"I haven't seen your freight, but we'll deliver it as soon as we find it," the union guy said. There was no way my whole shipment went missing, but I'd made him angry, and now he wasn't going to give me my stuff.
As the offspring of two teachers, I have a deep appreciation for the importance of labor unions. But as an exhibitor in the trade show industry, I've also cultivated a healthy respect for how much power union workers have, and just how much they can screw up your day if you find yourself on their bad side.
That is precisely where I ended up when I was exhibiting last year in a venue I won't name. It was my first show there, and it had a reputation for having a union or two that were difficult to deal with. But I had a 20-by-20-foot booth to set up, so I planned to be extra sweet to the workers to make sure I didn't encounter any problems.
The first setup day, I arrived at my space to find that none of my 10 crates were in it. I had received a confirmation that they were delivered to the facility, so I knew they were in the building somewhere. But the question was where. I went to show services, where a woman assured me that my freight had to be in line to be brought to the booth, so I headed for the loading dock area to see if I could find out when that would happen.
Amid a sea of crates, forklifts, and men scurrying around, a man with a clipboard appeared to be in charge. I approached him, batted my eyes, and asked in my sweetest voice if he could tell me when my crates would be delivered. "Well I don't $%#@ know," he snapped back. And then he told me to get the hell off of his loading dock.
Shocked, I slinked away. Apparently Mr. Clipboard was a little grumpy, but that didn't mean I needed my freight any less. It was going to take every bit of the next three days to complete our installation, so I headed back to the show services desk to complain.
I told the woman about my encounter with the surly guy and pressured her to get my freight situation resolved. Two hours later, I was still sitting in an empty exhibit, except now I had an install crew standing around waiting too.
Growing angrier by the minute, I headed back to the show services desk, where the woman seemed surprised I hadn't received my shipment yet. She told me that she had a stern conversation with the clipboard guy and that my stuff was supposed to be coming shortly thereafter.
Despite the fact that I would most likely get my head bit off once more, I headed for the freight area again. Mr. Clipboard was still standing there, and when he saw me coming, a look crossed his face that gave him a striking resemblance to the devil. But I felt that the time for sweetness had passed, so in the sternest tone I could muster, I told him that I needed my things delivered to my booth, and I required them right now, please.
With the smuggest look I've ever seen, he drawled, "Well, I haven't seen your freight, but we'll be sure to do that just as soon as we find it." I felt like he had slugged me right in the stomach, and he knew it. There was no way a whole shipment that size went missing, but I'd made him angry, and now he wasn't going to give me my stuff. I was screwed.
Scanning the crates around us, I asked him if it would be possible for me to have a look and see if I could find my freight. He shook his head no and said, "Now you can go complain to somebody about that too."
I wanted to scream to release the steam of the hate volcano boiling up inside me. Instead, I walked back to my booth and told the labor crew still lounging around to go away. There was no point in paying them to do nothing. Then I paced for a minute, wondering what I should do. Assuming that my freight really wasn't lost, I didn't have many options.
Complaining to show services again seemed to be the appropriate next step, I reasoned, but I felt it was entirely possible that I would never get my freight if I did. Or I could just wait, hoping that the guy might eventually deliver it. But I had no reason to believe that was likely at all. Groveling to Mr. Clipboard was not out of the question, but the whole ordeal was so stupid that the thought of having to beg made me mad. It was past noon, and whatever I did, I had to do it soon.
Another exhibitor at the event who had been in the trade show industry for a long time had taken me under his wing during my earliest days in the trade show business. So I went in search of him hoping to get some sage advice. I found him at his booth and recounted all the sordid details. I told him everything, and as he listened, he nodded knowingly.
"You have to go back there with $100, and tell him you know how hard his crew is working, so you'd like to buy them lunch. Then give it to him," my friend said, "and you'll get your stuff." I gasped. It seemed so crappy, but I realized a bribe thinly veiled as an offer to buy them lunch would be an awful lot cheaper than any other available solutions.
I pulled five $20 bills out of my wallet, swallowed all of my pride, and headed back to the loading dock area. I spotted my guy leaning against some crates barking something into a radio. As I approached, I smiled brightly, and he just stared at me. I pulled the money out of my pocket, said my little piece, and attempted to seem very apologetic as I offered it to him.
He squinted at me a little, probably trying to decide if I was truly sorry, and took the cash. "Well that's mighty nice of you," he said. Awkwardly, I turned and left, heading back to my exhibit where I would dutifully wait to see if this ploy worked. Lo and behold, about 30 minutes later, a forklift came rolling up with a pallet of my freight. Then came another, and another.
The rest of the show went off without a hitch, but I left that venue a few days later hoping I never had to go back. It was a good show and all, but I'd rather keep my days making deals with the devil to a minimum.
— Cheryl Miller, trade show specialist, Flam & Triftan Inc., Ridgewood Park, FL