Get industry professionals talking about exhibiting costs, and the topic tends to divert into two distinct areas of focus: Why is everything so expensive, and what can be done about it? Previous installments of this three-part series explored diverse views and opinions regarding various aspects of the expense factor. Now it’s time to talk about cost control.
In many ways, trade show organizers and exhibitors can impact the costs of exhibiting from both ends of the spectrum. How? We heard from several industry professionals about methods both organizers and exhibitors can use to minimize trade show expenses.
What Can Organizers Do?
Let’s face it: show organizers are hardly oblivious to exhibitors’ economic issues. After all, exhibitors’ financial concerns often translate into hosting organizations’ financial concerns. Through recent times marked by industry-wide crises, many organizers have undertaken thoughtful measures to control or minimize expenses in an effort to ease the economic burden and encourage exhibitor registration. Many others are exploring options with an eye to the future, seeking to make their shows more cost effective for exhibitors.
If organizers are not sure where to start, then they should start asking questions, suggests Justin Markle, national sales manager for Global Spectrum Facility Management Company.
“Be sure to ask your venue sales manager about service pricing on the front end,” Markle says. “Find out if labor is included to run the service directly to the booth. Sometimes, labor is additional, and labor costs can add up quickly. Explore non-standard opportunities such as bulk service rates paid by the show. This offers added value to exhibitors because standard service rates can then be packaged into the cost of the booth.”
And, of course, don’t forget to do your homework. Look to other shows and examine their pricing structures. Compare strategies between different shows, and look outside your industry for inspiration. What are other organizers doing? What seems to be working well? How can you adapt their ideas to fit your organization’s and your exhibitors’ needs? Not every strategy will be right for your show, but think about it: If it works for someone else, it might just work for you, too.
For the past several years, says Tiffany Tysiak, account executive, show management for M&M Gift Shows, her organization has seen a year-over-year increase in the number of exhibitors at one expo held in Sevierville, Tenn.
“Many people question how this is possible, given the difficult economic times,” Tysiak says. “We try to make exhibiting with us as affordable as possible and do everything in our power to raise our standards to the ‘exhibitor-friendly’ reputation we have earned.”
For example, booth pricing for the show has not increased in the last three years. Exhibitors receive complimentary booth carpeting and unlimited draped tables, along with chairs, booth signs, and wastebaskets, all included in the booth package.
“In addition, we work closely with the events center to be able to offer affordable electricity,” Tysiak says. “We work with area hotels to offer reduced rates to all our buyers and exhibitors, and we offer exhibitors a $1 per square foot of booth space purchased Lodging Rebate. As long as they stay in Sevierville during our show dates and provide a receipt after the show, we issue rebate checks in December.”
Depending on your organization’s culture, you might be able to get creative with the business model behind your show.
“We have made it possible for exhibitors to pay a one-time membership fee of $7,500 (currently discounted) and be able to exhibit for just $450 for five times per year for a lifetime,” says Dave Phillipson of CEO Space. “This gives them access to nearly 100,000 members. The model is working well.”
Smaller-scale measures can be applied, adapted or combined to save some cash across the board. Jenn Kampmeier, founder of Bebe Paluzza Productions, says her company has taken several steps to lower overall show expenses.
“We partner with many businesses for local marketing [and] trade purposes,” Kampmeier explains. “The cost savings is passed on to the exhibitor.”
A few particulars include the following:
- Marketing is outsourced to save funding.
- Food in the exhibitor lounge is provided by an exhibitor for trade.
- Badges are collected and recycled.
- The show floor is not carpeted. “Instead, we go with a green theme and have stickies on the floor that state how much of the world we have saved by not carpeting this area,” Kampmeier says.
- Shows are ticketless — a “huge savings,” Kampmeier adds.
Organizers might also consider educational outreach efforts to engage with exhibitors long before the show dates. By providing a bit of direction up front, organizers can help to guide exhibitors in how to maximize the money they spend on exhibiting.
“Some show organizers will hold webinars or conference calls beforehand, on a voluntary, no-charge basis, to help exhibitors make the most of their exhibiting dollars,” notes Harris Schanhaut, CME, a 25-year exhibitor.
What Can Exhibitors Do?
On the exhibiting side, the consensus rings loud and clear, emphasizing education as the key to controlling costs. Experience might yield wisdom, but companies can do well by proactively filling in some of the blanks. In other words, companies should ensure their exhibitors are properly trained and educated in the way the industry works — ideally, long before those exhibitors’ feet touch the trade show floor.
Next, adequate preparation is essential prior to every show. According to many industry professionals, the best way to minimize exhibiting expenses sounds simple enough: Plan ahead.
“[Services companies] count on the unorganized exhibitor who forgets to order carpet or waits until the day of the show to order an extra table,” says Susan Ratliff, owner of Exhibit Experts in Phoenix. “Exhibitors could save thousands just by opening up the exhibitor kit earlier than two weeks before the show.”
“A lot of [organizers] spend time in their exhibitor manual, really detailing stuff out, particularly when it comes to the shipping and the target dates and what you can and cannot do,” Schanhaut agrees.
For new or savvy exhibitors alike, “read the manual” might sound a bit simplistic. However, some industry professionals cannot stress the matter enough. Paying close attention to the details outlined in exhibitor manuals and show services agreements — and adhering to the specifications found therein — can make a significant difference in avoiding unnecessary late or day-of charges that can add up in a hurry.
“There are very carefully targeted deadlines,” Schanhaut explains. “Your booth has to have your stuff in it within this date range. Otherwise, it’s going to cost you more. You’ve got to work with your carrier to make sure [shipments are] going to get there in time. Exhibitors have to be better about how their shipments are sent, and they have to try to consolidate as much as possible and be careful of the weight they’re sending.”
Ratliff outlines a few reminders exhibitors should heed early on when planning for a show, in order to help understand and control costs throughout the process:
- Take advantage of discounted services.
- Organize your staff, and assign someone to meet the installers of the booth.
- Make sure the installation and dismantle instructions are clear.
“This will eliminate hours of extra labor charges from correcting mistakes in the booth configuration,” Ratliff says. “If your staff leaves the show early and forgets to file the bill of lading for your out-bound shipping, cha-ching! The decorator can force your freight. They turn away your shipper, send your freight back by their shipping company and charge you three times the rate.”
“Be sure to specify all service needs in advance, and be as specific as possible,” Markle adds. “Include information such as amperage, number of outlets, type of outlet, and any special plug adapter for your equipment requiring power. Exhibitors should not wait until they are onsite to do this because it is an additional cost to have an engineer stop what they are doing to address an exhibitor’s equipment-specific needs.”
In addition, an element of “out-of-the-box” thinking in regard to display design might assist exhibitors in reducing costs. Shipping and material handling charges, among other influences, have inspired some companies to circumvent expenses by moving toward lighter-weight, more portable exhibits.
“Custom booths are being grounded and more contemporary, lightweight, fabric exhibits are being purchased in their place,” Ratliff notes. “Lighter displays also reduce the carbon footprint and save thousands on the trade show budget.”
“We have a new client, and we are able to cut their transportation, drayage and labor cost in half by producing a hybrid exhibit — a combination of custom and pre-manufactured exhibit components,” adds Gary Stewart, president of marketing, design and management firm StewartMDM LLC. “It takes a client that is willing to understand the big picture and be willing to accept alternatives to what they think an exhibit is and what it does. Exhibitors need to be smarter about the whole process of how they participate in trade shows.”
In many cases, there is plenty of wiggle room around the “extra” costs associated with trade show participation. Certain expenses, though, seem to offend the very sensibilities of some industry professionals.
When it comes to the types of fees many exhibitors view as “exorbitant,” such as the fees commonly charged for in-booth Internet access, Schanhaut is one who expresses wonderment and outrage over the expense involved. In such cases, he believes exhibitors will just have to put their collective foot down before they see a change.
“Exhibitors have to band together and say, ‘This is ridiculous; I’m not going to do it anymore,” he says.