Skip to main content

Insights from an Insider: Custom Trade Show Exhibits – Purchase vs. Rental

Trade shows are notorious for being expensive endeavors.

Whether you’re creating a fully integrated brand exhibit or sticking to the basics, the costs can be daunting for any organization.

Having sold custom exhibit design and serving as a marketing director for several North American B2B subsidiaries, I can attest to the financial challenges involved in every aspect of a trade show event, from design to installation to marketing, advertising, and press events to sales and booth staffing, to exhibit management, and more.

Ultimately, the total cost of exhibiting at a trade show can raise eyebrows within the C-suite roundtable, making it crucial to manage your budget carefully.

The success of your company’s trade show experience hinges on several factors, with exhibit design being one of the most critical. Your booth can reflect your company’s leadership position and brand vision or appear as an uninspired product dump with little regard for aesthetics and the customer experience.

At $150-300 per square foot for the complete custom design and build experience, there are compelling reasons to consider a custom exhibit rental booth in your strategic plans.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of choosing between a custom exhibit design and build or opting for a custom exhibit rental, the two primary choices when considering a booth design for a trade show.

Custom Exhibit Design and Build

The Pros

Tailored Branding: One of the standout advantages of designing a custom exhibit is the ability to create a booth that aligns perfectly with your brand identity. You can seamlessly integrate your brand colors, logo, and messaging, ensuring that your booth stands out and communicates your message effectively.

Aesthetic Excellence: With custom exhibits, you have complete creative control. This means you can ensure that your booth aligns perfectly with your company’s aesthetics and messaging. It can become a physical embodiment of your brand’s values.

Maximized Engagement: Custom exhibits allow for innovative engagement strategies. You can incorporate interactive elements, product demos, and immersive experiences that captivate and keep attendees engaged.

Flexibility: With a custom exhibit, you have the flexibility to adapt to changing marketing strategies and product launches. You can easily update graphics, add innovative technology, or modify the layout to accommodate different shows and audiences.

The Cons

Higher Costs: The cost is the most significant drawback of custom exhibit design and build. Building a unique booth experience can be expensive, involving materials, graphics, labor, crates, storage, and ongoing maintenance expenses.

Outdated Booth Design: A design can quickly become outdated if not designed to transcend trends. A skillful designer will know how to balance brand design needs with structural timelessness.

Drayage/Material Handling Costs: These costs are influenced by overall exhibit crate weight, products/equipment displayed in the booth, and the venue location. This topic is only sometimes considered after the design phase and after the exhibit is built.

Time-Consuming: Creating a custom exhibit is a time-intensive process. Design, construction, and logistics require meticulous planning and execution, often requiring months of preparation.

Managing multiple custom exhibits can be logistically demanding if your company needs to participate in numerous trade shows throughout the year.

Custom Exhibit Rental

The Pros

Unique Branding Opportunities: Custom exhibit rentals offer similar opportunities for expressing your brand’s identity. Every element from the layout to the graphics can be tailored to create a one-of-a-kind experience for attendees without the financial burden of full ownership.

Cost Efficiency: Opting for a custom exhibit rental can be more cost-effective than building one from scratch, allowing you to allocate your budget to other trade show aspects.

Tip: Calculate the potential savings and weigh them against your expected ROI, considering the number of shows annually and anticipated sales revenues from show involvement.

Flexibility and Convenience: Exhibit rentals are versatile and easy to modify for different shows, with pre-designed options that can be adapted to your needs.

Ease of Setup: Custom exhibit rentals are often designed with easier setup in mind. They are usually created using lighter-weight materials, with more graphics and easy-to-install structures. This can save on installation and dismantling time.

Tip: When using a “system” structure as designed by your exhibit designer, hire the I & D company recommended by the builder. The “system” will be installed faster by a team who knows it than by an installation company who never had experience with it.

Reduced Storage and Maintenance: You return the rental exhibit after the show, eliminating storage costs and the need for repairs or updates. Depending on the longevity of your messaging, graphics designed for the exhibit can be reused or thrown away.

The Cons

Limited Customization: While rental exhibits offer some customization, they may need to align better with your brand’s unique aesthetics, requiring additional design integration.

Branding Challenge: Rental exhibits may provide a different level of branding continuity than custom designs, affecting how your brand message is conveyed to attendees.

Reduced Long-Term ROI: Rental costs accumulate over time, potentially exceeding the initial investment of a custom exhibit. Long-term rental expenses may erode your ROI if your company participates in numerous trade shows annually.

ROI Considerations

Ultimately, deciding between a complete custom exhibit and a custom exhibit rental should align with your company’s trade show strategy and financial objectives. Here are some ROI considerations to keep in mind:

Short-term vs. Long-term: Renting exhibits might be the better short-term choice if your company participates in trade shows sporadically.

If you’re new to tradeshows or launching a rebranded company or products, custom exhibit rental might be the best short-term decision to understand product placement, in-booth traffic flow, and customer interactions. Post-show, you can use the knowledge to create a better design for an improved future customer experience.

However, custom exhibits could offer better ROI over time for long-term trade show plans.

Trade Show Frequency: If you attend multiple trade shows yearly, rental booths can help you manage costs. Calculate the annual rental expenses versus a custom exhibit to determine which option makes financial sense.

Brand Impact: Consider the long-term brand impact. A custom exhibit can contribute to building a solid brand identity and customer loyalty, which can translate into higher ROI over time.

In the trade show arena, choosing between designing and building a custom exhibit or opting for a custom exhibit rental depends on your goals, budget, and brand identity. Neither option is inherently superior; it’s about finding the right fit for your business.

Custom exhibits allow for complete creative control and alignment with your brand, while rental exhibits provide cost efficiency and convenience.

When deciding, consider your brand, aesthetics, products, equipment required for the show, and long-term strategy to maximize ROI. A well-executed trade show exhibit, whether custom or rented, can be a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal, helping your business thrive on the trade show floor.

If you’re planning for a trade show exhibit experience or want to create a new branded design for a trade show program, don’t hesitate to contact Crux. Exhibit design & build, custom rentals, trade show program planning, and management are all part of the many specialties of our service offerings.

Paula Weigel

Paula Weigel is the VP of Strategic Growth and Marketing at Crux Creative and serves on the advisory board of VRAR Chicago. Her career spans over 20+ years working primarily in B2B design, marketing, and sales from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups. In Crux’s Watercooler, she offers practical advice on the latest trends that impact design and marketing initiatives.