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I WANT IT NOW - 10 Tips for Freight & Drayage at Trade Shows

I WANT IT NOW – 10 Tips for Freight & Drayage at Trade Shows

Gas prices continue to go through the roof and increased Freight
transportation costs will increase trade show costs across
the board.

Here are 10 Tips for saving time, money and your sanity.


There are eight components to a trade show budget and the
one most overlooked is FREIGHT & DRAYAGE. Whether you
do-it-yourself or it’s handled by a contractor, there are ways
to anticipate problems and save money.

1. DEFINITION – Freight….

You can transport it yourself or pay a carrier (truck, ship,
plane) to pick it up at your location and get it to the show city.
If you choose to ship, you can select your own carrier or the
official carrier contracted by show management.

NOTE – Using the official carrier gives your freight
preference in getting it to the loading dock and show floor.

2. DEFINITION – Drayage Freight….

This is the most expensive word you may not know. Drayage
fees pay only to (1) move your goods from the loading dock
to your exhibit hall location (2) remove the empty crates
before the show, store them during the show, and return
them after the show (3) move your repacked goods back to
the loading dock after the show.

NOTE #1 – Drayage is more common in the US and parts of
Canada than the rest of the world which uses an inclusive
contractor system.

NOTE #2 – Cost for drayage is based on a contract between
show management and the drayage company (usually a
labor union). The critical components are weight in CWT
(hundred pounds) and time. If your freight weighs 50 lbs
and comes in during overtime hours, it will be charged for
100 lbs and overtime hours. Hint – don’t send lots of small

3. PLAN for SHIPPING Freight…..

Often it’s not included in the original trade show budget.
Shipping prices are based on a number of factors (time,
weight, dimensional size, etc.) and may be difficult to define
in advance, but you can get accurate estimates and hold
your suppliers to a freight cost if it is writing. Expect to pay a
20% add-on for every middleman it passes through.


The biggest problem I see are the last minute orders, the
change orders, the “gee, we changed our minds and want it
in ivory, not white”. Maybe you will pay for rush charges but
not renting the jet to get it there on time. Make sure you
understand the time frame for everything! everything! Always
factor in the possibilities of weather delays, strikes, broken
shipments and things that just get Lost.


It used to be you had to take everything. and print everything
in advance. Now you can rent the display and take the disk
or email to Kinko’s or some other graphic entity. Life is
much easier.

CAVEAT – Everybody at both ends must be on the same
page, know what’s coming and your deadline. Don’t get
caught in the “…but I talked to them and they said they could
do it” syndrome. Right, you just didn’t tell them you needed
20 full panel display graphics in 5 hours, with the right
hardware for your system, and you need it installed. This is
not a case of price doesn’t matter – it does – but quality and
truth matter more. Be certain systems match, the software
matches, you understand “camera ready art” and you have a
Plan B.


E-mail is great. TIF is tops, etc. but a hard copy of whatever
you need is still best. Note that if you use PMS colors
(Pantone Matching System, for printing only), you need the
real number, not an approximation (when you say “it’s really
red” – it really doesn’t work).


This means you need to know the approximate weight,
dimensional size (cubic), zip code and WHEN you
absolutely positively need it plus the correct address. You
can’t just send it to the hotel and expect it get to your room,
the hotel or the convention center. NOTE – most convention
centers will not accept freight or packages except through
the show contractor. Many hotels will either not accept or
charge hefty fees to accept and store your materials.

Double check all shipping information just before you ship –
this is the biggest problem since we have new zip codes
and area codes every week. Make sure you have the correct
phone number. A main toll free number works best and
fastest, otherwise you may get lost in voice mail and

8. SHIP LESS Freight.

It’s estimated that 10% of show attendees have a direct
interest in your company, so if there are 10,000 expected
attendees, don’t send 10,000 brochures. Send 1,000. If you
don’t use them all, you have a small number to bring back. If
you run out, it gives you the opportunity to follow-up with a

Remember – whatever you don’t use at the show or meeting
has to be shipped back to you or just thrown away (that’s a
waste). Decide which is cheaper and if there’s a recycling or
disposal fee. Save the good material for a special mailing
after the show and use for other shows, meetings,
conferences or as employee rewards.

Consider the cost of renting versus purchasing. You can
amortize the cost of an exhibit but freight and drayage are
expenses for EVERY show.


Why does stuff get swept up and thrown away? Because
everybody thought you’d give away all the toys, pens,
brochures, packets, CDs, etc. If it costs money to go, it costs
money to come back.

Fill out all the packing slips and make arrangement for
payment before you go to the show. Know the rules – some
carriers won’t allow you to ship COD. And will the last
person out of Seattle (or any place) please make sure the
paperwork is in order.


This year you may see lots of surchagres, so match your
written estimates and agreements against the actual bills.
At the end of the show, it’s easy to be over-charged,
especially as you are rushing to leave the hall. Question
everything. Resolve problems first with the carrier and
inform show management if it is an over-charge based on
their contracts.

Knowing prices are going up is one thing. Knowing you
have some ways to anticipate and control those increases
is important.

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