Rent or Buy? The Trade Show Exhibit Manager’s Dilemma

September 17, 2018

To buy, or not to buy? That is the question —
Which is more cost effective, to buy or rent
booth structures for corporate exhibiting,
and what about the custom rental option?
It is such a dilemma.

Chances are, if you’re responsible for managing your company’s exhibits and/or event marketing, you’ve thought about — or will think about — whether to buy or rent booth properties.

Buy Your Own

Many exhibit managers who have been in the industry for a while started with the tried-and-true 10’ x 10’ or 8’ x 10’ pop-up booth or pull-up banner stands as their go-to properties. While these could either be purchased or rented from an exhibit house, most of the time a straight purchase was the way to go.

However, while these pop-ups are easy to use, they all tend to look a bit alike. This is fine for events where the majority of exhibitors are using the same type of structure. But at larger tradeshows, having a pop-up booth can make it look as if your company didn’t put a lot of thought or effort into their presence — which is not great for marketing.

The primary pro of owning your own larger exhibit property is that you can have a design that is truly brand- and layout-specific. With a modular design, it is possible to own exhibit properties that can be used in a variety of layouts or booth space sizes — but it’s important that you think about that during the design process.

The cons: you need to store it somewhere, and either handle or pay your exhibit house to handle pull-and-prep and shipping, plus pay for drayage and labor every show. This can make it cost-prohibitive for companies with small budgets, or those who only need to use the exhibit once or twice a year.

Show-Specific Rentals

Most events these days offer turnkey rentals to be used for that specific trade show. Once you’ve done the initial work of selecting the layout and providing graphics, everything else is taken care of for you, including setup and teardown.

With these turnkey booths, there’s no drayage (aka material handling) fee, and often because everything is show-specific you can get an all-inclusive price for the booth structure plus carpet, a wastebasket, electricity, internet and cleaning services.

This is great if you just want a one-off design, and have the budget to be able to afford it, but can add up if you need to do it for multiple shows that have different decorators who offer different turnkey frames.

Custom Rentals

The third option is somewhere in the middle: custom rental booths. With a custom rental, you don’t own the property: an exhibit display house or general services contractor can re-use the structures as often as needed. When you do use it, you apply your own brand, messaging and design.

Freeman’s E4 Design’s website states that a custom trade show exhibit rental costs about one-third as much as purchasing an equivalent booth. Exhibit design company Czarnowski advertises their proprietary system that they say produces custom rental structures with easily exchangeable graphics, materials and media for shorter design cycles and lower costs.

The Expo Group advertises its Perspective Series of custom rentals as supporting exhibitors’ marketing goals while making their lives easier with “the look of custom-built, the price of a rental.”  The new line offers designs that are categorized by event goal: to gather leads, show demos, launch new products, be social, encourage shopping or create a restful spot — an oasis — for attendees.

“Smart brands use trade shows to meet specific goals, and our Perspective Series addresses those while in a way no one has before,” said Toby Purdy, The Expo Group’s chief sales officer.

He added, “We’ve ensured each design attracts, immerses, engages and rewards attendees, so all an exhibitor needs to do is identify what they want to achieve at the trade show and start shopping in our online catalog.”

To Rent, Perchance to Buy…

Only you can decide which solution is best for your company (and your budget). Many companies these days are opting for a mix of rental properties and owned properties, to better support the various tiers of event participation. As long as you do the research and align your booth properties with your event strategy plan, there is no wrong decision.   

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