A Guide to Maximizing Your Trade Show Promotional Items Budget

One of the many tasks you must do to prepare for a trade show is create your promotional items budget.  After that you need to shop, select, order, and ship your trade show giveaways.  The easiest thing is to do what you did last time, right? Saves time? Not so fast!

Whether you are returning to in-person shows or hosting virtual events, you want your brand and your products to be memorable. Your promotional giveaways need to be interesting, attract notice, represent your company well, and show up when and where you need them.  Using the same custom tote bags (or water bottles, coasters, t-shirts…you get the idea) from the same vendor as the last few shows may seem like good value and a time-saving decision.  Yet you want to maximize your budget for promotional items, so you have the best promotional products, at the best price, for as many events as possible.  In today’s uncertain environment, wise use of your giveaway budget is a must for every marketer.  We’ve outlined best practices to get the most out of your trade show promotional items budget.  The most important one we saved for last, so read all the way through!

Promotional Items Budget Maximizer #1: Use Your Annual Budget to Buy in Bulk

Look for items you can use at multiple shows and then buy them in bulk to reduce the per-item cost.  You may still need something new and trendy that pops for a specific show, but take a look at items you tend to bring to every show. You will probably always need those promotional pens with your name and logo. To save money, estimate your promotional pen items for the full year, and then order ahead in bulk and save.  Be sure to ask your vendor about price breaks and rebates. Bulk purchases make a lot of sense for repeatable items, especially if they are small enough for you to store at the office and ship to shows when you need them.  If you don’t have storage space in your office, you may need to factor in the cost of storage and delivery from your vendor’s fulfillment warehouse, which could offset any savings.

Promotional Items Budget Maximizer #2: Consider Your Audience Size and Foot Traffic

Know your audience size and expected foot traffic so you’re not shipping back tons of leftover promo items (and then storing them for the next time).  Shipping unused swag back is a hidden cost that erodes your budget. It’s easy to miss when you’re planning out the number and quality of giveaways you’ll need for a particular trade show. You can use our handy Trade Show Promotional Giveaway Quantity Calculator, or follow the instructions below.

Event Promotional Giveaway Quantity Calculator

To estimate your foot traffic, a good rule of thumb is to take the number of registered participants for the event and multiply that by 16 to 20 percent.  Choose the lower end (around 16 percent) if your booth is located off the main foot traffic pathways of the event.  If you’re on a main aisle, estimate toward the middle (around 18 percent).  If your trade show traffic strategy includes events that draw a crowd, like live demos or entertainment, then use 20 percent.  Now, take that number and multiply it by 50 percent for more general events, and 40 percent for highly targeted events.  This number represents an estimate of the number of people who will potentially visit your booth.

If you hand out giveaways for nearly every booth visitor, then take your booth visitor estimate, add back 10 percent, and that’s the number of items to send to the show.  If you have giveaways that you’re more selective with, then you’ll need to consider the percentage of visitors who would be given the promotional item.

When you’re planning your promo item buying for a specific event, look at the volume discounts to see if it makes sense to stretch to the next volume tier.  For example, if your foot traffic estimate is 800 visitors and you plan to give a custom tote bag to each visitor, you may want to purchase 1,000 tote bags to decrease the per-unit cost.  However, with items you send to every event, it makes more sense to purchase them once per year (see Use Your Annual Budget to Buy in Bulk, above).

Promotional Items Budget Maximizer #3:  Plan Ahead to Avoid Rush Fees

This one is pretty obvious, right?  Plan out your event calendar for the year as soon as possible and keep track of expected number of booth visitors to whom you want to give those promotional items.  Are you maintaining brand awareness or rolling out a new product? Whatever you’re trying to achieve, plan and order in plenty of time to avoid rush fees, either from design and customization or from shipping or delivery.  And in the era of disrupted supply chains due to COVID19, it’s even more important to plan ahead for peace of mind as well as cost containment. 

Promotional Items Budget Maximizer #4:  Purchase “Leftovers” or Discontinued Items

Ask your vendors about their leftovers or discontinued items that may be available at a discounted price.  You may be able to ride the end of a trend when hot-item sales slow or pick up a smaller block of items for a specific small event you’re hosting.  We always recommend you ask your vendors for inspiration for new promo items.  Always ask about their excess inventory at the same time!

Promotional Items Budget Maximizer #5:  Vendor Terms and Specials

Ask your vendor to recommend other cost savings while keeping the quality standards you need. Can you use fewer colors? Different materials? Completely different product idea? A good vendor can be a valuable consultant to help you with cost-saving options you may not even be aware of.

How are you paying? Credit card or p-card? Purchase order? See if your vendor offers any discount for faster payment than normal, and then see if you can make that happen within your purchasing department’s guidelines.

Promotional Items Budget Maximizer #6:  Get Competitive Quotes From At Least Three Vendors

Hear me out.  I can practically feel eyes rolling as you’re thinking “I do NOT have time to email a bunch of vendors, or fill out multiple online forms for each item.  And besides my go-to vendor already has our artwork and knows our colors.  Nobody has time for all that.”

No doubt all of that is true, but you’re leaving money on the table.  The No. 1 best practice to stretch your budget for trade show promotional items is competitive bidding among vendors.  Many companies require bidding for purchases over a certain dollar amount.  Even if yours does not, you should seek a minimum of three bids because you can save 30 percent or more by competitively bidding your promotional items, whether branded or not.  In some cases, the difference in price between the lowest and highest quote for the exact same product exceeds 50%!  Even if you have contracted vendors, you will want to go through this process to make sure your contracted vendors are giving you the best prices and terms.

Smart marketers are using technology like AgoraQuote to organize and manage vendor quotes so they can take advantage of competitive bidding without the time-consuming process of reaching out separately to each vendor. AgoraQuote makes competitive bidding easy, so you don’t spend time emailing and calling multiple vendors or searching the web for price comparisons.  You can request a quote through AgoraQuote, with as much detail as you like, from as many vendors as you choose, in the same amount of time it takes to request a quote from just one vendor. Interested vendors respond back and you can see the side-by-side comparison right on your dashboard, enabling you to make smart decisions and stretch your budget further.

You can learn more about how AgoraQuote helps maximize your promo item budget here.


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