Determining Your Real Exhibit Costs

May 29, 2018

About the author: G.A. “Andy” Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. Marken can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


Some businesses have put together formulas on the cost per person per tradeshow attendance, while others try to trace actual sales to contacts made at the show. Others use a mixture of these two methods along with a strong dose of gut feeling. The latter is probably most typical for many companies.

Rather than looking at your tradeshow efforts as an expense, view them in terms of investments just as you do with media advertising, sales literature, direct mail and publicity. Many people address tradeshows with the thought of "what's the smallest amount of space we can use this time?” rather than "what is the most effective method of presenting our message?"

Booth Matters

Almost anyone (except heavy equipment or mainframe manufacturers) would be able to get by with a 10-ft-by-10-ft booth. But would it be the right platform for your products, your company and your message?

Once you have determined the amount of floor space you will require, determine how to use the space to its fullest potential. The variations are numerous and they ultimately affect the cost.

Budget Planning

To determine your exhibit budget, consider the following:

  • What kind of selling will you be doing in your booth?
  • Will you only be handing out literature?
  • Will you be conducting demonstrations?
  • Will you be conducting semiprivate meetings?
  • Will you be spending considerable time with only a few groups at the show?

What kind of graphics do you have planned for your booth? Will you be displaying signage or will you conduct an audio-visual presentation? What mood do you want your display to establish?

Once you have the floor plan, selling message, product requirements and graphic needs spelled out, you can begin to compile your tradeshow budget.

Depending on your preference, you can work with your agency and exhibit designer, or you can work directly with an exhibit builder.

As a rule of thumb, you will probably get two years of show life out of your booth. This is assuming you participate in four to six shows a year, have the exhibit crated well and shipped the best way possible and you provide adequate instructions for setup and dismantling.

For a booth of moderate quality—not outstanding, but tasteful—expect to spend $2,000 to $4,000 per linear foot (this includes booth, graphics, special effects, etc.). Quality crating will cost 25% to 30% of your booth cost. Because booths and crates take a terrific beating in transit and during setup, skimping in this area could be false savings.

To avoid overtime charges, and yet get the product you want, expect to spend three or more months on the booth from initiation to completion.

The above planning and budgeting considerations are based on an original booth. Other options, however, are available. These include:

  • Prefabricated knockdown displays;
  • Prefabricated panel exhibits;
  • Prefabricated freestanding exhibits;
  • Rental units from the show exhibit company; and
  • Used or refurbished displays.

While these considerations will skew the budgeting, the same thought process has to be used to determine if you can or want to use one of these alternatives.

Whichever way you go, consider the image you are projecting and the image of your competition at the show. Couple this with the task you want to perform and you can arrive at a realistic budget.

Photo 13643680 © Calyx22 |
Image courtesy Midea KWHA Division.
Photo 171159295 © Oasisamuel |
Photo by Chanon Pornrungroj/Ariffin Mohamad Annuar, courtesy University of Cambridge.