Trade Show Services: How We Estimate, Manage, and Get Our Clients Refunds

How-To Tips

Every trade show is unique. For over 40 years, we’ve helped our clients plan, manage, save, and even get refunds from their contractors with our comprehensive trade show services. We sat down with Jill Lencioni, EDE’s Director Of Operations, to reveal a few of our secrets and help you get more from your trade show budget.

Use the links below to skim the article: 


Managing & Saving

Getting Refunds

Estimating Your Budget for Trade Show Services

Estimating can be one of the most difficult parts of managing a trade show schedule, especially if you’re new to the world of exhibiting. Check out these three tips on estimating your trade show services budget.

Talk the Talk

The first step to estimating your trade show services budget is understanding what is included (and what isn’t). That means learning the lingo, from special handling to drayage. The better you understand what you’re paying for, the better you’re able to estimate costs – and avoid being overcharged.

Understand the Factors

Depending on who you ask, the amount of your total budget that you should set aside for trade show services is somewhere between 30% and 60%. Unfortunately, there is no single perfect amount or percentage. But, there are a few major factors to consider:

  • Exhibit size and complexity
  • Location (e.g. New York City vs. Louisville)
  • Set-up schedule (straight time vs. overtime)
  • Services required (AV, tech, hanging signs, etc.)

These four factors won’t give you a perfect estimate, but they will help you close in on a range that is appropriate for your particular exhibit.

When In Doubt…Guesstimate

An estimate is often the best you can do, especially with things like drayage. Here are a few ways to get as close as you can to the actual numbers:

  • Review old invoices (especially if you inherited a show from someone else)
  • If you know the vendor that built your exhibit, reach out them and ask questions
  • If you don’t know your vendor, reach out to any vendor and ask how much your standard exhibit elements weigh
  • Check out examples online from fellow exhibitors
  • Google “how much does a standard _______ weigh?”

When it comes to drayage and material handling, we always recommend rounding down. At worst, your exhibit will be weighed and you’ll be charged full-price, but at best, your exhibit won’t be weighed and you’ll save a few bucks!

Managing (and Saving on) Trade Show Services

We love saving our clients money on their trade show services. Now we’re sharing the love with these seven secrets for saving big-time on the show floor.

A pile of boxes on a porch, shipped to the representative's home to avoid paying for trade show services.

Send Items Ahead

When packages go through the marshaling yard at your venue, they get hit with tons of expensive fees – that sometimes cost even more than the actual items! When it comes to small items, freebies, etc., save big by sending them to your hotel address instead. If you have a local rep, you can even send the items to their home to save thousands on material handling and shipping.

Be Prepared

A big part of working the trade show floor is being prepared for the worst case scenario and always having a back-up plan. Make a list, check it twice, and arrive at the show confident that you and your team can handle whatever the universe throws at you.

A perfect example is something as simple as bringing a TV for your exhibit. A prepared exhibitor will have a wall mount, hardware, remote, and batteries (plus backups). There’s always someone running around frantically who ends up paying way too much for something they forgot – don’t let it be you!

Read the Fine Print

Read your exhibitor kit – thoroughly! Taking the time to understand the trade show services and technologies available to you can save you unbelievable amounts of money on the trade show floor.

If you don’t have the time to read the entire kit (and many of us don’t) focus on:

  • Show rules and regulations – look for sections specific to your booth type, size, and design
  • City-specific restrictions – what public safety rules apply within the city or town the show is located in?
  • Service options – find the sections on services you know you’ll need, like AV, electrical, etc.

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for the show “Quick Facts,” an overview sheet with key details like:

  • Setup dates and times
  • Show dates and times
  • Dismantle dates and times
  • Whether it’s a targeted show or not
  • Shipping addresses for advanced and direct
  • Show floor decor that impacts your exhibit (like aisle carpet)

You’ll be amazed at the differences you’ll see in each exhibitor kit. Once you’ve been in the business a while, you’ll get to know each venue and be able to flip through the kit quickly. But, reading it cover to cover can give you a big advantage (and help you find big savings) as a newbie.

Only Pay for What You Need

Every year, we see exhibitors spend far too much on trade show services. Here are a few items we don’t recommend purchasing or renting through your venue:

  • Furniture – Venues charge a premium; reach out to a rental company directly instead or work with an exhibit house to avoid paying handling.
  • Trash cans – This one is a personal pet peeve of ours. Venue “trash cans” will typically set you back about $30, and they are typically nothing more than a cardboard box!
  • Cleaning supplies – If you have a small booth, bring a vacuum and any other basic cleaning supplies you’ll need. While cleaning services are worth it for a massive booth, doing it yourself can be worth it with a smaller footprint.
  • Bottled water and food – Bottled water is typically $5 a bottle on the trade show floor. Send cases ahead with your exhibit or bring them with you on the day of the show.

Consider Freebies Critically

Many show venues will include free items with your exhibit space like tables and chairs or flooring. However, sometimes freebies are more of a pain than a help during setup. Take a look at the options ahead of time to see what will be useful to you and submit your request to order or pass on them.

A trade show services provider sets up speakers for an exhibit.

Manage Labor Effectively

Many labor-focused trade show services are especially difficult to estimate. If you’re new to the trade circuit, you’ll likely have no idea how much electrical or AV will cost for your booth. Here are three tips for making the most of your labor budget:

  • Ask how the team bills time and group jobs strategically. Some electricians charge on the half hour while others bill hourly.
  • Set expectations. E.g. “We’ve budgeted two hours to run electrical and mount a TV screen, can we make that work?”
  • Estimate half as much time for dismantle as for set up. Even if it takes no time at all, you’re typically charged half.

Finally, approach all of the show site labor teams with kindness and a positive attitude. If they can make it happen for you, they will, and if they can’t, they’ll be honest and help you adjust your expectations.

Ask for Favors – Politely

Set-up day on a weekend? Suspect that the event takes ownership of the hall earlier in the week? Offer the site manager a compelling reason as to why getting your exhibit in early will be beneficial to everyone. The worst they can say is no, and the result could be a massive savings from leveraging straight time instead of weekend overtime.

Getting Refunds for Trade Show Services

We love nothing more than calling up a client to let them know we’ve gotten them a huge refund on their trade show services. Here are the two major ways we get refunds in our clients’ hands.

Read Invoices Carefully

Too often we see clients overcharged simply because they didn’t double check their invoices. When you receive your invoice, pull up your credit card statement and reconcile your invoice item by item. Check for double charges and highlight or flag anything you have questions on, then call the vendor and get clarification. 

Then, don’t be afraid to call the contractor and ask questions! Even if there are no errors on your bill, you will learn how to read your invoice more effectively and carry that knowledge forward to the next show.

Three men walk the trade show floor together.

Be Nice

It may sound obvious to some, but you’ll be amazed what a little kindness can do! If you’re seeking a refund (or onsite assistance of any kind), be polite, professional, and understanding. 

We’re well-known on trade show floors across the country for being thorough, professional, and kind – and we use that reputation to get you the best services at the best prices.

How EDE Helps Clients Save Big

As you can see, there’s a lot to manage if you tackle the trade show circuit on your own. The good news is that at EDE, our services don’t stop with designing larger-than-life experiences for our clients. Our 30% service fee covers virtually everything you can think of, including:

  • Handling show setup and dismantle
  • Placing orders ahead of the show
  • Dealing with documentation like proof of installation, labor tickets, and invoices
  • Staying in constant communication with show management and the team on site
  • Working relationships to get you the best bang for your buck
  • Helping you budget, save money, and get massive refunds
  • Setting high expectations and ensuring they’re met
  • Providing highly-strategic guidance from experts who know every venue in the country
  • Offering the best customer service and attention to detail on the market

Ready to improve your trade show management? Contact EDE to get the conversation started.

Special thanks to Jill Lencioni, Director of Operations at EDE, for her expertise and contributions to this blog!


Get trade show tips, reports, checklists and more delivered to your inbox once a month by signing up to the Trade Show Marketing blog.

Related Articles

Booth Staff Bootcamp: Training Top-Notch Staffers

Booth Staff Bootcamp: Training Top-Notch Staffers

In our last newsletter, we discussed the benefits of professional staffers. But not everyone has that option — whether it’s due to budget or C-Suite buy-in. So this time, we’re turning our gaze inward toward preparing your in-house staffers for the show floor. Let’s...