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exhibiting 101

Candy Adams,
"The Booth Mom,"
is an independent exhibit-management
consultant, trainer, speaker, writer, and an Exhibitor conference
faculty member.

ith the steadily increasing costs of material handling, also known as drayage, exhibitors often feel blindsided when the final bill arrives from the show's general services contractor (GSC). In a recent Tradeshow Week survey of exhibit managers, 55 percent of respondents cited material handling as the most inflated trade show cost.

Material handling at a trade show involves unloading your trade show freight; moving it to your booth space; removing empty crates, pallets, and cartons before the show and storing them; returning empties after the show; and reloading exhibit properties after teardown. Each of these steps involves behind-the-scenes costs for moving the thousands of pounds of freight that come in to each show, from rental costs for expensive marshaling-yard space near convention halls and hotels, to equipment such as forklifts, dollies, and radios.

On top of all of these costs, your material-handling dollars might be paying for other services that the show organizer or show manager wants to "cost shift" from its piggy bank to yours, such as aisle carpet and the labor to lay it, hanging signs with aisle numbers, registration counters, hall-entrance decorations, drapes to hide unused parts of the show hall, and show-office furnishings.

Exhibitors often just swallow hard and ante up when it comes time to pay the material-handling bill, assuming since the charges are based on weight, there's nothing they can do to minimize the cost. But you do have some control over your final bill. Here are six ways to save money on material handling.

1. Stop shipping unnecessary items. Material-handling fees are based on the number of 100-pound increments in your shipment that need to be moved to your exhibit space. This unit of measurement is also known as CWT, pronounced hundredweight, as C is the Roman numeral for 100. The quickest way to rack up a horrendous drayage bill is to ship things, especially heavy things, you don't really need. Consider the weight of your exhibit, shipping crates, product, and even giveaways to determine if you can jettison any items from your next load.

One easy way to pare down the weight of your shipment is to stop shipping literature to the show. Consider the following alternatives: 1) Give attendees a business-card-size handout with your key show messages and a URL to your company's Web site, where they can download your literature. 2) Pack a color printer and print literature on demand. 3) Print your literature at a local printer and carry it into the show. If you choose the third option, make sure you review the show rules about bringing in your own packages. Some shows will only let you bring in packages that you can hand carry, restricting you from using even small handcarts without requiring you to use (and pay for) union labor to move them into the hall.

If your company is still intent on shipping massive quantities of literature to shows, try an experiment. Give attendees the option to download a copy of the materials from your Web site after the show or take a hard copy at the show. Tally how much hard-copy literature is left over and how many attendees opted for the electronic format, and use this information to determine the best literature-distribution method for your next show.

2. Choose your shipping method carefully. Your choice of carrier and the way your exhibit is packed on the truck can definitely punch you in the purse if you're not paying attention.

The GSC publishes a standard menu of material-handling costs for common and specialized carriers. The least expensive option is to floor load rather than stack your freight on the truck in crates or on pallets, which avoids the additional labor required to unstack your shipment at the loading dock. You will have a higher material-handling cost if your shipment is a mixed load of crates and pallets and blanket- or pad-wrapped pieces, and even higher rates if it's all pad wrapped. Palletizing your pad-wrapped pieces can mean significant savings.

3. Consolidate small shipments. GSCs charge exhibitors a weight minimum for each shipment they handle, usually 200 to 300 pounds. If your carrier does not provide a single material-handling invoice or air bill, and it doesn't deliver all of your individual packages at the same time, it can cost you a bundle in material-handling minimums. For example: If you ship three cartons weighing 53 pounds each to a show via a small-package carrier - such as UPS of America Inc. or FedEx Corp. - which doesn't use a single bill of lading for all packages in your shipment, the GSC can charge you the minimum charge for each carton instead of just one minimum charge for a single consolidated shipment. If the material-handling minimum was 2 CWT at the average rate of $75 per CWT, it would cost you $450 vs. $150 if all three had been on the same bill of lading.

4. Meet the inbound target dates and times. If your carrier misses the targeted window of time for its truck to arrive in the marshaling yard to unload your freight, you'll be yourself saddled with additional material-handling surcharges or penalties.

Most GSCs offer 30 days of free storage at their advance warehouses before the freight moves to the designated show hall, but they also give you specific dates when they will receive and store your freight. If you miss this window, you will be charged an off-target penalty to use the advance warehouse.

Check your exhibitor services manual for a color-coded floor plan that tells you when your truck can unload, and make sure your carrier meets that target time.

Most material-handling information sheets, also included in your exhibitor services manual, tell you that if your truck is not in the marshaling yard by a specific time, it may be unloaded on overtime at the GSC's discretion. Communicate this information and the marshaling-yard location to your carrier when making your shipping arrangements to help it get your freight unloaded without incurring any extra overtime costs.

If your carrier misses your specified target date or time, through no fault of your own, you are within your rights to ask the carrier to cover additional charges you incurred, including off-target penalties, overtime unloading, and even installation-and-dismantle labor charges if you're forced into overtime due to its late check in. If you're shipping with a carrier that has a guarantee and the carrier misses the agreed-upon deadline, your shipment should be free.

5. Verify weight slips. I've been charged drayage for not only the weight of my freight, but the entire weight of the tractor-trailer rig. Talk about an enormous drayage bill.

Mistakes like this are why it is important to stop at the GSC's service desk the day after your freight arrives on site and ask to see your inbound certified weight slips. If you look on the back of the slip, you'll find the time stamp showing what time your truck checked in to the advance warehouse or marshaling yard. And, yes, drivers and carriers have been known to fib about this. Verifying this information is a critical step in making sure you're not being unjustly overcharged.

If you have been overcharged, make sure you work with the GSC to correct the mistake and get a refund.

6. Audit your material-handling invoice. Review every line item of your GSC's invoice to make sure you have been billed correctly. I've been charged marshaling-yard fees when my freight came via a small-package carrier who had its own delivery dock and didn't even go to the marshaling yard. And I've been charged at the higher specialized-carrier rate when a single pallet was brought in on an expedited small trailer, even though it didn't require any additional handling or labor to unload. In both cases, I was able to get the charges removed after a discussion with service-desk personnel while I was on site.

Bottom line, don't simply accept that material-handling costs are out of your control. Use your best planning and execution skills to pare the fat from your shipment and follow the GSC's rules. To quote my dear old dad, "Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves." e

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