Why Purchase Expensive Trade Show Graphics and Banners for Your Company’s Trade Show Booth?

Question: What objectives are being met when I use a trade show booth and other displays at a convention?”

Answer: It’s great that you’re not a lemming heading to the trade show just because the other lemmings are. These are valid questions and deserve valid justification.

Obviously, because I sell trade show displays and graphics, I always appreciate the orders of those attending, but rarely does anyone ask “why?” “Why do we attend conventions and trade shows? Why do we spend money on backdrops and table runners and banners and retractable fabric banner stands?”

As with any advertising, return-on-investment, or ROI, is the key question. Are we getting more, long-term, than we spend going to trade shows?

Face it, it is not inexpensive, even done “on the cheap,” to go to a trade show. You’ll usually need at least two persons minimum to occupy the booth, so that during the convention, at least one of you is in the booth. Airline tickets will set you back at least $1000.00. Then your hotel is likely to run a couple hundred a night, and for two people, if not sharing a room, the cost will be at least $400 per night, for 4 or 5 nights. Another couple of thousand dollars.

Cost of the booth, even a small one, is going to be $1500 to $2000. Entertainment, food, promotional materials, trade show graphics such as banners and pop up displays or backdrops, retractable banners, table runners or table top displays, shipping and show services (most venues are staffed by trade union employees and “require” you to have them haul your stuff in and set it up), and miscellaneous items that you’ll inevitably need can add another $2000-3000 to your budget.

So, even on the cheap, your costs can run upwards of $8000-10,000. The following graph from the Trade Show Institute shows what the percentage costs are, although the actual dollar value can vary widely from $8000 to $100K and higher, depending on your budget or the company’s budget you work for.

First, you need to determine what your company’s objective is. Are you hoping to add a hundred customers to your customer base? Or a thousand names to your contact database? If you know that for every 1000 contacts that you average 100 sales, and that each sale has a net value of $100, then you break even from the show. However, you may also know that the long-term value of 20% of those customers is $1000 net profit. And 20% of those are worth $100K in net profit. So the trade show expense itself will be covered in the long-term especially, but that even in the short-term – maybe in the next 12 months – it will likely pay for itself.

Now that you know your objective, you can determine a budget. Let’s say that you know that your average net return from the show for the next 12 months should be $100K. Obviously, you probably don’t want to spend $100K to get $100K, or you may want to change your corporate status to a non-profit organization!

But let’s say you want to make a splash, so you’re going to want a bit larger booth, which means larger graphics, more brochures, and higher floor space cost, so you choose a corner booth location – 20 feet x 20 feet – 400 square feet. The space alone is going to run around $10K on the average – maybe more, maybe less, but still a significant amount of money. You’re going to commit four sales people to be at the booth, no less than two at a time. The display graphics are larger, more brochures are needed, and so your costs are going to easily reach $25K. However, if you know, from past experience, that you’ll net $100K over the next 12 months, traceable directly to this trade show, then it’s a no brainer, right?

Now to the other part of your question. Trade show displays and graphics – what is your objective? Obviously, you want and need more and better clients, so the object of your graphic displays is to attract more traffic to your booth. It is less likely, if your graphics look cheaply done and that your company is a low-budget operation, that you’ll get the “better” clients you’re looking for.

In fact, if a potential “high-dollar” client approaches your booth and it just “feels” cheap, he or she may simply just keep walking. But conversely, if the booth has a professional feel and look, and it is obvious that a lot of thought (and the graphics are of obviously high caliber) went into the booth, it will probably have a greater draw for clients of all types, not just the high dollar variety (although ultimately, those are the ones that can make the difference between a good show and a great show, especially over the long-term.

Do I have specific recommendations for your booth? Yes and no. Your booth is your company’s “suit and tie” at any convention or trade show. It needs to speak to passersby about your company’s philosophy of business and what your offer – at a fairly quick glance. This may or may not mean you have a fancy booth.

When I worked for an instant printing company as the manager for 10 years, I was able to occasionally attend trade shows, and my father, who owned the company, was a notorious cheapskate, which, in my opinion, did not play well for his company. However, that didn’t mean the shows were unsuccessful. They were actually quite successful with usually just a banner hung on the back wall of the booth and a table with brochures and examples of printing that his company did. His company started to fail when he quit going to trade shows and the economy declined. At the same time, other savvy printing businesses increased their market share, even as the economy cratered in 2008. By mid-2010, his company was gone. I can’t help but wonder if he had spent more time, thought, and money on his promotional graphics if the business would still be thriving today.

As to the content of your graphics, it has always been my opinion that less is more. The K.I.S.S. principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid! Most show goers are drawn first to a genre (“Hey, our company needs business cards!”), then to the overall feel of a booth, then to the personalities in the booth, then to the product or service. The most successful booths will have a great promotion such as “Show special – Get All Your Company’s Business Cards Half-price For the Next Week!” Or maybe “Enter Our Dealership Drawing For a New Car!” The supporting graphics, maybe a picture of the car being given away, will be classy and high-resolution. Maybe a beautiful dye sublimation printed fabric banner or pop up display with some supporting fabric retractable banners at the aisle edge of your booth. It helps to have friendly sales staff who smile a lot and answer questions, both pertinent and impertinent, but keep a friendly affect at all times, even at the end of the day when they’re getting tired (which, believe me, they are!). Finally, your product or service must be top notch. If all the previous items are in place, it is likely that this is the case, as a schlocky company probably won’t be able to either afford or attract this type of employees.

Hopefully, this answers the question thoroughly enough to make sense. You can find a handy budgeting illustration here.