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Trade Show Basics: Material Handling, Drayage, And Freight

material handling at tradeshows

First things first: material handling and drayage at the most basic level refers to the same thing: the movement of your exhibit items between your carrier’s vehicle and your trade show booth space.  This is a highly coordinated effort that is happening behind the scenes.  For most shows there are hundreds of exhibitors and all their booth materials are being received at one central location.  Your show decorator then takes over to make sure all those items are distributed out to the correct booth spaces. The show decorator assesses the charges for this service in two basic ways:

  • Advance Warehouse
  • Show Site

Advance Warehouse vs Show Site – What’s the difference?

So let’s dive right in:  all drayage rates are based on CWT (weight per 100lbs, in theUS) multiplied by an established rate.  Rates vary among show halls and for specific trade shows.  Additional established rates per show vary by the type of freight being moved as determined by the timing and difficulty of handling.  Average rates for trade show displays in 2011 as reported by Event Marketing Institute (EMI) and the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) were:

  • $83.51 Advance shipment to Warehouse
  • $76.72 Crated shipments direct to Show Site
  • $99.78 Direct to Show Site Shipment with Special Handling (such as glass)
  • $112.19 Direct to Show Site Shipment, Uncrated

One easy way to keep your charges lower?  Skid items as much as possible.  Shipping loose pieces is a sure fire way to end up with high material handling costs.  Why?  Each loose piece is assessed the minimum charge.  Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate!  Whether you ship to the advance warehouse or show site it is in your best interest to consolidate as much as possible.

Wait a second: according to your list above I can save money shipping direct to the show?

Yes, in many cases shipping to the show site directly will lower your material handling charges.  Why?  If you are shipping directly to the show site the decorator is handling your freight items much less than if they are moving items from an advance warehouse.  That being said, here are some important benefits to shipping to the advance warehouse:

  • Materials arrive in booth space faster.  Generally if you ship to the advance warehouse, once the exhibit set up starts, your materials are typically available in your booth space.
  • Less to worry about.  You have enough to be worrying about in your trade show planning –  shipping your exhibit ahead of time takes one item off your list.

With only two benefits, that doesn’t seem like such a big deal right? WRONG!  Don’t under estimate the value of the items listed above. Shows with lots of exhibitors and short set up times can make having your materials in your booth space already a Godsend.  If you are pressed for time you can ship directly to the show hall but be aware that some shows have specific days and times for each exhibitor to have their items arrive.  You can generally find this information on your quick facts page.  If your show has a targeted move in double check all date and time information for shipping directly to the show as in addition to getting show site shipping charges you can get additional off-target charges.

Great, I know what to do about material handling, but how do I actually ship my equipment?

If you don’t already have a relationship with a trucking or freight forwarding company, don’t despair!  Many shows have carriers that can help you move your assets to and from your event.  When you call to make arrangements with a carrier the following are key pieces of information you want to have available:

  • Number of Pieces
  • Estimated Weight
  • Addresses for Pickup/Delivery – Don’t forget to have delivery times ready, items that arrive after receiving hours can get additional charges. Save money by planning ahead!

Why can’t I just ship my items with UPS or FedEx?

You certainly can!  FedEx and UPS are great for shipping to hotels and for smaller shipments but keep in mind the following:

  • These carriers will not wait in lines or marshaling yards to deliver items to the show hall so if you use them we recommend that you send your show materials to the advance warehouse.

Regardless of whether you ship your materials to the advance warehouse or direct to show, ship all materials at one time and together to avoid lots of separate pieces that could get lost.  Once your exhibit materials are moved to your booth space, the exhibit is set up and you are finished with your shipping containers don’t forget to fill out the show decorator’s container labels.  Be sure to identify your company name and booth number and put at least two labels on different sides of the container.  The show decorator will then pick up your containers and store them until the show is over.

Great Planning Can Resolve Any Problem

Right now there is probably a feeling of dread taking over.  How is it possible to keep all this information organized?!  Don’t fret, just remember that great planning can make executing your tradeshow a breeze.  Hopefully the tips and knowledge we shared above help make filling out these forms a little less daunting.  Always remember, you are not on your own!  The show decorator and your exhibit supplier can always help you with questions.  If you are feeling completely overwhelmed you can always check in with your exhibit supplier to see if they offer show paperwork services to reduce this workload entirely.

This post is part of series in trade show marketing best practices. Visit the others in this series by clicking below: 

Evolving Role of Exhibit Marketers: free white paperCoordinating the shipping and freight arrangements for your display are just a few of the responsibilities a trade show exhibitor has to deal with today.  For a deeper look at how your peers handle that and many other new tasks read The Evolving Role Of Exhibit Marketers.  Click here to request your free copy. 

About the Author

Clarissa was a Project Manager at Skyline Exhibits of Central Ohio, located in Columbus, Ohio.

3 responses to “Trade Show Basics: Material Handling, Drayage, And Freight

    1. Hi Janice,

      I’m glad you think so! Coordinating this aspect of a tradeshow can be very confusing for folks. Our goal is to explain the basics of ordering these services so trade show coordinators don’t feel like they are ordering services blindly and don’t understand what they are paying for and how they can keep within budget. Thanks for the comment!

  1. One more note to consider on the advance warehouse versus direct to show site. Although you may pay a higher drayage rate for warehouse, you will pay a higher shipping fee to send direct to show. When you ship direct to the show, you have a smaller time window for delivery, which also may be a Saturday, driving up the shipping costs. So what you save in drayage shipping direct to the show, may be lost in extra shipping costs.

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