Here’s where your checkbook comes in handy; you’ll be writing checks to all kinds of people. If you planned ahead, you’ve been saving for this, and it won’t be a shock when you see all the outstretched hands. Some expenses can be paid over time, such as for booth space or your new exhibit, but others are due before or immediately after service is rendered.
It’s a good idea to budget about 20 to 25 percent extra for unexpected things that come up—and they will. For example, at tradeshows we’ve had our display light burn out, an extension cord that wasn’t long enough, forgotten items that we had to ship FedEx overnight, and forgotten clothing. When you need something in a hurry at a show, you can forget discount-store prices; they’ve got you, and it’s going to be expensive. Just pay it and forget it so you can have a great show.
Here are some expenses you should plan for in advance:
- Booth/space. A small business can usually afford only a 10×10 or 10×20 booth because of the high cost, but you can still make big profits by selecting the correct space on the floor plan. In a national show, a 10×10 space usually will cost somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000—maybe more for a premium location.
- Exhibit/display. If you don’t already have one, you need a display that will attract attention and present your products and services in a professional manner. Get several quotes and designs before you make a final decision. Ask for staff opinions and suggestions for the design and layout.
- Shipping/freight. Seven to ten days before the show starts, you’ll want to ship your exhibit and other literature (plus giveaways) to the show holding area. Because of the cost of these items, I suggest getting insurance on the shipment and also sending them UPS or FedEx two-day shipping so they’re tracked well. Never use the mail or parcel post, because there’s no guarantee the package will ever arrive. The show management should provide shipping instructions; follow them exactly.
- Staff. How many people will you bring, including yourself ? Do they need to be paid, or is this time part of their salary duties? I’ve heard many companies that include tradeshow time as part of their job descriptions, but they pay a reasonable bonus or an extra amount for each day worked at the show. You could also give employees one paid day off at the end of the show to rejuvenate.
- Travel/hotel. Don’t forget lodging—you can’t sleep in your booth! If your staff is comfortable with the arrangement, a small suite with individual sleeping rooms may be less expensive than two separate rooms. Take advantage of the show’s special hotel rates and discounts, and purchase any plane tickets well in advance to get the lowest rates.
- Food. Yes, you have to feed your staff and yourself, but be smart about doing it. Food from the tradeshow floor concessions is the most convenient, but the cost is sky high. How can a hot dog the size of your little finger cost $7.50? (Oh, I forgot—they give you eight potato chips and a pickle!) The best idea is to have a big breakfast right before the show opens and a great dinner after—you’ll get much more value for your money. Take along a snack to eat during the show, and that should get you through.
- Union costs. Every tradeshow I’ve ever been to that’s in a big hall or convention center is subject to union personnel for setup and takedown. You can’t use any tools or perform any other tasks that the unions normally do. The only exception is a smaller display that fits together without requiring tools or special skills. All electrical work, moving, and assembly must be done by union personnel—and, of course, you get the bill. Don’t bother fighting it; you’ll never win. This is not all bad, though, because the union personnel know the layout and have
worked many shows before. Don’t worry; they’ll get done on time, before the show opens, and they can handle most lastminute emergencies. Set up these services in advance, because they may cost more at the last minute.
- Hospitality suite. This expense is optional and it can be a big one. If you’re going to do it, go all out and make it memorable; don’t just serve soda and crackers. You don’t have to serve crab and lobster, but get several party trays with food that will impress your guests and will also be their dinner that night. Remember, some people don’t eat meat, so have at least one vegetable tray or vegetarian item. You can serve beer, wine, soft drinks, and water. If you’re going to include mixed drinks, you should hire a bartender so people don’t over-pour for themselves.
The hotel can provide an entertainment suite and offer different food tray selections. This is a once-a-year chance
to impress and entertain your customers and prospects, so do it right.
- Cleaning fees. These won’t break your budget, but cleaning needs to be done—and again, only union personnel can do it. Order nightly vacuuming of your booth carpet, dusting, and emptying of your trash. After a long day in your booth, you wouldn’t want to do this even if you could. The next morning, you’ll walk into a clean and fresh booth ready to snag that next big prospect.
- Security. This should be provided by the show management and included in your booth fee. You should also check with your office insurance agent and possibly add a rider for the show. Services during the show and overnight lockup will keep you more focused on your objectives.
These are the basic expenses you have to consider when deciding whether you can afford to be in a tradeshow and whether you can profit from it. Tradeshows are a big business and cost big bucks, but they can offer huge marketing opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere. If these expenses are out of your current budget, consider starting with a local or regional show where booth costs and travel expenses will be much less. Then, as you see results, you can
move up to national shows. Don’t spend money you can’t afford, though, because there are no guaranteed results at a tradeshow, just opportunities.