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illustration: Regan Dunnick
All Hands on Deck
The exhibitor's investment may as well have been in Davy Jones' locker for all the good it would do him if that ship didn't put in a Michael Phelps sprint toward Georgia.
Plan A
Moving freight around the globe is rarely smooth sailing even on the calmest of seas. But when a large hurricane slammed into the Florida coast a few years ago and threatened to engulf a client's booth, my team and I had to do more than just bail water – we needed to put all of our oars in and start rowing together.

As a sales exec for TWI Group Inc., my job involves coordinating shipping logistics to ensure our clients' freight arrives at their shows in time for setup. After all, there's nothing worse than an exhibiting company's CEO or president showing up and seeing a slab of concrete where the shining booth is supposed to be. And that's nearly what happened in the run-up to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show in Orlando, FL. The event was set to open on a Tuesday in mid-October, and our client was an exhibit house with a client of its own. Exhibit components were coming in from around the globe, including flooring from Canada and three ocean containers of show-critical products being shipped from eastern Europe. The transatlantic freight was scheduled to arrive in Miami on Friday, be trucked to the venue, and set up before the show opened on Tuesday – plenty of time as long as there weren't any shenanigans.

But of course, shenanigans were the only thing on the menu when a hurricane besieged Miami. I was sitting at my desk on Friday afternoon when my team and I learned that the Coast Guard shut down the port mere hours before our shipment was set to arrive, and the ship containing our freight was rerouted to Savannah, GA. We immediately notified the exhibitor, who was clearly agitated. After all, his investment may as well have been in Davy Jones' locker for all the good it would do him if that ship didn't put in a Michael Phelps sprint toward the Georgia coast.


Plan B
Bringing freight through customs isn't exactly a drop-your-stuff-off sort of operation to begin with, and now we had to coordinate the logistics at a different port at the last minute. Multiple details needed managing ASAP, so I put my team into action making phone calls, sending emails, and doing all the back-channel work necessary to ensure a smooth transition from water to land. Additionally, we needed to cancel the trucks in Miami and arrange new transportation from Savannah to Orlando, which meant more calls and emails. In short order, we had three new trucks lined up to collect the freight as soon as it cleared customs. With a little time to spare, we were now set and just waiting for the containers to arrive.

By Friday afternoon, the ship had barreled up the coast and was nearing Savannah. Unfortunately, it wasn't the only one in search of safe harbor. So even though the ship made great time in reaching Georgia, it had to spend hours floating off the coast as it waited for its turn to chug the final few miles upriver to the port, and all we could do in Orlando was watch the GPS tracking app, which showed a stationary dot on our computer. After about 12 hours or so of "treading water," the ship finally got the green light to head to port at around midnight. That meant that our freight would get unloaded, work its way through customs, and get moved onto our waiting trucks during the early morning hours. If everything went smoothly, we could expect the containers to arrive in Orlando by midday on Saturday. The timeline was getting tight – but doable – for the exhibit house to get everything set up on time, so I went to bed a little after midnight feeling pretty good about our efforts.

However, the tempest wasn't done wreaking havoc on our plans. I woke up at about 6 a.m. on Saturday, checked my phone, and found more bad news. During the night the hurricane had unexpectedly pivoted north, and the Coast Guard had to close the Savannah port as dangerous winds pounded the Georgia coast. When that port shut down, our liner had to whip a U-turn and sprint back out to sea. So I raced to the convention center to let both the exhibit house and exhibitor himself know about this unwelcome development.

All we could do was go back to staring at the stranded blip on the computer screen. Later that day, the winds calmed enough for the port to open, and our ship was given clearance to chug upriver for another pass. This time it made it. At about 6 p.m. on Saturday, the three shipping containers were transferred from the ship to our waiting trucks. Once the drivers got the handoff, the convoy sped down the interstate to Orlando.

We knew the trucks would arrive at about 10 p.m., so we had forklifts on standby. As soon as the vehicles hit the venue's docks, every available hand sprang into action and unloaded the freight as fast as humanly possible. By 2 a.m. Sunday, everything was on the show floor, and the exhibit house took over. The company set up shifts of laborers to work around the clock for two and a half days to install the booth. Much to everyone's relief, they somehow managed to complete the finishing touches by the time the show opened on Tuesday.

The event went fantastically well, and the client was thrilled everything worked out. As for me, I was just plain exhausted. Throughout the final day before the trucks arrived, my fitness tracker showed I logged roughly 18 miles just by trotting back and forth from the service desk down to the show floor – which included more flights of stairs than I care to remember – to provide everyone with face-to-face updates. It was a massive success story that illustrated how much teamwork and adaptation go into ensuring things stay afloat when even the most violent tempests try to sink our efforts.


— Gary Leslie, sales executive, TWI Group Inc., Las Vegas


TELL US A STORY
Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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