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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Rookie Exhibitors

Choosing to exhibit your company at your industry’s next trade show can be an exciting and rewarding decision – that is, if you’ve done it before. As rookie exhibitors, many businesses find themselves intimidated by larger companies and blindsided by unexpected costs.

These stressors, in turn, discourage those rookies from exhibiting in the future. Imagine how much potential business is sacrificed from skipping that event… all in the name of sticking to familiarity!

For those who are feeling disheartened by expositions, just remember: even the biggest company in the room was once a first-time exhibitor. The secret to a smooth, successful trade show is knowing what to expect. Listed below are three major points to remember when exhibiting at an upcoming custom trade show display:


1. Construct a Reasonable Budget
There’s no hiding it – exhibiting is expensive. If you have reached the point of signing up as an exhibitor, chances are you have decided that the economic gains outweigh the expenditures. Now comes the time to formulate a realistic budget. Believe it or not, your booth is not set in stone. Unexpected changes are bound to arise. Sure, you may have imagined the perfect expo booth in your head, but while designing the booth, you realize there are so many more components available to you! Lighting, furniture, 3-D designs, and other “extras” are wonderful assets that can be used to further establish your company’s branding at the show. But, like many other factors, these assets take money, so consider a rental booth to help with the costs! Giving yourself a flexible budget alleviates the stress of these added expenditures.


2. Know Your Deadlines
You cannot simply “show up” the day of the expo assuming all of the behind-the-scenes work has been completed by the show organizer. You are the behind-the-scenes. For this reason, knowing your deadlines is imperative to trade show success. Not only are these dates critical (hence their common title of “Critical Dates”), but an exhibitor can often incur fees by not meeting the deadlines. Some of these deadlines include registration forms, EAC (Exhibitor-Appointed Contractor) forms, move-in dates, set-up dates, move-out dates, and dismantle dates. If you have any questions regarding deadlines, do NOT guess – contact the show organizer for clarification. They are available to answer your questions because they, too, want the show to run as smoothly as possible!


3. Identify Unavoidable Costs
One of the most frustrating parts of being a new exhibitor is the unaccounted for show fees. These are expenses that are costly and unavoidable, so they should be included in your initial budget. These expenses include:

  • Drayage fees. What are drayage fees? They are the costs incurred from the show organizers who are moving your shipments short distances; e.g. from the warehouse to the booth space, even from the shipping truck to the booth space. Why are drayage fees unavoidable? Well, you don’t want your exhibit in the parking lot, do you? These fees are a necessary evil that can be reduced by optimizing your shipment.
  • Shipping fees. Your shipping estimate is just that – an ESTIMATE. Any extra weight or shipment delays are coming from the exhibitor’s pocket. Accommodate room in your budget for unforeseen events that rack up the shipping price.
  • Labor fees. Labor companies charge per man, on an hourly basis. These rates stay consistent UNLESS the men must work overtime or on weekends. This is another reason that reinforces point #2 – knowing your exact set-up and dismantle dates allows for better accuracy on your labor estimate. (Helpful hint: make sure you hire the labor company at the correct time – as long as they are present, you are incurring labor fees. Don’t spend money on labor while the men have to wait to set-up or dismantle).


Don’t get blindsided at your next trade show. These events are made to create new business and expand your company – not stress you and your team out! Remember – knowledge is power. The more you know, the quicker you can transition from being the “trade show rookie” to the Powerhouse Company on the show floor.

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