Why Are Trade Shows So Expensive?

These are common trade show stats that support the value of exhibiting.You Want Me to Pay for What?

One of the most common questions I get from trade show exhibitors is, “Why are trade shows so expensive?” and it’s a valid question. In today’s world, it’s easy to think that you can get the same lead generation value from only your website, digital advertising, or by hosting a webinar. However, trade shows are truly invaluable because of both the volume and quality of leads they can generate for your company since they result from face-to-face interactions. Leads generated through other mediums are lacking face-to-face interactions and thus might be of a lower quality. Also, compared to traditional field sales calls, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR.org), it costs 22% less to contact a potential buyer at a show.

Unfortunately, people often don’t get what they’re spending money for on their trade shows simply because they don’t take the time to plan and forecast accordingly. Essentially, all of your costs associated with trade shows are an investment in achieving your trade show objectives, such as lead generation, branding, etc. You’re sharing many costs with all other exhibitors to pay for things that no one really thinks about such as advertising of the trade show, rental of the convention center, security, etc. The following are some cost categories that lead to your overall trade show investment.

Deadlines aren’t optional.

Deadlines are extremely important. They never push back the start date and time of the show, so planning is essential! When working with my clients I always create a timeline for the show, so that their team and my team are both aware of important deadlines, such as artwork due dates, shipping dates, and most importantly, show form discount deadlines. Most shows have at least 3 tiers of rates for services that they provide at the show, like electrical drops, booth cleaning, internet, etc. It starts with a discounted rate several weeks before the show, then changes to a standard rate. Ordering something on site is the most expensive situation and should always be avoided with proper planning.

You have deadlines to meet, so make sure you meet them (better yet, meet them earlier than you need to)! Missing deadlines will certainly can add up in terms of rush fees and missed opportunities to save on discounted rates.

Show Services are more expensive than you realize.

Did you plan for the cost of electrical drops? The cost of internet access? (FYI, trade show internet is usually expensive and slow…) What about everyone’s favorite cost of drayage (also known as material handling)? It’s sometimes as much as the shipping cost to the show! Then, when you get to the convention center, you need to set up your exhibit and, for many exhibitors, this requires labor, which is another cost. Once the show starts, if you need your booth cleaned each night, you’ll pay an additional expense. Ever heard of “wait times” being rebilled after a show for your shipping company to wait in the marshalling yard?

Try to forecast for these costs, but beware: you won’t get a final bill until after the show. If you didn’t plan for these costs, your actual expense can be thousands more than you projected.

To curb these headaches and unknowns, I provide flat service rates (also known as predictive budgeting) at my company when we provide services like shipping, installation and dismantle, carpet, furniture and a/v rentals, etc. That’s right, no re-bills for wait times when shipping with us!

The audience is worth it.

With proper planning, a trade show can be a truly great investment. Make sure, first and foremost, that you’ve done your research. It doesn’t matter how revolutionary your product is; if you’re not at the right show, you won’t get the ROI that you’re hoping for. But what’s key here is your audience.

Many shows have as many as 500, 1000, 5,000, 10,000 or even 50,000+ attendees. Trade shows attract targeted audiences, either a horizontal broad range, or a very focused vertical range. You cannot expect to just show up and have the sales close for you. There is something about the energy of a trade show that you can’t beat because you’re speaking with prospects face-to-face. Getting the chance to talk face-to-face with a prospect, or even an existing customer can lead to new business in ways that a phone call or email can’t. Even if you only want to speak with 1% or 10% of attendees, you’ll speak with more leads in one day then you could through any other sales or marketing medium.

In fact, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR.org) has constantly found that:
  • 88% of trade show attendees have not been seen by a member of your company’s sales staff in the preceding 12 months
  • 7 out of 10 trade show attendees plan to buy one or more products after the show
  • On average, 76% of attendees ask for quotes and 26% sign purchase orders
  • 72% of trade show visitors say that the show influenced their buying decision
  • 87% of attendees will share some information, obtained at a trade show, with others
  • 64% of attendees tell at least 6 other people about the event
  • 58% attend only the show in which you are exhibiting
  • 40% are first-time attendees

Competitive Intelligence Gathering

You’ll also have an opportunity (again, if planned well) to scope out possible competition in real time as opposed to what the market research says. It’s a great way to see how they interact with prospective leads and learn what you can do to make your company better. Analyze their booth size, booth design, literature, demonstrations and interactions as part of your own post-show report.


Ultimately, trade shows are expensive. Because trade shows are face-to-face, there are many more expenses – from renting the booth space, to designing and buying an exhibit, to staffing, travel, and hotel costs – you need to pay to play to have a presence and get people to your booth. But when planned and executed well, your trade show experience can generate a ROI that’s truly invaluable. Therefore, you should consider trade shows not as an expense, but as an investment in your company and its future.


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