Answer the following 12 questions to ensure your exhibit shipment arrives on time and on budget.
In my 27-year-long career as an exhibiting pro, many years of which have been spent teaching the tools of the trade to face-to-face marketing novices, one of the topics I'm asked about the most is shipping – and for good reason. Everything from incorrectly completed paperwork to an incompetent truck driver can prevent your exhibit from being on the show floor when and where it's needed. To help you avoid any costly, headache-inducing missteps, here is a list of 12 questions I recommend you find answers to every time you prepare to send your exhibit on the road.
1. What are you shipping?
Provide your transportation carrier with an accurate piece count of the items being shipped, including dimensions and type of freight, e.g., crates, carpet, pad-wrapped, pallets, and cartons. This information allows the carrier to allot the appropriate amount of space in the trailer or plane and provide you with a fairly accurate cost estimate. Also inform the carrier of any special instructions regarding your shipment, such as if your crates have to be shipped standing up, if they can't be stacked, or if the crates are on rollers and have to be locked and strapped to the truck walls to keep them secure.
2. What else do you need?
Confirm any special equipment requirements for loading and unloading your freight. Although these items may be considered standard equipment by many specialized trade show exhibit carriers, they may not be available on your truck unless you request them – and are willing to pay additional fees. Specialty items include pallet jacks for moving pallets or crates from the dock into the truck, dollies for moving large boxes and equipment, stacker bars for stacking and securing freight, tie-down straps with ratchets to prevent freight from moving while in transit, and moving pads for cushioning freight that is not crated or palletized.
3. What is the value of your shipment?
Many inexperienced exhibit managers assume that if their freight is lost, the carrier can be held responsible. But in most cases, your carrier will only provide minimal valuation called "released value," which usually ranges from $0.30 to $0.60 per pound. If you need to cover the replacement value of your shipment the entire time it is on the road, you can purchase additional valuation from carriers in $1,000 increments. However, the most economical way to cover a shipment's value is to purchase "door-to-door" all-risk insurance as a rider to your corporate insurance policy. Work with your company's risk-management department to set the replacement value of your entire shipment and how much risk you want to assume with your deductible.
4. When is your freight being picked up by your driver?
The budgetary quote from your carrier will be based on specific pick-up and delivery dates and times that take into consideration the number of miles to be covered. If your freight isn't ready to hit the road on that pick-up date, you might incur an "aborted pick-up fee," and your freight might need to be expedited. You'll likely have to add another driver or change the mode of shipping from ground to airfreight, both of which are pricier options.
5. Where is your driver picking up your freight?
Does the carrier have the complete addresses and contact information for all the locations where pick-ups are scheduled (e.g., your exhibit house, corporate office, marketing-collateral fulfillment house, promotions vendor, etc.)? Your carrier can handle multiple locations, but I've seen shipments delayed due to exhibitors not providing the specific hours that freight can be loaded or failing to include accurate and detailed contact information for each individual site.
6. Where is your freight going?
The quickest way to not get your shipment to a show is to provide inaccurate or incomplete shipping information. But there's more to getting your freight from Point A to Point B than filling out a label and affixing it to a box. Your shipping order and bill of lading will tell your carrier whether your freight is going to the show's advance warehouse or direct to show site. Carriers generally don't have to wait long to unload at an advance warehouse, since freight is arriving over a longer period of time. But wait times at the marshaling yard can be long – even overnight – if the docks are busy or the general service contractor (GSC) has insufficient labor or equipment. This wait time is often called detention, and it can result in additional charges to compensate the driver. It can also start a domino effect of delays that can impact your installation and labor costs.
7. What is the delivery window?
Provide the earliest and latest dates for when freight is accepted at the advance warehouse or at the show, noting whether the GSC has set designated targets for direct-to-site deliveries. You can find dates and times for both advance warehouse and direct-to-site deliveries in the material-handling section of your exhibitor services manual. Also include the times at which the driver can check in at the marshaling yard with your freight. Failing to provide this info to your carrier is like playing Russian roulette with your setup schedule, in that there's no telling when you'll get your goods.
8. What is the full name of the trade show or event venue?
There can be confusion, especially in major cities, if a carrier isn't provided a specific street address or hall designation. I've witnessed freight delivered to the wrong convention center in cities with multiple exhibition facilities and to the wrong Marriott or Hilton since there can be multiple chain hotels in metropolitan areas.
9. What is your full exhibitor name and booth number?
Check that your bill of lading and shipping labels match the way your name appears in the show's exhibitor list and directory. The ability of the labor crew on the docks to deliver freight to the correct place on the show floor is in direct relation to its ability to compare what's on the labels to what's listed in the directory and on the floor plan. Also, since many shows have similar acronyms, I suggest including the full name of the show on all of your shipping materials.
10. Which GSC is running the docks?
Since the show's GSC manages the advance warehouse, marshaling yard, and shipping docks, it's a good idea to acknowledge it on the inbound bill of lading and address labels. In some cities, the convention centers are so large that they often house multiple shows at the same time. So I like to include a "care of" indicator on my labels followed by the name of the GSC. That way if my driver shows up at the wrong dock, he or she can more easily be redirected to the correct area.
11. Where is the marshaling yard?
To help your driver locate the show's marshaling yard, include a map and/or the address of the site. (This information is typically included in your exhibitor kit.) Marshaling yards are generally in the same empty lots near the convention center regardless of the trade show, but depending on the experience of the driver and the accurateness of the GSC's directional signage, they can be hard to find. In fact, I've had drivers miss their targeted check-in times when there wasn't a physical address for them to punch into their GPS – and that was an expensive mistake as they drove around in circles trying to locate the elusive check-in point.
12. What is the final destination of your freight?
Is your shipment on a one-way trip, or have you scheduled a round-trip shipment to the show and back to the freight's origin? I'm amazed at how many exhibitors don't book their freight round-trip with the same transportation carrier. A ridiculous amount of freight gets forced back to the GSC at the end of every show because exhibitors don't arrange for a carrier to come pick it up. So plan ahead and make sure your freight gets home as quickly, safely, and inexpensively as possible by simply ensuring you book a round-trip shipment.
The best advertisement I ever saw from a specialized exhibit carrier comprised a photograph of a van and the words "Contents: one trade show manager's entire career." By avoiding the aforementioned errors and oversights, you can make sure your exhibit freight is secure and at the show site when you need it – and that your career is intact as well.
CTSM, CEM, CMP, CMM
"The Booth Mom," is an independent exhibit project manager, trainer, speaker, consultant, and an Exhibitor Conference faculty member. CandyAdams@BoothMom.com
Exhibit managers have two options for where to ship exhibits: 1) to an advance warehouse, where they receive 30 days of free storage, or 2) directly to the show site. Shipping to the advance warehouse gets your freight on the show floor before direct shipments begin unloading. One limitation of the advance warehouse is that it does not accept pad-wrapped freight. Shipping to the advance warehouse also requires additional labor and equipment, which may raise your material-handling costs. Another liability is that exhibit materials are not always stored in an actual warehouse; they may be stored in unsecured trailers. Shipping direct to site allows you to avoid these risks, and it may be cheaper depending on warehouse labor rates. However, with direct-to-site shipments the time that your freight will unload is unpredictable and based on the check-in time of your truck, the efficiency of the marshaling process, and the availability of docks with access to your space. You can also split your shipment and send some items to the advance warehouse and others direct to site. Some exhibitors ship their carpet, pad, and exhibit to the advance warehouse to gain extra setup time and send their display products, giveaways, and other supplies direct to the show site.