Constraints of Accurate Budget Critical for Proposals


Everyone knows that a realistic and accurate budget is one of the most critical things an exhibit house needs to know in order to generate a competitive proposal, right? Well, unfortunately, no! From our many bidding experiences, we’ve learned that far too many companies will not disclose their true exhibit budget.


Imagine telling a real estate agent that you wish to buy a house but you won’t give the agent any idea of what you can afford. Most agents would throw up their hands in frustration because they wouldn’t know how to realistically respond to your request.


Withholding a true budget cap may be one way of pressuring an exhibit house to make its pricing artificially low in order to secure the business. And with no budget to guide an exhibit house’s thinking, the resulting exhibit designs and materials could vary widely and all be totally off the mark.


Many companies fear that an exhibit house will take the opportunity to utilize every penny in its RFP response if a real budget is disclosed. Respectfully, we must disagree. We always strive to be cost conscious, and we know that a true budget establishes a great deal of useful guidelines for a designer. Obviously, it can dictate the physical details and expected quality of the exhibit. But it also helps define the materials, timeframe and even the subcontractors needed to complete all aspects of the exhibit construction.


Often, an exhibit house that bids on an exhibit project with an undefined budget learns that its bid was too high because it exceeded the real budget. This is the “undefined” budget not stated in the RFP. Then, the exhibit house must scramble to adjust its proposal in order to meet the new, previously undisclosed lower budget.


With pressure to cut project costs and reduce subcontractors’ expenses, this often results in slimmer profit margins for everyone. With reduced profit margins, there are fewer financial resources left for an exhibit house to take true ownership of a project. When it truly “owns” the job, the exhibit house should be willing to do whatever is necessary if and when a challenge arises.


We believe that creativity loves constraints—the constraints of a true budget. A real budget establishes firm parameters that help drive the design and construction of a creative, effective and durable exhibit for clients. Those who aren’t in the creative world may not understand. When every option is in front of you, it’s difficult to decide a direction because there are just too many choices. The first mark on a blank canvas is often the most difficult one to make because you have no basis on which to decide which mark to make. Just as there are physical space constraints dictated by space at a show, corporate color constraints, ADA constraints and content constraints, there also should be budget constraints to compel the best from a designer.


A client who establishes a true budget and timeline is one with whom we’d like to work. We seek clients who want to build an honest, open relationship with its vendors; ones who want to drive us to do our best. We truly value authenticity and transparency because these are the qualities that help forge productive working relationships. These types of partnerships tend to endure because both parties trust each other and have pledged themselves to a successful project outcome. Doing so helps every aspect of the project succeed because everyone on the team seeks the same goal and knows all will cooperate with each other to overcome any challenges that might get in the way.


So, when you issue your next RFP, we hope you’ll seriously consider providing a budget as part of the process. By doing so, you may discover you’ll get a far better solution than you ever imagined.



Peggy Swords

About Peggy Swords

Peggy Swords is the founder and president of Excalibur Exhibits, a $10 million Houston-based exhibit manufacturing and production corporation. Excalibur Exhibits designs, builds, delivers, assembles and disassembles as many as 300 exhibits per year. Swords was named as a finalist for NAWBO Houston 2003 Woman Business Owner of the Year and 2005 Enterprising Woman of the Year Finalist. Additionally, Excalibur Exhibits is a five time member of the Inc 5000, a three time member of the LSU100 and a two time member of the Houston Fast 100, a list of fastest growing privately held companies.