- Trade show displays can help you generate meaningful in-person leads and maximize your return on investment.
- Renting a trade show display is best if you don't attend many trade shows. Otherwise, buying is a good choice.
- When choosing a trade show display, consider the display's overall presence and price, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
- This article is for small business owners interested in appearing at trade shows.
A good trade show display is necessary to showcase what your business has to offer and also grab the attention of show attendees – prospective customers and clients. Without an eye-catching display, you'll miss the many opportunities for networking at a trade show, including generating leads and building your brand.
"A trade show display is a highly visible statement about a company and its products," said Laurie Pennacchi, vice president of sales at ExpoMarketing, a trade show display company. "The company benefits from having a display by attracting visitors at shows that generate leads."
So what does a good trade show display do for you? Besides grabbing people's attention, it can say a lot about your business.
"A display should tell attendees who you are, what you do, and how you can help [them]," said Gwen Parsons, an independent communications consultant with a background in trade show marketing. "[It] should portray your company brand and image in a way that will help salespeople introduce products, engage attendees in a conversation, generate qualified sales opportunities, and leave a favorable impression to facilitate follow-up after the event."
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Without a display, Parsons warns, you're at a disadvantage against your competitors, as "it's very rare for a company to contract for an exhibit space and not bring a display."
Whether you're a trade show veteran or not, you need to weigh your options on trade show displays if you're in the market for a new one. With designs and trends constantly changing and evolving, it's crucial to stay current with trade show trends.
Tip: Because attendees visit booths so briefly, have your sales team practice their elevator pitch so they can capture their audience's interest.
Types of trade show displays
There are many types of trade show displays to choose from, and you can configure them in just about any way imaginable. However, the two most common trade show display systems are pop-up exhibits and panel displays.
Pop-up exhibits consist of a flexible panel attached to an accordion-style frame that expands and locks into place to create a curved or angled wall. This structure becomes the back wall of your trade show booth. Here are some key attributes of pop-up displays:
- Less expensive than other display options
- Easy to ship or travel with
- Fairly easy to set up
"When you're a small business, pop-ups are ideal," said Kristen Harold, CEO of KMH Marketing. "When you're doing multiple shows, it's cost-effective and looks much more professional. When you're graduating to a large space or putting a focus on one show, having a display built out custom should be considered."
Panel displays are more stable than pop-up ones, but they tend to be heavier and more challenging to assemble. They can easily be configured in many different ways, as they consist of various rectangular sections that are covered in fabric and can connect.
"Just be aware of all of the costs involved before committing," Harold added. "You can also save these [displays] and use [them] again."
Other display types
Here are some other popular display types:
- Modular exhibits: Similar to a panel display system, modular exhibits have many parts and can be configured differently, but are much lighter like a pop-up display.
- Pipe-and-drape displays: These displays have a metal frame with a fabric drape and are usually used as a simple backdrop.
- Tabletop displays: Suitable for events where large displays aren't necessary, tabletop displays are like a smaller version of a panel or pop-up display, but designed to fit on a table.
- Truss displays: Heavy-duty with steel or aluminum frames, these displays are often used as backdrops in television shows and as lighting systems. You can use them to display just about anything.
Depending on your vendor or exhibit house, you may have even more options. Of course, you can always have a custom trade show display system created for your business, with the option to combine different display types.
Tip: If you want a job where you can travel, consider becoming a trade show event coordinator. You'll get to meet with vendors across the country and travel to the trade show locations.
Benefits of a trade show display
Here's how trade show displays help make the most of your trade show appearances:
- You can generate meaningful leads. A standout trade show display generates much more attention than a typical setup. This additional attention will likely come from people who are a great fit for your products and services.
- You'll meet prospects in person. Although lead generation often happens online, meeting prospects in person is powerful. A trade show display will help you achieve this goal. Your display can be a compelling starting point for conversations that eventually lead to sales.
- The display could yield a high return on investment. Yes, trade shows are expensive, and displays can be pricey. That's why a standout trade show display is so important. The more eye-catching and informative your display, the more leads you will generate. As more of these leads convert, your ROI will increase.
Renting vs. purchasing trade show displays
When it comes to obtaining a trade show display, you have two options: You can rent a display temporarily for an exhibit, or you can purchase one for use whenever you need it. Renting works for many businesses, while others prefer to have their own display system on hand. So how do you know which option is right for your company?
The first step is to consider the size of the trade show display and the number of trade shows where you plan to exhibit.
"If the booth spaces are 10 feet by 10 feet, it probably makes sense to purchase a portable exhibit," Pennacchi said. "For larger spaces, a rental is a very logical choice. The company has the opportunity to change their booth layout from one show to the next while still preserving their look and feel."
Rental solutions are definitely more budget-friendly, but only if you don't exhibit very often.
"A display rents for about 25% to 35% of the cost to buy it," Parsons said. "So one rule of thumb is if you are planning to use the same exhibit three times during a one-year period, you should purchase the display."
It's also important to consider your resources. If you have storage or maintenance issues, you may want to use a rental. Pennacchi pointed out that renting a display doesn't require storage, so you don't have to spend on display storage and maintenance.
"[Business owners] get the booth of their choice in perfect condition for each show," she added.
FYI: If you've got a new business idea, trade shows are an excellent way to test it out, get feedback and gauge interest.
Who should rent a display?
"If a company is a first-time exhibitor, wants to test a new market, wants a bigger footprint for a once-a-year national event, or is uncertain about changing business strategies, the safe bet is to rent a whole new exhibit or add-ons to extend existing display properties," Parsons said.
In other words, if you're new to the trade show scene or making big company changes (such as a merger or rebrand), don't jump in spontaneously: This is the time to go for a rental system, not to commit to a big purchase.
"Plus, exhibitor renters can reuse their graphics at a subsequent event whether they choose re-rent or purchase the same exhibit property," said Parsons, adding that if you do choose to buy your rental exhibit, you should ask your consultant if a portion of your rental fee can be applied toward your purchase.
Who should buy a display?
Harold stressed that owning is typically the best option if you do multiple shows a year. "Storage will cost you, but renting and setting up a brand-new display each show will be a larger expense."
Tip: If you're taking your products on the road to a trade show, learn how to accept mobile credit card payments.
How to choose a trade show display
Aside from deciding if renting or owning is preferable, you'll want to shop around to see what kind of trade shows are available, and choose a vendor with the design and display options you need.
1. Scope out your display options.
It's essential to take your trade show display shopping offline, especially with so many options on the market. Pennacchi advised attending other trade shows and scoping out what your competitors are doing to better understand what you want.
"There [is] a multitude of trade show displays available today," she said. "It is difficult to make a decision by looking solely at websites. It is beneficial to walk a trade show, preferably in your industry, and pay attention to the types of exhibits that attract your eye and that make a statement similar to the one you want to make. Check out what your competitors are doing, and make a point of trying to outshine them."
2. Consider your needs and restrictions.
Before you start thinking about what type of displays you want, consider your needs and restrictions to avoid wasting money in the long run.
"There are pros and cons to any type of trade show display," Pennacchi said. "Some might be beautiful, but they are too expensive to fit the budget parameters once you factor in the costs of exhibiting. Some are cheap or reasonably priced, but they offer no presence."
3. Communicate with vendors.
With so many options to consider, choosing a trade show display system itself can be challenging. The best approach, Pennacchi said, is to explain your goals and budget – for both the immediate and long term – to your prospective vendor. From there, the company should give you a range of options and make suggestions that fit your needs.
"Find the exhibit house that best fits your needs," Pennacchi said. "It is important to establish a relationship with a company that wants to be your partner and not just a vendor. If your exhibit house understands your needs and evolves with you as your business grows, you will have a lot of success with your trade shows."
The final decision, Pennacchi added, should take several factors into consideration – including your budget and the design.
Trade show display pricing
Trade show displays can cost just a few hundred dollars or thousands. Pop-up displays may cost as little as $200, with prices rising to $5,000 for larger, more advanced displays. Panel displays also top out at $5,000, though they start at $500. Tabletop displays can be more affordable, ranging from $50 to $2,000.
Additionally, accessories – such as tables, shelves and lighting – can run $50 to $1,000. The table itself can cost between $250 and $1,000. Add it all up, and you're looking at a minimum of $300 and a maximum of several thousand dollars.
Key takeaway: Trade show displays can cost $300 to $5,000, with additional costs up to $1,000 if you want accessories.
Before you buy your trade show display
If you've got a trade show coming up and are thinking about purchasing or renting a display system, our experts said you should ask yourself these questions:
- What are our goals for our trade show presence?
- What size(s) of exhibit space do we plan to use?
- How many times per year do we plan to exhibit?
- What is our budget for the display?
- Who will be setting up and repacking the display?
- What do we want to do in our exhibit to market our products or services?
- Would we rather rent or buy a trade show display?
- Does this vendor understand our needs, or are they just trying to make a sale?
- Does this vendor outsource or provide all services in-house?
- Does this vendor offer graphic design services?
You should also research different vendors and the events you plan to attend to get a better idea of your options. Your research, along with your responses to these questions, should help you figure out what kind of trade show display you need and what vendor or exhibit house to use.
Max Freedman and Brittney Morgan contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.