Once, using someone else's trade-show exhibit was as tacky as donning a stranger's wedding dress. Not now: thrifty companies are saving by buying secondhand exhibits and remodeling them.

"Used exhibits are coming into their own," says Lee Knight, publisher and editor of Exhibitor magazine. The best way to check one out is to see it set up. Or ask vendors for photos and a list of clients. Here are two companies that specialize in recycled exhibits:

* Exhibit Emporium, Newark, Calif., 800-541-9100. Showrooms in Newark, Calif., and Marlborough, Mass. Sample listing: 30-by-30-foot display with stage. Original cost: $126,000. Selling price: $27,500. Option to rent.

* The Exhibit Registry, Huntington Beach, Calif., 800-444-9484. Has agents around the country. Sample listing: 20-by-20-foot island with four workstations. Original cost: $30,000. Selling price: $14,200.

Also, contact manufacturers of custom exhibits in your area. Many have used properties that are in good shape. Giltspur, based in Itasca, Ill. (800-727-0069), has 16 storage facilities in cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. Exhibitgroup, in Chicago (800-424-6224), has offices in areas such as Dallas, Cincinnati, New York City, and San Francisco.

Exhibitor (507-289-6556) holds workshops on buying and selling used exhibits. Cost: $85. -- Susan Greco