Time and again, exhibitors ask themselves the same question: “Should I buy or rent a trade show booth?” And with good reason, too—an exhibit can be a big investment, and you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. Not only that, but the answer can vary from one company to another, or even within the same organization over time as their circumstances change.

The type of business you run, your trade show and business goals, your budget, the exhibit booth size you’re considering, how often you exhibit, what your trade show program looks like, and more are factors in your decision.

To help you make this choice, we’ve included a flow chart with our recommendations below. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of booth rental vs. buying a booth in more depth to explain our recommendations. Keep reading to get expert insights and make an informed decision.

A flow chart guiding you on whether you should buy or rent a trade show booth

Table of Contents:

Pros and Cons of Booth Rental

Renting a trade show booth has a number of benefits and drawbacks that businesses should consider. There’s a lot more to the equation than simply trade show booth rental cost vs. purchase cost. Breaking down these costs is important, but you must also consider other expenses that go into shipping and maintaining your own booth, as well as the opportunities afforded by rentals vs. purchases.

Keep reading to see the pros and cons of booth rental vs. booth purchase, based on our years of experience in the field.

Pros of Booth Rental

  • Save money as a new exhibitor: If you’re just starting out in the trade show world or don’t exhibit frequently, an exhibit rental may be the smarter financial option for your needs. By renting your trade show booth, you’re also paying for fees associated with the booth’s logistics and maintenance, including shipping, set up, and take down. For small businesses or those new to exhibiting, deciding to rent a trade show booth can be a great way to save money before committing to your own expo display.
  • Invest in other display elements: With the money saved from renting a trade show booth, you can invest that cash into other elements of your trade show experience. Swag bags, physical collateral like handouts and brochures, and more are other key elements to consider when preparing your expo booth.
  • Stay flexible and creative: Buying a trade show booth keeps you committed to a single design for every trade show that you exhibit going forward. But renting allows you to customize your display to appeal to different demographics at every show, and also makes adapting to the regulations of individual convention venues a bit easier. If you’re part of a growing business, renting a trade show display can help you adjust your expo experience as your business changes.
  • Test the waters: Renting a trade show booth creates a low-risk, high-reward testing stage for your branding and booth structure. Your company’s exhibiting needs may vary depending on the trade show you’re attending, the venue, and the audience. With booth rentals, you can test market what display works best for your brand before investing in a larger, more long-term setup.
  • Exhibit at multiple shows at once: As your company grows, or depending on the trade show scene in your industry, you may have to appear at multiple shows within a small window of time. With a single purchased booth, you may have to worry about shipping one display across the country in a rush. Renting your trade show booths can help you avoid this, and can ensure that you have a fresh, completely prepared display for every show you exhibit at.
  • Get design assistance: Are you having issues creating a cohesive identity for your brand’s exhibits? Perhaps it’s been difficult translating your brand’s personality or key values into the physical design of a trade show booth. Whatever the case, renting a booth can help you in that regard. Renting with Cardinal Expo means receiving services from professional and experienced designers that will capture every piece of your brand’s messaging into a cohesive and attractive booth design.

Cons of Booth Rental

  • Higher expense for certain custom elements: Generally speaking, trade show booth rentals are great for companies that are not settled on one single booth design. But if you’re looking to add a lot of custom elements to your booth, it makes more sense to spend that money investing in an owned asset you can keep using rather than a single-use booth. Not only that, but with some trade show display companies, larger format or more intricate displays may only be available for purchase. Thankfully, working with Cardinal Expo means that booth renters can have access to a wide variety of displays, both big and small, without having to purchase their displays outright.
  • Long-term costs: For businesses that attend many trade shows annually, booth rental costs may become a less budget-friendly option over time if you find yourself using the same booth size and similar design again and again. The one-time cost of buying a trade show booth may end up paying off for frequent exhibitors, while consistently renting out trade show displays becomes the more costly option.
  • Rental availability: Businesses looking to rent trade show displays need to be especially mindful of their show’s deadlines. Last-minute booth renters can find themselves with severely limited booth options, while those with purchased displays can avoid the stresses of the time crunch.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Trade Show Booth

Buying a trade show booth can be an excellent investment in your business’ success at exhibitions now and in the future. Just make sure you’re buying a booth for the right reasons. Many exhibitors decide to buy a booth thinking it will save them money, only to find out that it will take longer than they anticipated to reach their break-even point or they need a new booth design or size before then.

Here are some important pros and cons to keep in mind before deciding if you should buy or rent a trade show booth.

Pros of Buying a Booth

  • Save money with a long-term investment: If you actively participate in more than 10 trade shows a year using the same booth size and design, investing in your own custom display may be more cost effective than renting in the long term. While renting may be good for those still testing the waters, putting funds toward a tried and tested booth can be a great option for exhibitors who know what they want and have consistent needs.
  • Perfect your trade show presence with a familiar booth: When you know the ins and outs of your trade show booth, it becomes easier for you and your team to use it to the best of its ability. Purchasing your trade show booth can ensure that your team knows exactly how to set up and navigate your booth without worrying about a new layout for every show. Purchasing your display can help you learn the best ways to utilize and optimize your booth space for many years to come.
  • Make it unique with customization: When you’re buying your trade show booth, you can really make the end product exactly what you want. It’s yours, after all. Buying the booth can allow your organization to craft an experience that is uniquely your own, with fully customized features and textures you can use show after show.
  • Capture the crowd’s attention with new technology: When purchasing a trade show display built to last for many years, you have a great opportunity to invest in a display that truly stands out among the rest. Booth purchasers may be more open to investing in exciting display elements, such as video, custom lighting, and more that will let attendees and potential network connections know that you mean business.

Cons of Buying a Booth

  • More expensive upfront: While buying your custom trade show booth may be a great long-term investment, it requires a lot of money upfront. If you’re currently working with a limited trade show budget, it may be best to continue renting your trade show booths until you’re prepared to handle the expense of a booth purchase.
  • Logistics, management, and maintenance responsibilities and costs: When you own your trade show display outright, your company will be in charge of managing its transport and storage, set up and take down, and repairing any damages that may occur. Not only will these tasks add to your already hefty trade show to-do list, but there are significant costs associated with the storage and shipping logistics of your display. Anyone considering buying a trade show booth should be well prepared to handle these additional responsibilities and costs.
  • Less flexibility from show to show: Though it’s true that purchasing your trade show display can open you up to more customization for a single booth, it also means committing your company to one specific size, layout, and design for many shows to come. As your business grows, changes, or rebrands, your display may no longer meet your needs the way it did when you first purchased it. Before making a trade show booth purchase, consider whether a purchased display will be able to meet your business’ trade show needs and goals in the long term.
  • Renting may be necessary for busy trade show programs: It’s common thinking that purchasing a trade show booth can be a good idea for your organization if you’re going to be exhibiting at a large number of trade shows per year. This raises another risk, however. If your organization is attending two conventions either at the same time or in quick succession, you may end up having to rent a booth anyway. The logistics of bringing your trade show booth directly from one convention center to another across the country in a matter of days may be impossible. If you were counting on being able to use the same booth for every show in your program in order to break even, spending additional money on rentals can be a significant setback.

Deciding if You Should Buy or Rent a Trade Show Booth

You’ve looked at the pros and cons of booth rentals and purchases. You’ve weighed your options. Next comes the question: should you buy or rent a trade show booth?

As you may have gathered, the answer will heavily depend on your situation. Are you an organization that plans to attend a high volume of trade shows with the same size and design of booth? Or is investing in heavy customization for your booth more important to you than choosing the most cost-effective option? In either of these cases, buying may be your best option.

If you’re an organization that is conscious of its budget or values flexibility with a more hands-off approach, then renting may be right for you. If you’re looking for some final tips to decide if you should buy or rent a trade show booth, consider these factors:

  • Trade show booth rental cost vs. purchase cost: Typically, the cost of purchasing an exhibit is going to be approximately three or four times the cost of renting one. Additionally, owning your own exhibit means you will pay out-of-pocket for shipping, set up, storage, maintenance, cleaning supplies, shrink wrap, building materials, electrical, and many other hidden costs associated with running your appearance at a trade show.

A calculation for a booth that costs $20K to rent and $80K to purchase with $16K in costs per show, making the break-even point after 20 shows. In this situation, the trade show booth rental cost is probably better than purchasing.

  • Consider your usage: When you purchase your trade show booth, that’s it. Without sinking in additional money, there are going to be no redesigns or customizations on your initial design. Additionally, you are now locked into the size that you bought that booth in. This will prevent you from remaining versatile between shows, and may leave your organization feeling trapped due to the sunk costs associated with your booth purchase.
  • Evaluate your capabilities: Certain perks come with renting a trade show booth as opposed to purchasing one. These perks are most often meant to take some of the time burden away from your organization. Organizing logistics, construction, deconstruction, on-site management, and other aspects of preparing for expos will inevitably take a significant amount of time, particularly when you or members of your organization are new to exhibiting. Renting your exhibit as opposed to purchasing one will take this burden away from you and your employees.
  • Plan ahead: The best thing you can do when evaluating whether you should buy or rent a trade show booth is to plan ahead. Having a plan ahead of time will assist you in making the decisions necessary to determine whether you should buy or rent your booth and save you money in the long run.

What if you’re somewhere in between? Maybe you would like to go to a high volume of trade shows with the same style of booth, but you don’t want to commit to buying the booth outright. Whatever the case, Cardinal Expo is here to help find a solution.

Want to Buy or Rent a Trade Show Booth? Call on Cardinal Expo!

Whether you decide to buy or rent a trade show booth for your upcoming exhibition, Cardinal Expo is here for you. For three decades, we’ve navigated the ins and outs of the trade show circuit to provide our clients with the products and services they need to succeed as exhibitors. Not only do we offer award-winning trade show booths for any budget, we also provide expert-level trade show services.

From booth design to assistance on the expo floor, Cardinal Expo is your one-stop shop for trade show booths, because we like to offer our clients the most tailored experiences in the trade show and convention industry. Let us help you stand out from the rest of the herd at any budget by contacting us below today.

Contact Us Today

We at Cardinal Expo are here to answer any questions you may have, provide you with additional information, and create an effective solution for your exhibit needs.

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