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Should You Rent or Buy Your Exhibit?


An interview with Linda Rubin, Vice President, Exhibits, Shepard

Deciding whether to rent or buy your trade show exhibit is a vital decision for companies, and making the right choice requires more consideration than just the immediate price tag. I sat down with Linda Rubin, Vice President, Exhibits at Shepard to explore which factors come into play in the decision process, and how to make the best use of your budget to create a successful brand experience.

Q: What are the key factors in determining if you should rent or buy?

A: Every organization is different, so exhibit managers and decision makers should start by asking key discovery questions to better understand their unique program and to create a plan on how to best move forward in creating success for your brand:

  • What is your exhibit schedule?
  • What are the key objectives of your exhibit?
  • Is your company likely to rebrand in the next five years?
  • How is your organization structured and what financial institutions might come into play?
  • What is the economic forecast and business climate in your industry?

Typically, these are the fundamental questions that drive the decision-making process; however, since every company is unique, I recommend holding a brainstorming session with the key stakeholders to explore other questions more specific to your brand and industry that may also need to be addressed.

Q: What are the key advantages of renting an exhibit? What about buying?

A: There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to both renting and buying, but whether you choose one or the other depends on your company’s unique needs and exhibit patterns, as determined through a discovery process.

In recent years, we’ve seen a large increase in the number of companies deciding a rental is their best option.  Oftentimes their trade show schedule is driving the need– multiple exhibit spaces in varying sizes, overlapping events, short windows between events with not enough time to transport their own exhibit.  These are all great reasons to select a rental.  Also, with more and more international participants at U.S. events, the option of renting fits well for them—a turnkey exhibit that meets the correct show guidelines, with one point of contact for all aspects of the fulfillment makes exhibiting easier.

Companies with smaller event and marketing staffs often rely on the resources and industry experience that accompanies a rental that has been outsourced to an exhibit vendor.  Managing a tradeshow program can be time consuming with arranging for the various services needed, managing the budgets, ensuring the onsite activities are handled correctly and on time. Rentals are an attractive option to less experienced exhibitors because it offers a one-stop solution.

Rentals tend to be more cost inclusive and less costly in comparison to the true investment of buying your exhibit. You get a bit more creative flexibility to completely change your exhibit at each trade show opportunity. However, if you’re exhibiting more than a few times a year, the total amount you will spend in rentals in one year could also be used to purchase an exhibit.

Purchasing an exhibit can be the preferred option if your company plans to exhibit consistently throughout the year with the same build and wants to retain equity in that investment for years of exhibiting to come.

Q: If I buy an exhibit for long term use, how can you help me retain value?

A: Creating value is our specialty. It starts with truly understanding our customer’s needs and what success looks like to them and their brand. At Shepard, each member of our team is extensively trained in conducting deep dive discovery sessions. Through this extensive pre-planning process, we assess the needs of the exhibitor and recommend dynamic designs with a cost-effective strategy in mind. This is where our expertise truly comes in handy. We have an arsenal of experience-driven, value-retention techniques that we will put to work tirelessly for your brand.

The key to creating new experiences each time you exhibit is incorporating dynamic designs, such as:

  • Creating environments that allow for the rotation of graphics. Printing and installing new graphics are much more budget-friendly than redesigning the whole exhibit.
  • Incorporating AV into the exhibit. You can use lights, audio, and visual elements along with new technology to create fresh experiences.
  • Building a space that allows for different flooring options. A red carpet vs. a wooden floor can create a whole new look and feel.

We’ve also worked with many clients on re-imagining spaces using assets from their purchase to create new experiences. Recently we worked with ASUG to reconfigure their custom build. Following the launch of their new exhibit at their main annual event, we surveyed attendees and used their feedback to redesign the exhibit layout using the same components.

Q: If I buy an exhibit, what are the storage, transportation and maintenance costs I need to consider?

A: It is critical to understand long term maintenance, storage, and transportation costs on the front-end of buying. At Shepard, we consult with all our clients to make sure they understand costs associated with the exhibit beyond the design, build and installation. We urge them to consider drayage, building crates for storage, freight, and more. We help our clients get a full scope of their investment and associated costs, so the purchase can be fully budgeted in the pre-planning stages, eliminating any surprise costs.

One thing I frequently see clients fail to consider in pre-planning are economic conditions and inflation— an economic down-turn or even a spike in fuel prices can easily eat away at value or multiply your costs. Your exhibit could also get damaged in transit. Larger exhibits with heavier pieces tend to get pricey and are more likely to become damaged. We work to strategically minimize these types of costs and to help decrease the likelihood of damage to the structure in the installation, dismantle, and shipping processes.

Q: What innovative services does Shepard Exhibits offer to rental customers or buyers? What is the advantage of renting or buying from Shepard Exhibits?

A: When you work with Shepard Exhibits, you are gaining a team of committed advocates for your brand. Our Exhibits team combined boasts well over 150 years of experience in the exhibition and events industry. From this wealth of experience, we have crafted a thorough discovery process that will lead to the best choices for your brand and exhibit. We pride ourselves on financial transparency and are committed to providing you with a quality product that makes sense for your budget and your brand goals. You also get the support and vast resources that an exhibit house uniquely nestled within a general service contractor (GSC) can offer.

Q: What are some pieces of advice you’d give a decision maker who is on the fence about renting or buying?

A: My best piece of advice is to first and foremost make sure that you have aligned yourself with people that are your partners, that you can trust, who are looking out for the complete picture for your company. Select a vendor whose business values align with yours, and who you feel confident you can trust to advocate for you as their client for years to come. If you choose wisely, your newfound business partner will guide you and your brand to success!


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