Trade shows are a given in most industries. Some are fun, some are boring. Some are tiny, some literally take all week just to walk through. You might think of a convention as a political necessity, a fun excuse to make a company paid vacation, or a great business opportunity. Regardless, there’s one thing that’s true of almost all conventions. They’re expensive!

Aside from travel expenses, there’s convention passes, booth rental fees, drayage (ugh!), your booth contents, and any payroll for employees that you bring. And, don’t forget that the convention undoubtedly has sponsorships that you can do. Even for small trade shows, this all adds up.

I want to give you some tips for getting making the best booth that you can on a budget. A bit of background on me and this topic. My previous company, Rope and Rescue, was going to NATE (National Tower Climbing Association), a ~1,200 person show, for the first time in 2013 and we were on a shoe string budget. The biggest supply company in the industry was the top level sponsor and had something like 8 booths. By my count, all of this would have cost them around $90k plus whatever their booth contents were. We only had the budget for a single booth. We did a DIY booth for a few hundred dollars (not including the inventory we brought and the computer monitor we already had on hand), and guess what! We won best in show for our booth size! (BTW, awards are nice and all, but remember that you’re there to make sales, not get plaques. And, funny enough, we didn’t know there was even an award to be had, so winning came as a surprise).

At your average convention, your booth fee will get you a 10 x 10 space with a table, two chairs, and a small sign with your company name on it. Please, please, please, don’t just show up and stick a bunch of somethings on your table. Lame! For a modest extra fee, far less than the cheapest sponsorship available, you can make your booth next level. To illustrate, let’s take a look at a super fun convention. I’m talking, of course, about the Great American Beer Festival.

The Big Guys, The Ones That Did Nothing, & The In-betweens

There are always going to be some big companies with huge budgets for conventions. They’ll have giant, elaborate booths in the most prominent spots. At GABF that’s the Great Divides, Dogfish Heads, and New Belgiums of the world.

Dogfish Head with a huge line, custom built bar, and multiple booths.

On the other end of the spectrum are the booths that don’t do anything extra. They just stick with the table and provided sign. While I think this is a bad idea in general, isn’t it especially bad at GABF? After drinking a ton of beer, who’s going to remember your booth, the one that looks identical to several hundred others?

No Label Brewing CO used the provided sign and didn’t do anything extra.

You don’t need to go all out like the big players. But, it’s not that hard to step it up a notch from using just the provided display. A bit of inventiveness will go a long way and make you stand out. In a sea of identical booths, it doesn’t take that much to be unique and memorable.

Check out Triple Rock’s booth. They definitely stood out and they had far more traffic than the surrounding booths. And, their display was pretty simple. A banner, some PVC pipe, a table cloth, and some cardboard cut outs hanging from the pipes. This is doable for anyone.

Triple Rock’s booth looks great! And, it’s not anything overly complicated or expensive.

Inexpensive Ways To Improve Your Display

So, what are some ways that you could improve your trade show display without breaking the bank? Here are a few ideas:

  • Get a custom table cloth. Even if you don’t get anything printed on it, get a quality cloth that matches your company colors. The ones included are flimsy and leave you at the mercy of whatever color they happen to have.
  • Get a banner to hang on the back curtain. This is easy and will look way better than the included sign.
  • Get creative with PVC pipe. You can make all sorts of things in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot. The Rope and Rescue booth from above was made with plumbing pipe (metal, but it could have been PVC). Make banner signs, product displays, catalog holders, and more. I’m not a very handy guy, but I’ve pulled off some great DIY booths this way (though, full disclosure, I had help on the Rope and Rescue booth from a very handy person that worked with me. But, there have been others I did myself, just with a bit more duct tape involved). Just make sure it looks professional!
  • Not exactly an additive tip, but avoid the cheesy trade show displays that you can purchase. They’re over priced (in my opinion) and beyond cliche. Think, for example, of those collapsible slightly curved displays with that blue felt material.
  • Make a short video about your company that you can loop. Bring a computer monitor and loop the video in your booth.
  • Have a partner company attending? Get booths next to each other, get rid of the partition dividing you, and see if there are any costs you can split.
  • Go minimal with the products displayed, especially if your vendors are also attending. Having a table crammed full of products doesn’t look good. If your vendors and competitors are all displaying the same products, just bring stuff that distinguishes you. If a customer wants to chat about a product from your vendor, walk over the vendor booth from them. Easy, and makes you look good to your vendor. Use the extra space to make it inviting for people to come into your booth and interact with you.

Stepping up your trade show game can be relatively easy and inexpensive. A trip to Home Deport and a few hundred dollars can make you stand out from all the others that don’t do anything special. All you need is a bit of time, effort, and a small budget.

What are some of the best trade show tips that you have? Share in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Image Credits:
Featured Image – Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash