Lost freight is an exhibit manager's worst nightmare. Without a booth, you're essentially homeless and hapless, at least in trade show terms. And even if only part of your shipment is missing, you'll often end up scrambling for a replacement and desperately clinging to hope that you can pull everything back together in time – and on budget.
Faced with lost-freight peril, most exhibit managers whip out their smartphones and call anyone and everyone they can think of, including reps for the shipping firm, exhibit house, installation company, show management, and more. But when you still come up empty-handed after making a flurry of phone calls and leaving frantic voicemails, what's the next best course of action?
Before you push the panic button and swing into Plan B replacement mode, take a word from the wise – specifically Betsy Earle, CTSM, founder and managing director of Event Drive Solutions LLC; Noelle Luchino Feist, director of experiential and event marketing at Mindbody Inc.; and Kolleen Whitley, CTSM, CMP, former senior event and trade show manager at Heartland Payment Systems Inc. These three exhibiting veterans have been there and survived that countless times. As such, they offer the following freight-finding hacks (and a few preparatory tips) to help you locate your missing shipment after all else has failed.
1. Check booth spaces with similar numbers.
Every so often, material handlers will transpose numbers and deliver your shipment to the wrong space. So if your booth is number 535, for example, check spaces 553, 355, etc. Also consider spaces whose numbers fall in a similar sequence to some of yours; i.e., if your booth is 1167, check numbers 167 and 116.
2. Scour similar venues.
If the show city has multiple convention venues, your freight handler may have mislabeled the shipment, ultimately sending it to the wrong location in the same show city. Call all nearby venues to see if they have any extra freight.
3. Check similar point-of-origin shipments.
Forklift operators can get a little grabby, so to speak. Sometimes they are so quick to hoist up a load and head toward a booth space or a waiting truck that they neglect to verify the intended destination of each piece of freight. So your shipment may have been mixed in with another load from your exhibit house, sending it to a different booth, show, warehouse, venue, etc.
4. Backtrack any mysterious deliveries.
If someone else's shipment ends up in your space, chances are good that your shipment is sitting in this parcel's intended locale – be it another booth space or a completely different destination unrelated to trade shows. If you end up with a mystery shipment, track down its owner and the intended recipient to see if your shipment is in his or her hands.
5. Sleuth out en-route trucking troubles.
While rare, it's not impossible for a shipping company to completely lose track of its truck. It doesn't hurt to sniff out any issues the vehicle might have had along its route. Check the current and recent weather in the truck's path to ensure the driver isn't stuck in a storm. Also analyze traffic reports and major road closures to verify the vehicle isn't gridlocked or even broken down somewhere.
6. Examine the "empties."
In addition to these 10 tips, sources offered the following tricks and tools to conquer and/or prevent freight-based disasters.
Leave a Calling Card
Always place a business card inside every box in your shipment. If your shipping labels fall off, whoever finds the box will still have a way of tracking you down and hopefully delivering your freight.
Stand Out From the Crowd
Consider atypical external shipping containers, unusual packing materials, or attachable tools to help you identify your crates in a sea of sameness. Options include everything from colored shrink wrap to brightly painted crates. Or consider attaching a specialized luggage tag with blinking LEDs to each crate.
Get on Track
Attach tracking devices to your shipment that allow you to determine its location via app. While most tracking products, such as those from Tile Inc. or TrackR Inc., require that you be in relatively close proximity to your shipment in order to locate it, they can help you find small packages in a massive storage area. Or consider the Iota from Iotera Inc., which enables you to track tagged items within a 4-mile radius.
Full crates bearing entire exhibits are sometimes erroneously funneled off to the empty-crate storage area. And occasionally, a single box or crate full of materials is inadvertently scooped up with your empty containers. Either way, the "empty graveyard" might hold your missing shipment.
7. Check other locations at which you have a presence.
If you're hosting a hospitality function or off-floor presentation at the show, or even if you have meeting rooms reserved in a nearby hotel, it's possible that your exhibit shipment got mixed in with parcels headed to these locales. So check those venues to see if your missing shipment was misdirected and landed there instead.
8. Get high.
You don't have to live in a weed-legal state to implement this tip. Rather, get high, as in high above the show floor. Sometimes securing a bird's-eye view can help you spot errant freight aisles away. Ask show management for access to a top-story vantage point, such as an otherwise off-limits office or storage area. Or, ask one of your laborers to take a quick ride up in a scissor lift to scout the floor for your freight.
9. Divide and conquer all environments.
Occasionally you need to physically look in every nook and cranny where your freight might be hiding, including the marshalling yard, dock area, "empties" warehouse, ancillary loading docks, etc. So divide and conquer to save time and stress. Round up some staffers, exhibit-house reps, or even nearby exhibitors willing to lend a hand and blanket the various locations.
10. Go for a ride.
Particularly at massive shows, it's easy for your freight to get lost in a far-off corner of the exhibit hall. But scouring every inch on foot can take hours. Instead, get some wheels to speed the process. If you ask nicely or offer a kind word, show-management reps may be willing to loan you a cart or drive you around the show floor to locate your freight.