What Exhibitors Can Learn About Budgets from Reality TV

Photo: stock.xchng/cinezi
Photo: stock.xchng/cinezi

I have to confess … I enjoy watching remodeling shows on HGTV. One of those shows, Property Brothers, features families who purchase a fixer-upper with help from the realtor brother, then the handyman brother comes in and remodels it into the home of their dreams.

On a recent episode, a newlywed couple had budgeted $85,000 for renovating the entire first floor of their new place. They had a plan all mapped out, but it soon went sideways. While tearing down walls, they discovered asbestos inside one (Cha-ching! $2000), a major plumbing problem inside another (Cha-ching! $1500), and no insulation in the exterior walls (Cha-ching! $1200). Suddenly they had to make decisions on what to cut in order to stay within their budget.

There are several lessons here for exhibit marketers. First of all, it’s important to have a strategic plan and budget in the first place. Otherwise, it’s too easy to be distracted by all the options and pretty soon the costs have skyrocketed out of control. Sticking to the budget takes discipline and sacrifice — it’s a game of give and take.

In exhibiting, that may mean you have to give up something when you run into unanticipated shipping fees, exhibit design or repair costs, or travel expenses for staff. While you can’t change some of the costs (such as renting your booth space), here are a few areas where you can trim costs without sacrificing, so that you can have that financial cushion when unexpected problems arise.

  • Reserve show services early to take advantage of advance discounts and avoid overtime rates at the facility.
  • Consolidate shipping by bundling smaller things together to make one larger shipment, and ship far enough in advance to avoid paying any rush charges.
  • If you have a fairly full show schedule, simply ship from one show to the next instead of back to the home office each time. (Or, if you have a branch office in or near the show city, ship to them instead of to the show warehouse.)
  • Take your own trash can, extension cords, and power strips instead of renting them at the show.
  • Use one theme for all your exhibits for the coming year, then order promotional materials and giveaways in bulk (this can also save on exhibit design and graphics, plus staff uniforms).
  • Have staff fly into alternate airports (Midway vs. O’Hare, Burbank vs. Los Angeles International) to save both time and money.

Want more guidance on how to set up your exhibit budget? The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) has some general spending guidelines in their report, “How the Exhibit Dollar is Spent” (available on their site for $24), plus here are a few previous Trade Show Insights posts that discuss setting budgets and ensuring you’re getting a good return on your investment:

We’ll also be covering both budget strategy and cost-saving ideas in the Exhibit Marketers Café during the month of January.

If you’ve been working on your exhibit marketing budget for 2014, what did you discover during the process? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

© 2002-2013 Marlys K. Arnold (from the December 2013 TradeShowTips Online. To receive tips like this in your inbox every month, please take a moment to fill out this request.)

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