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RAIL SHIPPING

Given the rising costs of traditional exhibit shipping, a lot of people seem to be talking about rail as a cheaper alternative. How does rail shipping work, and what are its pros and cons?


Simply put, shipping a truckload via rail is cheaper than shipping it by traditional options, perhaps by as much as 20 percent. However, rail shipping has its limitations, and as such, it's best used only in specific exhibit-shipping situations.

Logistically, rail shipping works a lot like shipping via an ocean container. An empty semi-trailer is delivered to your company's dock (or that of your exhibit house), and the exhibit shipment is loaded into it. A tractor then picks up the trailer and delivers it to a rail yard, where it is hoisted onto a flatbed rail car and transported to a rail yard close to the show's venue. Your trailer is then hoisted off the flatbed, hooked up to a tractor, and delivered to its final destination, be that a marshalling yard or straight to the convention center. The process works in reverse for the return trip.

But as you might have guessed, rail shipping is best for exhibitors that have an entire truckload, or several truckloads, of exhibit materials going to a particular show. After all, shipping a half-empty container is the same price as shipping a full one.

Plus, in terms of delivery dates, rail is not as precise as air or truck modes because it's prone to unanticipated delays. A single derail or a flooded railroad bridge can cause delays throughout the entire rail system, and contrary to tractor-trailer shipping, it's not easy to divert freight to another route. Thus, delivery via rail may lag by one to three days after the stated delivery date, assuming there are no extraordinary delays along the way.

Therefore, exhibitors considering rail need to build large time buffers - perhaps up to a week - into their shipping schedules to absorb these unanticipated delays. As a solution, however, consider shipping your exhibit via road or air methods to the show, but then ship it back via rail, when your arrival deadline is usually more flexible.

Rail transportation also tends to have more bumps than other methods - literally. So package your booth even more securely than with other methods to absorb the shocks and motion of the rails.

Granted, rail transportation certainly has its drawbacks, factors that limit its use to specific time-insensitive situations. However, if you're looking to cut costs, it's well worth your while to at least consider rail for your company's next exhibit shipment.

- Mike Ellis, president, EA Logistics, Chicago



AROMATHERAPY ADVICE

My boss wants me to buy some aroma machines to add a background scent to our exhibit. Do aromas really have an impact on exhibit effectiveness, and which scents are appropriate for various situations?


While aromatherapy dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, a study conducted by The Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation indicates that scents also have an impact on the selling process. Data showed, for example, that customers were more likely to purchase Nike sneakers (even with a $10 increase in the typical cost) when they tried them on in a floral-scented room, and that gamblers fed more quarters in the slot machines at an artificially scented Las Vegas casino.

It's no surprise, then, that environmental fragrancing is increasingly being used in a variety of business settings - including exhibits - to boost sales and create a feeling of well-being. And as a general rule, any scent that draws people into your booth, entices them to spend more time with your product, and makes them feel good in the process has to be a good thing. But as with all good things, too much of it - or the wrong type of it - can spell, or in this case smell, disaster.

Any type of offensive odor or an overpowering scent will drive people away, or even trigger some allergic reactions. Plus, if you're selling sophisticated radiology technology to serious physicians, you probably don't want your booth to smell like cotton candy.

Similar to all exhibiting techniques, there are a host of things to consider - such as your audience, company, and intended objectives and results - before adding aromas to your exhibit strategy. But in the right circumstance and with the proper application, scent can be a powerful tool to help you accomplish your objectives.

If a scent makes perfect sense in your exhibit, the first step is to determine what you want to accomplish and to select an appropriate scent to meet your objectives. Here's a brief rundown of some of the most common aromas used in business and the outcomes you can typically expect from them.

Mint, spice, and citrus scents typically make people feel more alert and as if they've had a spike in energy.

Woodland and floral scents create a refreshed feeling and one of happiness and harmony.

Whiffs of chocolate-chip cookies and vanilla often create a sense of relaxation and conjure feelings of being at home or surrounded by friends and family.

Aromas given off by peppermint and lily of the valley often produce higher productivity.

Spiced apple and floral scents seem to soothe the spirit and reduce anger and anxiety.

If you pair the right scent with the right situation, you'll have another tool in your exhibit-marketing arsenal to help you create an effective environment - and help set your company's booth apart from its competition on the trade show floor.

- E. Jane Lorimer, managing director, Lorimer Consulting Group, Denver



CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS

We don't receive many customer complaints in our booth, but the few we get seem to fall through the cracks. How can we track complaints and make sure the customer receives some kind of resolution?


Customer complaints are a natural part of face-to-face customer communication. The best way to deal with these confrontations is to face them head on, and better yet, to establish a process to follow up with these customers after the show.

One of the easiest ways to do this is with a paper lead form. Simply create a special "customer issue" lead form using a different color paper. Include space to document the customer's contact information and complaint along with a tear-off tab on the bottom, which includes your contact information - or that of an appropriate person within your company who can serve as a liaison.

Instruct staffers to retain the lead form for follow-up, but to give the tear-off tab to the customer and instruct him or her to call the name on the tab if the issue isn't addressed within a certain period of time.

This special form allows you to track how many customer complaints you're getting, and with a few post-show e-mails to these customers, you can track your company's follow-up and perhaps speed the resolution. Plus, the tear-off tab tends to soothe angry customers, who walk away with the name and number of a real person who can assist them.

- Doug MacLean, president, MacLean Marketing, Columbia, SC

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