How to Create a Trade Show Budget

Lela Barker

how to design a trade show budget


There’s no doubt about it: trade shows are pricey affairs.  Creative makers are often intimated by the price tag and uncertain of the benefits. This week in my LBU program, we’re exploring trade show strategies and I wanted to share a bit about budgeting for trade shows. Before we get to that, let’s firm up the benefits of exhibiting:


Benefits of Exhibiting at Trade Shows

• Acquire New Stockists
Order-writing is the name of the game at trade shows and, if you’ve played your cards right, then you should walk away with a tidy stack of orders.

 • Enhance Your Brand Image
Exhibiting at a trade show sends a message that you’re playing for keeps and you’re ready to wholesale. You’ve ideally reached a new level of professionalism and you’re committing significant resources to build your wholesale business.  That’s impressive to buyers, media & competitors.

 • Enjoy Instant Product Feedback
This type of interaction inevitably yields opportunities for important, instant feedback about your products.

• Gain Media Exposure
Not only will you get that product in front of lots of new buyers, you’ll also be putting your brand out there in front of members of the press, as well.

• Network with Fellow Entrepreneurs
There will likely be hundreds (if not thousands) of exhibitors at a trade show, which presents a unique opportunity for networking, collaboration-building and competition-scoping.

• Exposure to Sales Reps
If you’re looking to work with sales reps, then you’ll find no shortage of them roaming trade show floors in search of promising new lines.

• Fuel Personal Relationships with Your Buyers
Trade shows present a unique opportunity for you to meet with countless existing stockists all in one place. By inviting existing accounts in the area to your trade show booth, you’re building and enhancing that relationship, which encourages loyalty and longevity.

• Build Your Mailing List
You’ll be collecting business cards en masse, which should be added to your mailing list and extend your reach.


Sounds lovely, right? Certainly, but only if you play your cards right: designing an attractive booth, having well-designed linesheets and order forms at the ready, and delivering the whole shebang at or under budget. Creative entrepreneurs are wise to keep the reigns on the financials, as these types of expenses can quickly spiral out of control.  Start by putting pen to paper and whipping out that calculator to design a realistic budget that accomplishes your show goals.  There are numerous expenses involved in exhibiting at a show, and the booth fee is just the tip of the iceberg.



Trade Show Budget: How to plan for expenses


A good rule of thumb? Take your booth fee and multiply it by three to arrive at your total  trade show budget.


Booth fee: $2700 x 3 =  $8,100 show budget


That figure will vary, of course, depending on how elaborate your booth design is, how many materials you need to ship in, how far you must travel and if you’re staying in the swankiest joint in town. But failing to design a target budget now will almost certainly lead to a financial panic later as miscellaneous expenses quickly accumulate.


A breakdown of a typical trade show budget might look like this:

trade show budget breakdown


Let’s walk through an example. Imagine that I’m going to exhibit at the National Stationery Show in NYC. The show lasts  4 days and I’ll need 2 additional days for set up + take down. That necessitates 5 nights of hotel accommodations. Two people will be manning the booth and we’re all the way in Kansas, so we’ll be flying in. I’ve upgraded to a hardwall 8×10″ booth at $43 per square foot and I’m going to pay the $400 upcharge for a corner booth.


$43 per square feet x 80 square feet = $3,440
+ $400 booth upcharge = $3,840 total booth fee
$3,840 booth fee x3 = $11,520 total show budget

$11,520 show budget
– $3,840 booth fee
– $2,304 for travel expenses (20%)
– $1,728 for show services (15%)
– $1,728 for booth design + furnishings (15%)
– $1,152 for printing + promotion (10%)
– $1,152 for shipping + related services (10%)


I’m committed to staying in budget, though I may have to make adjustments within those allocations. For example, I have $2304 reserved for travel expenses, but two plane tickets to NYC (at $400 each), plus 5 nights of hotel accommodations (at $300 each) total $2300, and our budget only provides $2304 in the travel category, leaving us a whopping $4 to feed ourselves and get around the city… not a very likely proposition. I’ll need to budget an additional $600 to allow for $100/day in meals and ground transportation. I re-read my show manual and discover that my hardwall booth is inclusive of electrical services, so I can likely pull $600 from the kitty reserved for show services in order to bulk up my travel budget.


Planning your budget now will pay off in spades later!


About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

3 responses on “How to Create a Trade Show Budget

  1. Kelly Rogers

    Wow. This is a good article. Thank you so much for posting a good budget. You even showed how we can manipulate the budget so that factors such as meals can be accommodated.

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