Ship Happens – Tradeshow Shipping Lessons


Enjoy our featured post on Tradeshow Shipping Lessons originally published in Exhibitor Magazine by Candy Adams. Learn how to plan ahead and avoid costly mistakes and hidden fees on your booth’s journey from the warehouse to convention space.


When I started my exhibit-management career, the first vendor I got to know was Mike Kropp, who at the time was my company’s shipping broker and specialized in trade show exhibits. He was a seasoned veteran and had seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of shipping all kinds of exhibit properties. He taught me how crucial the shipping process was in keeping everything on track for a show. And I learned that the chain reaction created by shipping problems is both unpleasant and expensive.

The following lessons represent some of the most valuable advice I have ever received from him regarding the transportation industry. Take these lessons to heart, and they’ll help you shape up so you can ship out just about anything with confidence.

Pick the Proper Carrier

Shipping exhibit materials to trade show venues is different than shipping anything anywhere else, in part because of the quantity, fragility, and size of the packages. The logistics of coordinating the shipping and arrival times to meet show deadlines, filling out all the shipping and material-handling paperwork, and managing the material-handling process further complicate the issue.

Because of this, the first question to ask a potential carrier is what percentage of its sales come from trade show exhibit shipments. I usually steer clear of a company that doesn’t derive at least 50 percent of its sales from the trade show industry. Look for a carrier that has a dedicated trade show division with staff and drivers who have experience in trade show procedures. Request a written copy of the carrier’s procedure for problem solving in the event of lost or missing freight, damage, delays, etc. And inquire about your shipping agent’s availability, in case of an emergency.

Your shipping agent is an integral part of your trade show team and is your lifeline should a problem occur. Trade show transportation carriers’ agents, brokers, and dispatchers should be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Personally, I won’t select a company if I don’t have a “call anytime” cellphone number for somebody at the vice-president level. Once you find a company you trust, stick with it. The stronger – and longer – your relationship, the more likely company reps are to go that extra mile when disaster strikes.

Provide Adequate Information

Compile an Excel spreadsheet of the exhibit components, graphics, flooring, products, equipment, literature, giveaways, and supplies that need to be shipped. Add columns for the quantity of each, how they will be packed (crated, in cases, loose boxes, or palletized), and their dimensions and estimated weight. Provide this list to your carrier so it can deliver an accurate quote and reserve adequate shipping space on the truck or plane.

Your carrier will also need to know the full name of the show (not just an acronym), your booth number, the show dates, your move-in and move-out dates, and whether those dates are targeted. (If you’ve negotiated a variance in your targeted dates or times, provide the carrier with a copy of the written variance for the driver to present with his or her weight slip and bill of lading at the marshaling yard.) Indicate if you will need special equipment, such as a lift-gate truck, stacking bars, a J-bar, a pallet jack, dollies, and/or moving pads. Tell your carrier whether a dock is available for loading, if there will be pick-ups or deliveries at multiple locations, and if you have pallets of multiple pieces that you don’t want depalletized.

Forward copies of the shipping-related pages from the exhibitor services manual to your shipping agent. These pages typically include material-handling information, a marshaling yard map, and addresses and acceptance times for the advance warehouse, marshaling yard, and direct-to-site shipments.

Determine the Destination

Exhibit managers have two options on where to ship exhibits: 1) directly to the show site, or 2) to an advance warehouse, where they receive 30 days of free warehouse storage. Shipping to the advance warehouse gets your freight on the show floor before direct-to-show-site shipments begin unloading. This may save you money on transportation wait time and storage expenses.

One limitation of using the advance warehouse is that it does not accept pad-wrapped freight. Shipping to the advance warehouse also requires additional labor and equipment, which may raise your material-handling cost and create more risk for damage or loss during handling. Another liability is that exhibit materials are not always stored in an actual warehouse; they may be stored in unsecured trailers.

Shipping direct to site allows you to avoid these risks, and it may be cheaper (depending on the labor rates at both destinations). However, with direct-to-site shipments the exact time that your freight will unload is unpredictable, based on the check-in time of your truck, efficiency of the marshaling process, and availability of docks with direct access to your booth space. You may even encounter a delay if you run out of room around your booth space after neighboring exhibitors’ freight arrives, especially if your exhibit is bordered by no-freight aisles.

You can also split your shipment and send some items to the advance warehouse and some direct to site. For example, hanging signs usually have to be sent to the advance warehouse so the general services contractor (GSC) can hang them before the floor fills up with freight. Some exhibitors ship their carpet, pad, and exhibit to the advance warehouse to gain extra setup time, and ship their products and other supplies direct to site since they generally won’t need them until the build is completed.

Meet Deadlines

Make sure your transportation team knows the last day to unload at the advance warehouse and/or the time of your targeted direct-to-site shipments. If your carrier misses the inbound deadline, the truck will be sent to the end of the line to unload – and will incur a financial penalty or be unloaded at overtime rates.

The time the freight arrives at the booth can also affect installation costs. If it does not arrive in time for your setup crew to work on straight time, you may have to pay overtime rates for your labor. So include a margin of error in your shipping schedule, as myriad hazards can delay your shipment, such as a mechanical failure on a plane or truck, an accident, a weather-related delay, a truck driver’s family emergency, or even human error. Discuss the worst-case scenarios with your carrier and make sure you pad an extra day into your schedule.
Anticipate Expenses
Typically, transportation accounts for roughly 10 to 13 percent of a company’s overall trade show budget. But transportation can also affect other budget categories indirectly, such as material-handling and installation costs. So talk with your transportation carrier to make sure you are proactively anticipating – and budgeting for – direct and indirect charges.

For example, material-handling rates vary based on the type of freight and its final destination. There can be one rate for crated/skidded freight to the advance warehouse, and different rates for direct-to-site shipments of crated/skidded freight on a common carrier, or specialized carriers. You can also incur special-handling charges for loads requiring additional time, labor, or equipment to unload, such as pad-wrapped loads or carpet-and-pad-only loads. Fees are also assessed for stacked shipments, constricted-piece unloading, designated-piece unloading, ground unloading, and shipments that don’t have individual bills of lading.

Label Your Load

Many transportation problems are caused by old labels accidentally left on exhibit properties. Always check to make sure you’ve removed all old labels from the last shipment and placed two new labels on each piece of freight, just in case one falls off. And be sure the destination on your labels is correct for each leg of the trip.

Confirm Coverage

Many rookie exhibit managers assume that if their freight is lost, the carrier can be held responsible. But in most cases, your carrier will only provide minimal valuation called “released value,” which usually ranges from $0.30 to $0.60 per pound.

If you need to cover the replacement value of your shipment the entire time it is on the road, you can purchase additional valuation from carriers in $1,000 increments. However, the most economical way to cover a shipment’s value is to purchase “door-to-door” all-risk insurance as a rider to your corporate insurance policy. Work with your company’s risk-management department to determine the replacement value of your entire shipment and how much risk you want to assume with your deductible.

Ultimately, you incur some degree of risk every time you ship your freight. Even if you are fully insured for every penny of the shipment’s value, losing it will undoubtedly cause stress and anxiety at the least, and could have serious repercussions for your company if you’re forced to exhibit, well, without an exhibit. But these valuable lessons will help you keep your program in ship shape, while providing you a little peace of mind in the process.


Have questions about safely transporting your display or shipping costs? We also offer professional tradeshow transportation services to ensure your booth arrives on time, components intact and looks great on exhibition day. Give us a call, our exhibit experts are always happy to discuss options and recommend the best display for your company’s needs.

The Monster Displays team can be reached at Sales@MonsterDisplays.com or call (888) 484-3344, we’d love to put our experience to work for you.