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Exhibit Designs / Trade Show and Event Tips / Rental Displays /

The Truth about Trade Show Rentals

Rental Exhibit Truths

Over the past year, I’ve read quite a few articles about renting a trade show exhibit. Most are innocuous, some helpful, but others are just plain wrong.

There are the questions the average exhibitor should ask about rentals but never does. Not because they don’t care, but because it would never occur to them.

Let’s untangle some of the most common misconceptions.

#1. Renting is An Option, Not THE Solution

Some rental-only exhibit companies are touting renting as the only solution. They say, “Why buy when you can rent? No more storage fees. You can change the display for every show. The cost is less.” It sounds attractive, and it’s a solid argument for many exhibitors. However, renting an exhibit, just like leasing a car, can be more expensive than purchasing. It depends on usage, lifespan, ongoing modifications, etc. It’s not as cut and dry as it appears at first glance. It’s important to run the numbers.

And, it’s not an either/or choice. Sometimes it makes sense to purchase a portion of the exhibit, say the main tower or overhead sign, and rent the components, like the counters, workstations, and charging stations. It depends on what you might want to change from show to show. But, again, you have to run the numbers and at least have a “general” vision of your short- and long-term trade show marketing goals.

Finally, sometimes it’s not about the numbers. Some exhibitors want to own their display. Others do not. Cost has little to do with their decision.

#2. Rentals Can Be Customized, Which Isn’t the Same as Custom

Whenever someone tells you your rental exhibit is “custom,” you might want to dig deeper on what “custom” means. It might mean the design is custom, but the components come from stock inventory. Or there are several custom elements which are unique to your exhibit and are being depreciated over multiple rentals, either yours or other future rental clients. Or you are basically “purchasing” the custom element, but everyone is calling it a rental since you won’t own it.

While it’s true, you can technically get a custom exhibit as a rental, there are always strings attached such as a commitment to multiple rentals or a higher price for the one-time rental.

In most cases, a rental exhibit is a “customized” display using stock components, based on a preexisting or “customized” design, and client-specific graphics.

#3. You Rent the Structure, But You Own the Graphics

Remember you are renting the structure, but you own the graphics. Each time you change the messaging, you are buying new graphics. Be realistic about how often you plan to update your graphics. Clients often assume they will reuse the graphics 3-4 times, but marketing campaigns aren’t like a pair of jeans. They change. Sometimes every single show.

#4. Your Rental Components May Be Used for Another Client’s Rental

Recently, I read a blog post where the rental exhibit supplier said that your rental property would never be used for another rental. If that’s true, it’s either the smartest or the dumbest business model I’ve ever heard. Now, in the real world, rental components are reused. That’s why rental exhibits can be less expensive. Duh?! Does that mean another exhibitor will have exactly the same design as you? Perhaps, but it’s very unlikely since every exhibit has unique needs and distinctive graphics. However, the modular aluminum wall used in Job ABC will get reused two months later on Job XYZ. And then again, until it’s no longer serviceable as a rental component. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous. 

#5. Size Matters. Inventory Matters. Design Matters.

Do you remember when I said that there are companies ranging from one employee to several thousand employees? Those companies all have different rental capabilities, either in-house or through a strategic partner. No one has an unlimited budget to stock every possible rental design. Ask yourself this… Is the design guided by their limited rental inventory or by your trade show design requirements? Whatever rental company you choose, they should treat the process as if you were purchasing a display, and the final display should look visually indistinguishable from a new exhibit.

#6. Packaging Matters. Instructions Matter. Quality Matters. 

Here’s the very sad truth. No exhibitor ever asks about packaging, setup instructions, or quality, particularly on a rental property. And aside from design capabilities and inventory, nothing distinguishes an OK rental supplier from an AMAZING one than packaging, instructions, and quality. Too often, exhibitors save money by renting an exhibit only to piss it all away during setup and assembly on the show floor.

You should expect detailed drawings, numbered or labeled components, photos (showing where the supplier pre-assembled it at their facility), jigged packaging/crating, and clean hardware. The hardware should appear new or newish, not like it just fell off the truck, rolled around in the dirt, and then was tossed into a crate. When you open the crate, it should make you smile, not cringe in fear.

#7. Rentals are a Long-term Partnership with Your Exhibit Supplier

Depending on the rental schedule, you are going to see each other a lot. And, based on that ongoing relationship, you are going to flourish or falter. Exhibit rentals require a communication commitment. What’s your show schedule? Does the design need to change? Were there any issues at the last show? How about new graphics? Is your next show an inline vs. an island? When do you want to booth to ship and are there any services you need such as rental furniture, I&D, electrical, flooring, etc.

Rentals force both sides to communicate, often far in advance. It doesn’t take long to decide whether it’s a fit or whether it’s time for you to start seeing other people. But, when it does work, it’s a beautiful thing.

One final piece of advice — not all suppliers are equally good at both. Your current supplier may be a magician at designing a custom exhibit but lack the skills, interest, or inventory to pull the rental rabbit out of a hat. Being good at one is no guarantee of being good at the other. Ask the hard questions and be willing to work with someone else if anything seems amiss.

In the end, your rental experience should be no different from a purchase, whether during the exploratory and design process or at the show. Always expect the best.

Have questions? Give us a call or send us an email. We would love to chat with you.

Article Author:

Mel White
Classic Exhibits Inc.

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  • Production lead times are based on business days and DO NOT include any shipping days.
  • Production-ready artwork (when applicable) must accompany the order confirmation. Delays in uploading artwork may lead to expedited charges or shipping changes.
  • No order will be released to Production without a signed order confirmation.
  • Shipping is based on the availability of materials and graphics. Additional charges may apply if materials or graphics must be expedited.
  • Shorter lead times may be available based on schedule openings in Customer Service and Production. Rush charges may apply.
  • Standard lead times do not apply to orders of multiple quantities.
  • Please check for product availability on ALL RENTAL exhibits.
Exhibit Weight varies depending on the packaging and the shipping method. Variables include but are not limited to:
  • Dimensional Weight vs. Actual Weight: Dimensional weight is defined as crate or case size. On most air shipments, the dimensional weight exceeds the actual weight
  • Portable Cases vs. Wood Crates or Molded Tubs (where applicable): Exhibit designs that require one wood crate would require multiple portable cases. Selecting one vs. the other affects the total weight (dimensional or actual).
  • Freight Carrier: LTL carriers (Less than Truckload) quote freight based on space used. UPS, FedEx, and air freight carriers quote freight based on either the dimensional or the actual weight of the shipment.
  • Freight Service Level (number of days): Service levels range from Same Day Delivery to Two Week Delivery.
For more information about exhibit weights and freight options, please contact your local exhibit representative.
Electrical, Cord, and Wire Management varies depending on the display and each exhibitor's requirements. When ordering your trade show display, consider the following electrical/wire management issues and discuss your options with an exhibit professional:
  • Inline vs. Island Displays
  • Lead Retrieval Devices
  • Computer and Monitor Cables
  • Demo Equipment
  • Overhead Lighting
  • Grommets and Grommet Placement in Counters
  • Overhead vs. Floor Power Supply
  • Flooring and Electrical Wiring
  • Options for Hiding Cords and Cables
  • Flat vs. Round Electrical Cords
  • Multi-Plug Outlets and Extension Cords
By reviewing your wiring options BEFORE you order your display, you'll save TIME and MONEY and ensure your exhibit exceeds your expectations and your installation is trouble-free.
  Sunday 8 December 2019
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