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How to Avoid the Planning Nightmare Known as Forced Freight


The trade show is over, but the work isn’t. Now, it’s time to get your exhibit properties off the show floor and into your carrier’s truck so you can send them back to storage. What happens if your carrier never shows up, though? What if there was a mistake in the UMHA paperwork? In these situations, you might have to deal with the repercussions of forced freight.

Not sure what forced freight is or how you can avoid it? This guide breaks down everything you need to know.

What Is Forced Freight?

The term “forced freight” refers to any material left on the convention center floor after a trade show or another event. If this material is not removed by a certain deadline, the general services contractor (or GSC) must remove it. Show organizers sign contracts with event facilities, and these contracts typically include mandatory cut-off times by which the organizer must make sure the venue is ready for the next client. Part of returning the venue to its original state is removing all of the exhibit properties and thoroughly cleaning the building. Often, any exhibit properties left behind are sent to an off-site warehouse. It remains there until the exhibitor picks the materials up or provides instructions for how they can be returned.

Consequences of Forced Freight

At first, the idea of forced freight might not seem so bad. It may even sound great to have someone else deal with your exhibit properties and transport them away from the convention center. There’s a catch, though — or, actually, several catches — that comes in the form of a lot of extra fees for you and your team. Here are some specific types of fees that may result from forced freight:

  • Off-Target Fees: Many large shows have specific times when exhibits of various sizes (small, medium, large, etc.) need to be removed from the show floor. If you miss your target time, you may get hit with an off-target fee.
  • Overtime Fees: Overtime fees apply to those who aren’t around when their freight gets loaded onto a truck. If this happens to you, you’ll get charged for the extra work someone else has to put in to load your exhibit properties.
  • Wait-Time Fees: If a specialized transportation carrier has to wait around to retrieve your outbound freight, they’ll likely charge you for those extra hours. This is especially true if they end up having to wait overnight.
  • Aborted or Attempted Pick-Up Fees: Say your specialized transportation carrier gets turned away because you’ve mislabeled materials or filled out a form incorrectly — or because your freight can’t be located. If this happens, you may end up getting charged an aborted pick-up fee.

How to Prevent Forced Freight

In addition to costing you a lot of extra money, forced freight also creates a lot of extra stress for you and your team. It can be a planning nightmare trying to connect with trucking professionals and figure out how you’re going to get your exhibiting properties home. Therefore it’s important to have a plan in place before the event ever happens. Here are some steps to implement and mistakes to avoid to help you to prevent forced freight:

  • Communicate with Your Specialized Transportation Carrier: In the trade show business, clear communication can help you to avoid a lot of issues — including those related to forced freight. Make sure you communicate with your specialized transportation carrier throughout the planning process. Let them know the deadline for checking in at the marshaling yard or event facility after the show, for example. Tell them the final piece count for your shipment, too, and give them an emergency contact number where they can reach you if anything goes wrong.
  • Put Someone in Charge of Teardown: To avoid off-target fees and overtime fees, put someone (or perhaps multiple people) from your team in charge of tearing down your booth. Don’t just assume that everyone will pitch in and take care of it. Give someone this specific job so you can feel confident it’ll get done — and feel confident that you won’t get hit with extra fees.
  • Keep Everything Close: Make sure all of your outbound freight stays close to your numbered booth space. Try not to spread out too much. This makes it easier for those in charge of handling your exhibiting materials to locate them and helps them get them loaded as efficiently as possible.
  • Use a Clear Labeling System: Similar to clear communication, proper labeling can also help you avoid a lot of obstacles. Use brightly colored labels for your shipping crates and boxes. Place a label on opposite sides of the box or crate, too, so it doesn’t get missed by accident. You may also want to color-code your labels and use a specific color for each destination — if your shipments are going to multiple places.
  • Complete All Paperwork Properly: Double-check that you’ve completed your UMHA form correctly and clearly. Include a phone number where you can be reached at any time in case any issues arise.  Count and recount the number of each type of freight, too, and include this information on the UMHA form, as well as the bill of lading.
  • Have a Contingency Plan: No matter how well you prepare, you may still find yourself dealing with forced freight at some point. If this happens, it’ll be easier to handle if you have a contingency plan. To minimize fees and reduce stress, get in touch with your carrier and find out everything you can from them. Then, contact the GSC or a member of their staff and ask for help. Find out if your carrier can still load the freight, too, or get the trailer number to locate your materials and reroute them as soon as possible.
  • Avoid Forced Freight After Your Trade Show: Dealing with forced freight after trade shows and other events can certainly be headache-inducing. The good news is that, with a little planning and preparation, you can avoid the mistakes that typically lead to this particular headache.

Keep the tips listed above in mind and check out our blog for exhibiting and transportation guidance.