How To Stretch Your Trade Show Budget

At some point in your career, you’ve probably been placed in the position where things needed to happen in a rush, for you to do your job effectively.

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Sometimes things slip through the cracks: “I was supposed to order carpeting? I thought you were ordering the carpet!”

Sometimes rules change: “Last year, our twelve foot high kiosk was no problem. What’s the problem now?”

Sometimes fate intervenes: “You’re in Arlington, Virginia? But the show’s in Arlington, Texas!”

And sometimes, people just make mistakes: “The rental booth was supposed to be delivered to 12345 Main St., not 12245!”

When things like these happen, you have to figure out how to fix the problem and keep the ball rolling—fast. And it’s even better if no one sees you sweat while you get the problem worked out. Do that, and stretch your trade show budget? That’s a trifecta!

You’re fortunate to be working in a field where suppliers and service contractors are used to getting things done in a hurry.

Almost everyone you work with in this business is willing to help you out of a jam, for a price (sometime a very hefty price). And if your budget is unlimited, you won’t mind paying up to 200% mark-ups on some rush services.

But very few trade show managers get unlimited budgets. That means you’re wasting money on things you could have gotten at much more reasonable prices, if only you’d planned ahead. And if you don’t have a trade show budget, you probably should.

In this field, you can choose any two: “good,” “cheap” or “fast.” But it’s very difficult to get all three at the same time.

In other words, if you have ample time, things will cost less. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll get heavily dinged on every aspect of your exhibiting program that’s affected. So advance planning is always a good idea. But sometimes, you just can’t anticipate every potential problem.

Someone didn’t order carpeting or tradeshow flooring. That’s a problem you’ll have to deal with. Someone didn’t check this year’s exhibitors’ guidebook for new height restrictions. Another problem you have to deal with. The CEO got the wrong flight information and ended up 1,171 miles away. Deal with that, too.

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Of course, when budgets were prepared for your trade show program, no one thought to include late fees and rush charges for everything. And especially not the cost of a chartered plane to get the CEO to the right Arlington in time for the keynote speech. Good luck trying to stretch your trade show budget now!

Gaining experience in this industry teaches you what you really need for your exhibit to succeed (things like electrical, badge scanners and carpeting). It also teaches you what you can usually do without (rigged signage, plumbing or security). But even the best laid plans sometimes go off the rails.

Not if, but when this happens to you, you’ll probably have no choice but to bite the bullet. You’ll pay rush charges so you can get things done in what little time remains. Hopefully, this will not become an ongoing problem.

This is where that old axiom, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” kicks in. In order to avoid getting shafted at one show after another, proper planning is essential.

Here are the most basic things you need to know to begin planning for an upcoming show:
• Name of show
• Show dates (including move-in and load-out dates)
• Booth number
• Booth size
• Space configuration (inline, island or peninsula)
• Show rules and regulations
• Service order dates (for electrical, flooring, communications, rigging, etc.)
• Payment due dates
• Your budget

Once you know these things, begin planning with a calendar. This way, you can determine when you need to make payments or turn in forms required for the services you’re buying. You can also start planning things like how your exhibit will be shipped and who will staff your booth.

Knowing everything on the list above won’t eliminate the possibility that something will go wrong, but it will decrease the number of times it happens. That helps you stretch your trade show budget.

There are no second chances in the trade show business. You can’t say, “I’m not ready. Can we do this next week, instead?” You just have to do your best and put on the most effective show you can. Proper planning will help you avoid most of the pitfalls that can complicate that process.

Every exhibitor has at least one horror story about how something went terribly wrong. They’ll tell you how they had to scramble to make something work in less than desirable circumstances. Even when you do everything you can to pull off a successful show, Murphy’s Law often still finds a way to creep in.

Down the road, you’ll be telling your horror story to some newbie exhibitor. Just like more experienced exhibitors have shared their stories with you.

And remember: when it’s happening, never let them see you sweat! For more tips, check out our article on cutting trade show costs.

Whether you’re new to this business or a seasoned veteran, American Image Displays can provide virtually everything you need for a successful trade show exhibit: booth, graphics, flooring, lighting, banner stands, etc. We can even show you a custom 3D rendering of what your new display will look like before you purchase. For more information, or to discuss your needs — even if you’re in a hurry—call us at (800) 676-3976 or email [email protected].