Cutting Trade Show Costs Part 2: Trade Show Planning

December 11, 2015

This blog post comes from guest contributor Mel White, of Classic Exhibits

. In this “Cutting Trade Show Costs” series, I’ll be talking about different ways to reduce your trade show expenses while still making a powerful impact at each and every show. In Part 1, we talked about ways to save on your trade show exhibit design. In Part 2, we’ll review ways to cut your costs through careful planning in the weeks leading up to the show.

How to Cut Costs Through Trade Show Planning

1. Graphics, Literature, Promotional Products & Shipping

The exhibit is the main attraction. Always will be. But there are other marketing and operational tasks to complete, such as literature, promotional products, and shipping. All of these things, when done ahead of time, will save you a significant amount of money and lessen your anxiety. We tend to work toward a deadline. What if we worked well in advance of a deadline? For example, your supplier may give you a production and delivery window of 7-10 days, whether it’s a giveaway or printing your brochure. But, 7-10 days assumes everything goes according to plan. It won’t. Don’t wait until the last minute. Plan for ground shipping vs. overnight and assume they’ll be a glitch or two along the way. You’ll have the opportunity to see any mistakes and have them corrected early. As a bonus, you’ll sleep better the week before the show.

2. Early Bird Forms

This is the single easiest way to save money at your next trade show. There is a reason these early bird forms exist––show contractors want you to complete them early, because the more information they have ahead of time, the better they can prepare for the show. Many exhibitors, however, still put off this task. While filling out these forms can be a painful exercise, it’s critical to get those forms in by the early bird deadlines. If you don’t have all the information you need or some information will be subject to change, that’s okay. You can make those corrections later. By sending in these forms early, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

3. Pre-assemble and Inspect Your Exhibit

While you may not like the idea of having to assemble the booth twice––in your own shop and then again on the trade show floor, this trade show planning step is a great cost-cutting measure. When you know exactly what to expect at the show in terms of how to set up your booth, you will save time and prevent any nasty surprises. As any trade show veteran knows, any time there’s an issue on the show floor, it is painfully expensive to fix, and there are no cheap solutions. Whether it’s overnighting graphics or getting a spare part over the weekend, everything is going to be more costly––and stressful. Make sure everything is right before you ship your booth to the show. Having your booth only partially assembled on the day the show opens is as bad as not arriving at all.

4. Advance Warehouse vs. Direct-to-Show

There are two main ways to ship your booth to a show. One is called Advance Warehouse, and the other is called Direct-to-Show. While Direct-to-Show shipping appears cheaper, shipping to the Advance Warehouse may actually save you money. When you ship your booth to the Advance Warehouse––sometimes months ahead of time––you have less to worry about as you get closer to the show. When the show dates get closer, everything in the Advance Warehouse will get sent directly to the venue. Say you’re attending a show that takes place Monday through Wednesday. The setup for that show will then take place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you ship your booth to the Advance Warehouse, you’re guaranteed that on Friday morning, you’ll be able to assemble your booth with your crew. If you ship it Direct-to-Show, however, you may experience delays, and it’s difficult to predict and arrange your labor when you don’t know when your booth is going to arrive. In most cases, your freight driver is sitting in the marshalling area waiting to unload, which means you’re paying for that wait time.

5. Hanging Sign to Advance Warehouse

If you have a hanging sign, ship it to the Advance Warehouse (even if you don’t ship your booth there). It’s going to be much easier for them to hang that sign above your assigned booth space when there’s no one on the show floor. But most importantly, they’re less likely to inflict damage to your sign and to your booth itself.

6. Avoid Special Handling Charges

The easier it is to get your booth from the trailer to your spot on the show floor, the fewer special handling charges you’ll see on your drayage bill. Avoid stacking things on top of one another or strapping items together. Loose components add up. They require more labor and effort, and the show contractor will recoup that time and effort on your bill, which can sometimes double or triple unexpectedly. If you do get a special handling charge, be sure to go to the show contractor and ask them why those charges were added. You can then get a good idea of what to avoid next time. It may not always make sense to you, but it’s not about logic. It’s about saving your money.

7. Invest in Lead Retrieval Software

Whether to rent, purchase, or lease lead retrieval software depends on your show schedule and the sophistication of your lead management. Some exhibitors are only interested in collecting the most basic information: client name, contact information, show, and date. Others have a comprehensive list of questions they want answered and need the ability to email literature or follow-up directly from the show. Others have specific requirements for their CRM software and how it should be uploaded and managed. If you want to collect detailed information on your leads, lead retrieval software is a good way to save time, money, and headache when it comes to lead retrieval at the show and provide better post-show follow-up. However, choose the lead retrieval package that makes the most sense for your situation. Don’t pay for more than you need. And don’t buy less than you need, whether it’s for one show or for your entire show schedule. Cheaper software can actually be more expensive in the long run.

8. Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning fees are one of the craziest charges at any trade show. It can cost hundreds of dollars simply to have someone vacuum your exhibit every morning. On the other hand, you can buy a $99 vacuum that can fit in your crate and ship with your booth, along with other necessary cleaning supplies. Make it a game with your exhibit staff. If everyone pitches in with the cleaning each day, the money you saved by not paying for vacuuming services can go toward a post-show meal.

9. Purchase Your Monitor at the Show City

This is a great cost-saving idea. You may need a monitor in your booth, and with the prices of flat screen TVs plummeting in the past few years, you can get a nice one from $300 to $600 dollars depending on the size. Instead of paying to ship that monitor to the show, simply buy it at the show city––whether you’re showing in Las Vegas, Chicago, or Orlando. Then, to save the money on shipping the monitor back, use the monitor as a giveaway to encourage more booth traffic and collect more leads. Who doesn’t want to win a flatscreen TV?

10. Internet

Think hard about whether you really need to be connected to the Internet in your booth. Does it advance your trade show marketing program in any way? Or is it a distraction? Internet charges on the show floor can be extremely high, and connectivity is often unreliable, making it a wasted investment anyway. If you’re using lead retrieval or mobile order writing software, consider solutions that have offline access.

11. Share Advertising

This may not apply to everyone, but it can be a huge cost savings. If you have strategic industry partners who are exhibiting at the same show and have similar customers but aren’t direct competitors, explore opportunities to cooperate with them on show advertising and co-hosted events. Having those costs split in half will allow you to have a great marketing and networking impact while saving money. Splitting bar tabs and meals with common customers goes a long way without having any significant impact on your sales process.

12. Rent a House

If you’re bringing a group of about six or more people to a show, renting a house near the convention center can be much more economical accommodation option than paying for individual hotel rooms. It also offers much more flexibility. I know of many exhibitors who have used the house they rented as a venue for networking events and parties during the show. Questions about any of the cost cutting suggestions here? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 for more on how to save money on your trade show booth design,  and the final post in the series, Part 3, which covers cost cutting tips for during and after the show!

Author Bio:

Mel White is the VP of Marketing and Business Development at Classic Exhibits Inc., a manufacturer of exhibits, engineered aluminum extrusions, and rental solutions. For over twenty years, Mel has worked with exhibit manufacturers, distributors, and end-users to develop new products, refine their branding, and sharpen their trade show marketing.