Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.


Top 8 Ways to Justify The Cost of a New Exhibit

What are the indicators that tell you when it’s time to invest in a new tradeshow exhibit? What does it take to justify the expense, which can often be very large?

Naturally, there’s no single answer that applies across the board. However, if you, as a tradeshow marketing manager, feel it’s time to make a major upgrade, you’re put in a position of having to sell the investment to management. Here are a few things that you might consider in the process.

1. Can you point to tradeshow marketing as a consistent method of bringing in leads? And are you turning those leads into clients? If that’s true, the question may be: why do you need to fix it? Isn’t it already working?

It may indeed be working. But if you’re consistently running into issues such as growth, lack of space, too many visitors in such a small space, it may be that you are in need of a bigger space and hence, a bigger booth. One way to determine this is to track visitors by counting, or by anecdotal evidence from your booth staff.

If tradeshow marketing is a solid and consistent business driver, it’s likely that the people with the purse strings may be sympathetic to the request.

2. Consider the prospect of NOT doing anything. What would happen if you did NOT invest in a new booth? Are you satisfied with holding firm with the current booth property? The questions that come up around this question include how old the current assets are, and how is being perceived by your staff and clients at the show.

Another part of this conundrum is this: what are your most direct competitors doing? If the top three competitors in your market have upgraded and upsized their booth properties in the last two or three years, the perception will be that you’re losing ground to them. And in a competitive market, perception is critical.


3. Do your research. What are your competitors doing? What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from within and without? A simple SWOT analysis can tell you a lot about where you are and where you might go from here.

4. Ask yourself if a new booth is really the answer. What about investing in your booth staff instead or in pre-show marketing and post-show follow up? Support your staff with training and education that allows them to more properly interact on the show floor with attendees by asking the right questions. Maybe a booth isn’t really right yet, but a smaller investment in the staff may yield good results without the larger booth investment, which can then be put off a year or two or three.

5. If a new booth is the answer, spend some time assessing how to understand the investment of capital, what’s involved and when it will be delivered and how it will happen. This will likely mean talking with booth designers and fabricators to get an idea of how much time and money it would cost to develop a design and construct the booth.

6. Once these items are assembled, they should be presented in the context of the life of the booth. Do you plan to use the booth for three, five, or seven years before considering major upgrades? In the case of one client who had committed to a 30×30 island booth in 2012, they had an opportunity to upgrade the space and the booth in 2015 to a 30×40, and decided the investment was worth it.

7. Determine how the new booth will change those who are tasked with the logistics of setting up and dismantling the booth, staffing it for the shows and inviting more clients for one-on-one meetings. In my experience, upgrading to a larger booth will modestly impact the marketing staff, giving them more opportunities to meet more clients and spread the word about the booth. Costs for set-up and dismantle will rise. Shipping costs will rise. Stepping up to a new booth is a major commitment, but it can often be well worth it in the return on that investment.

8. Now it’s time to present the final proposed cost. You’ve assembled a design and fabrication team that is capable. You have a reasonable price range for the project. While the bean-counters will want to justify the case in a hard dollars won vs. dollars spent, in addition to showing how the cost will be justified by the return with new business, detail the ‘soft’ return. These soft reasons to spend the money may include increased business opportunities due to a larger booth, more visibility at the shows, easier and quicker set-up times, perception of being bigger and better than your competitors, better branding opportunities in your booth, and so on. Be as specific as possible. For instance: “our new booth will give us a 300% increase in visible graphic display area to show off our brand and products compared with our current display.”

Use whatever combination of these methods you deem appropriate for your situation. Need help? Give me a call or drop a note and I’ll be glad to chat!

TSEBK download intivation2-rounded corners

Lifecycle of a Tradeshow Booth

Where are you in the life cycle of your tradeshow booth? What impact would it be to your company to upgrade at this point vs. waiting another year or two?

The life of a tradeshow booth generally goes something like this:

  1. Realizing your company has outgrown the old booth and making plans for a new one.
  2. Designing a new booth based on current company needs.
  3. Brand new booth and loving it!
  4. Year 1 – 2: It doesn’t exactly fit your needs but you’re still doing fine.
  5. Years 2 – 4: Making small adjustments and liberal use of on-site repairs. You feel like MacGuyver.
  6. Making bigger adjustments and repairs as time goes by. The thing is starting to rival Frankenstein’s monster.
  7. Realizing that you’re about to outgrow the booth in so many ways, like that old bathing suit from when you were a teenager.
  8. Finally putting a budget together for a new booth.
  9. Repeat every 5 – 7 years.

Admittedly, every company and booth experiences the booth lifecycle in its individual way. Some companies want a new booth every couple of years, and others are proud that they’ve used the same booth for nearly twenty years! True! I’ve talked to them!


Once the booth crates or cases make it to a floor, they run into hundreds or thousands of other companies trying to setup their booths as well. Forklifts run wild. Ladders fall. Screwdrivers are dropped. Graphics and other pieces don’t fit as advertised and are hammered into place.

You can see why, given the somewhat destructive nature of how a booth ‘lives,’ it’s no surprise anyone that they need constant attention, repair and TLC.

So how can you extend the life of a tradeshow booth and when can you tell it’s time to move to something completely new?

One simple recommendation is to update graphics regularly. Refreshing the look of a booth with re-skinning it with new graphics is an economical and quick way to makeover the booth. The skeleton, or the main structure, of the booth, usually is good for five to seven years. By dressing the skeleton in new clothes regularly, the life cycle of the booth can be extended.

If you purchase a booth that’s designed to be expanded by using modular components, it doesn’t take much to expand that 10’ inline booth to a 20’ or 30’ or even a 20’ x 20’ island. That way you aren’t really buying a new booth, you’re just adding to your existing property. A good exhibit house will discuss these options with you when you first consider a new booth. That way the initial investment is a part of the booth as its given new life.

Maintaining longevity means being flexible. It means being willing and able to adapt to changing needs in your company. If you purchase a 10’ x 30’ booth that can also be setup as a 10’ or 20’ inline, you have the flexibility to attend several different shows with different layouts. If your designer is aware of your long term needs (any good designer will be by asking good questions before starting a design concept), flexibility will be built-in from the very beginning.

Add to that flexibility by adding and subtracting items such as counters, iPad kiosks, workstations and more depending on the needs of a specific show. Change out fabric graphic panels, add wings to the walls or a swoopy thing here and there to draw attention.

Getting the most out of your investment is key to increasing the usability and life cycle of your booth, not to mention increasing the overall ROI of your investment.

Tradeshow marketing takes place in a challenging environment. The more you can plan and prepare for the longevity of your booth, the further you’ll extend the dollars you are investing.

TSEBK download intivation2-rounded corners

Tradeshow Marketing Analysis, Part 2: Budgeting

Read Part One of this series here.

You can get lost in the numbers. But sometimes it’s fun – and enlightening.

Visitors spend an average of 8.3 hours in 2.3 days on a tradeshow floor, giving exhibitors the chance to reach thousands of potential customers in a very short time (Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 2008). 39% of visitors come to the same show at least two years in a row, giving exhibitors a loyal base of committed potential customers (CEIR, 2008). 50% of attendees already have a buying plan when attending shows (CEIR, 2007). And finally – decision makers love exhibitions: 87% of survey respondents state that national exhibitions are an ‘extremely useful’ source of needed purchasing information (CEIR, 2004).


Tradeshows account for an average one-third of a company’s annual marketing budget. Much of that money is simply flushed down the drain. Why? Because many company tradeshow and exhibit managers don’t have a thorough, detailed plan for each show and often the booth staff is unaware of the reason for even being at the show, other than the general ‘business-building’ excuse.

Companies continue to go to tradeshows in spite of the amount of money that is spent. In fact, the event industry is on the rise. Since the recession late in the last decade, most industries and events have seen climbing attendance.

Tradeshow marketing is attractive because the cost of reaching a potential customer face-to-face is $219 with an exhibition lead, compared with $1,039 without one (CEIR, 2009). Add to that the fact that as human beings, we relish the idea of meeting colleagues, vendors, clients and prospects face-to-face: two-thirds of visitors place a high level of importance on face-to-face interaction during the pre-purchasing stages of the buying process (CEIR, 2003). Executives cited conference and tradeshow participation returns ranging from $4.00 to $5.91 per dollar invested (Oxford Economics, 2009).

With all of those numbers floating around, it’s attractive to leverage a series of tradeshow appearances into growing sales, a burgeoning market and a healthy bottom line. If only we knew exactly where all that money was going, right?

So here’s a series of questions that you should ask yourself regarding your tradeshow marketing budget.

  1. What is your annual tradeshow marketing budget?
  2. What percentage of the company’s overall marketing budget does the tradeshow division make up?
  3. Who determines what the annual tradeshow marketing budget is?
    1. How often does that assessment take place?
    2. Is that assessment shared throughout the company, or is it generally kept quiet?
    3. Is the budget increasing, decreasing or staying about the same?
    4. Is your current budget enough for what you plan to do? What you’d like to do?
    5. What’s the breakdown of the budget?
      1. Booth space rental (shipping, drayage, other show costs)
      2. Booth upgrades, etc.
      3. Travel/lodging
      4. Promotion
      5. Giveaways
      6. Product samples/displays
      7. Other
      8. What is the company decision-making process for creating a new tradeshow booth?
      9. Does the company’s marketplace success directly impact your tradeshow marketing budget?

Items to include in your budget – feel free to download the COE budget (link):

  • Booth Design and construction
  • Show Services
  • Personnel
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Shipping
  • Lead Gathering
  • Post Show Sales Data
    • Leads
    • Cost per lead
    • Number of known show sales
    • Average sale
    • ROI
    • Miscellaneous

Even if you aren’t the person who crunches all the numbers on a regular basis, if you can make yourself do this on a regular basis, not only will you understand the bigger picture much better, but you become more valuable to your company!

Download a free Tradeshow Marketing Budgeting Template from Communication One Exhibits here (Excel spreadsheet direct link).

Here’s the rest of the series:

  1. Where to Start
  2. Budgeting
  3. Pre-Show Preparation
  4. Which Shows to Attend
  5. The Booth
  6. Booth Staff
  7. Lead Generation
  8. Post-Show Follow Up
  9. Record Keeping
  10. Social Media Engagement

© Copyright 2016 | Oregon Blue Rock, LLC
Tradeshow Guy Blog by Tim Patterson

Call 800-654-6946 for Prompt Service Registered & Protected <br />