By Candy Adams, The Booth Mom®

Have you ever heard the saying, “Gillette didn’t get rich selling razors”?  It reminds me of comparing the cost of my exhibit (the reusable razor handle) to the ongoing cost of show services (the disposable blades) and considering which one will ultimately impact my budget more.

How long has it been since you’ve looked at the annual amortized cost of your exhibit properties compared to your overall show services expenses? I think if you do a comparison, you might be unpleasantly surprised at the low cost of your “razor” when compared to the steadily rising cost of your “blades” at each and every show. 

Next, think back to when your current exhibit was designed and built. In your request for proposal (RFP) to build your current display properties, how much emphasis was put on the aesthetics (what I call the “beauty contest” aspect of exhibit design) versus building efficiency into your exhibit logistics? Did you specify in your RFP that the proposals were to estimate all show costs required to support their proposed exhibit, and that your exhibit was to be designed for both the effectiveness of meeting your show goals and ongoing economy? 

Most exhibit RFPs I’ve reviewed don’t call out the ways they’d like the exhibit to be designed with cost savings in mind – like looking at:

  • The size of the shipping containers to optimize space use in the type of carrier you use
  • The weight of the exhibit properties that impact both your shipping and material handling bills (with the cost of shipping estimated to go up at least 20 percent in 2018 due to the new regulations on electronic data logs [aka EDL] and rising fuel prices, that will show up on our shipping bills as fuel surcharges)
  • The construction variables like the types of materials used to build your exhibit, their resistance to damage during shipping and set-up, and the number and type of connectors and tools required that increase installation & dismantle (I & D) complexity and labor costs
  • Cost-saving options for other show services like hanging signs, electrical power and exhibit furnishings such as flooring, vacuuming, AV and internet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in focusing on the intrinsic value of meeting my clients’ show goals with eye-popping exhibits, not considering just their cost. But these two goals don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I also believe in keeping an eye on the bottom line and enlisting my vendors’ resourceful help by communicating my cost concerns.  

And exhibitors are often their own worst enemy. After the show, many exhibitors just sign off on single-line invoices presented to them without understanding exactly what they’re paying for and learning the “Why?” behind the charges. Without this knowledge, it’s almost impossible to achieve meaningful long-term cost savings. When auditing invoices, ask hard questions based on detailed back-up documentation.   

Due to hemorrhaging red ink on its budget’s bottom line, I was recently contracted to complete a forensic audit of an exhibitor’s show services invoices. The five biggest budget overruns I uncovered were caused by:

  • The exhibit house’s turnkey management fees that included a flat 35 percent mark-up for contracting and managing payment of all show services (which was a disincentive for reducing show services’ costs) plus late show-service orders and payments causing the loss of “early-bird” discounts –- resulting in even higher turnkey charges
  • The general services contractor’s promised post-show credits that were never processed (and those that were weren’t passed on to the client by their exhibit house)
  • Invoices based on higher pre-show quotes, not lower actual post-show invoices
  • Math errors and undisclosed “ancillary fees” on the shipping and I & D bills
  • Numerous overcharges for items with no contract or order to back them up

These “errors” were causing almost 25 percent higher show service costs with no added value! 

My wise ol’ Dad taught me that if I watched the pennies, the dollars would take care of themselves. Each of these individual cost-cutting tactics may seem trivial, but they can add up to a big difference with budget left to invest in goal-reaching campaigns.

Candy Adams, CTSM | CEM | CMP | CMM, affectionately known throughout the trade show industry as “The Booth Mom®” for sharing her expertise and experience with rookie exhibitors, is the definitive source for exhibiting best practices and cost-cutting. With 25+ years’ experience as an exhibit project manager, 450+ shows under her belt, 20+ years as EXHIBITOR Magazine’s award-winning columnist of “Exhibiting 101” and conference faculty member for EXHIBITORLIVE, she's the go-to guru for exhibit management. Candy provides hands-on freelance exhibit project management, consulting and exhibit staff training to exhibitors wanting stronger show results through her company, Trade Show Consulting.

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