Home > Business > When to Rent and When to Buy a Tradeshow Exhibit By Tim Patterson

When to Rent and When to Buy a Tradeshow Exhibit By Tim Patterson

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If you’re faced with the decision on whether to rent or purchase a new tradeshow booth, you’ll end up looking at the decision from many different angles.

First, there’s the biggest difference: the cost. A general rule of thumb is that is costs about one-third to one-half as much to rent a booth as it does to purchase the same booth. This means that if you purchase it outright, you’ve amortized the rental cost in the first two to three uses.

Beyond that, there are the additional costs of ‘dressing up’ the rental: graphics, carpeting, chairs, tables and other items that may be above and beyond the cost of the actual booth rental. Graphics tend to be one of the more expensive items: if you rent a booth, you still have to put your branding on it. If the rental is a standard configuration, such as a curved wall pop-up, getting graphics designed and produced is not going to a difficult or challenging task. But if the booth you’re renting is an elaborate custom-type booth, the graphics are likely to be a one-time use for that particular booth. Not a big deal if you plan to discard the graphics at the end of the show or rent the exact same booth again, but if you don’t plan ahead you’ll most certainly need to budget for new graphics for the next show.

After graphics, some of the issues that you’ll examine in making your ‘rent vs. buy’ decision include: exhibit storage, the ‘look and feel’ of the exhibit, upkeep and refurbishment, and your changing needs regarding the function of the booth.

Exhibit storage is straight-forward. When you rent, the rental company stores it – you don’t worry about it since you don’t own it. When purchasing, the exhibit will have to be stored somewhere in between shows. It’ll need to be examined after each show for possible upgrades, repairs or modifications. If your exhibit company can store it for you, that makes those exams and repairs much easier than if you have to have heavy crates shipped back and forth from your company storage facility to the exhibit house.

When you purchase a custom booth, the sky’s the limit on what the booth can look like. Depending on budget, some companies create a new exhibit and use it (with minor modifications) for years: it represents the company’s ‘look and feel’ and works well within the company’s tradeshow marketing goals. Other companies will create a unique booth for each large show they go to in order to make a splash at each show. These tend to be progressive companies in fast-changing industries where a company’s custom exhibit’s look might become outdated within a few years. In other industries, a tried-and-true custom look that elegantly represents the brand can last for years.

By purchasing a new booth, you’re committing to spending money each year to make sure it stays in good shape and runs well – much like the commitment you make when purchasing a new car. This means having the booth examined after each show, making note of repairs, updates and modifications that you want to make each time. A good rule of thumb is to prepare to spend about 10 – 20% of your overall purchase cost each year to keep the booth in good shape.

One item in favor of renting a booth is the challenge of a company’s changing needs. Some companies see different products, large growth, changing fortunes and other unknowns as a way to keep from making a commitment to purchase a tradeshow booth. By renting each time, you leave the door open to present a different ‘look and feel’ with updated branding each show. Renting in this case offers flexibility that purchasing a booth probably does not.

Often your goals at each tradeshow will differ – which suggests different functions that you’ll need at each show. Some shows may require that you have several work-stations or product-sampling stations while other shows may be focused on product demonstrations or extravagant layouts. Either way, a rental booth again offers more flexibility that most custom-built and purchased booths. However, if you know ahead of time that you’ll need different configurations, your design team can take those needs into account before the booth is purchased.

In the end, the best way to approach the ‘rent vs. buy’ decision is to ask a lot of questions: talk to management about their plans, talk to tradeshow staffers about their needs and how the booth actually functions at the show, and even talk to clients that visit your booth to get feedback on how they perceive your company and your tradeshow marketing presentation.

Tradeshow marketing is essentially marketing in 3D, face-to-face. It’s one of the best ways to market because it’s more personal. Your booth should be a reflection of your company’s image, brand and goals – whether you set up a rental booth with custom graphics or set up a custom booth that fits your company image to a T.

Tim Patterson is VP of Sales and Marketing for Interpretive Exhibits, a full-service custom exhibit house in Salem, Oregon. He spent 25 years as a radio broadcaster before moving onto tradeshow sales. He’s a long-time podcaster, blogger, presenter, trainer and speaker. He can be reached directly at 503-371-9411 or via email at tim@tradeshowguyblog.com

Categories: Business
  1. March 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    From one Tim to another, this article does a wonderful job of articulating the thought process that end users are using (or should be using) when deciding whether to purchase or rent a new booth. For any sales managers out there, I think this would make an excellent training piece for any new AE’s you hire that also might be new to the trade show industry.

  2. March 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    This article was an excellent read. It is a great piece of information to show prospective clients in limbo about whether to buy or rent. Keep them coming.

  3. melmwhite
    March 25, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Another excellent article by Mr. Patterson, one of many BTW. I’m going to give Tim a quick plug for his social media and blogging skills. If you are interested in either topic, visit his blog: http://www.tradeshowguyblog.com/. He has a wealth of knowledge about both and lots of articles on how you can become an expert too.

    Mel White
    Classic Exhibits Inc.

  4. March 26, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Great to see these comments; the positive feedback I get on this and at my blog (and Twitter and Facebook) continue to inspire and move me forward. Thanks a million…

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