the cost of renting each show.
  • Electrical – Rent an electrical outlet, but bring your own extension cord and run it to other areas that need power if you can.
  • Cleaning – Purchase your own vacuum to save on cleaning fees. 

4. Shipping

Being intentional with your shipping can offer significant cost savings at each event.

  • Cost Sharing – Ship on the same truck as other booths to split the cost.
  • Destination – Research rates provided by the general contractor and determine if it is cheaper to ship to their advanced warehouse or directly to show site.
  • Delivery – Although not always in your control, do your best to time your delivery to unload and reload on straight time vs. overtime.
  • Hanging Sign – We recommend shipping a hanging sign early to ensure it is delivered to the booth first and gives you the best chance of it getting hung on straight time.
  • Flooring – If you’ve invested in a new booth and construction is running behind, ship your carpet early so it gives your labor team something to work on while you wait for your booth to arrive.

5. Drayage/Materials Handling

These terms are used interchangeably. General contractors charge this fee to all exhibitors for the transportation of your crates to and from your booth during the show and are calculated by hundredweight. Weight matters, so use these tips to help keep these fees manageable.

  • Structure – Designing a booth structure and storage crates with lightweight materials is going to save you thousands of dollars at each show.
  • Machinery – Sending heavy equipment to a show? Check to see if the general contractor offers “Machinery Handling” rates which are lower than the booth material handling rates.
  • Models – A cost effective alternative to sending heavy equipment is to invest in a light weight model which saves both on drayage and rigging charges.

6. Labor

Strategically hiring and timing your labor is key to helping stay within budget.

  • Local – Hire local labor along with a supervisor that knows the booth and assembly to eliminate the learning curve. Choosing to avoid sending someone who knows the booth can actually end up costing you more for inevitable trial and error.
  • Early – Request early move-in if you know there is a chance your labor team may need to finish the booth on overtime.
  • Timing – Consider hiring labor to start a couple hours after setup officially begins in case it takes the general contractor extra time to get your crates to your booth.

7. Collateral & Promotional Items

Don’t let brochures and giveaways be a last-minute decision. Planning ahead can save a considerable amount of money.

  • Bulk – Purchase in bulk to last the entire year and pay less per item with the volume discount.
  • Carry – Bring brochures and promotional items with you in a suitcase as opposed to paying for shipping.
  • Alternatives – Saving brochures on USBs to hand out or sending brochure files digitally in a follow up email allows you to save on printing costs.

8. Presentations

In-booth presentations are a great way to communicate your message and capture the attention of attendees, but you don’t have to break the bank!

  • Platforms – There are plenty of options out there to create compelling videos with price tags all over the map. Great presentations don’t have to be expensive – sometimes PowerPoint slides with strong imagery, movement and messaging can capture the same result. Identifying clear objectives and budget will help narrow down to find the best solution.
  • USB – Have a presentation running on a TV in your booth? Try running it off of a USB to save on the rental of a laptop and avoid unsightly wires connecting the two.  

9. Travel & Logistics

Travel expenses can add up quickly if you do not plan ahead.  

  • Vehicle – Research ahead of time to see if it is more cost-effective to hire an Uber or taxi as opposed to renting a car.
  • Meals – Attend networking events where food is going to be served to help you spend less on food while you’re there, while also building your network.
  • Location – Stay in a hotel within walking distance to the venue to save on parking.
  • Libations – Drinks with clients? Research places with good happy hour options.
  • Packing – Try to pack strategically in effort not to pay for luggage on a flight.
  • Water – Venues are notorious for charging high rates for water. Be sure to bring a reusable bottle to refill from a water fountain.

Trade shows are great, target-rich environments, but costs can easily get out of control if you are not strategic, intentional, forward-thinking and willing to put in the time and do the research. Starting early and considering everything from the booth design, furnishings, shipping, and materials handling to labor, collateral, giveaways, presentations, travel and logistics will help put you in the best position to keep your budget in check. 

Need help with your next trade show booth? We can help. Call us today at 281-448-3435