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Reducing exhibit costs

Barry Siskind


There is a common problem that is shared by many exhibit managers: While the exhibit return is either flat-lining or decreasing, costs continue to rise. The past few years have done very little to help this situation which has caused some companies to reduce their exhibit exposure or pull out of important exhibitions all together in the hopes of meeting constricting budget constraints.

Here are a number of strategies that may help.

Talk to your show organizer. Running a show has its own challenges but all would be for not if exhibitors, who the organizer depends on, are having difficulty justifying their participation. I am not suggesting your conversation with organizers is one where you are strong-arming them into reducing costs but a collaborative discussion where you tap into their experience to find cost-saving ideas that work for both of you. Your organizer lives and breathes their exhibitions daily &ndash who better to consult with?

Talk to your suppliers. One huge mistake many exhibit managers make with reduced funds is to drop sections of the overall budget plan to make up the shortfall. A better approach is to examine, line by line, each item in your budget and search for meaningful savings. To help, your suppliers can be a great resource. Often they can develop creative ideas that can help you save money while maintaining the integrity of your exhibit plan.

Develop your metrics for success. Much has been written about metrics but without some serious thought into what makes a successful exhibit plan, you are left guessing. Your metrics give you benchmarks to determine which exhibitions work better than others and a method of calculating the effect of changes to your plan.

Talk to your staff. All too often staff is assigned to attend an exhibition without being asked for feedback on how and what you can do to improve the exhibit plan. This process should begin after each exhibition and your staff should be included in the post-show evaluation. This is their formal opportunity to share what they learned. From their vantage point they can often spot mistakes quickly and can be a tremendous source of valuable information to improve the financial bottom line. One example they might mention is the travel cost incurred when staff from distant locations are included in the exhibit plans where local staff could do the job while saving on travel and accommodation.

Buy locally. The internet is a vast resource that can introduce many local vendors. For example if you are offering hospitality then working with a local supplier may be less expensive that the official suppliers. Other local businesses may include hotels, restaurants, sign makers, booth builders, ground transportation providers etc. Design flexibility into your exhibit program. Start with a macro-approach. This includes all the exhibitions planned throughout the year. Then create the exhibit hardware to ensure that it is flexible enough to accommodate various exhibit challenges by including interchangeable parts and modular sections that can be broken up and reconfigured for smaller shows.

Calculate exhibit size. It’s not always necessary to have as much exhibit space as possible. The size of the exhibit is in direct correlation to the projected return. For each show on the schedule determine if the amount of space booked is necessary to meet your objectives.

Optimize opportunities with partners. Chances are that some of the other exhibitors at the show have products and services that compliment your offerings. They may be dealers or distributors or a vertical supplier that connects well with a similar customer or another company that is local to you who you can share expenses such as shipping. A quick review of the show’s web-site will likely help you spot exhibitors that you can work with. It could be as simple as cross-promoting each other products. Perhaps a local supplier will bring in one of their machines for you to use in your booth that that works well with your product.

Saving money at a trade show is rarely as matter of finding one or two big items that can be eliminated. It’s all about spotting smaller changes in each budget item that when added up can produce great affordable results.

I have included a few of my favorite cost saving items in this article. I would be interested in knowing what other ideas have you uncovered. Let me know at, and when I’ve collected a few I’ll publish a follow-up article.