Exhibiting at a trade show is similar to any other form of marketing in that your activity needs to be properly costed in order to generate a positive return on investment.
If planned and budgeted successfully, a trade show can provide an excellent ROI for any business.
However, for the uninitiated exhibitor, the costs of exhibiting at a trade show can quickly spiral out of control.
And that could mean you turn away from exhibiting altogether.
This guide will provide an overview of some of the fixed and unexpected costs of exhibiting and the costs withn trade show budgets.
Plus there will be some tips for cutting costs and improving your return on investment.
Do you have a Budget?
For smaller businesses or those exhibiting for the first time, you may not know the total cost associated with exhibiting.
Therefore, you may not have a firm or fixed budget confirmed.
Larger businesses and those more experienced in using trade shows are more likely to work with a set budget for each event.
Having a budget to work with is more effective when it comes to ensuring that trade show costs don’t run away from you.
Many of the costs to exhibiting – from the floor space to the exhibition stand – can vary massively in price.
Even if you are unsure about costs, work with ballpark figures.
Doing so means you are less likely to overspend (read on to find a formula to accurately predict total trade show costs).
According to a recent survey, businesses are most likely to spend 5-10% of their annual marketing budget on trade shows.
If you are unsure on your numbers, consider taking this portion out of your total budget.
Keep in mind though that this percentage is for all trade show costs in a one year period.
Don’t simplify your trade show costs
Many first-time exhibitors fall into the trap of calculating trade show expenses based on an over-simplified list.
These generally include the following expenses;
- The cost of floor space
- The price of an exhibition stand
- Transportation costs
- Advertising and marketing
- Accommodation costs
Within these categories is undoubtedly where most of your money will be allocated.
But, there are “hidden” costs which we will discuss in more depth throughout this article.
Some pesky ones to keep in mind: the cost of food and drink for your staff and any sales prospects; rigging and construction costs for your exhibit; and, of course, the often extortionately high costs of on-stand electrics, internet and other stand amenities charged by the venue.
Here’s a deeper analysis of the main exhibiting costs.
1. Floor space and exhibition stand
The floor space rental and exhibition stand will take up a large portion of your trade show spend.
Typically, this will be between 30 to 50% – so it’s worth thinking carefully about how to reduce these costs.
Floor space costs can vary greatly, so be sure to check if discounts are offered for early booking confirmations.
Where you have a product or service can help the event organiser reduce their costs as in printing, AV, logistics or marketing, explore if a contra deal can be done.
By providing a service to the organiser you may be able to agree on a reduction in fees in exchange for the product or service you provide.
Exhibition stand build costs can also vary widely, depending on the space, type of exhibit and much more.
The more impressive a display the more successful your event will be or so the thinking goes.
However, you might want to consider a more cost-effective approach.
Replacing the graphics on an existing display makes your budget go further.
Exhibitors who take part in multiple shows might want to consider using a modular display system rather than custom build.
2. Travel, accommodation, and subsistence
The second greatest expense when exhibiting at a trade show are costs for you and your team to travel, stay, eat and drink at the event.
These costs will depend greatly on the location of the show and staff numbers
Carefully consider the location of the show relative to your business’s location.
Shows located closer to your location can help you cut down massively on accommodation and travel costs.
Of course, you need to weigh-up exhibiting decisions based on the value fo the events themselves and not just on their locations.
Try to book your hotel and travel in advance to save money.
For popular events, budget-friendly options close to the venue can become booked up a year in advance, so make this your first priority.
Food is another cost which can mount-up quickly – especially with the high costs of food and drink inside the venue.
Where it is possible, encourage your staff to buy their food and drink outside of the venue, even if that means extended lunch breaks.
3. Marketing materials & giveaways
Costs of literature, additional advertising at the show and free giveaways can greatly add up, so consider if these costs are necessary to reach your target audience.
Do you really need that expensive branded giveaway or could you offer a sample of your product or service instead?
Many of the advertising options offered by the event organiser such as taking out an ad in the show magazine or becoming an official event sponsor can be hugely expensive.
Instead, why not use social media to promote your brand using the official show hashtag.
You will often achieve a wider reach and, best of all, it’s free!
How to predict trade show costs
As mentioned above, many of the costs of a trade show can vary wildly so how do you predict costs and come up with a budget?
According to research by the Trade Show Institute, exhibitors spend roughly 30% of their budget on floor space, so starting from this figure you can predict the rest of your costs.
For example, if the floor space costs £3,000, you can roughly predict a total spend of £10,000.
Working with the idea that the floor space costs 30% of your total budget you can roughly estimate the total costs for the event.
The key to maximising your success at a trade show is working creatively within your budget.
Once you’ve paid for all fixed costs such as floor space, exhibition stand, transport, and accommodation, you can use the remaining budget to improve your stand presence through additional marketing, promotion and other perks for people visiting your stand.
Improve your ROI
Even with all this planning, the true return on investment of your trade show will only become evident 3 – 6 months after the show.
Make sure you carefully evaluate the success of each event by comparing the new business achieved against the costs of exhibiting; this will then help you assess whether or not a particular trade show is the right fit for your business.
About the Author
Matthew Pavli is the Marketing Manager for Display Wizard – a leading supplier of exhibition stands based in the UK. Matthew has over five years’ experience working in the exhibition industry, writing about tips and tricks for exhibitors to maximise their trade show success on the Display Wizard Blog.
In his spare time, Matthew is an avid player and watcher of football and rugby, as well as a keen reader, and film enthusiast.