exhibition stand costs

AKA: “Just tell me the $&%£* budget!”

By Mark Powell

How much does a custom build exhibition stand cost?

Before I even attempt to answer that question you should be asking yourself another: Is a custom build stand right for our company?  Fact is, custom build doesn’t suit everyone.  There are many great modular systems out there that do a very good job, for both small and big stands.  A modular system may be better for what you have planned than a custom built solution, so if you’re still not sure after you’ve read this, then go and check out the modular systems and see if there’s something there that will be a better fit for you and your company.

exhibition stand costs
trade show booth price

But I really want a custom build stand – just tell me how much they are!

If I could answer that one I’d also be the go-to guy for measuring string.  Unfortunately it’s like asking “How much does a car cost?” without specifying which car you’re talking about.  Supercar or Super-Mini?  Add to that the fact that you’re trying to cost a stand that hasn’t even been designed yet, and you can see where the difficulty lies!  That said, there are things that will affect the cost of any stand and some ‘rules of thumb’ that will at least give us an idea of cost for any stand.  So, whilst the following is not an exact scientific stand costing formula, it will hopefully give an insight into the likely costs you will incur if you decide to go ‘custom build’.

Cost per square metre

This is a very rough way of calculating likely cost.  I’ve started with it as it is the most common way of answering the ‘how much’ question, though the answer should really incorporate all the other points first to give the most accurate estimate (for ‘estimate’ read ‘guess’, because without a design, that’s what it is!)

So, just like out car analogy that we began with, cost per square metre will depend on many things, but we want to try and make this as simple as possible, right?  A stand that is light on content – big exhibits taking up space, like vehicles or machinery – will, by definition cost less, as the exhibits are taking up space that your stand builder doesn’t have to build something on.  If a 10m x 10m stand consists of a storeroom and a reception counter surrounded by huge machines, then a square metre cost of less than £100 per metre is very likely.

On the other hand, a stand full of bespoke display units with private meeting rooms and lots of supporting large format graphics is increasing the amount of physical build compared to the first example.  It wouldn’t be uncommon for a build intensive stand to be somewhere between £500 – £1,000 per square metre.  In car parlance, are you driving a Skoda or a Bugatti?  Both will get you from A to B, but give very different impressions along the way!

The bulk of the built stands you see around the halls are likely costing somewhere in the £200 – £400 per square metre bracket.  This should get you a stand with decent content and finish, either system or traditional timber build.  The ‘finger in the air’ cost of spending the same on your stand as you do on your space will also give you a rough idea.

exhibition stand price
expo stand costs

Curves Cost

Less than a week into my first job as a junior designer I was told this little alliterative maxim, and it holds as true today as it did then.  Anything curved will cost more than a straight version.  Why?  The simple answer is labour.  Imagine building a 1m cube – six sides, all the same size; takes no time to cut the material and little more to knock the assembled squares into a cube. 

Now let’s take a 1m diameter cylinder.  Top & bottom circles take more time to cut than metre squares (we may even use a cnc machine) and then we need formers and ribs to create the curve, then to skin the outside to create the cylinder.  The time it takes to do this compared to a straight sided box is at least double, and that’s where the cost is.

Skilled exhibition carpenters are not paid minimum wage – not in the UK anyway!  Increase the complexity of the build and you quickly start to increase your costs; partly in materials, but mostly in labour.  Same goes for system builds – curved frames cost more than their straight counterparts.

Stock sizes

I had a design in from a company just last month where they’d specified all the walls at 2.85m high.  My first question was can we change the wall height to either 2.74m (9 foot) or 3m.  Why?  Because exhibition companies carry a stock of pre-made wall panels that are recovered every job – they come in 2.44m, 2.74m, 3m and 3.9m heights.  With walls at 2.85m we would have had to put a ‘make up’ piece on every wall panel, doubling to cost of the walling on the stand.  Using stock wall heights – and widths – will save making brand new walls and lots of labour cost.

The same holds true with items that have to be built new.  Here it is material sheet sizes that dictate costs.  Let’s take a straight reception counter – essentially a rectangular box.  Mdf comes in 8’ x 4’ (2440mm x 1220mm) and 10’ x 5’ (3050mm x 1550mm) sheets.  Specify a counter that is 3.5m long and it will need a join in it (more labour).  Make it 700mm deep and it uses more than half of a standard 8’ x 4’ sheet and is wasteful with materials.  If it’s laminated, sheets of laminate come in 10’ x 4’ (3050mm x 1220mm) sheets, so again, a 3.5m long x 700mm deep counter will be wasteful with laminate and need more time in the workshop to join two pieces.  A good designer working to a budget will know this and keep certain items within ‘sheet sizes’ if possible.

exhibition stand stock panels
trade booth costs

Finishes matter

Some of this is down to labour costs, some is down to the costs of the materials, but selecting the appropriate finish to match the budget can make a huge difference in the final cost of a stand.  Wrapping walls in a standard leather grain vinyl is the cheapest option; gloss pvc will add a chunk in materials and labour.  If you want a seamless painted finish to your stand walls then this will cost more again, as they will have to be perfect panels to begin with, then the joints filled and then painted on site = more labour cost.

Big graphics are now commonplace at exhibitions and with the cost of large format printing coming down, this is an economical way of making a statement at a show with whole walls wrapped in large banner prints.  If you want to reuse the same image at several shows, then tension fabric system (TFS) graphics are initially more expensive, but can be reused time and time again.  If you’re looking to reuse TFS graphics, make sure they’re dye-sub and not UV printed – the latter don’t store very well.

For display units and counters the cheapest finish is emulsion paint, often with the horizontal work surfaces laminated.  Laminating is more costly than emulsion paint both in materials and labour, but gives a better finish; although paint is easier to touch up and repair.  You then have cellulose or polymer spray paint – this gives a great finish, and you can touch it up if damaged, but is the most costly finish of the three.  Joinery has to be perfect or the imperfections will show.  The specialist paint isn’t cheap and you need a spray booth and a skilled sprayer to do the work.  A recent job we did had half a dozen sprayed units, plus 20m of sprayed walls.  The cost of the paint alone was over £2,000; emulsion would have come in at a tenth of the cost, but wouldn’t have looked nearly as good.


Platform or no platform?  A raised floor is sometimes a necessity if you have no other way of getting power cables and other services around the stand, but can add up to £20 per square metre to the stand costs.  Checking where your service ducts are on the stand at the design stage can sometimes negate the need for a costly raised floor, although a step up on to your stand can give visitors a VIP feeling and set you apart from the aisle and your competitors.

Cord or velour?  Choice of floor covering can make a difference too, as cord carpet is half the price of a more luxurious velour or vinyl flooring.  Solid floors – parquet wood or mfc – will add even more, both in labour and materials.  The range and quality of wood effect vinyls is very good these days and almost indistinguishable from the real thing, though you don’t get that hard wood feel under foot.  So the choice of floor and floor covering can have a marked effect on the final stand cost.

Carpet tiles are an option too, especially for smaller spaces.  They can be stored between shows and reused.  More expensive than exhibition grade carpet initially, if you go for a good quality tile they should be good for at least half a dozen shows if looked after, so can be a money saver in the long run.


exhibition stand floor costs
exhibition furniture costs

Fancy furniture

A quick look at any event furniture company’s website will show a wide range of cost for sitting down.  Hire of a basic chair will come in under £30, whereas some of the more designer options will approach £100 and beyond.  If you’re seating 40 people in a café area, then the price can spiral if you’re not careful with the choice of furniture.

Thinking of buying your own to save costs?  You may want to think again.  Transport and upkeep all contribute to that ‘expensive’ hire cost of stand furniture.  You have to get it to and from the show, store it inbetween shows, clean it, and if it breaks, it’s your problem.  If it’s just a couple of stools and they fit in the vehicle you’re going in anyway, it’s probably a good idea to invest in your own.  If it’s more than that and you’re travelling to the show by train, I’d suggest sucking it up and hiring them.

Stand builders often have their own small stock of basic furniture that they may be happy to provide at a discount if they’re already building the stand for you.  It’s worth asking what they have available, and whether they can ‘throw it in to seal the deal’.

Electrics and services

“£400* to plug a kettle in?!”  (*2022 edit – this can be up to £1,000 now at some shows!)

Kettles, coffee machines and hoovers; the bane of my life!  A standard domestic kettle will use 3kw of power, as will many coffee machines.  If you want to serve hot drinks, a 3kw socket on your stand will cost between £300 and £1,000 in the UK (yes, you read that right – up to £1k in 2022).  If you want to use crockery instead of paper cups you’ll need to wash up – that’s going to add another £800+ for a water and waste connection to your sink.  It may be that the cost is worth it as part of the hospitality that you offer to visitors, but be aware that if you’re looking to keep costs down, then having a barista machine in the seating area isn’t going to help!

Hoovering before the show begins isn’t always as simple as it is back in the office either.  Many vacuum cleaners pull up to 1.5kw, which your 500w plug socket might not appreciate.  You wouldn’t believe the number of times the answer to the question “Why has my power gone off?” ends up being “hoovering”.  Make sure the socket is rated to take the appliance, or unplug something else to make capacity for it.  The best solution?  Use a cordless hoover.

For any electrical equipment, your stand builder can help you work out what power you’ll need and the best and cheapest way to arrange it.  Just don’t do sneaking a coffee machine in on the first morning – it never ends well!

expo stand costs

Lighting rigs

One of the keys to any good stand is the lighting.  Get that right and you’re on the right track.  What is usually called ‘local lighting’ – light fittings set into or mounted on to the stand structure – is one way of doing it.  You can however go up and above your stand with a lighting rig suspended from the venue ceiling.  Most venues allow this, and it does look good, especially if you have exhibits where you don’t want any visual obstructions sitting in front of them holding up lighting, but there is a cost.  You need truss to hang high powered lighting from, and then you need to hang the truss from the ceiling.  At most venues each drop wire (the cable from the ceiling) will cost around £400.  So a small square rig will need 4 drop wires = £1,600 before you’ve started.

trade show costs


After everything else, where the show is being held can be a big factor in the final cost of your stand.  For us, we’re based just 10 minutes up the road from the NEC and Coventry Ricoh Arena, so any job we have there doesn’t incur any huge travel costs or out of town expenses.  If we have to travel to London, and the stand, like Rome, can’t be built in a day, we start racking up costs such as hotels, overnight expenses, parking and travel time.  Unfortunately our staff want paying for the time they spend driving to a job, so a six hour round trip doesn’t just cost the fuel to get there; we’re paying for six hours x however many people are on the job.  So even a small 4 hour install turns into a 10 hour day if the venue is 100 miles away.  Typically for a Midlands-based contractor even a small a job being in London will add £1,000 or more straight away.  Larger jobs with more staff, hotels etc can be a fair bit more.

When you start exhibiting abroad those costs can escalate quite quickly with flights & logistics.  If you’re shipping a stand from the UK to Europe, expect to be adding £5k+ for transport with staff costs – flights & hotels – on top.  A £10k job at the NEC can easily turn into £20k in Berlin.

Choosing a local stand builder can help keep costs down.  This is relatively easy if you exhibit once a year, always at the same venue, but many companies exhibit many times a year, both UK and worldwide.  Unless you want to have a different stand company for every venue, travel costs are inevitable, so you’ll need to factor these in to your budget planning.

All this comes into play when designing a stand and any designer worth their salt will be keeping these points and more in mind when drawing up plans for your next stand.  Most designers are very skilled at designing to a budget, so my parting suggestion would be to tell them what that figure is!  Hiding it, or saying that you don’t have a budget, will ultimately end in disappointment for at least one party.  You’ll either get an under designed stand that’s under budget but doesn’t do the job, or an over designed stand that you can’t afford. 

There may have been a case once upon a time where the designer contacted their spirit guide and got it spot on with no idea of budget given by the client, but in reality it’s as likely as a unicorn winning the Grand National.

After all that, if you would like a custom build exhibition stand, fantastic!  Drop us a call or email and we’ll see if we can help. 

And if you have a budget, please give us a clue!

Violet Exhibitions Ltd  |  Alpha House  |  Coventry Road  |  Fillongley  |  CV7 8ET      tel: 01676 248 498

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