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Material Handling and Labor Costs Outpace Inflation

Updated: Feb 5

The 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey conducted by The Exhibitor Advocate has been released. This is an important report for the trade show industry. The results, while not surprising, should be taken into consideration as exhibitors plan their 2023 season.

Costs Continue to Rise in Key Areas

According to the report, exhibitor costs continue to rise. There have been increases in the following areas:

  • The cost of labor for installing and dismantling booths

  • Electric labor

  • Material handling

Labor costs and material handling rates are increasing at an alarming rate, exceeding inflation rates by significant levels (in some cases more than 30%). The biggest increase was in electric labor – $132-$188 per hour – which is up 32%. According to the report, there has been nearly a 30% increase in display, labor, and material handling rates since 2017 – higher than most other business services. Rates vary by region, with the highest labor costs found in Chicago, California, and the Northeast.

Managing Exhibitor Costs

As exhibitors consider these increased costs and how they will impact budgeting, the report stresses that booth space is only one cost. The average material handling rate – a critical factor in determining overall exhibitor costs – is $1.88 per pound. When materials are received after the deadline, however, that rate jumps to an average of $2.08 per pound.

How Exhibitors Can Reduce Costs

The first way to reduce costs is to plan well enough in advance that your materials can be delivered on time. This will require staying a step ahead of the logistics challenges that exhibitors often run into. The Exhibitor Advocate also points out that because the costs of material handling are so much higher, one way to reduce costs is to reduce the size of your booth. Less weight results in lower handling costs and lower shipping costs.

Will a Smaller Booth Reduce Engagement?

While a smaller booth may impact your ability to host multiple booth visitors, today’s trade shows offer ample opportunity for one-on-one meetings that can often be more productive and effective, since your time is focused on highly qualified leads rather than curious visitors. What may need to change is how you measure the ROI of your events, basing it less on booth traffic and more on genuinely interested leads generated through one-on-one meetings and product demonstrations.

Event Hosts Can Help Ensure Exhibitor Participation

A collaborative effort will be necessary to reduce materials handling and logistics costs, to allow exhibitors to feel justified in participating in events. As The Exhibitor Advocate explains:

The exhibit hall is like the ‘playground’ for the event. It’s where attendees can test and experiment with new equipment, solve business challenges, and discover new products, research, and technologies. Thriving exhibit halls are full of memorable experiences – ones that require investment from exhibitors to execute and maintain.

The activations that exhibitors deliver in their booths impact the attendee experience and are connected to a successful and sustainable event. It’s more critical than ever to proactively lower costs and incent exhibitors to invest in their show experience.

Exhibitors Must Choose Carefully

Because the cost of exhibiting is outpacing inflation, exhibitors will be cautious about which events they attend and will be carefully evaluating the potential ROI for every event. Event hosts must leverage technology that allows exhibitors to gather more information more efficiently, connect with attendees easily, and offer more opportunities for sponsorship. And all of this needs to be carefully communicated through a compelling prospectus.

The Exhibitor Advocate remarks:

Show managers, city hosts, facilities, and industry suppliers who make it a priority to find innovative ways to deliver greater value to exhibitors and sponsors will rise to the top. Reducing exhibit space is a guaranteed way to lower costs. But nobody wins when exhibitors purchase less space.

Our team works with clients, large and small, on everything from pre-show logistics to on-site operations and post-event evaluations. Get in touch to learn more.

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