BY MATTHEW BIRCHARD

With rental rates oftentimes far above retail purchase prices, there are a number of trade show items it’s actually cheaper to throw away at the end of a show.

I’ve been attending and helping coordinate trade shows with my clients for more than a decade with industries as varied as trucking and vending. Over the years, it seems to me that the people really making money are the official show decorators with the contracts to rent items to exhibitors. 

Trade shows are expensive, and a great deal of time, effort and budget goes into successfully exhibiting at a show.  For the uninitiated, costs can be staggering.

Here are six common trade show properties that you are better off buying with the intention of abandoning, raffling off or simply giving away at the end of each show.  Being this wasteful will save you money compared to renting the same item for just the few days of your show.

1.  Extension cords and power strips.  At a show this past April, we ended up paying $40 for two 15 foot extension cords from the show’s Electrical Contractor.  Additionally, the union hourly rate for the Electrician to “install” them was $89 an hour.

2.  Flat screen TVs.  Plasmas, LCD and LED TVs are now very cheap, and Costco stocks a wide selection.  I make it common practice to persuade my clients to buy and ship their own TV, rather than rent one at their show.  Several years back when flat screens were new, we paid about $1,000 for a 37″ rather than $1,500 to rent a 42″.  The 37″ went home with one of the sales reps and apparently got a lot of use out of it in his rec room.  We’ve had success in raffling TVs off at the end of shows as well.

3.  Seating A client of mine once paid $600 to rent a cheap sofa for the interior “lounge” of their booth.  A similar sofa could have been purchased from IKEA for $199, shipped with the rest of the booth, and be put together in a few minutes.

4.  Audio equipment We recently priced out renting a public address system for a client that intended to do product demos at their booth.  The cost to rent the setup was more than $900.  We bought a nicer one online with a wireless lapel mic and a headset for about $700.  We’ll use it again next year because we shipped it home.

5.  Internet.  Rules and regulations often state that you can’t bring in your own internet, and it’s true you can’t get wired internet to your booth from anyone but the official show contractor.  $1,200 for 3 days of wired internet, with one static IP at a DSL speed is not uncommon.  There are companies out there that will rent you a boxed wireless kit for half that, and guarantee it will work in the particular facility where your show is being held.  Granted, this isn’t really buying and abandoning, but it is smart shopping.

6.  Floral If you must have flowers, ficus or decorative palms in your booth, you’ll save a heap of money by renting an SUV or minivan and driving to the local Home Depot, Lowe’s or Wal-Mart to buy your own.  The show decorators are tossing the plants at the end of the show just like you would, but you’re paying a premium for this.

You also need to factor in shipping and drayage (the cost to move your booth properties from the advance warehouse to your booth location), but both are priced by the hundred or century weight, and these six items don’t weigh that much.  Granted you may pay another $80 to $100 to get a sofa to your booth, but you don’t need to pay to take it home.