Trade Show Furniture – Purchase vs. Rental

Coordinating a trade show requires making a number of decisions...

March 20, 2024

Blog post provided by Xibita
Author: Hanif Muljiani

Coordinating a trade show requires making a number of decisions, one of which is furniture. Whether you require a simple bar table with a couple of bar stools or a full lounge, you must decide whether to buy or rent furniture.

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Sierra Wireless exhibit, courtesy of Xibita

The choice to rent or buy comes down to a couple of considerations:

  1. Furniture requirements
  2. Cost – initial, freight, material handling
  3. Your overall trade show program

Furniture requirements are the first consideration. Simply put, if you require specific furniture (e.g., a green leather sofa) and no one will have it available for rent, your choice is pretty simple. However, for most exhibitors, their needs are usually not that specific, so adjusting choices to suit the rental inventory is easily done.

When we get into cost, there are three areas to consider:

  • Initial cost – What will it cost to buy the furniture and have it shipped to your office or exhibit company, if that is where you store your exhibit? In the initial cost, you will also need to consider packaging, as you will want to protect your furniture. You may have space within your exhibit crates, but if not, you will have to add the cost of building a crate specifically for the furniture. Shipping furniture that is not crated adds significant risk of damage. The final cost to consider is additional storage charges if you are storing anything off-site.
  • Freight – There is also the cost of shipping the furniture to the trade show venue. However, as you will likely ship the furniture when you ship your exhibit, the incremental cost is usually not significant.
  • Material handling – This is the expense for a local carrier to get your exhibit to your booth once it arrives at the show hall. The weight is calculated per 100 pounds of material. Rates vary considerably, but for this article, I’ve used the rate for SEMICON West, which is held in San Francisco every June: $102.75 US per 100 pounds. It’s also important to be aware that the weight is rounded up to the next 100 pounds, which means that a 501-pound shipment will be charged as 600 pounds.

I have chosen some typical furniture items – a bar stool, bar tables and a sofa – and have cost them out, both as a purchase and as a rental at SEMICON West.

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This bar stool is widely available – I found it online for $92 US + taxes with free shipping. To rent this bar stool at the show, the cost would be $219 US + taxes. The weight is 50 pounds, and the volume is 2.5 cubic feet.

Below are two bar tables. The one on the left, which is from a local BC retailer, costs $199 CDN + taxes (or $150 US + taxes). The table on the right is available for rent for $225 US + taxes. The major difference is that the rental table comes in different colours and it is height-adjustable. In both cases, the weight is 60 pounds and the volume for an assembled table is 22 cubic feet.

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Finally, I went looking for a sofa. The sofa on the left, which is from IKEA, costs $349 CDN + taxes (or $265 US + taxes), weighs around 100 pounds and is 31 cubic feet. The sofa on the right, which costs $525 US to rent, has a similar weight and cubic volume.

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The next thing you need to know is the weight and cubic volume of a typical crate. Although crates come in all sizes, an exhibit crate typically weighs 300 pounds, and has a volume of 128 cubic feet (4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet). Crates usually cost around $500.

For this example, let’s say you need two bar tables, six bar stools and one sofa. The cubic volume and weight are as follows:

  • Bar stools – 6 x 2.5 cubic feet each = 15 cubic feet; 6 x 60 pounds each = 360 pounds
  • Bar tables – 2 x 22 cubic feet each = 44 cubic feet; 2 x 50 pounds each = 100 pounds
  • Sofa – 1 x 31 cubic feet = 31 cubic feet; 1 x 100 pounds = 100 pounds

This gives us a total volume of 90 cubic feet. The total 560-pound weight of the bar stools, bar tables and sofa added to the 300-pound weight of the crate results in a total of 860 pounds.

Cost Comparison

PurchaseRentBar stools (6 x $92)$553$1,314Bar tables (2 x $150)$300$450Sofa$265$525Crate$500$0Material handling*$925$0Freight (estimate)$500$0Total$3,043$2,289

*Calculated as 860 pounds/100 = 8.6, rounded up to 9 x $102.75 = $924.75

The cost of owning your furniture is greater than renting; so, in this case, it makes more sense to rent. However, this is where the final consideration – your overall trade show program – comes into play.

To elaborate further, imagine that your company has a typical trade show schedule and does two US shows per year. We will also assume that the expected life of the furniture will coincide with the lifespan of a typical exhibit structure, which is three years. Running the cost comparison for six shows (assuming no storage costs), the results give you something else to consider:

Cost Comparison Over Six Shows

PurchaseRentBar stools$0$1,314Bar tables$0$450Sofa$0$525Crate$0$0Material handling$925$0Freight (estimate)$500$0Total$1,425$2,289

This shows savings of $864 per show, which would add up to total savings of $5,184 US over six shows. Of course, you would also have to factor in the risk of damage to the furniture, or potential loss of the furniture. Additionally, you would have to factor in freight, storage and material handling costs for six shows.

If you are dealing with a knowledgeable trade show exhibit manufacturer, they will typically go over all aspects of your trade show program and will certainly cover furniture options. And their services division can help you calculate the costs of renting vs. owning furniture.

One final thought: there are occasions where modular furniture can be the perfect solution for your trade show furniture needs. Modular furniture is light, compact and, best of all, inexpensive. The results can also be quite impressive, as you can see from the photo of the booth that was custom-built for Sanofi Diabetes and used at a Vancouver trade show.

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Although the client needed a significant number of chairs, their budget did not allow for rental. IKEA footstools were used as seats. At a cost of $59 per footstool, this fit nicely within the client’s budget and added to the overall visual appeal.

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