Forced freight is one of the biggest frustrations one can face on the show floor. Learn why it occurs and how to prevent it from happening to you.
Many years ago, I learned about forced freight the hard way. I got a phone call from the general service contractor's (GSC) freight department three days after my first trade show had closed, telling me that my freight had been "forced." As a rookie exhibit manager, my reply was, "Forced to do what?"
To fully understand forced freight, you need a basic knowledge of the contractual agreements among the show manager, the convention center, and the GSC that make forced freight a necessary evil for trade show exhibitors. When a show manager signs a venue contract, it is agreeing to rent the premises for a finite period of time and relinquish the use of the facility in the same condition as it was received. The show manager generally hires a GSC to oversee the show floor, including all material handling. Part of the GSC's responsibility is to make sure that the venue is ready to turn over at the time stated in the show manager's contract with the facility. As such, the GSC works with show management to set two times (both of which are listed in the show's exhibitor services manual): the time at which all carriers must have checked in at a marshaling yard, and the time at which all carriers must have the freight loaded after the show. Any freight remaining on the show floor after that time will then be moved to another location, i.e., forced.
If you ask the GSC why forced freight happens, it will likely tell you that an exhibitor's carrier didn't show up on time or the exhibitor didn't turn in the uniform material-handling agreement (UMHA) – the form that permits the GSC to move an exhibitor's freight from the booth space to the designated carrier at the dock. Or, maybe the exhibitor filled in the UMHA incorrectly and named a different carrier than the one that checked in to pick up the freight. When that happens, the GSC can't release the shipment to the carrier that shows up at the marshaling yard, so the freight doesn't get loaded.
It's important to note that there is a box on the UMHA form that asks what the exhibitor wants done with its freight if the designated carrier doesn't show up. You can elect to have it sent to the GSC's warehouse pending further instructions or placed on the GSC's preferred carrier. If you send it to the warehouse, the GSC or official common carrier will hold the freight until it contacts you to ask how it should be returned. If the preferred carrier handles your shipment, it will do so at rates that are most likely higher than those charged by the carrier you originally contracted.
Here are just a few of the reasons I've had freight forced in the past:
➤ The GSC finished its post-show cleanup early and decided to force the floor before the designated time.
➤ Inexperienced material-handling staffers couldn't find the freight because they didn't know how to read the floor plan to find booth numbers.
➤ The hanging aisle signs and booth numbers taped on the floor were removed during teardown before material-handling staff could locate and remove freight from the floor.
Aside from the planning nightmare caused by forced freight, there are numerous financial consequences, including: 1) additional handling fees for loading the freight, 2) local cartage fees (for moving the forced freight from the exhibit floor to the local GSC's warehouse or official common carrier's warehouse), and 3) undiscounted or highly inflated rates if the freight ends up with the GSC's official carrier. In addition to these forced-freight charges from the GSC, your carrier might hit you with fees related to waiting time (aka detention) and aborted/attempted pickups.
Note that if you incur fees because your carrier failed to follow instructions regarding when to check in, you have a good case for reimbursement.
Obviously, forced freight is a less than ideal situation, but there are several steps exhibitors can take to sidestep this fiasco.
➤ Make sure your specialized transportation carrier knows the deadline to check in to the marshaling yard or to the event facility after the show, as well as the date and time that the GSC will force the floor.
➤ Confirm the pickup of your outbound freight with your carrier the day before your outbound shipment is scheduled. Indicate when you will turn in the UMHA form and when your shipment will be ready to load.
➤ Appoint someone to be in charge of your exhibit during teardown if you are not able to personally oversee it. That person needs to understand the critical nature of completing and turning in the UMHA form and bill of lading (the contract of carriage with a carrier to move the exhibitor's freight from the show dock to the specified destination) to the GSC's service desk.
➤ Keep all of your outbound freight in close proximity to your numbered booth space to make it easier for the material-handling personnel to locate it on the show floor.
➤ Use well-marked shipping crates or boxes with brightly colored labels (two per piece of freight, on opposite sides) to identify your outbound freight. If you have shipments going to multiple destinations, use a different color label for each destination.
➤ Put at least one label on each box or carton placed on a pallet, even if the pallet will be stretch-wrapped. The cartons shipped on pallets are often separated if there isn't enough room on the truck.
➤ Complete your UMHA form clearly and precisely. Add a phone number where an exhibitor rep can be reached 24/7 in case there are any problems. Make sure to count and recount the number of each type of freight (crates, rolls of carpet pad and carpet, etc.) and note these totals on the UMHA and bill of lading. Turn in the completed, signed bill(s) of lading and UMHA at the GSC's service desk, and get a signed copy of the UMHA marked with the date and time it was received and by whom. If you're using your own designated carrier that provides its material-handling form or waybill, get a copy of this bill of lading, too, and ask for copies when you turn them in at the GSC's service desk. The tracking numbers on this paperwork are critical to tracing your shipment.
➤ Let your carrier know the final piece count of your shipment, and note the variety of shipping containers. Confirm the type of service, the estimated time of arrival, and the emergency contact number where you can be reached.
Although you probably won't always be able to shield yourself from forced freight, these tips should help you avoid this painful predicament as much as possible.
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