Inside Trade Show Shipping

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Shipping your display properties and equipment to a trade show is a costly expense. There are many variables that will not only help you maximize your budget, but can also save you from frustration at the show.

There are usually 2 options when shipping to a trade show. The first option is shipping to an advance warehouse and the second is to ship direct to the venue.

Shipping to Advance Warehouse

Some shows will encourage you to ship to their advanced warehouse and others penalize you. This really depends on the event management company and venue. Other factors may include schedule conflicts and timing related to the show that is using the venue prior to your event. Exhibitors should look closely at their material handling order forms prior to choosing an option. Some shows will charge a premium to ship to advance warehouse and others will provide a financial incentive. It really depends on the show. Knowing the difference can save you money.

Unless there is a significant cost savings or if your freight just is not available in time, shipping to the advance warehouse is advised. The actual shipping costs are usually less to an advanced warehouse due to little to no chance for waiting time. Also, advanced freight is the first be delivered to the show floor. This eliminates the possibility of being on site with labor scheduled, but not having the freight to start working with.

Shipping Direct to Show Site

Once again there may be cost incentives or penalties for choosing this option. Each show will vary so check your service manual. In addition to potential cost savings for material handling rates, the main advantage to shipping direct to a show site is simply more time. If your freight is not ready for any reason to make the warehouse deadline then shipping direct to show site may be necessary even if there is not a cost incentive.

Depending on the size of the trade show you are participating in there may be “targeted” delivery days and times for shipments arriving direct to the show site. This is most often represented by a color-coded version of the floor plan that lists booths by number. You will need to find your booth number on this map (floor plan) to see what color section you are located within. The larger the show, the more colors. Having a targeted move-in date on a weekend, or outside of normal business hours will increase the freight cost from your shipping company. Another factor that will add to the shipping cost is a “small window” for the delivery. Shipping costs will rise significantly if the shipping company can only deliver between 3 PM – 7 PM for example.

Choosing a Shipper

Almost every show management contractor will try to sell you shipping. It is a good idea to allow them to provide you a quote, but highly advised to get other quotes as well.  Occasionally we see the best shipping price coming from show management, but it is not very often. When shopping for shipping or freight services to a trade show you should consider getting quotes from show management, from your exhibit provider and direct from a freight company. Exhibit producers receive the best wholesale rates in available and usually work on a very small commission or markup. In addition, your exhibit producer will probably have a longstanding relationship with the shipping company and receive priority service and 24 hour access to them.

Levels of Shipping Service

Not all shipping quotes will be based on the same type of service. Unless you have a full trailer load most shipments of trade show freight are not shipped direct. Therefore your freight can be loaded and unloaded from truck-to-truck several times before it arrives on site or final destination. Of course each time your freight is handled there is a risk for damage to the crates and contents. The term for this type of shipping is “LTL” which literally means “less than [truck]load.” For LTL shipments the freight will be handled and moved at least 4 times. First at the pick up location, next at the local “hub” in the state where the fright was picked up, a third time at the “hub” in the city you are shipping to, and finally at the advance warehouse or convention center for your show.

So now you know why your exhibit crates get damaged so often. Unfortunately, it is common and possible for the shipments to be shuffled even more. We have heard stories of two trucks meeting in the middle of nowhere trying to move crates from truck-to-truck without the proper material handling equipment. This is the number one factor in damaged crates. Happy Shipping!

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6 thoughts on “Inside Trade Show Shipping

  1. John Lee

    Thank you for taking the time to pull this together. Concise, informative and well-thought out.
    Even better that your conclusions and advice is consistent with our own! Bravo!

  2. Michael Reed

    “When shopping for shipping or freight services to a trade show you should consider getting quotes from show management” Just wanted to point out that it is mentioned twice in the “Choosing a shipper” paragraph that you should be contacting Show Management for this. Your “Official Carrier” as SELECTED by Show Management will be listed in the exhibitor kit, and most likely on the show website. It is there you may find the contact information for that freight specialist

    1. cdsdisplays Post author

      Thanks Michael, That is exactly what was meant, but overlooked the proper wording. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Brad Jarzemski

    As an industry professional I love educational information I can share with clients. As a seasoned logistics provider this topic is right in my wheelhouse. In regards to crate damage I would like to point out the other factors that I feel are more relevant to damage then LTL handling.

    1.) Show contractor Folk Lift Drivers have no liability for the handling of the crates.

    2.) The handling of an empty crate at show site is often treated without any regard because there are no contents in the crate to concern with. It is during the time empty crates are removed from the exhibit floor, put on a trailer or in a “bone yard” and then returned to the booth for packing that that are handled multiple times. A great that gets mishandled when it’s empty will lead to the deterioration of that crate before it comes back home.

    3.) Crates that are not repaired or reinforced after they have been handled multiple times will deteriorate during handling.

    4.) Not are crates are made well and/or contents secured properly.

    These are not excuses for mishandling or abuse that can happen in a shipping system, but crates will continued to be handled with folk lifts and handling accidents will happen. Because LTL line-haul carriers and forwarder agents to have a minimum liability towards the well being of the shipments they touch, I like to believe a bit more caution is used when handling LTL shipments vs a show contractor who could care less.

    Thank you for taking to time to share “good information” to those who may not be exposed to other sides of our industry.


    1. cdsdisplays Post author

      Thanks so much for the additional detail Brad. There is unfortunately a point where we feel our articles may get too long if we touch on every aspect therefore the comments from other professionals really help. Thanks again, Joe

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