< Back to Newsroom

What You Need to Know About Trade Show Shipping Today


If you have experience with trade shows and exhibiting, you know that many aspects of the trade show planning process can be expensive. You also know that no other aspect is more at risk of costly mistakes than shipping.

If you want to avoid expensive trade show shipping issues, then keep reading. Below are some helpful tips that will make it easy (and cost-effective) for you to ship your exhibit materials to the convention center safely and efficiently.

What Causes Trade Show Shipping Delays?

These days, shipping delays are a common complaint across a wide range of industries. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the world’s supply chain over the last couple of years, and these challenges are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Another issue contributing to the problem of slow shipping, though, is the massive labor shortage plaguing the United States.

In September of 2021, reports revealed that over 70 container ships that had arrived in Long Beach and Los Angeles, California couldn’t be unloaded because there weren’t enough workers to do the job. Another report from October of 2021 also shared that a mere 194,000 jobs were added to the economy during the previous month (more than 300,000 short of what economists originally predicted).

Without enough workers available to assist with various aspects of the shipping process, a lot of businesses are dealing with unsatisfied customers, higher shipping costs, and, in the case of companies trying to make a presence at trade shows, missed opportunities to share their products and services with potential customers.

How to Avoid Trade Show Shipping Snafus

Shipping trade show materials to events is trickier in 2021 (and will likely continue to be tricky in 2022 and beyond). The good news, though, is that there are some steps you can your team can take to prevent shipping snafus, including the following:

Research Carriers

Don’t just pick the first carrier you can find to handle your trade show shipping. When transferring precious materials from your office to the convention center, be extra careful about who you entrust to handle the job.

Ideally, you’ll choose a career that derives at least half of its sales from trade show deliveries. They should have a dedicated trade show arm of their business, too.

Looking for these factors increases the likelihood that the carrier will know how to handle your materials and will have a clear plan in place to ensure they get delivered on time.

Give the Carrier Enough Information

Once you’ve chosen a carrier, make sure you give them sufficient information so they can do their jobs correctly. Some key details you’ll need to provide include:

  • Breakdown of the exhibit components, including quantities, dimensions, and estimated weight
  • Full name of the show (no acronyms)
  • Booth number
  • Show dates
  • Move-in and move-out dates
  • Special equipment needs (lift-gate trucks, J-bars, dollies, etc.)
  • Map of the marshaling yard

Let the carrier know, too, whether or not there will be a dock for loading and if they will need to make pick-ups and deliveries at multiple locations.

Choose the Right Shipping Destination

You’ll need to decide whether you want your trade show materials shipped directly to the convention center or to a warehouse where they can be held until the show.

When you ship to the warehouse, your materials will get on the trade show floor before the direct-to-site shipments get unloaded. This can actually save you money on storage costs and reduce transportation wait times. However, shipping to a warehouse also means more handling, which can increase the risk of items being damaged or lost (and lead to more expenses for you).

Shipping directly to the site creates more unpredictability when it comes to unloading times. However, if you have fragile materials that you want to be handled as little as possible, this may be the better choice.

Don’t Forget Your Documentation

Of all the tradeshow shipping documents you need to remember, two are especially important.

The first is the bill of lading (or B/L). This establishes the terms between you (the exhibitor) and the carrier.

The second is the material-handling agreement (or MHA). This is a contract between you (the exhibitor) and the general services contractor.

The MHA allows the contractor to move materials from the company booth and relinquish them to the carrier so they can be loaded. If you don’t complete the MHA, your materials may end up at the general services contractor’s warehouse, which will lead to major shipping delays and more expenses for you.

Start Planning Your Next Trade Show Today

Trade show shipping mistakes can be expensive and detrimental to your business. Follow the steps outlined above, though, and you’ll be less likely to run into them and more likely to have a successful show.