“Is it better to rent or buy our trade show exhibit?” You’ll likely ask yourself that important question when considering a new display, pulling together next year’s marketing budget, or reviewing your overall show schedule. The right answer will improve your brand and stretch your budget further.

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

How much flexibility do you need?

Every company’s needs for exhibit structure 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 structure year after year.

On the other hand, if your business is segmented into multiple divisions serving different markets, your exhibit structure 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 structure as often as needed, keeping you from getting locked into a structure 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 structure and your needs shrink over time, you could risk getting stuck with a very expensive piece of warehouse décor. You may also need more flexibility if you expect to soon (or often!), especially from a merger or acquisition.

KHS rental trade show exhibits flexibility for multiple sizes

KHS North America chose to rent their exhibits for a custom look that also provided the flexibility to mirror their global exhibits and easily adapt to different booth sizes. See more pictures of the KHS custom rental exhibits here.

Vital custom rental island trade show exhibit

Vital made a huge impact with this large custom rental trade show exhibit. And their capital budget was not wasted when they were soon after bought out and they merged with Canon Group. See more pictures of the Vital custom rental exhibit here.

How often do you exhibit at trade shows?

It may be helpful to consider the number of trade shows on your calendar. If you do only one show a year, buying exhibit structure 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 time. The comparison is not unlike that of renting versus buying a car.

However, there are also situations where you exhibit at many shows but you still rent parts of your exhibit. For example, you purchase exhibit components that you will use at several shows a year, and only rent the additional components you need for your largest, one-time show.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there are ways to get a deal on rental structure. 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 structure you own, however, rentals may customization for each show, which means you’ll still have expenses related to the actual design of your exhibit.

NISC 40 x 40 custom rental trade show booth at Tech Advantage Expo

NISC used parts of this 40 x 40 custom rental exhibit for a 20 x 20 space at a different show, which helped with the cost sharing between shows. See more views of the NISC custom rental exhibit here.

Do you need to go all-out at a major show?

Even if your annual budget would be better served by owning your island exhibit, you still may want to make a huge splash at a singular event. In that case, you may choose exhibit rental. That’s because you can get a more impactful exhibit design, with a bigger structure and more graphics, by renting for that one show than you could if you bought it.

This comes as a surprise to some exhibitors, whose outdated perception of rental exhibits as being limited to generic designs. The reality is that you can easily customize any rental with specific elements to make it more unique and present a custom look. Thus, there is not a significant difference in the look between rental and purchase.

In fact, when shown photos of custom exhibits, most exhibitors can’t identify which are purchase and which are rentals. Look at the photos in this article – if you hadn’t known they were all rentals, would you have been able to tell?

Rad AI 20 x 30 custom rental trade show exhibit at RSNA

Rad AI made a bigger impression by choosing custom rental for their very first ever trade show. See more photos of the Rad AI custom rental exhibit here.

What does the math say?

This is the most important question of all. Like any business decision, determining whether to rent or buy exhibit structure should involve examining the strategic value of each option. Determine how each option fits into your marketing objectives and budgets (both your departmental budget and your company’s capital budget). Gather up all the costs, including the ongoing storage and maintenance cost of owning. We recommend consulting with your finance professionals whenever possible to run the numbers.

Sick custom rental trade show exhibit with large arches theater screen double deck product displays

SICK chose this stylish, two-story rental exhibit because it gave them flexibility in the future without requiring a capital expenditure. See more views of the SICK exhibit here.

It’s not always an easy choice.

While these questions are a good place to start, deciding whether to buy or rent your exhibit structure may be a hard call to make—especially when 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 evaluate your program, think through each option, and if you want, create a compelling exhibit design you can either rent or buy.