Beware! Trade Show Hidden Fees

March 13, 2023

Brands worldwide invest a lot of money to participate in trade shows. The number of moving parts that happen when planning and executing a trade show event means there’s ample room for financial mishaps — some of which may not be brought to the corporate event planner’s attention until it’s too late (like, after the event).

To prevent and minimize these troublesome trade show hidden fees, we’re here to help uncover surprise costs to avoid that deflating post-show over-budget invoice.

Exhibit house fees vs. show management fees

Shopping around for an exhibit house or trade show vendor can be challenging for buyers because there’s no industry standard for trade show pricing. There’s no “apples to apples” comparison. Exhibit houses group their fees differently on estimates. For example, one provider might include onsite labor and transportation in the exhibit build or rental; the next may not.    

Lance Randall, Chief Growth Officer of Steelhead, has this advice for corporate event planners when they’re selecting their next exhibit house:

“When reviewing estimates, proposals, or contracts, watch out for language regarding rush charges or phrases like ‘may result in,’ ‘may include,’ or ‘may be billed on actuals.’ This is loose language that allows the supplier to charge rush fees or unexpected fees at the end of the project.”  

No exhibit house controls what show management charges, but again, they can help you estimate these costs.  

Your exhibit provider may make guarantees with their pricing, but most show management companies or show general contractors will not.  

Common trade show hidden fees  

When shopping around for your exhibit provider, don’t be afraid to ask for clarity on what’s included in the budget and what’s not.

Some of the most commonly overlooked cost centers that event marketers need to be aware of are:

  • Markups on show services
  • Addendum invoices
  • Hourly overage charges
  • Onsite support, during set-up, during the show, and post-show
  • Drayage
  • Transportation  

Some pro tips:  

  • Ask your supplier which costs can be guaranteed or locked in.  
  • Ask what their markup is for show services and whether you can pay them directly.
  • Ask if the onsite labor jurisdictions have been confirmed for each venue and if they’ve been estimated accordingly.
  • For example, does a union electrician need to hang monitors, or can the onsite labor do it?  

Storage and maintenance

If you own your booth, you must be aware of the costs that come after the excitement of the shiny new build. You must store, maintain, provide insurance, and upgrade booth propertiesall on your marketing budget’s dime.  

Utilizing Steelhead’s access model means that we absorb these costs as part of the rental fee. Our clients enjoy a customized exhibit at a better price point without the worry about what the booth costs when it returns to the warehouse.  


Your trade show provider should give you estimates that include all aspects of the project, clearly separated and lined out. They should be expert estimators who know how long it takes to set up the booth, the best transport method, and the labor jurisdictions at each venue.  

The best way to prevent trade show hidden fees from surfacing in your inbox is to vet the exhibit partners you’re creating these experiences with. Find an exhibit provider that isn’t afraid to give you price transparency for every event.  

The right exhibit partner can, and should, let you and your team know how to avoid hidden fees—interested in learning more about Steelhead’s Price Guarantee?  Contact us today.

March 13, 2023
November 17, 2023
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