Financial Planning for your Next Trade Show Event

Whether you consider yourself a trade show veteran or a novice exhibitor, you’re familiar with the inevitable budgeting conversation that happens before you start planning which trade shows you’ll attend each year.

Creating an accurate trade show budget can be time consuming and challenging. This article provides you with practical advice and easy-to-apply budget planning solutions to help you plan for a successful trade show.

Setting your Trade Show Objectives

Planning the financial foundation of an event marketing campaign begins with outlining your organization’s goals and event marketing objectives.

These questions will give you a better understanding of where your trade show budgeting journey will take you:

  1. What objectives are you looking to achieve through exhibiting?
  2. How much exhibiting space will you need to achieve your goals?
  3. What type of trade show booth will best help you reach your objectives?
  4. How many staff members will you need?
  5. What sort of promotions will you use?
  6. Will you need specialized show services?

The objectives outlined above are general concerns and reflect some of the most common challenges event marketers face when planning a trade show budget. If your business has specialized needs or objectives, make sure you clearly define them and account for them in your budgeting process.

Specialized trade show goals include:

  • Establish or enhance company awareness, credentials and/or capabilities
  • Create, change or reinforce your company’s industry or brand position
  • Affect general perceptions of your company, product and/or service
  • Promote a specific brand message or tagline
  • Distinguish your company from your competitors and rivals
  • Introduce a new product, service or improvement in capabilities
  • Introduce your brand and products into new markets

Having a clear idea of your unique exhibiting needs is vitally important to your trade show budget, so make sure you invest time and resources in outlining them.

Check out our “Crash Course: Custom Trade Show Booth Design” for helpful tips on outlining and setting trade show goals.

Estimating your Trade Show Budget

After landing at your trade show objectives, it’s time to break down the costs associated with reaching them. When it comes to creating your trade show budget, separate your expenses into four categories:

  1. Exhibit-related costs
  2. Service costs
  3. Promotional costs
  4. Staffing costs

Next, create a rough estimate of your trade show budget. To calculate, take the amount of money you plan to spend on your exhibiting space and multiple it by three.

Example: If you plan on paying $15,000 for space at Trade Show X, your budget should be around $45,000 for that specific show.

If you are unable to determine your costs at certain events, you can base your trade show budget estimate on the national square foot costs for exhibit space which is between $138 and $154, according to the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association.

Example: For a 10’×10’ booth space (100 square feet), your calculated cost will be 100 x $138 x 3 = $41,400. For a booth that lasts 5 years, at 3 shows per year, the cost is an affordable $2,000 – $3,000 per show.

Trade Show Cost Breakdown

Once you create an estimate of your event budget, it’s time for you to determine how much of your budget resources you should allocate to trade show expenses. Below, you’ll find the six key trade show costs and the average percentage of the trade show budget they each consume.

Related: Maximize your Investment with these Trade Show Booth Updates

Exhibiting Space: 30% of Overall Trade Show Budget

When planning your budget, think about how much space you need to fulfill your trade show objectives. The average exhibiting space is 10’ x 10’, or 100 square feet, but you may need more space depending on your exhibiting needs.

If you are a multi-show exhibitor, outline the exhibiting space you need for each show to determine total cost. This amount will be about 30% of your overall trade show budget.

Show Services: 20% of Overall Trade Show Budget

Trade show services and logistics are often an overlooked and essential part of trade show budgeting. It’s crucial to take these expenses into account while planning your budget since there are numerous minor expenses related to exhibit services that, if left unchecked, can add up.

Installation and Dismantle Services – Whether you purchased a custom modular exhibit, a rental design or an off-the-shelf kit, your booth will need to be set up and taken down.

You can save money by having your staff set up and take down your exhibit. But keep in mind, your booth staffers are likely inexperienced and you risk damaging your exhibit. Contracting an experienced professional installation and dismantle services provider is encouraged, so make sure to make space in your budget.

Warehousing and Storage – Your exhibit will need to be stored before and after your trade show. Unless you have the room and expertise in storing trade show booths, it’s best to have a company handle storage. These storage costs should always be accounted for when planning for a trade show.

Outside of I&D and exhibit storage, there are several other show services to consider, such as:

  • Carpenter
  • Rigging
  • Electrician
  • Forklift Services

Exhibit Design: 10% of Overall Trade Show Budget

Your trade show booth is the centerpiece of your event marketing campaign. During the design process, you will be presented with a variety of trade show booth solutions based on your goals. The cost of your exhibit is typically 10% of an overall trade show budget.

Related: Captivate the Crowd with Interactive Trade Show Design

Make sure to account for the unique costs of exhibit solution and related accessories and components. Below are two essential tips to help control costs of your booth.

Tip 1: Draft a list of all the features you would like in an exhibit. During the consultation phase of the exhibit design process, price out each one of your features from your list and prioritize which features are most important to your exhibit. Cross off features that are more expensive and less essential to your overall exhibiting objectives.

Tip 2: To determine the overall lifetime cost of your exhibit, you’ll need to estimate how many years you will use the display and how many shows you will attend each year. The average lifetime of trade show display hardware is five years. If you are looking for your own trade show display, you may want to check out Apogee’s custom trade show booths for a difference-making trade show displays.

Your exhibit and graphic replacement needs may vary depending on how many shows you attend throughout the year. The more shows you attend, the faster you may need to purchase a new trade show booth.

Shipping and Drayage: 10% of Overall Trade Show Budget

Shipping your trade show booth from the warehouse to the event venue is a cost that can be accounted for early on. Contact freight companies and ask about their rates, which are calculated by the amount of weight and space your exhibit takes up. Before you pull the trigger on purchasing your booth, take its weight and shipping size into careful consideration.

Drayage is the process of unloading and managing your trade show freight and moving it to and from your exhibiting space. Drayage costs can be difficult to estimate and often exhibitors get blindsided by unexpected costs. As a rule of thumb, drayage costs usually equal or slightly exceed the cost of shipping your exhibit to the venue.

Average Hourly Drayage Rates vary depending on where you are shipping your trade show booth to. For instance, advance shipping to a warehouse can cost $80/hour, while shipping direct to the show site, uncrated, can be as high as $110/hour.

Promotions: 5% of Overall Trade Show Budget

Your promotional material and marketing collateral play a key role in attendee education and engagement, so make sure you afford about 5% of your budget to promotions.

Pre-Show Promotion – Advertising in trade publications and acquiring a show list so you can reach out to attendees are both great ways of generating pre-event buzz around your exhibit.

Literature – Catalogs, brochures, white papers, sales slicks and associated marketing literature are all effective tools in educating event attendees about your brand and products. But not all of these assets will suit your brand. Determine which type of marketing literature is best for your event marketing objectives and choose that as your literature giveaway.

Product Demos – Product demos are a great way to attract visitors to your booth. Account for costs of materials for product demonstrations, such as monitors and tablets, or other materials that are relevant for your product.

Related: Engage Trade Show Attendees with Virtual and Augmented Reality

Booth Staffing & Travel: 20% of Overall Trade Show Budget

Your booth staffers are your most effective, and sometimes expensive, marketing asset. The personnel that staff your booth are critical to representing your company and brand, but take up an average of 20% of your event marketing budget.

Travel, Food and Lodging

The cost of travel, accommodations and meals can add up. Fortunately, most hotels and airlines have group rates that help drive down expenses. Consider the following tips for trimming your team’s travel costs:

  • Designate one member of your trade show team to book travel, lodging and transportation for the group. This tactic will help simplify the coordination of group packages and deals
  • Communicate expense limits to your trade show staffers. If your business doesn’t have an official travel and expense policy for trade shows, consider drafting one that includes per diems on travel, hotel, dining, tipping and entertainment
  • Purchase your airline tickets early to secure lower fares

Talk to a trade show booth expert about your trade show budget. Contact Apogee or call (315) 986-4600