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Exhibitor Costs in Big Cities: Benchmarks and Comparisons

A new research report lays out exhibit-cost trends in top convention destinations and offers suggestions for show managers on how to aid exhibitors with their ROI.

As much as associations pitch their shows to potential exhibitors as opportunities to cement relationships and generate revenue, the cost of show participation is equally critical to exhibitors’ return on investment.

In fact, a new report focused on exhibitor costs states exactly that: “There are two sides to the exhibitor-ROI equation: value and cost. It is critical to work both angles to maximize outcomes and ensure sustainable results” for both exhibitors and show organizers.

The report—a summary of results from the Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey conducted in late 2022 by The Exhibitor Advocate along with Tradeshow Logic and Evolio Marketing—uses data from 160 publicly available convention and exhibitor manuals and rate forms from shows held in 16 large cities: Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Figures to Chew On
The report found that in 2022, the average installation and dismantle labor rate across the 16 cities was $140 for straight time and $213 for overtime. The lowest straight-time rate was in Atlanta ($100) while the highest was in New York ($235). The good news is that these rates were only six percent higher than they were in 2017.

For electrical labor, the average rate was $132 for straight time and $208 for overtime. The lowest rate was found in Nashville and New Orleans ($97) and the highest was found in Philadelphia ($187). These rates are eight to 12 percent higher than in 2017.

A New Wrinkle in Material-Handling Rates
The report says that after the Covid pandemic, “the widely accepted practice of billing all material handling on a per hundredweight (CWT) basis shifted to a per pound (LB) pricing model.” To simplify things, the per pound pricing model incorporates up to 48 surcharges that were previously billed individually in the per hundredweight model.

In light of this, the average per pound rate in 2022 for handing materials was $1.88 before an event’s discount deadline, and $2.08 per pound after the discount deadline. For comparison, the report converted 2017 data from per hundredweight to per pound; the 2017 figure came out to $1.59 per pound before the discount deadline, making for a cost increase of more than 18 percent over the past five years. The conversion methodology that was used can be found on page 6 of the report. 

“Most general contractors consider the conversion method used to be propriety, but it should be noted that some general contractors actually remove the surcharges from the new rates, resulting in lower rates to exhibitors,” says the report. “Other general contractors blend the surcharges into the new rates. As with any blended rate, some exhibitors will pay more; others will pay less.”

For an event organizer’s purposes, “the methodology for converting from CWT pricing to Per LB pricing must be done on a show-by-show basis...The new pricing model is simpler and easier to budget, but not necessarily less expensive. Show managers wishing to negotiate the lowest rates for their exhibitors need to understand the unique composition of their exhibitors’ freight and the exact methodology used to calculate material-handling rates.”

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