“To rent or to buy?” is surely one of the earliest conundrums in the history of man. Rental programs for wooly mammoths, however, probably weren’t terribly common. Even so, we humans have long mulled the advantages of owning versus renting. And when it comes to exhibit infrastructure for a tradeshow, we find ourselves facing this age-old question once again.

Although it may seem fairly straightforward, choosing whether to rent or buy exhibit infrastructure should depend on several factors. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to determine which makes the most sense for your company.

What kind of flexibility do you need?

Every company’s needs for exhibit infrastructure will change over time, but some companies may experience greater increments of change than others. For instance, if your business is focused on one product, you may be able to use the same exhibit infrastructure year after year.

On the other hand, if your business is segmented into multiple divisions serving different markets, your exhibit infrastructure needs may change from year to year, or even from event to event. In this scenario, renting will give you the flexibility to rework your exhibit infrastructure as often as needed, keeping you from getting locked into an infrastructure that may—or may not—work for each of your divisions and/or markets.

It’s also worth thinking about your need for flexibility in the future. If you purchase a large amount of exhibit infrastructure and your needs shrink over time, you could risk getting stuck with a very expensive piece of warehouse décor.

How often do you exhibit at tradeshows?

It may be helpful to consider the number of tradeshows on your calendar. If you do only one show a year, buying infrastructure could mean that a substantial amount of capital will sit in storage for 50 weeks of the year. But if you do several shows a year, it may make more sense to buy. While renting requires smaller upfront commitments, rental fees can easily add up over the years. The comparison is not unlike that of renting versus buying a car.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there are ways to get a deal on rental infrastructure. Some providers will let you sign a longer-term (say, three-year) contract in exchange for a discount. And rentals will not require storage or repair. Like infrastructure you own, however, rentals do require customization for each show, which means you’ll still have expenses related to the actual design of your exhibit.

What does the math say?

This is the most important question of all. Like any business decision, determining whether to rent or buy exhibit infrastructure should involve examining the strategic value of each option. We recommend consulting with your finance professionals whenever possible to run the numbers. Perform a cash-flow analysis. Determine how each option fits into your marketing objectives and budget. Using a spreadsheet to create a program evaluation is always helpful.

It’s not always an easy choice.

While these questions are a good place to start, deciding whether to buy or rent exhibit infrastructure may be a hard call to make—especially because there isn’t a significant difference in appearance between the two.

So, if you’re stuck in this conundrum, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We can help you develop a program evaluation, think through each option, and focus on compelling your customers to buy.