Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...


McCay-120By Ryan C. McKay

Chestnuts. Great in the context of “… roasting on an open fire.” Not always so great in the context of “remember that old …”

It’s been my experiences that when someone “dusts off an old chestnut” of advice, there is a pretty good chance that you are either going to be told that you can’t do something you want to do, or that you’ve already made some sort of mistake that will be pointed out in a delightful and infuriatingly folksy way. In that spirit, allow me to toss out a little chestnut that is all too infuriatingly true.

“If you have to ask (how much something costs), chances are you can’t afford it.

I’ve spent the last decade or so working in the trade show/corporate event world, and I’ve discovered an interesting thing about that particular “chestnut” as it applies to that industry: Most people believe that the best way to deal with issues of price is to get a simple base price from someone and then just assume that this price will cover anything else that is added to the scope of a project.

Case in point, someone will get a price for their actual booth space from a particular show, and then assume that the cost of the space will include things like carpet, material handling (the cost of moving freight from the dock to the booth space and then back again at show close) or electricity. Nine times out of 10, that’s not the case. The result?

Disappointment, missed opportunities, and a stack of surprise invoices.

Look, I’ll be the first to say it: Participation in a trade show? Yeah, it’s not cheap. There is a cost to rent the space on the show floor, the cost to either rent, buy or ship an exhibit, the cost to send your team members to man the booth, the costs to procure the services I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the cost to advertise your involvement before and during the show, the cost to get everyone and everything safely back home after, and the cost to follow up with your leads.

Like I said, it’s not cheap. So why do companies keep doing trade shows? Simply put, when done correctly, trade shows DO work. Not just “sort of kind of work” — they actually work REALLY well. Companies that participate in shows and make the full commitment (which includes the financial commitment) to do them well tend to consistently rank them as — dollar for dollar — one of the best investments they make in terms of driving additional business.

The experienced companies know their costs ahead of time, though, and they create specific (realistic) budgets designed to meet those expenses, while leaving a big enough ROI on the show to make their participation more than worth it.

That means smart exhibitors know:

  • what their booth space actually includes. Usually it includes a bare square of cement in a show hall and a very simple directory listing in the official show guide. Usually anything more than that will be extra.
  • what their cost for an exhibit is. Sometimes that means shipping in a booth they already own, and sometimes that means renting or buying an exhibit. Either way, you need to budget for shipping/delivery of the exhibit to the hall. Usually there will also be a cost to move it from the dock to the booth. Unless the vendor you choose specifically includes these cost, chances are it will be a separate fee.
  • what the cost of flooring is. Some shows are housed in smaller hotel spaces that are pre-carpeted, but 80 percent of shows require you to have some sort of finished flooring (even if there is already carpet in the show hall). Make sure you know whether or not you are required to have additional finished flooring and what the costs are for this. Generally carpet is the industry standard, but some exhibitors use rollable vinyl, laminates or wood. Understand that you will likely have to pay material handling on your flooring as well.
  • what the costs or travel are. Usually you get one or two exhibitor badges for every 100 square feet of booth space you rent from the show. If you need more staff than that, factor in the cost to buy additional exhibitor badges, as well as the more obvious costs of travel, lodging, food, and “stipend” money, as well as costs associated with parking. Don’t assume that your staff will be allowed to set up your booth if the exhibit requires things like ladders or tools. Most shows require you to have authorized set-up labor for these more complex exhibits.
  • what the costs of services are. Besides the material handling fees, you should also budget for electricity (usually sold as “drops” or five, 10 or 20 amps each), accessible storage (if you plan on needing to get in and out of your shipping containers during the show hours), rigging (if you are hanging anything from the ceiling) or any other utility you might need for your space.
  • cost of advertising/follow up. This includes any additional sponsorship opportunities, featured placement in the official show guide, mailers or other collateral sent to potential clients before the show, and of course, the cost and time involved with having your staff follow up with all the leads they gathered at the show.

So, here is one more chestnut that strikes me as relevant: “You have to spend money to make money.”

I honestly, don’t believe that’s as universal as people make it out to be, but in this case, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” Trade show participation does have a significant price tag attached to it, but the benefits far outweigh the costs if you follow the lead of the smart exhibitors. After all, “When in Rome ..!”


Ryan C. McKay is a fourth-generation trade show and event professional and freelance copy writer/content marketer. Originally from Cleveland, he recently relocated to Orlando, Fla. He welcomes your emails at .



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