May 29, 2024 9:12 PM
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Why the F#@K is it so Expensive to Exhibit in the US?

by Paco Collazo


This is a question I get all the time from our partners or clients abroad—the answer relies on a series of factors, but one stands out more than the others. You guessed it. Labor!

The initial encounter with how much it costs can be quite the eye-opener; you might even find yourself blinking twice at the budget your exhibit house communicates to you. Almost every time it is more than you planned for. An important factor for you to consider is that always the price that is passed, and it does not include show services.

But don’t worry, you’re not alone in this! We’re here to give you the lowdown on why exhibiting stateside can seem like a whole new ballgame.

The Setup Shuffle

Everywhere but in the U.S., teams gear up for tradeshows by dotting their I’s and crossing their T’s way ahead of time. The same company, most of the time, takes care of 100% of the project. They design, make their own production plans, produce, and build on the show floor. This forward planning is key to building cool, sleek booths without breaking a sweat.

Now, pivot to the U.S., and you’ll find a different rhythm. Here, the crew often catches their first glimpse of the game plan when they show up on-site. This scramble means clocking more hours to get your exhibit show-ready, and as we all know, time is money—especially in the U.S. It’s a dance involving a diverse cast of specialized unions not just one.

Sometimes it can be four or more teams doing mini things on the booth, one waiting for the other to finish, each with their own moves (and speed) to contribute to the masterpiece. A man hour can be anywhere between $90.00 USD to $380.00 USD range per person, per hour.

Labor Challenges

Let’s talk about the talent on the ground. There’s a bit of a squeeze in the labor department, with more newbies joining the ranks, setups are taking longer than ever. This can mean that even the straightforward tasks might take a tad longer than usual, stretching out the setup times and, you guessed it, ramping up the bill. It’s all hands-on-deck, but sometimes those hands are still learning the ropes, leading to a bit of a tangle that we all have to work through together.

The Weekend Effect

It’s not uncommon for tradeshow setups in the U.S. to take place over weekends, which incurs overtime charges from various trade unions involved in the process. The Teamsters might manage freight movement, electricians lay out power lines, riggers set up signage, stagehands handle audiovisual requirements, and decorators or carpenters build the actual exhibit. Each union has its own fee structure, contributing to the overall financial burden of the exhibitor.

The Union Maze

A significant contributor to the high costs is the intricate web of union jurisdictions and regulations that vary not just from state to state, but even between venues in the same city. This complexity necessitates the involvement of numerous labor unions, each with their own rates, minimum hour requirements, and other conditions—all of which can make planning and executing a tradeshow in the U.S. a financially challenging endeavor.

Beyond Labor 

Additional Factors Impacting Cost

  1. Shipping and Drayage: Transporting and handling exhibits on-site is a logistical challenge with a hefty price tag. Drayage fees are notorious for being a significant financial strain, as they encompass the movement of materials to and from the booth space.
  2. Marketing and Promotional Materials: To stand out in the highly competitive environment of U.S. trade shows, exhibitors must invest in top-notch marketing and promotional materials, further inflating the budget.
  3. Insurance: Exhibitors in the U.S. are faced with higher liability insurance costs, which are essential to cover any potential damages or injuries within the exhibit space.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: Navigating the myriad of local, state, and federal regulations entails additional expenses related to taxes, permits, and adherence to safety standards.
  5. Accommodation and Travel: The cost for accommodation, food, and travel in the U.S., especially in major cities where tradeshows are frequently held, can be significantly higher than in other countries.
  6. Materials: In the last three years supply chain disruptions, increased demand, inflation, and the impact of global events such as COVID and geopolitical tensions, have caused many material costs to go through the roof. While some have somewhat leveled, a good majority stayed in their new set prices.
  7. Freights: Costs in the US have surged in recent years because of a shortage of shipping containers, labor, rising fuel prices, and a significant uptick in consumer demand.

But here’s the thing: despite these costs, hitting the stage at a U.S. tradeshow can really rock your company’s world. The U.S. is one of the biggest markets of the world for almost every industry, so participating in and urging your clients or C-suite to exhibit is always a good idea. When done correctly, it can pay off big. The exposure, networking opportunities, and potential deals can unlock substantial value for a business. So, plan like a pro, budget like a boss, and you’ll make sure that your tradeshow ends on a high note.

Please let us know if you liked this post, comment on it, I’m planning to do a size-by-size comparison of the same booth design in different countries of the world to help break this issue down further.


This story originally appeared in the Q2 2024 issue of Exhibit City News, p. 18. For original layout or to read the full story, visit

  • Superior Logistics

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