When it comes to trade show planning, determining your exhibiting budget can be a little overwhelming. With so many things to consider when planning for an upcoming show, it’s helpful to have some guidance so you can be sure that all your bases are covered. In this budgeting how-to guide, Expo Outfitters breaks down the process to help you get started. From setting goals to estimating trade show costs, this guide will serve as a reference that can make the trade show budget planning process less of a headache.

Goal Setting

As with any project you’re tasked with, it’s helpful to set some goals and guidelines to streamline the trade show planning process. Below are some important things to consider before you start mapping out your budget:

  • Clearly define the purpose of your trade show display. Depending on the type of show you’re attending, who the attendees will be, and what your overall goals are, you will need to decide how your budget should be spent. How many people will you need to man the booth? What kind of technology needs to be incorporated? Do you need private meeting space? Have a clear understanding of what you’re aiming to accomplish with your booth so you can effectively organize your trade show costs.
  • Know the limit of your trade show budget – what is the absolute maximum amount you can spend on exhibiting for this show? Knowing this number will help you set realistic goals for what’s affordable and what’s not.
  • Decide what you’d like your trade show display to look like. Do you want a simple display with just the basics? Something with a little jazz but not over the top? Or are do you want to “wow” trade show goers with a decked-out display that has all the bells and whistles? Prioritize the features you’d like to incorporate into your display so when it comes time to price things out you can cut or add things according to how important they are.

There’s more to consider than the booth and promotion expenses. Take a look at the chart below, which gives you a cost breakdown of a how a typical exhibiting budget is spent.


These are just a few things to think about in the trade show planning process, so take some time to make sure you have all your bases covered – having a clear idea of what you’re looking to accomplish at the show you’re attending is key to mapping out your trade show costs.

Estimating Your Exhibit Budget

Now that you’ve got a better idea of what type of display you’re looking for, you can begin to construct your trade show budget. First, we’ll walk you through the short way and the long way to estimating how much you can expect to spend. Keep in mind that the short way should be used only for a ballpark guess, while the long way will give you a much more accurate number. At the bottom of this page, we’ve provided you with a spreadsheet that you can use to organize and track all of your trade show costs before calculating your total.

The Short Way

This method is commonly used in the industry to calculate a ballpark budget for exhibiting. Because this formula uses a generic pricing structure, it’s important to keep in mind that your costs could be more or less depending on the city, time of year, duration, and venue of the trade show.

  1. Total trade show cost will be 3 times the cost of your exhibit space.
    Example: If your exhibit space is $10,000, your budget will be about $30,000.
  2. If you aren’t sure what shows you’ll be attending (and therefore don’t have exhibit space costs), you can base your budget on square foot cost. According to the Exhibit Designers & Producers Association (EDPA) the industry average for cost per square foot for custom exhibits is $138-$154.50.
    Example: For a 10×10 booth space (100 square feet), your calculated cost will be 100 x 138 x 3 = $41,400

The Long Way

In order define a more accurate trade show budget, you’ll need to spend some time finding estimates of how much each aspect of the trade show will cost. Below we’ve provided you with a spreadsheet that will help you keep track of the anticipated expenses so you can calculate the exhibiting budget for the show. At the end of this post, we’ve also listed out some industry-standard rates for quick reference. Once you’ve filled out this form, you will have a better idea of whether or not your goals for the booth display are realistic, and where you can afford to scale down or cut costs if necessary.

Download the PDF file here or the excel file here.

Industry Averages

Below is a list of some industry average costs that will be helpful during the trade show planning process. These estimates have been adapted from Exhibitor Online’s “Budgeting For Dummies”.

Labor Rates

  • General Display Labor: $91.28 per hour
  • Electrician: $89.34 per hour
  • Rigger: $96.52 per hour
  • Plumbing: $86.25 per hour
  • Forklift with Operator: $196.28 per hour

Exhibit Costs

  • Custom Exhibit Price Range: $138-$154.50 per square foot
  • Storage: $1.63 per square foot



Drayage Rates (per CWT)

  • Direct, Crated Shipments to Exhibit Hall: $84.46
  • Direct, Crated Shipments with Special Handling to Exhibit Hall: $109.74
  • Direct, Uncrated Shipments to Exhibit Hall $126.36

Now that you have this guide to help you set up your trade show budget, you should be off to a great start. Take advantage of the trade show budget planning worksheet we’ve provided for you, and as always the Expo Outfitters team is here to answer any budgeting or pricing questions you might have!


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Since 1999 we have been providing professional and personalized exhibit design, fabrication, printing, freight logistics, exhibit installation, exhibit dismantling and other mission critical exhibit support services. Our clients engage us to provide creative, adaptive, informative and timely solutions, while consistently maintaining financial and strategic stewardship of their ongoing marketing efforts.

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