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Saving Money, One Show at a Time…

Saving Money, One Show at a Time…

By Ryan C. McKay

I just got back from Philly, and, boy, are my arms tired…

…from reaching for my wallet. A LOT.

Just for fun, I thought I would take a look at just where most of the costs associated with trade show/conference travel go to. How much of it is spent on staff, how much on your exhibit? How much in incidentals, and how much goes into ” show services?”

I have to disclose that I already had a pretty good estimate going into things, but an educated guess versus a planned and documented test is a completely different thing.
So, here in the cradle of American Democracy I set up my experiment.

The hypothetical company I used for my little trial was a small/medium-sized business that manufacturers I-Pad docks. They have a 10-foot by 20-foot booth space and four staff members working the show. They will be displaying four of their docks, which will require counter space and two dedicated 500-watt power cords to run. Their exhibit is a modular aluminum-and-fabric structure with two attached monitors and four flood lights, totaling a required four extra dedicated 500-watt power cords.

The entire contents of their booths fit into two lightweight acrylic 4-foot by 4-foot by 4-foot cases and two smaller TV cases. They rent carpet and pad from the show services company, which has been designated the official contractor for the show. They fly into Philly from Detroit and spend three nights at a downtown Fairfield by Marriott. They take two cabs from the airport to the hotel, and walk to and from the convention center each day.

Sounds pretty common, right?

Let’s look at some costs:

  • Airfare costs: $450 x four people = $1,800 (booked through the airline’s webpage)
  • Hotel costs: $120 per night x four people x three people = $1,440 (booked through, free breakfast included)
  • Taxi Costs: $28 = $7 tip x four cab rides = $140
  • Incidentals/stipends = $50 a day x four days x four people = $800
  • New 10-foot by 20-foot modular exhibit w/monitors and counters = $12,000
  • Rental carpet = $900
  • Rental pad = $200
  • Two hours labor to set carpet/pad on Saturday = $140 p/h x two hours = $280
  • Six pcs 500-watt power lines on 24-hour service @ $120 apiece = $720
  • One-hour labor to set electric service on Saturday = $140 p/h = $140
  • Exhibit shipping to hall via Fed Ex Freight = $500
  • Exhibit shipping back after show via official show carrier = $800
  • Drayage costs to move exhibit from dock to booth space = $600
  • Four hours labor to set exhibit on Saturday = $600
  • Four hours labor to dismantle exhibit on Tuesday = $400
  • Booth/carpet cleaning for three mornings = $ 300
  • TOTAL = $21,620


That’s a heckuva lot of I-Pad docks — no wonder people complain about the costs related to being at a show!

Here are my top tips of what this company can do to drive costs down for the next show:

1. Re-use the same booth. Cost savings = $12,000. It’s a one-time cost, and once you have purchased your booth, it is yours free and clear. That means it’s free to you from there on in — a huge savings over renting a 10-foot by 20-foot exhibit each show at an average of $4,000 each show and a full $12,000 less than last show!

2. Instead of taking two cabs to and from the hotel, share a shuttle! If you have four people share a cab, you average about $10 per rider and perhaps $2 per person in tip. The savings add up — two trips = $48 each, or a total of $98. The savings? $42!

3. Purchase your own carpet squares with built-in pad. The cost for a quality set of carpet tiles for a 10-foot by 20-foot start at around $1,000, and they can be re-used for years. They are more comfortable to stand on, better looking, and much cheaper overall than renting carpet that will just be thrown away at the end of every show. Plus, with carpet, pad, and labor, you can be looking at roughly $1,300 per show as saving your $300 the first time you use your re-usable carpet tiles.

4. Specify that your electric be laid down on straight time. You can usually specify a weekday set up, saving you quite a bit … up to half. Seventy dollars yours for the asking!

5. Send a small $15 mini-vacuum cleaner and clean your own carpet before the show opens. Even after buying the little hand-vac, you still save $285 on the first use!

6. You can usually set each of your employees up in a weekly extended stay hotel for around $200 a week. These hotels usually feature suite-sized rooms with full kitchens and sitting areas. The only drawback is a lack of daily maid service. Still, with accommodations that nice and savings of $840, most people can keep their room livable without a daily maid visit.

7. Never let your exhibit be shipped back via the official show carrier. Though they promise savings, 99 percent of the time they cost quite a bit more after all the add-on charges … not to mention that they have a terrible reputation for losing and delaying shipments. Set up your own shipping and save $300.

8. Insist on your booth being set up on straight time. Again, you can often specify when exactly you want your exhibit set up. For $200 in savings, it’s very much worth asking!

9. Book flights on Kayak checks most of the discount travel websites as well as the airline’s own websites. It’s not uncommon to save 20 percent or, in this case, a savings of $360.

So … by making some very easy changes, you have saved $14,397 on your second show!

If you are looking to drive costs down ever further, why not check the rules of the hall to see if you are allowed to set up your own exhibit? Many of today’s modular exhibits are designed to be set up without the need for any tools, and in many halls that means you can set up/ tear down your own exhibit. Remember to check the rules, though, because you don’t want to break the labor rules, which can result in heavy fines and being banned from the show or hall.

You can also look at moving to a three person staff instead of a four-person crew. The savings per person can be substantial. Just make sure you keep enough of a staff to accomplish what you came here to do!

Lastly, consider your electric need. Do all of your products have to be plugged in? Do you really need 24-hour service? Do you really need two monitors? Besides cutting down on how much you will pay for your electric service, you can save significant dollars by leaving some of your heavier items (like extra monitors) at home if you don’t really need them. It’s not uncommon to pay more to move items from the dock to your booth than to move your properties across the country on a truck. Those costs are based strictly on weight, so the less weight you move, the less money you spend.

Make sure that you don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, though. There is such a thing as cutting TOO much. If you look cheap or are under-staffed, potential customers will pick up on it and avoid you. Be smart about your costs, but remember that you are there to MAKE money, not just save it.

Ryan C. McKay is a senior account manager and director of operations with Ohio Displays Inc./ODI Works. He can be reached at (216) 961-5600 and His blog, “Ramblings From a Traveling Trade Show Professional,” can be read at

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