Trade show booths are big ticket items. You know if you're planning shows. They’re also difficult to plan for and design on a fixed budget. That means pricing is a huge deal. You need to get it right.

We want to help ensure you get the most out of your next booth. So, we sat down with Steelhead’s VP of Sales, Lance Randall, to get a crash course in what he thinks about booth pricing.

Q: What is the first thing that you recommend a client think through when they are pricing out a new exhibit?

Lance: The first decision you need to make when you price out your booth is whether to rent or buy. On average, it costs around $165 per square foot to buy a booth. Renting will cost about 25-30% of that cost.

Let’s talk specifics. You’re going to spend $65,000 just to buy a 20×20 booth. There are a lot of costs that come along after that, including:

  • Storage
  • Ongoing maintenance
  • Handling fees

If you add up all of these ongoing costs you’re looking at paying out 10-20% of the total booth cost on an annual basis to maintain and use the exhibit.

Download now: How To Evaluate And Choose An Exhibit House

You could get the same booth for 30% of that cost if you rent with no ongoing costs. This is going to allow you to reinvest those savings into a custom-built design for each show you visit.

We don’t think anyone should buy a booth. They should use their money where it will have the most impact. That probably isn’t in storage and maintenance.

Q: What hidden costs should people look out for when they’re pricing out their booth?

Lance: Service and labor are the largest areas of inflation to watch out for. Most exhibit design companies will provide an estimate of what they believe the overall cost would be. However, from our experience, it’s been hard to trust those estimates.

These companies charge a 30% markup on all of the labor and services. These services are billed as incurred, often on an hourly basis. This is a big problem. This approach disincentives the booth designer from working efficiently.

At Steelhead, we have a different approach. We provide every client with a guaranteed fixed price. It’s not going to cost you more or less than the amount we quote. Sometimes this makes us look more expensive than our competitors', but there’s one key difference between our price and our competitors. Ours is guaranteed. What you see is what you pay.

Q: Ok, so if you’re going to rent a booth, what are the rules of thumb to think about from a pricing perspective?

Lance: Typically we can build out a booth for about 30% of the cost of buying. Not including the additional costs for the services elements we talked about. That’s a huge savings. As a rule of thumb we think about $65 per square foot is a good cost to start from. This should include things such as:

  • The booth
  • Custom graphics
  • Flooring
  • Finishes
  • Rental furniture

Keep a couple of things in mind. First, the $65 per square foot cost is a starting point. Everyone has different needs that can cause the cost to fluctuate. Second, remember that the first rental is going to cost the most. Over time you’re going to be able to reuse some assets. This will drive down the cost of your second and third rental, etc.

Q: Is there anything else you think folks should think about as they’re pricing out their booth?

Lance: There are a couple of random tips I give people, especially if they are just getting started:

First, one of the areas that is going to really drive up nominal costs is credit card fees. It may seem small, but when you’re making a $25,000-$50,000 purchase, the fees add up. It’s best to explore wire or ACH payment options with the firm you’re working with.

Second, although it’s tempting for there to be a single average cost it’s important for me to say that there is no optimal budget. What Microsoft will spend on a booth versus a small software company is going to be vastly different. Your budget needs to make sense for your company and its needs.

Third and finally, when you’re looking for a partner to design your next booth, accountability is really what matters. Find someone who is going to tell you what things cost. This is someone that you can trust to work with on an ongoing basis.


Find the right partner for your upcoming trade show booth. Download our free guide: How To Evaluate And Choose An Exhibit House.

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