By Embarq Creative

A common rule of thumb in the trade show world is that if you plan on using an exhibit more than three times, it’s more cost effective to purchase the property than continuously rent it. While this is generally correct, it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all rule that applies to every program. Custom exhibits offer a lot of unique qualities that a rental might not provide, among them being that they set you apart from the competition and allow you to engage your attendees with a unique environment. That said, rental stands are not what they were 10 or even five years ago, when many options looked boxy and boring. Today, rental components that formerly came as part of standard packages can often be mixed and matched so that your booth looks quite unique.

To help you determine if owning a custom property would be the right move for your program, here are a few common scenarios you might find yourself in while deciding between renting or purchasing an exhibit, along with key points to consider before pulling the trigger.

You have a limited budget. Custom exhibits offer more flexibility and fewer limitations than rentals, but they frequently come with bigger price tags and higher up-front costs. Therefore, exhibitors with tight budgets instinctively think that the best option is to rent, but this isn’t always the case. Look at the whole picture and consider how many times you’ll be exhibiting, the shipping and drayage costs associated with both options, storage fees, etc.

You are worried about your booth looking like a rental. Depending on which system you use and the provider you choose to work with, rental exhibits run the gamut from inexpensive and somewhat plain to dynamic designs that you’d never know are not custom. Many rentals use modular systems made from frames and/or aluminum extrusions that can be reconfigured in thousands of different ways and skinned with custom graphics so that you’ll stand apart from other exhibitors using the same system.


Your footprint varies from show to show. This is a recurring situation that leaves many exhibitors wondering if they should purchase a custom booth or rent because they won’t necessarily need every exhibit component for every show. Let’s say that your company exhibits in one 30-by-50-foot island booth every year, and all the rest of your booths are in-lines. In this case, creating a hybrid exhibit by mixing custom and rental components is often the solution that makes the most financial and logistical sense. This route offers the best of both worlds by allowing you to allocate extra funds to custom exhibitry that will be focal points in all your stands regardless of their size.

Your exhibit has to travel to multiple cities with very close show dates. Post pandemic, many shows have been rescheduled, causing tighter show calendars and overlapping event dates. At the end of the day, if your owned booth just can’t make it everywhere you need it to go and your shipping expenses are going through the roof, you might choose a custom exhibit as your main design but rent a property for smaller events or shows in more distant locations. So sit down with your trade show calendar and establish where a custom purchased exhibit will give you the most bang for your buck. Once you’ve made these determinations, ask your exhibit house if it has facilities or partners in the cities where you plan to use a rental to potentially save you from high shipping costs.

Your company’s messaging changes based on the target audience at a particular show. If your program requires that the majority of exhibit components be modified and reconfigured, you are likely going to be better off with a custom stand.  This could be the case for exhibitors who have complex wire-management needs or those whose companies have strict brand standards that mandate that everything from shelving to extrusions be a specific Pantone color.  On the flip side, if you just need to change out the occasional graphic and message, a rental booth might work just fine. Since rental systems are often built to accommodate SEG or hard-panel infills, you can rent a booth and purchase a series of graphics that can be swapped out to target the audience you’re trying to reach.

You’re a U.S. company planning to exhibit overseas, and you aren’t sure where to start. If you are launching an international exhibiting program, the logistics of getting your custom stand cleared through customs alone is a stressful item to add to your to-do list, and the shipping costs will be astronomical. If you do decide to ship your purchased stand overseas, be sure to work with a carrier that has been vetted to ship internationally. That said, if you’re only exhibiting overseas once or twice a year, it will almost always make more sense to either rent a booth in or near the show city or opt for a build-and-burn stand. A build-and-burn is exactly what it sounds like: an exhibit that is set up once and then destroyed. This can be a one-off stand created by an international supplier, or another option would be to see if your domestic exhibit house has an overseas partner that can recreate your existing design.


The bottom line is that you should develop a relationship with an exhibit vendor with expertise in these areas, and a consultative approach to helping you make the best decisions for your company.  Investing the time upfront will surely result in a more successful outcome on the show floor and beyond!