Trade Show Planning Part Two: The Preliminary Budget

There are certain expenses that come with every trade show. The cost of the booth space, shipping your booth contents, the cost of travel, lodging, and dining. In addition to these, are the “optional” expenses. The things you don’t necessarily have to spend money on, but may want to based on the goals you have set. These are the expenses that can quickly get away from you, and that is why it helps to know how much your base cost will be, without all the frills, so that you can set a reasonable budget for things like marketing collateral, samples, advertising, and booth furnishings.

Some things to consider when you budget for the “basics”:

  • Beware of unsolicited emails offering trade show housing. These can sometimes be scams. Rather than following a link from an email, it is best to either go directly to the trade show website and look at the “official” lodging providers, or strike out on your own.

    Sometimes great deals can be found for nearby properties on sites like, however, two things to be cautious about. First, if you don’t plan to rent a vehicle, make sure the property you are looking at is within walking distance of the event site. Vacation properties can save you money by providing a kitchen to cook in, and enough space for your entire booth staff, but that savings could be lost if you end up having to rent a car. Second, consider the number of bathrooms. If you’re sending five employees to the show, and the house you’ve rented only has one bathroom, you are likely to cause more trouble than any savings would be worth.

    Know what you get for free. Some shows provide carpet, tables with draping and basic signage for the price of the booth. Others require you to provide your own or rent those elements, separately, for an added fee. Most shows provide an online exhibitor manual and this information can typically be found at the beginning of the manual.

    Shipping your booth materials can be one of the more costly elements, but knowing about how much your booth weighs is crucial to getting an accurate estimate. If this is your first show, and you have absolutely no idea, at this stage, how much all the elements will weigh then I suggest you get a couple of estimates based on your best guess of the minimum weight (the weight of your backdrop, plus a few boxes of marketing materials, signage, etc) and the maximum of perhaps, double or even triple the minimum. It’s a good idea to get shipping estimates from both the show’s labor provider (Freeman, GES or the like) and an independent company. Remember that most shows have union contracts and prohibit exhibitors from carrying in suitcases, boxes or other large items. So you can’t just carrying things on the plane with you!

    Remember to budget for material handling. Material handling is the charge for bringing your booth items from the warehouse to the booth site. Pay careful attention to the target move-in and move-out times. Show labor providers often charge double for move-in or move-out times that fall outside of regular hours. The show organizers set the move-in and move-out targets, so unfortunately you have no control over these costs, so it pays to be aware of them. Material handling is typically estimated prior to the show based on the estimated weight of your booth materials, so it’s important to make sure you’re using the right labor rates otherwise you could get quite a shock on your credit card bill. Again, the targeted move-in and move-out information can be found in the exhibitor manual, but sometimes it is easier to call or chat online with a Freeman or GES representative to find out if your estimating correctly. Finally, some labor providers offer a discount on material handling if you use them to ship your show materials. Be sure to ask about that discount, and consider that when selecting a shipper.

  • I like to start any trade show plan off with a simple file folder labeled with the name and date of the show at the top. Inside, I would have the booth registration form, and my preliminary budget, and as my plans progress, I’ll add more and more documents and confirmations to the folder. I also like to start an email file for all relevant trade show correspondence, but I’m a bit compulsive when it comes to filing things.

    Now that you have a preliminary budget, you can move on to creating a trade show time line and budgeting for the extras.

    Photo courtesy of New Hope Natural  Media

    Photo courtesy of New Hope Natural Media