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December 16, 2019

Don't Just Fudge It, Budget!

Ryan Lovell, Account Executive

Buy it now, pay for it later is the American way. Personally, I’m guilty of this too. The reality in the trade show industry is that marketing managers are given a real budget, and you can’t just swipe it if you can’t afford it. I used to be on the other side of the industry, and one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is the importance of having a clear and exact budget prior to conceptualizing an exhibit. If you do not have a budget established in the early phases of your trade show program, it can lead to frustration, and even consequences later.

Setting Your Budget

The first hurdle is getting executive approval on a trade show budget. Some executives, and even business owners are reluctant to provide a budget to marketing managers as they perceive it to be a leverage tool later. Not to mention, trade shows can be a sizable investment and presenting those numbers typically raises many questions from decision makers who aren’t directly involved in trade shows.

Sometimes marketing managers are new to trade show planning or are unsure what their budget should be, so they rely on their exhibit house to provide them with the costs. It’s one of the harder conversations, but it pays huge dividends, especially in terms of time, to establish this first. A good exhibit house should be able to support the recommended budget with research from reliable industry sources. Be sure to ask your exhibit house if you’re not confident in costs. A good exhibit house will act as a partner in this regard, they work in this space every day and have a lot of industry knowledge to help guide you in the right direction. You will find out quickly if your exhibit house is one you can trust as a consulting partner.

Whatever your situation may be, establishing a trade show budget is a critical step in the process of buying or renting a new exhibit. Be sure that everyone who needs to be involved in determining and approving your budget is at the table, so to speak. When a budget is decided and approved, make sure it’s documented with the agreed terms for all involved to ensure it’s “official” and you can move forward in your planning phase with confidence.

What’s in Your Budget

Equally important is establishing what’s “IN” the budget. Here are some of the categories to consider for an exhibit rental or purchase:

  • Exhibit Hardware (purchase or rental)
  • Exhibit Graphics
  • Labor and Freight
  • Project Management and Design
  • Flooring
  • Show Services: Drayage, Electrical, Cleaning, and Rigging (these are the most common)

Typically, you want your exhibit house to always include the first four items on the list above and in some cases, you may want to include flooring from the exhibit house. The show services are impossible for your exhibit house to control. However, they can be tricky to navigate through if you are not used to trade show planning. You may want to consider asking your exhibit house for their assistance in estimating those costs after the design is complete. (Small plug here: At Skyline TradeTec, we offer the added service of managing and ordering show services on our client’s behalf, which tends to be a huge benefit for overall project coordination, early bird discounts, and giving time back to our client by taking that work off their already full plate.)

Additional costs that should also be considered within the budget include, cost of the actual exhibit space, catering, trade show talent, A/V, WIFI, and collateral to name a few.

Prioritizing Your Needs

Once you have established a clear and detailed budget, you’re ready to move onto the next phase – the design. This process begins in the form of a Discovery meeting with your exhibit house. This meeting is paramount and the basis of your designer’s efforts going forward. You will talk through (yes) budget, strategy, goals, functional needs, and creative ideas. Some of the most unique requests I’ve ever accommodated include a spinning wheel of ingredients, a large inflatable rugby ball, and a custom counter featuring numerous electrician demos.

Common priorities are:

  • Large demo areas
  • Big monitors or LED video walls
  • Backlighting
  • Storage cabinets and/or closets
  • Bar and Lounge space
  • Special flooring including inlays, raised flooring, etc.

It is nearly impossible to begin working with an exhibit design partner without the crucial conversation of budget and costs. While many exhibitors are nervous to “show their cards” in regards to their budget, it really leaves the designers in dark as to how they should make very specific design choices to fit your functional needs at a cost you can afford. Like any shopping decision, you can choose from many tiers of materials, products, aesthetics, accessories, etc. Failure to create a realistic budget AND effectively communicate it to your design team will lead to designs that don’t fit your wholistic needs, delays in the design process by two or three--fold when you need to ask for revisions to cut costs, and general frustration from re-work, extra meetings, and putting the project on a compressed timeline.

Making Cuts or Adding Something Special

As one may imagine it’s far more frequent to be over budget than under budget. This is a difficult position because you have to make cuts to the design. Where to cut can be a difficult decision. One of the easiest ways to lower a budget is to switch from purchase to rental. A great exhibit house can be creative with rent-to-own programs, thus giving you more flexibility with the design.

Sometimes exhibitors can replace exhibit items with rental furniture. For example custom counters or pedestals can easily be replaced with rentals. Another place that a budget can be recouped is in flooring. If you can replace custom flooring with carpet at the first show, you can build it into your budget down the road. Perhaps a wall could be bought without the backlighting, with plans to add it back in later. Booths can always be built upon and usually last many years, which gives you the ability to make minor modifications with each new budget season.

Depending on your planning and timing, you could purchase a modular display in a smaller exhibit space with plans to flex up to a larger one with incremental additions. In other words, maybe you are currently in a 10x20 space and only have the budget for a 10x20 purchase. If you want to get into a 20x20 eventually you can tell your exhibit consultant this, and the designer can build what you’re buying now and plan out what you’d buy down the road to expand your exhibit. Communication like this with the design team reaps massive benefits down the road.

The rarer situation is adding to the design with excess budget. One of the largest trends in exhibiting right now is the creative use of A/V elements, ranging from video walls to holograms and virtual reality. This would be an easy place to invest excess budget. You could also add exhibit space and buy a larger exhibit. There are endless ways to make flooring unique with inlays, vinyl printed graphics, and so much more. Your designer should be able to offer several ways to add on to a design.

Planning Ahead

In purchasing a booth, remember there are the costs associated beyond the trade show floor. Your exhibit house should be able to estimate these “costs of ownership” for you, including items such as storage and asset management fees. Regardless if you rent or purchase, it’s also a good idea to plan approximate shipping and labor costs in key cities, as well as graphic replacement costs so that you can make rough plans regarding spending in the years ahead.

In Summary

Budgets can be tricky, time consuming, and labor intensive. But budgeting correctly the first time with something that is tangible (rather than just the swipe of a card), along with proper communication with your exhibit house will be beneficial in the long term. Make sure you ask all your questions, get accurate costs, and understand what to expect from the wholistic perspective of purchasing or renting a booth. There shouldn’t be hidden costs or fees – make sure your exhibit house is transparent. Whatever you decide, and however you get there, we hope you have a great show!

One last plug – since you worked so hard on creating that budget and getting it approved, make sure you aren’t caught after the show with any surprise bills. For more information on our NO POST SHOW BILLING™ guarantee click here.

About TradeTec:

Founded in Chicago in 1999, Skyline TradeTec produces innovative trade show exhibits with unmatched customer service and a promise of NO POST SHOW BILLING™ for clients. As an endorsed provider of Skyline products, TradeTec offers the highest quality modular exhibits and portable displays, as well as custom and hybrid solutions. Skyline TradeTec has 6 locations in 5 states, has served over 6,000 clients, and has completed over 50,000 projects worldwide. Learn more about TradeTec at SkylineTradeTec.com.