When considering an exhibit, the dilemma around renting versus owning can be a challenge. There are definite situations where each option is most attractive. With both rental and custom exhibits, graphics are easily updated when a refresh is needed. Structural components, accents like lighting and surface treatments are the largest physical variables between the two types.
The largest major consideration in renting or owning is often cost. Ownership requires a higher upfront investment, but offers lower long-term outlays. Conversely, rentals are far less expensive at the initial use, but with repeated use rentals incur far more cost outlay in the longer term. The decision on rental versus ownership should be made in conjunction with the financial experts in your organization.
The generally accepted industry guideline is that a single rental costs approximately 1/3 the cost of ownership for the same custom-built exhibit. And exhibits carry a three-to-five year lifespan.
With an estimated build cost of $60K, rental of a similarly-sized exhibit lands at approximately $20K. Renting three times a year for five years racks up $300K in expense, but exhibit purchase is $60K with a five-year usable life on a depreciable asset. Ownership does bring additional costs, such as storage, maintenance, insurance and disposal fees, but even with all that, the long-term outlay in this ownership scenario would be far less than $300K.
Custom Build Ownership
Firms with stable, well-established branding often choose to own exhibit properties. These are usually exhibitors with very active trade show schedules including more than three to five shows annually.
Exhibitors who want a totally branded, immersive experience can choose from infinite customization options in lighting, material surfaces, colors, flooring, display, furniture, hardware – even bells and whistles, literally! Strong branding is reflected in every surface in an exhibit like the Muck Boots exhibit shown here. The use of stone, wood and natural plants reflects their branding as an outdoor brand.
For SHOT show 2018 Acer worked with five different clients, all with very different branding needs, to create custom environments as seen in this video.
Clients with unique spatial needs also prefer ownership, particularly if large or multiple meeting rooms must be incorporated into the space. Our client L3 Technologies required three conference rooms during a recent AUSA show. (Watch a time-lapse build of this exhibit here.) Since exhibit floor space is the largest portion of any trade show budget, they smartly opted for second-story decks to house these conference rooms. With functional needs such as this, a full rental program would not be cost-effective for L3. At any time, though, they are able to supplement their owned properties with rental properties for special purposes.
Owned properties are often designed with more versatility, and can be scaled for various exhibit sizes. The same properties used to create these large exhibits can be used to set up small 10’x20’ spaces, when the exhibitor is doing a lower priority or smaller show, or has two shows running concurrently.
Many people falsely think rental exhibits look identical. In fact, each rental is custom-designed to suit the client, but using a more limited selection of materials. Rentals are often built from panel grids which allow for countless configurations. One Acer designer likens this to building with Lego® blocks – the materials are always the same but how they are put together is different every time. With the addition of hanging signs, assorted furniture and customized graphics, it is often hard to distinguish a rental exhibit from a custom exhibit.
Rental is an excellent option for infrequent or new exhibitors; it’s a great tool for testing designs and layouts. Companies with a comprehensive re-brand, merger or acquisition looming may wish to use rental displays to retain flexibility. Consider renting with a graphics-heavy display requiring a lot of open floor space for machinery and equipment displays, where little structure is needed.
Here at Acer, we have two different types of rental options: standard and custom. A standard rental will be comprised of panel assemblies, as mentioned above. Use of these panel systems is evident in the QIAGEN and Smiths Detection exhibits shown here. However, each space is constructed to meet the client’s space and brand aesthetics. Graphics and hanging signs add branding and unique elements to different structural elements.
Custom rentals include certain elements which are customizable to various degrees. For example, a reception counter with changeable laminate panels to coordinate with brand colors, light-box graphic kiosks, and furniture assortments can be implemented for a more custom look. Eforce Software chose a wood panel treatment for the structural tower in their exhibit, while Harris Pharmaceutical opted for a clear panel with graphic embellishment on the same overhead structural element.
A mix of the two is often an option, depending upon the policies of your exhibit house. Here at Acer, hybrid purchase/rental arrangements are common. One example where this might be a good idea is for an event sponsorship. An event sponsor might need to add a second reception counter for a promotion related to the sponsorship. This can be achieved with a rental. Unique touches like water walls and charging stations are frequent rentals, which organizations may not want to purchase outright.
Rent-to-own is possible, but uncommon given the expected 3-5 year lifespan of trade show properties.
Renting and buying are both viable options for many organizations. Be sure to talk with your exhibit house about their rental offerings and the differences between custom builds and rentals. Either way, there are many ways to Ignite Brand Pride during your next exhibit.