As a trade show manager, you’ve likely considered renting vs. buying your booth. It’s a popular debate within the industry, and there are a lot of opinions out there. While many of the pros and cons are relatively well understood, sometimes broad generalizations can leave you without all the information.

Before we dive into the specific pros and cons, we wanted to share an article from Corporate Event News. It offers a comparison of standard rentals, custom rentals, and purchased booths and provides insight into the pros and cons of each. Take a look at each option and think about how it applies to your brand’s needs.

3 Ways To Get Your Trade Show Booth

1. Purchasing a Booth

Most people argue customization is one of the main benefits of booth ownership. According to the Corporate Event News, “The primary pro of owning your own larger exhibit property is that you can have a design that is truly brand- and layout-specific.” This simply isn't true, custom-designed rentals have the same flexibility as a booth you own.

Ownership also comes at a significant cost.

You’ll need to consider storage, handling, and shipping between shows. These tasks add costs to the already significant up-front investment of a purchased booth. They also demand time. Managing labor, coordinating with shipping companies, and dealing with booth repairs and upkeep all take time away from your marketing and trade show teams.

2. Show-Specific Rentals

Some companies offer turn-key rentals geared toward specific shows. “Once you’ve done the initial work of selecting the layout and providing graphics, everything else is taken care of for you, including setup and teardown,” says Corporate Event News.

Show-specific rentals are an easy solution for brands that don’t have the budget to purchase a booth and don’t mind a cookie-cutter solution. This type of rental is easy to manage, but it lacks the customization your brand needs to stand out from the crowd. Plus, if you exhibit at multiple trade shows, the costs can add up quick.

3. Custom-Designed Rental

Corporate Event News describes custom-designed rentals as an intermediary between show-specific rentals and booth ownership. Custom-designed rentals offer the convenience and low cost of show-specific rentals, but with the customization benefits of purchased booths.

With a custom-designed rental, you can create a unique space that reflects your brand’s marketing goals. Plus, you get the added benefit of not having to deal with the stress associated with shipping, handling, storage, or labor management. A rental takes away the stress of booth ownership without sacrificing the benefits of a design tailored to your brand.

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Diving Deeper: The Pros & Cons of Renting Vs. Buying

A comparison of renting vs. buying from Expo Marketing highlighted the pros and cons of renting and buying. We wanted to share their list and give you our impression since some of their points don’t match up to our experience. Let’s take a look.



  • You can change the branding on your booth with ease: Absolutely! With a custom-designed rental, rebranding is easy and straightforward. If you're renting a new, custom-designed booth for every show, you can make any visual adjustments with ease.
  • It enables you to be flexible when attending multiple trade shows on a tight budget: Tackling back-to-back trade shows is a huge challenge for brands that exhibit across the country. It's possible to design a new booth for each show, at a budget you can afford. We even help our clients reuse elements from show to show.
  • You can experiment with different floor plans: Experiment with different floor plans, different aesthetics, different colors, you name it! A custom rental lets you experiment with any booth element you want, so your design is only limited by your imagination.
  • You can avoid liabilities: The hassle of shipping, storage, building, and teardown isn’t worth it for trade show managers who need to focus on their marketing goals. With a rental, we take care of all the logistics, so you don’t have to worry about them.
  • It’s easier for you to meet rules and regulations: When different shows demand different booth setups, like varying height limitations, a custom rental can adapt to meet those needs.
  • It's a cost-effective option, especially if your booth is a 10x10: On average, a rental costs about 75% less than a purchased booth. And in our experience, rentals are always more affordable than a purchased booth, even when they're large.


  • You are limited in the amount of customization you can do. Not true. A custom-designed rental offers you all the same customization options that a purchase does. If you need ultra-unique elements that booth designer doesn’t own, you can always purchase those and add them to your rental for a hybrid solution.
  • Your booth design may be limited to the inventory available in the exhibit house’s warehouse: This may be true of some rental vendors, but you can get around this by selecting a vendor that focuses on custom-designs rentals. We re-use the frame of every booth we create, but the external features are unique to you.
  • Your booth might have minor wear and tear because it is a rental: Again, this comes down to individual vendors. At Steelhead, we make sure every element is in tip-top shape for your trade show. How can we promise that? Because we have a dedicated team that performs regular maintenance on every booth element. If you owned your booth, you’d still have to deal with wear and tear. Only you wouldn’t have a dedicated team to take care of it for you.



  • It's perfect for going to multiple shows, if you don’t change your design: We don’t see this as a pro. No one can predict the future. A set booth design handcuffs your marketing department’s ability to respond to shifts and trends within your industry.
  • It's more cost effective if your booth is larger than a 10x10: This is a generalization. In our experience, booth size is only one consideration when estimating the cost of a booth. Material types, A/V displays, and overall booth complexity matter just as much as size. The only way to truly understand what’s more affordable is to directly compare the costs associated with the size and type of booth you want.
  • Your booth can be 100% customized: True. But, keep in mind, unless your budget is limitless, you’ll likely go with a booth designer that offers you the most affordable purchase option that meets your needs. The elements they use to create that booth are likely industry standards, like aluminum framing and textured fabrics. So, in the end, your 100% customized booth is no different than a rental, except it costs more.


  • You can incur ownership expenses: Shipping, storage, handling, maintenance, and other fees add up fast when you purchase your booth, adding to the already substantial up-front costs.
  • It can be expensive if you have a smaller budget: Purchasing a booth isn’t just expensive if you have a small budget, it’s expensive with any budget. On average, it takes brands three–five years of use to justify the up-front costs of purchasing a booth.
  • Your booth will look the same at every show: Unless you have the capital to buy a new booth for every show, expect your design to grow staler every year.

At Steelhead, we don’t believe booth ownership make sense for any brand, with any budget, for any trade show. Find out why by checking out our white paper: 3 Pitfalls of Owning A Trade Show Exhibit.

Download Your Free Resource

3 Pitfalls of Owning a Trade Show Exhibit

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