These easy-to-overlook points about shipping and logistics are essential for ensuring the safe, on-budget, and timely arrival of your freight. By Betsy Earle
Getting your exhibiting freight to and from a trade show venue on time and in one piece may not be the most glamorous part of your job, but it is undeniably essential to the success of your face-to-face marketing program. And given the enormous undertaking that is packing up an exhibit, shipping it across the country, and having it arrive at its destination undamaged and at a predesignated time, it's no wonder that this piece of the exhibiting puzzle is often fraught with complications. It's also not surprising that while many exhibit managers are focused on the big picture, i.e., planning a stellar trade show appearance, they often overlook small but significant shipping-related details that can make the difference between on-time crate arrivals and blood-pressure-raising MIA misfires. Here are some tips to make your shipping process smoother, more efficient, and less stressful.
Vet Potential Carriers
When it comes to freight carriers, you frequently get what you pay for. While I applaud economizing, be wary of choosing a carrier based solely on price. Yes, price is important, but any dollar spent on freight that doesn't arrive at the convention center is wasted. So before you give a carrier your business, determine how familiar it is with hauling trade show freight. Just because a carrier is halfway reputable doesn't mean its drivers are familiar with marshaling yards, direct-to-site delivery windows, and convention center loading docks. Does the firm have a specialized department for trade show clients? What percentage of its business is devoted to servicing exhibitors? Does it offer 24-hour customer service and online tracking? Will it provide references? Its answers – or lack thereof – will help you ascertain whether a potential partner is qualified to handle your beloved booth baby.
Keep Your Carrier in the Know
Even if the driver hauling your freight is familiar with the ins and outs of trade show shipping, there is still information he or she needs to know to ensure a hassle-free delivery. For instance, provide your carrier with a map of the convention center that indicates the location of the marshaling yard where the driver must check in. I like to email the carrier a copy of the Quick Facts found in the exhibitor manual, which indicates the earliest and latest check-in times at the yard. It's not a bad idea to also ask for confirmation that the driver will be aware of these times. After all, if your driver arrives outside this window, you may be hit with additional fees, and your setup team can be left twiddling their thumbs for hours.
Determine Your Equipment Needs
Say your freight is being picked up at your corporate office, which doesn't have a proper loading dock or a forklift. How do you imagine you'll get multiple crates, each of which likely weighs hundreds of pounds, into the truck? Anyone who's found themselves in such a predicament will tell you it's essential to have the foresight to order a truck equipped with a lift gate. And depending on the type of freight, e.g., crates, pallets, large boxes, etc., and its volume, you may also want to request a pallet jack and a dolly. You'll likely pay additional rental fees, but the cost is well worth the time and effort – and backs – saved.
Triple Check Your Bill of Lading
Essentially, the bill of lading is a permission slip given to your carrier that states where your freight is going, and disaster can strike if it contains any errors or omissions. Therefore, check and recheck to make sure it lists the correct venue name and address, show name, exhibit hall, and booth number. How your company is listed on the bill of lading is also important, as any discrepancy between this document, your shipping labels, and your booth contract, e.g., "Acme Supply Co." versus just "Acme," can cause confusion, misdirected shipments, and frustrating delays. So make sure you're using the same company name on all show-related documents.
Mind Your Monitors
I'm not the biggest fan of purchasing audiovisual equipment, especially monitors, mainly due to these products' delicate natures and their short life spans before becoming obsolete. But if you do decide to buy and ship a flatscreen, remember these two pieces of advice. First, retain the original box and its foam packing, as these will help keep your fragile asset safe for transport. Second, never forget that monitors always need to be kept upright. So while it may be tempting to lay a screen flat inside a crate when preparing your shipment, you'll likely be greeted with a useless piece of techno trash on site.
By minding these simple tips, you'll save yourself from unnecessary stress and costly fees. And by saving time and money on shipping, you'll be in a better position to dedicate your attention and budget to the parts of the show that generate a measurable return on your investment.
Betsy Earle, CTSM
managing director and founder of Event Driven Solutions LLC. Earle obtained her MBA at the University of Miami and earned her Diamond-level CTSM designation in 2018. Exhibiting101@exhibitormagazine.com