Many of my clients interested in the German or EU market shied away from exhibiting at a trade show in Germany. Their main argument? „It’s too expensive.“
And it’s true, trade shows are expensive. The specific costs depend on a variety of factors, so contact the show organizers for a quote well in advance of the show. Some shows sell out quickly, so don’t bet on getting a last-minute discount.
If you are in principle interested in exhibiting at a show, but you are not quite whether it’s worth it, I would suggest that you attend the show as a visitor first. That way you only have to pay for travel, accommodation and the admission fee, but you will get a feel for the show.
Let’s look at the direct and indirect costs of participation, and a few ways to economize.
Cost of Exhibiting
Yes, exhibiting at German shows is expensive. But you also get a lot in return.
For most shows, your rental costs includes:
- Booth space (minimum square-footage applies)
- Actual divider walls around your booth
- A lockable counter (you don’t want to leave any valuable in there, though)
- One or two bar stools
- Electricity and lighting
- Signage above your booth
- Listing in the exhibitors‘ directory
- A certain number of exhibitor passes
As you book more space, you get more furniture and passes included. You can also rent all sorts of other furniture and equipment at extra cost, or hire temporary staff (typically university students) to hand out brochures etc.
Of course you can also rent just the space and build your own custom booth. This is typically only an option for large spaces.
Your booth needs to be staffed. You cannot just put some brochures and business cards on your counter and then leave.
I wouldn’t suggest relying on the temporary staff you can hire through the show, or on „my neighbor’s cousin has a friend in Germany whose son…“ You want competent people on your booth who can answer your visitors‘ questions and who will represent your company. This means, in many cases, flying out at least two company staff.
Shipping Your Goods
Remember that you will have to ship your goods into and back out of Germany. This will cost you some time and effort. You will want to make sure your documents are in order so you don’t run into tax and customs issues.
If your government or your national industry association organize a pavilion, this can be a great opportunity to economize. One large pavilion space is split among many small exhibitors, so you can usually get fewer sqm than if you rented your own space. Moreover, you often get better visibility because the pavilion gets a more prominent location. Especially first-time exhibitors with small booths often get placed in less-desirable locations where they may be hard to find and get little foot traffic. I once spoke to a very unhappy Canadian exhibitor who had been placed behind a very large corporate booth with high walls. They were basically invisible. A large country pavilion will get a better spot.
However: make sure the pavilion is in the right exhibition hall for you. Especially at large shows, exhibition halls house different „topics“. For example, look at this map for Hannover Messe 2023. Let’s say you are in Lightweight Design, so you want to be in hall 3-4. Your country pavilion, you learn, is in, say, hall 9. As you can see from the map, hall 9 houses completely different topics. Any visitor looking specifically for Lightweight Design will head primarily to halls 3 and 4, and may well miss you entirely if you are in hall 9.
Trade shows are major events that draw thousands of visitors. As a consequence, hotel rates are much higher than usual. Still, hotels book out very quickly, especially those near the trade-show grounds.
Book your accommodation as early as possible. Many trade-show regulars always stay in the same place and make bookings for the following year as they check out.
Economize by staying not in the city itself, but in surrounding areas. For instance, if Frankfurt is too expensive, Wiesbaden ist just a quick S-Bahn ride away. When attending shows in Cologne, I typically stayed in Dusseldorf and vice versa. Large cities typically have strong public-transportation networks that help you get around. Google Maps and similar programs can help you determine connections. This is probably only an option if you are a visitor – as an exhibitor you want to minimize your daily commute to the show.
Another way to economize is by simply staying at a more affordable hotel. Germany is a safe country, where budget hotels are safe too. If you have safety concerns, I’d avoid dodgy areas, usually near train stations.
Trade show food is typically expensive and of mediocre quality. Economize by bringing a sandwich, a piece of fruit or other snacks.
While restaurants don’t raise their prices during large events, they get booked out quickly, especially in the city center. It’s always possible to find fast food, or get a table in the more outlying neighborhoods (though you would have to know where you are going). Economize by getting take-away (fast) food, or by renting an apartment with kitchen facilities.