Exhibiting at a trade show can be a highly successful part of your sales strategy. But before you can make your mark, your exhibit has to get there—intact and on time. Trade show shipping may seem like the easy part of preparing for an event, but it’s not always a simple process. There are some issues to watch out for as you move your exhibit to where it needs to be, and there are lots of details to consider. But if you choose the right trade show shipping company, you’re off to a good start.
What Is the Trade Show Shipping Process?
The shipping process has three stages:
- Inbound shipping: Shipping freight to the advance warehouse and/or venue. Careful planning can save you money and ensure you meet delivery deadlines.
- Material handling (AKA drayage): Delivery of your freight from the loading dock to your booth location at the venue and delivery of your freight from the show floor to the loading dock after the event is over
- Outbound shipping: An outbound carrier picks up your freight from the venue. Where it’s headed depends on your schedule. It could be back to storage or to a new venue for another show.
How to Plan for Successful Trade Show Shipping
Trade show shipping can be a complicated process. From packing and labeling to shipping, drayage, and storage, there are many logistical problems to solve and little room for error.
Want to make sure you get everything right? Choose ProExhibits. We take care of every stage of the shipping process, from inbound to outbound and back into storage. It’s the no-fuss way to make sure every shipment gets to the right place at the right time. And with shipping taken care of, you’re free to focus on preparing for the show.
Of course, we understand that some exhibitors prefer to do this work in-house. We’ve put together this guide to help you do just that.
1. Decide: Advance Warehouse Storage vs. Direct to Show
One of the first decisions to make with trade show shipping is how your shipment is delivered to the venue. You have two main options: Ship direct to show or ship to an advance storage warehouse.
If you use an advance storage warehouse, your shipment is delivered several weeks early. This provides secure storage for your shipment before the show, and the warehouse typically handles transportation to the venue.
Pro of shipping to advance warehouse storage: You don’t have to worry that delivery delays might prevent your shipment from arriving on time.
Con of shipping to advance warehouse storage: You have less preparation time because you must ship your booth at least a couple weeks before the show.
Pro Tip: Most warehouses only accept pallets, crates, and other standard items. Anything that can’t be packed this way must be shipped direct to show.
If you are shipping direct to show, your carrier must check in at the venue’s marshaling yard at a designated date and time. They then wait until called to deliver your shipment to the venue.
Pros of shipping direct to show:
- You have more preparation time and can make last-minute changes if you need to.
- Your items go directly to the show floor, so there’s less handling and less risk of damage.
Cons of shipping direct to show:
- Because you’re shipping close to the event date, a delivery delay could prevent your shipment from getting there on time.
- If your carrier has a long time at the marshaling yard, you may be charged for the extra time.
2. Start Planning Early
Always plan earlier than you think you need to. It’s the best way to ensure your shipment arrives on time, in good shape, at the correct location. Good planning also helps keep your shipping costs affordable. The more time you can allow for shipping, the less it costs because the carrier can increase efficiency by consolidating your shipment with others.
- Advance warehouse: Plan at least two weeks ahead of move-in day. A typical warehouse receives freight up to 30 days before move-in day.
- Direct to show: Plan at least 7 to 10 days ahead of move-in day.
3. Check the Show’s Shipping Requirements
Whichever method you choose to get your exhibit to the event, your first step should always be to check out the show’s shipping requirements. These include:
- Move-in and move-out dates
- Whether the event has a preferred advance warehouse
- Other essential details
Preferred shipping carrier: Some events may have a preferred shipping provider, but you’re not typically required to use this provider.
Advance warehouse: Most medium-to-large events have an advance warehouse. The location and shipping dates should be in the trade show’s shipping requirements.
Move-in day: This is the date on which your exhibit is delivered to the show floor. Some shows have a global move-in day that applies to every exhibitor. For others, there are multiple move-in days, and your specific day is assigned according to your booth location.
Packaging guidelines: If any specific items or materials are restricted, they should be itemized here.
4. Choose a Shipping Company
When choosing a shipping company, you can go in a couple different directions. You can handle the logistics yourself, meaning that you arrange packing, pickup, delivery, drayage, and everything else. The other option is to hire a shipping company to manage part or all of the process.
If you decide to work with a shipping company, spend some time researching your options. Look for a company that ticks these boxes:
Choose a single-source carrier: It’s easier by far to work with a single company that handles the entire process because it’s simpler to keep track of where your freight is and to stay in contact with the company.
Choose a trade show shipper that handles large shipments: You can benefit from price breaks if your shipping company has multiple truckloads—or less-than-full truckloads—to the same convention site.
For example, at very popular trade shows, trucks full of supplies sometimes have to wait for hours in the marshaling yard before they are able to deliver their shipments at the unloading dock. Marshal-yard fees range from $45 to $85 an hour. If your shipper has multiple trucks and shipments, the usual waiting fees may be waived.
It’s unlikely those fees would be waived for a company with fewer trucks and shipments. And that company would have to pass their increased costs on to you, the exhibitor.
Choose a company that focuses on trade show shipping: It’s not enough to choose a general shipping company. Only a specialized trade show shipper can handle the specific problems that may occur. It’s also helpful to choose a company that handles large shipments because it can often negotiate reduced fees at the marshaling yard.
Pro Tip: Many trade shows have an official show carrier, and it’s tempting to opt for them. Before you do, research your options. You’re not required to use the official carrier, and it often ends up being the costlier choice.
Choose an experienced and established company: They’re better equipped to solve logistical problems. They’re more likely to have good relationships with the relevant unions and more likely to have experience with the venue to which you’re shipping. That all helps minimize delays and costs.
Prioritize communication: If problems arise with your shipment, you need to know right away. Look for a company that prioritizes 24/7 communication with a live person—not just a chatbot. And opt for a company that sends Internet air bills and bills of lading out on request, in case you lose one and need a duplicate in a hurry.
Choose ProExhibits: Alternatively, you can skip the leg work and choose the best. When you work with ProExhibits, shipping is easy—because we do it all for you. As a full-service exhibit company, we don’t just offer exhibit design and manufacturing services; we provide storage and shipping too. We’ll take care of all the details so your exhibit gets to the show on time, in pristine condition.
5. Size Up Your Booth
Your shipping freight and drayage costs are determined by the size and weight of your shipment, but each is calculated differently.
How Is Trade Show Freight Shipping Calculated?
Both the size and the weight of the freight package are considered in calculating event shipping. So is the distance the freight has to travel. The types of materials you’re shipping may also come into play. For instance, shipping food products that require refrigeration will increase the cost.
If you have a large freight shipment, the easiest way to find its weight is to weigh or estimate each smaller item separately. Then add those figures together to arrive at the total weight. By checking service provider rates, you can get a rough idea of what shipping might cost, but, of course, a detailed quote will be more accurate. (If you want to do this, make sure it gets done before your freight is packed!)
How Is Trade Show Drayage Calculated?
Drayage is charged based on weight, in varying increments. At some events, you might be charged per pound of freight, while others might charge in increments ranging from 25 to 100 pounds. Sometimes drayage has a minimum weight charge. For instance, if the minimum weight is 200 pounds, you’ll pay that minimum fee even if your freight weighs less than that.
6. Pack Your Freight
Whether it’s a single suitcase or a full pallet, packing is an essential skill. Pack the right way, and you’ll minimize both the risk of damage and the cost of shipping. On the other hand, trade show freight shipping can cost more if you pack inefficiently.
Aim for a single shipment: If you have multiple crates or boxes, consider using a pallet instead. It’s always easier to keep track of one shipment than several smaller ones.
Choose the right packing materials: It might be tempting to invest in a roll of bubble wrap and call it a day. If you prefer to think long-term, consider custom foam inserts to protect and support your items. These can be reused indefinitely and are easy to both pack and store. Plus, no tools are needed to pack and unpack, which generally helps the process go a little quicker.
For smaller items with awkward shapes that aren’t easy to fit into the crate or pallet, the easiest option is to change their shape. Pack oddly shaped items into small crates, then pack those into the main crate or pallet.
Pack with care: Every item you ship needs to arrive at its destination ready for the show. To minimize breakage, pack the heaviest items at the bottom of the crate or pallet.
To ensure fragile items like electronics arrive safely, travel with them. If you’re driving, is there room for them in your vehicle? If flying, can they travel in your carry-on? If these delicate items do have to go in the crate or pallet, protect them with foam inserts and place them in smaller crates of their own.
Pack in order: Try to pack your trade show shipment in a way that lets you unpack in the most logical order. This means packing so the items you’ll need first are the ones you unpack first. If you can do this for most of your items, your set-up should go a little more smoothly.
Don’t ship unnecessary items: It might be more convenient to pack every little thing and call it freight, but it can add unnecessary padding to your shipping bill. For instance, instead of having printed marketing materials shipped as freight, have them printed at your destination. You can do the same with swag and pick up other small items, such as snacks and water, at your destination too.
7. Label Your Freight
Once everything is packed, label every separate crate, pallet, and package with the following information:
- Delivery address
- Venue name
- Booth name
- Company name
- Contact information: Name, phone, and email address of the point-of-contact person
- Shipment number/total number of shipments (e.g., 1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3)
- Arrive-by date
8. Don’t Forget Insurance
Whichever trade show shipper you choose, make sure you understand what your insurance covers. If your booth is a rental, insurance should be covered by the trade show booth rental company. If you own the exhibit, it’s up to you to arrange insurance.
Choose ProExhibits for Superior Shipping Services
When you’re shipping your trade show exhibit to a venue, it’s wise to avoid unneeded risks. Do your homework before the show, and choose a trade show shipper that knows the ins and outs of the industry—better yet, the event you’re attending!
To make things easier, choose an experienced, full-service provider like ProExhibits to arrange for trade show shipping. With ProExhibits on the job, your trade show exhibit will make it to the show on time and in perfect condition.