Michelle Spellman - Product Launch Checklist: Furnish Your Booth on a Shoestring Budget

September 12, 2014


You’ve invested a lot of time, and money in developing and manufacturing your product. Up next is unveiling your million dollar baby at an industry trade show.


But gosh – trade shows are an expensive proposition!  Expenses add up in a hurry, even for a modest booth presence.  By the time you invest in the booth space itself, fixtures, marketing materials and promotion, you can easily spend thousands of dollars – and that’s before you even factor in travel costs! 


If you are going to take the financial plunge of exhibiting at a trade show, do everything you can to make it count. 


As you prepare for the show, be careful of where you shave costs.  Being strategically frugal can save money, but you don’t want to take cheap shortcuts that result in a booth that just blends in, is shabby, or looks amateurish.  That can turn the whole venture into a colossal waste of time and money. 


Trade shows are visually noisy places.  You've got to stand out from the crowd!

Knowing where you should splurge and where it’s safe to cut corners will set you up for the best chance of success.  Follow these practical tips to prioritize your spending that allows you to create a professional, eye-catching booth display, while preserving your cash as much as possible.



You have three options for trade show fixtures:  rented fixtures, custom new and used displays and DIY fixtures. 



Rented fixtures are available from the trade show service contractor at each convention venue and can be a simpler option for beginners, but can easily become a huge expense, if you aren’t careful.


Some shows will offer a basic pre-furnished booth package to first time exhibitors. This is usually a barebones setup – booth space, floor covering, standard drape that matches the show colors, and a standard draped table and chair.  Anything else you might want in the booth would need to be rented for an extra fee. (If you go this route, a bold, colorful banner will become a valuable investment to add punch to what will be a pretty bland, generic display otherwise.)


One advantage of renting fixtures is the wide variety of choices. The service contractor will have an online catalog of various items including floor coverings, tables, draping, seating, shelving and other generic modular display components that can be ordered and will be waiting in your booth and ready for you to add product when you arrive.


Another upside to renting fixtures is that it allows you to experiment with your booth layout strategy without the commitment of a permanent purchase.

The downside is that rental fees are often cost prohibitive – prices can be nearly what a fixture would cost new to purchase outright! And because items are reused over and over, they may not be in the best physical condition, sometimes showing wear and tear that may not create the polished and flattering appearance you desire to best showcase your company and products.


But, if you are traveling to a show that is far from home, renting at least some of your fixtures to supplement what you bring with you – (rent floor covering, for example) – and perhaps a draped table and chairs – can be a smart move to save on cost of shipping heavy furniture. 


The time and stress involved with transporting fixtures is eliminated from the equation when you rent. Simply leave them in the booth at the end of the show and the service contractor takes care of it from there.  The convenience of not having to deal with fixtures can sometimes be worth the money – especially when you get to the end of a show, are completely exhausted, and just want to get the heck out of the exhibit hall and find dinner or trying not to miss your flight home!



If you invest in custom fixtures, you will need to budget for the expense of shipping them to and from the show.  You should also be prepared to do most of the assembly and tear down, unless you want to pay an arm and a leg to union workers.

Some displays are lightweight, portable and pop-up in minutes.  But anything large will likely need to be packed on a wooden pallet, then wrapped in shrink wrap and transported by a freight trucking company to the show. 


There will be varying handling fees involved at the show venue to transport your fixtures from the truck loading dock to your booth and back out again after the show.  This process is called drayage, and is generally governed by strict rules that require union workers to perform that in and out transport at the site. Be sure to budget for drayage fees as part of your expenses.


Companies that specialize in customized trade show displays can be found online and in your local community.  These displays are extremely professional-looking and can be taken from show to show and used over and over again.  And as far as design and price range goes, well, the options are endless. 


You should expect to invest several thousand dollars, minimum, for a basic new display. Used displays can also be purchased, but choices can be limited, and prices can still be high. 


If you decide to invest in a custom display, you may want to wait and do it after you have a few shows (and sales!) under your belt. 


You will discover that tweaking the design of your booth is a natural and expected part of the process to determine what works best for showcasing your particular products. Unless you have previous experience working trade shows or have the guidance of someone who has and is intimately familiar with your product, it could be a waste of cash to invest in a custom display in the very beginning, only to discover after your first show or two that the fixtures you chose don’t really work for your show objectives after all. 


Going custom once you see what works - and what doesn’t - will help avoid costly mistakes.


You might consider purchasing one or two smaller custom components to start.  A colorful, custom drape, screen printed with your logo, can be placed over a rented table.  A well-designed, colorful banner can add professional, visual interest to your booth without breaking the bank.


But there are lots of fixture solutions that are relatively portable and inexpensive – especially if you decide to drive to the show instead of fly.  Depending on what you are carrying, you might be able to load everything into a minivan.  So, let’s talk about….