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Trade Shows / 09.26.19 / By Chase Howells

Hidden Money In Trade Shows

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A trade show requires many line items to be budgeted and accounted for. Far from just paying for the initial investment for the booth space itself, that really just becomes a deposit on what is the sum of many additional costs for the show. The total show budget can become daunting for newer exhibitors and time-consuming to manage even for the seasoned veterans. What I have learned is that almost every line item on a trade show budget has the opportunity to increase or decrease. Here is what I hope are some helpful tidbits to help you save money, and potentially avoid big unexpected expenses:

Show Services

Most show decorators offer 20-30% discounts for services ordered before the advanced deadline. I’ve written about this many times, but it is still the easiest way to save money on the show floor. Think about having your carpet, electrical, plants, hanging sign rigging, furniture etc ordered ahead of time and saving hundreds, if not thousands of dollars that can now be allocated to critical areas of the budget.


One of the hardest lines to budget is the shipping. The rate itself can vary, then of course add location, quantity and time variables. Trade shows add additional variables with targeted windows and requiring trucks to wait at busy docks. Time-permitting send your shipment on the front-end to the advanced warehouse. These warehouses are accepting shipments closer to the start dates of the shows now and they have much more relaxed windows.

On the back-end of the shipment, choose a carrier that does not charge wait times. If they do charge fees to wait they can quickly add up and become hundreds of dollars in unexpected expense.

Graphic Proofing

Proofs are the safety net of display purchases, use them. A hard copy proof can show when colors are off or photos look blurry. Digital proofs are great for catching copy errors or layout issues. Graphics for these displays are pricey, so is the impact of them looking unprofessional at the show. Thankfully most potential issues are thwarted by proofs.


There is a time and a place for “tchotchkes” or those random giveaway items that you may feel the need to spend money on. Maybe you’re trying to blanket a show with your branding for positive impressions, or have a product that this reminder can sell well, then go for it. But realistically, most companies (especially in B2B trade shows) would be better off using the money to entertain qualified prospective clients. Whether that is a meaningful relevant gift, a dinner or night out, or maybe a trip, do something that will engage the ones that are likely to partner with you as opposed to filling random attendee goodie-bags.

Reusable Items

So many times people repeatedly buy items for a trade show that could be purchased once and used over and over. Some big examples are flooring (carpet, padding, tape) and a/v (monitors, iPads, computers). Smaller ones that add up are extension cords, power strips and waste baskets. Granted, some of these items may be difficult to ship, or wouldn’t be worthwhile to ship depending on quantity/booth size, but if you’re attending a few shows or more a year this is going to save a lot of money fast.


Here is where the biggest savings potential lies though it requires the most time and effort. Make sure you are evaluating the shows you are exhibiting at. Create measurable goals for each show and track against them. If you find a show isn’t worthwhile, cutting it out saves you thousands that can be transitioned into the better performing shows to maximize those efforts.

I have tried to give you nuggets that do not change the core of your trade show campaign (staff, display type, accomodations, etc), but are areas where we find money is just wasted. Cleaning these up can quickly maximize the efficiency of your trade show budget dollars. Feel free to let me know of any good ways to save that you think I missed and I’ll gladly pass them on!