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Oh No! Where Is My Freight?

What do you do when you arrive at your booth space but some or all of your freight has not?

The worst nightmare of any trade show manager or coordinator is having a trade show booth at a show with no exhibit in it when the show starts! If that scenario has happened to you, it is not only embarrassing, but very costly. So, what do you do if you show up at your booth space on the first day of install and your exhibit freight is not there? First off, don’t panic… yet.

There are several important things that you need to always do or make sure your exhibit vendor does every time your exhibit is getting ready to go to a show. If you do these things, you will be that much closer to averting disaster.

  1. Select a freight company that specializes in trade show shipping. Trade show shipping is very different than standard shipping with many special rules.
  2. Make sure that you have an accurate bill of lading that properly reflects the sizes and weights of all pieces that are shipping.
  3. Take a photograph of all pieces that are shipping just prior to loading.
  4. If there are multiple crates, cases, or pallets that are being shipped, make sure that all of your pieces are labeled as 1 of the total. For example, if you are shipping 4 pieces, each one should be labeled as 1 or 4, 2 of 4 and so on.
  5. Consider shipping your exhibit on a dedicated truck as opposed to LTL if you have a fairly large shipment. Shipping on a dedicated truck means that no other freight will be on your truck and that truck will pick up your freight and make the long haul trip to your show venue or warehouse. With LTL (less than a full load), the carrier will pick up your freight along with other freight, take it to a staging warehouse, and then unload. Then, they will marry it up with other freight that is heading to your final destination to make the trip. There may be multiple stops and loading and unloading of your freight before it gets to the final destination. A dedicated truck is typically more costly, but requires much less handling and, therefore, fewer places for something to get misplaced or even damaged.
  6. Make sure that you have tracking information and contact numbers, a copy of the bill of lading, hard copies of all of your receipts and documents, and the photos with you at the show. Keep them on your iPad or your go-to device for quick and easy reference.
  7. If you ship to the show decorator’s pre-show warehouse, you will typically receive notice from them when your shipment arrives at their facility. Confirm that their piece count matches your bill of lading.

freightHowever, even if you do all of the things above, you may still arrive at your booth with one or more pieces missing. So, here is what to do in that event:

Always get to your booth space before the install of the exhibit is scheduled to begin. This is so that you can several things, one of which is count your crates to make sure everything is there. If for some reason, some or all of your fright isn’t there, start this protocol:

  1. If you have shipped directly to the show site and none of your freight is there, contact the carrier to make sure that they checked in at the proper time and where they are “in line” in the Marshalling Yard (where trucks go to wait for their chance to unload). Also go to the freight desk to verify that your carrier has indeed checked in. Sometimes they can even give you an idea of when they think they will be getting to your freight.
  2. If you have shipped to the pre-show warehouse, follow these steps:
    a. Verify that the piece you’re missing actually shipped – check the Bill of Lading that you have and freight photos.
    b. Verify with the decorator that they signed for the same number of pieces shown on your bill of lading.
    c. Look all around your booth space to make sure the pieces missing are not hiding behind someone else’s stuff.
    d. Search booth spaces with transposed numbers of your own booth number. For example, if my booth is 215, I will check 512, 521, 125, 152 and so forth.
    e. If the show is small enough, expand to a full show floor search.
    f. Around this time, you should contact your freight carrier to have them verify details from their side. The sooner you alert them the better, because they may need time to search though all of the freight being loaded and unloaded at various warehouses along the way if you shipped LTL.
    g. If that yields no result, check with the freight desk to see if they can help and even check the back docks and any hidden aisles and hallways in and around the show floor and docks.

8 out of 10 times, the steps above yield located freight.

If none of the above locates your exhibit or missing pieces, you may still have one option: If you start this process soon enough, you may still have time to send an alternate exhibit to the show if you have other properties available in your exhibit fleet.

Plan ahead, be organized, document everything, keep a hard copy of all of your documents with you, communicate with all parties involved, and keep your eyes peeled. 99 times out of 100 you will avert freight disaster.

tst-new-exhibitorTo help you avoid other potential trade show disasters, read the Trade Show Tips for New Exhibitors white paper. This book will tell you everything you need to know about exhibiting to give you a solid foundation before you step onto the floor. Click here to request for your free copy. 

About the Author

Philip Foust was the VP of Growth & Development for Skyline-Holt Exhibits + Events.

2 responses to “Oh No! Where Is My Freight?

  1. Brilliant advice about going to booths with similar numbers. 9 times out of ten that’s where the missing crate is.

    When I was exhibiting, we used to use bright colored florescent paint to cover our crates with wacky stencils. It’s so much easier to ask, “did you see any crates with a hot pink unicorn heads on them?”

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