Trade Show Shipping Demystified: Expert Advice

Trade show shipping demystified - expert advice

Shipping – it’s often just one more item on the trade show to-do list, and not the focus of attention … until something goes sideways.

But lately with all the talk about a potential strike at UPS and then the meltdown of Yellow Freight, the topic of shipping has become top-of-mind for a lot of companies.

So I reached out to a few of my go-to industry experts for a few Shipping 101 (and beyond) tips to help you navigate the logistics and hopefully avoid a lot of the headaches.

Thanks to Chuck Michel from ELITeXPO and Candy Adams, The Booth Mom® for sharing their insights, including:

  • What details you should provide to your shipping company
  • Why there are three parts to your shipment costs
  • How to label all pieces in your shipment
  • What to do to keep small items together
  • How to know you’re adequately covered if something goes wrong

Bonus tips:

Candy Adams also advises that now is the time to increase your transportation budget. “With the recent failure of one of the five largest transportation carriers … plus the increase in gas prices … it’s anyone’s guess how much shipping costs are going to increase the future. Talk with your carrier, broker, or agent to find out what their policy is to lock in pricing for your upcoming shipments and how long that pricing is good for. How often do they readjust their pricing? The more info you have, the more accurate your budget will be.”

Here’s another quick tip from Candy: Do you know the difference between a Bill of Lading and a Uniform Material Handling agreement? Listen to her explain!


Al Mercuro from Genesis Exhibits has a few tips related to sustainability:

“Sometimes it is the little things we can do to save money and the planet at the same time! Did you ever wonder what happens to all the plastic shrink wrap that is used in the shipping of many items that need to be secured while in a truck to get to your event or even for any other items needed to get to any warehouse or store?

Well, it gets thrown out and put into the landfill! What a waste of money and it brings a high cost also to our environment.”

Instead, Al recommends using something like LOGISTRAP®, a reusable and versatile strap for material handling applications to secure pallet boxes, sleeve packs, materials, and collapsible containers.

Al also shared an article: Wood vs. plastic: Which pallets are more sustainable?

And thanks to Chris Griffin at CrewXP for sharing this infographic showing all the people who handle your exhibit on the way to the show and back. (You may need to blow this up to see all the details.)28 Strangers That Touch Your Trade Show Exhibit

[00:00:00.580] - Marlys Arnold

You're listening to The Trade Show Insights podcast, Season 18, episode 8. I'm your host, and exhibit marketing strategist, Marlys Arnold, bringing you tools to improve your exhibit results. On today's episode brought to you by the Exhibit Marketers Cafe, we're talking about a subject that probably doesn't get nearly enough attention, except when things go wrong. Yes, we're talking trade show shipping. With all the recent talk about a potential strike at UPS and then the meltdown of Yellow Freight, the topic of shipping seems to be top of mind for a lot of companies. So I decided to put together a podcast episode with some shipping 101 tips and beyond from some of the industry experts. So first up, we have Chuck Michel, from ELITeXPO.

[00:01:32.740] - Chuck Michel

Really, when it comes to shipping, the real key is the devil is in the details. The best thing an exhibitor can do is provide as much information to their carrier as possible in advance of the shipment. It truly is the best practice one can exercise of making sure that their exhibit materials arrive to each event on time and without issue. It really does go beyond just the basics, which are important, but the basics such as DIMs, pick up and delivery address, and arrive by dates. Providing information about the event itself is also very helpful ensuring that your shipment arrives on time. And this information continues to typically be found in the Exhibitor Kit manual that each exhibitor is provided, usually by show management or the hosting association. Now, while in the past this was easily accessible via the events website, as of late, they are more and more being password protected and therefore require the exhibitor's name and password for you to access that information. So having that information for your carrier will really go a long way. They'll really appreciate that. And here are some details that a carrier would be looking for. Address and location.

[00:02:55.790] - Chuck Michel

Is it going to the advanced receiving warehouse or direct to the show venue. Now, this should be addressed well in advance of the show and calculated into your timeline. Now, quite often a GC will charge more for holding at the warehouse. However, if shipping direct to show site, one should be prepared to incur driver detention and possible delay in receiving your shipment at the booth area. This can happen. And honestly, shipping to the advanced warehouse gives you peace of mind to the customer, especially if it's a targeted move-in. Depending on the venue, you need to know what hall or what room is it going in. For example, if it's a hotel, what ballroom? So which hall or room is this event going to be held in? Is it more than one? Will the driver have to go inside to a ballroom? Or is there a dock, for example, at a convention center? Those details are important. If specifically a hotel, it's really important you notate what ballroom this is going to. And quite often there's not a dock. And it's important that you notate what ballroom because a lot of times the hotel staff is going to be the one that moves that freight over to the particular booth space.

[00:04:24.520] - Chuck Michel

Now, if at a convention center, just make sure you notate what hall or building location. For example, Las Vegas Convention Hall, C, D or E or McCormick, West, North or South. That information is important. Dates and times and is it targeted as far as the move-in goes? So it's really important that you notate the advanced receiving dates and times. Also, the shipment moving and move out dates and times. And is there a freight carrier check-in date and time? It's very important to know those pertinent dates because that is information that is really going to make or break how things go. Now, if you're dealing with an advanced warehouse, they will have a deadline as far as when is the last date they can receive it. Honestly, if shipments deliver after that, there will be typically an additional fee to receive. If you're going direct to show site, the venue is most definitely going to have specific dates and times for your shipment to arrive. For example, Sunday, December 18th, between the hours of 12:00 and 5:00 PM Central. And if the delivery is attempted outside of that posted window, the shipment could be refused, and then there will be an attempt charge that you'll receive from the carrier.

[00:05:50.600] - Chuck Michel

So keep those in mind. There's also going to be move out dates and times, and they're important. For example, moving out on December 20th between the hours of 5:00 and 10:00 that night. There also typically will be a driver check-in time posted. And if the carrier fails to arrive during that time, there could be a charge for that also. Now, important to note that if it's at a hotel and there's no GC involved, there's no advanced warehouse available. That's usually the situation. So therefore, all the shipments must be delivered directly to the venue. And they usually at hotels, will accept things 2-3 days prior to events starting. And you can usually recover these immediately after the event concludes, excuse me.

[00:06:47.100] - Marlys Arnold

So Chuck covered a lot of the details as far as actually getting your freight delivered to either the show site or the advanced warehouse. But there are actually more parts to the actual shipping than that. Actually, there's three parts as far as the shipment costs, and Candy Adams, the Booth Mom, gives us a more in-depth explanation on what those three parts are and how they can affect your shipment.

[00:07:17.000] - Candy Adams

I want to make sure you understand the three parts of your shipment that you pay for: the pickup, the line haul, and the delivery, and how that ultimately affects your cost. For starters, the agent in the city of origin is going to pick up your shipment. But did you know that extra pickups can cost extra? Or if they have to wait to pick up, it will cost you extra. Will it stay on the same truck it's loaded on until it unloads or be unloaded at multiple terminals going cross country? This is known as the hub and spoke system. And if so, every unloading and reloading at these terminals means another chance to lose or damage some of your freight. Some carriers have up to 14 places, 14 different terminals they unload going cross country. The mileage from the city to city part of the trip is known as your line haul. When the freight gets to your destination city, is it still on your original truck that it loaded on? Or does a local agent unload it at a terminal to take it to the advanced warehouse or to show site? Do they have a marshaling yard at this show site?

[00:08:35.700] - Candy Adams

And what's the cost of your truck waiting in the yard per hour? What if they have to wait overnight to unload? This can cost you hundreds of dollars. And what other fees, known as accessorial fees, will be charged to you? And are these included in your original quote? Maybe not. Is your freight being picked up where there is no dock and they'll need a lift gate truck to get your freight up to that truck's floor level? Will they need to have extra equipment to load like a pallet jack or moving pads? Are they going to have what's known as a long carry from the origin of the freight in your office to the truck that might take them up and down stairs? If it's a rush shipment requiring more than one driver to tag team and be able to legally drive more hours in a day than they normally could, will you be charged for that extra driver? And if your exhibit house isn't ready when they arrive to load or unload and they have to wait on the outbound of the show in the marshaling yard, what's that extra per hour or overnight cost?

[00:09:52.280] - Candy Adams

And if your freight is not ready and they have to come back to pick it up, what's the aborted fee that will be charged for the freight that they didn't pick up? All of these things are known as accessorial fees and will be charged accordingly.

[00:10:08.110] - Marlys Arnold

Wow! That's a lot to think about, right? There was so much information in there, and I'm sure you'll probably need to go back and listen again, or we'll have the transcript available in the show notes so you can download that. And if you're like me, use a highlighting, create a checklist, and all of those kinds of things so that you can be better prepared for your future shipments. But now let's shift gears a little bit and talk about labeling and how you need to label your shipments. And we've got some tips from Chuck on that.

[00:10:42.530] - Chuck Michel

Every piece shipped should be labeled properly, even if placed on a skid and wrapped, mislabeled or incorrect label shipments may not arrive on the show floor, they could get lost, or you might get charged additional fees to locate it and get the shipment to where it actually needs to be. If skidded, suggest that you build higher than six foot shipping when they're loose. It's also helpful to note that you know the piece counts. This is one of five, two of five, et cetera. That's important. Try to ship everything in one shipment if you can. A lot of times the venues or the hotels will charge you based on peace count and sometimes weight. So try and keep that in mind.

[00:11:42.090] - Marlys Arnold

Candy also has some great tips on the importance of labeling.

[00:11:46.820] - Candy Adams

What's the number one cause of lost freight? It's bad labeling. Either labels that haven't been removed from a prior shipment or marked out so they can't be read, or labels to your current destination that fell off. I like to use the plastic stick on reusable envelopes. Think of a FedEx envelope, except with the ziploc-type closure, so they can be used over and over again. You could buy these at U-Line. Label your shipment and anticipate having a problem. Use both the show labels that you get from your exhibitor kit and add your own color-coded labels on at least two sides of each crate pallet or carton. That includes the freight's destination, either the advanced warehouse or show site address, or if it's on the return, your exhibit house or corporate address, the date the freight has to deliver, and especially if you have a target date to meet of when the show will accept your freight. A 24-hour phone number of the carrier and your cell phone number in case of any problem. I use what's known as Astro Bright, glow in the dark paper that I can refer to in case something comes up missing like, I'm missing two pallets with bright pink labels.

[00:13:04.900] - Candy Adams

If you're palletizing, make sure every box has both labels on them and even add a third label on all four sides and the top of the final stretch wrap on your pallets that instructs, Do not de-palletize. Why? Because carriers who are trying to maximize their revenue by making use of every square inch in their truck, depalletize, meaning they take everything off of your pallet and stuff these little boxes and unused nooks and crannies in a truck and hopefully get them back on your pallet at the other end of the line haul. But it's not a guarantee. But at least if something comes up missing, you've done all you can to avoid lost freight.

[00:13:51.110] - Marlys Arnold

Nobody ever wants to have lost freight, right? So these are really important tips to keep in mind. Chuck's got a few more strategic tips for you as well.

[00:14:03.110] - Chuck Michel

If you're shipping loose pieces, try and pack so they do not exceed 50 pounds, because a lot of times anything over that, you start getting hit extra charges. If a piece is heavy, it could result in additional charges by the carrier, the GC, or the hotel. Rule of thumb, try and ship early because Mother Nature just can play havoc. We've all incurred weather delays or possible equipment breakdown, things like that. And if it's delayed, it can cost more to have a shipment rerouted or expedited. So plan ahead. That's really probably the most paramount thing is try to plan ahead. Generate a production time schedule for yourself, if anything, and that'll give you some milestones that you want to hit. This is a selfish plug, but whenever possible, try and engage a trade show only shipping company like ELITeXPO. A carrier like that is really going to know the ins and outs of shipping both to and from events. For example, a carrier that knows train shows is not going to try to deliver the convention center's main entrance as they understand that they need to check in with the GCs at the main dock.

[00:15:33.510] - Chuck Michel

So that's important to note also.

[00:15:37.980] - Marlys Arnold

So Chuck talked about the importance of shipping everything in one shipment if you can and bundlings together, and Candy's got some additional tips for that.

[00:15:49.670] - Candy Adams

What's the safest way to ship your loose, miscellaneous, exhibit stuff to a show? You know, almost small boxes or unusually shaped, unboxed items that would normally palletized and stretch-wrapped? Well, and no, that Saran wrap-like stuff isn't shrink wrap since you don't heat it to constrict it around the pallet. It's really stretch wrap, or also known as polyfilm. You use a D-container. D-containers are also known, and that's the letter D as in dog, by the way. Use a D container, also known as a gaylord box or a bulk cargo container. But what's that? Well, think of a pallet, either wood or plastic, that comes with four cardboard pieces. When you receive it, the pallet is going to be about 48 by 48 and ready to assemble with four pieces of a cardboard box. I'll give you another tip here. 48 is a magic number because that is how you can load two things side by side inside a truck that's just over eight feet wide or 96 inches. That's why these come with at least one side of them as 48. These large cardboard boxes come with two lids, like you'd find on a copy paper box.

[00:17:09.560] - Candy Adams

One of them you turn upside down and put it as the base of the box on the top of the pallet facing up. Then there are two heavy cardboard pieces, one that unfolds to cover three sides of the box and just barely wraps around the fourth side, and another piece that closes the fourth side after you get it loaded. Then you put the lid on the box. You can then strap this box onto the pallet using polypropylene strapping that comes with metal clips and instructions on how to use them, because this is not like anything you've done before, and they come in a little portable box. I also cut 35-foot pieces of it, roll it up and put it in baggies in my toolbox so I don't have to ship the heavy box of the banding to the show with me for the return trip. And the cool thing about these palletized boxes is that you can disassemble them and store them in very little space, say 48 by 48 by 12, and reuse them a few times. And even after some of the pieces of them get pretty worn, you can start cannibalizing your other boxes to make new ones.

[00:18:26.700] - Marlys Arnold

That right there is a genius tip for how to bundle your small items together. I think that's so helpful. Now, we've talked a lot about what you can do to try to help avoid losing your freight or having something bad happen, but just because things can go wrong and often do, it's a good idea to be prepared and have proper coverage. And Candy Adams the Booth Mom has once again a great tip on how to make sure that you're properly covered.

[00:19:07.530] - Candy Adams

What if your exhibit didn't make it to the show or was damaged in transit? One of my favorite industry sayings is the worst show is a no-show. So what coverage is there if you had a loss? Shipping carriers aren't insurance companies, and as such, can't literally insure your freight since they're not licensed. But they do provide a very minimal 30 to 60 cents per pound coverage automatically as part of your agreement with them that's known as the contract of carriage. But if you want more coverage, you can purchase a declared valuation of your shipment. This is stating the value of what you have on the truck and you pay about $10 per thousand for coverage from your carrier at the time you place your shipping order for this what's known as declared valuation. If your company has a corporate policy, you may have some coverage with it. So check with your company's risk management department to see if there is any automatic coverage of company assets like your exhibit when they're on the road or at a convention venue, exhibit house, or not at your company's fixed site. If there is corporate coverage, what does it cover?

[00:20:26.990] - Candy Adams

Ask them, Is it property loss only or does it cover any lost opportunity costs for losing the use of your exhibit? How much is the deductible? How would you file a claim? If there isn't an existing portion of your corporate policy that covers your exhibit, but while you're on the road, can you have them add this writer to your existing corporate policy? And is it cheaper than going out and getting a freestanding policy? Every policy is different, so know what you'd have to do if there were a loss. And what's the time frame for filing a claim?

[00:21:05.580] - Marlys Arnold

Wow, I told you we were going to go beyond shipping 101 with these tips, right? This is a wealth of knowledge from both Chuck and candy. And so like I said before, I hope you do go back, listen to this again, share it with other people in your company so that you can be better prepared for your trade show shipping. And also be sure you go to the show notes at, because we've got some additional tips on there. We've also got an infographic that was shared by Chris Griffin at CrewXP on the 28 people who handle your shipment, who touch your exhibit on its way to the show. So be sure you go and check out those additional resources. And I hope you never have to deal with the lost shipment, but I think the tips that you got today, you're going to be much better prepared for how to handle some of these shipping situations that can come up when you least expect it. If you enjoyed today's episode and would like more, you can subscribe to The Trade Show Insights podcast and automatically receive future episodes on your chosen device. Simply search for trade show insights in Apple, Spotify, or virtually anywhere else that podcasts are found, then click the subscribe button.

[00:22:43.270] - Marlys Arnold

Trade Show Insights is protected by the Creative Commons copyright license. You may feel free to share this recording with colleagues or embed it on your own blog as long as it's shared in its entirety and is not used for commercial purposes. To learn more, please see the link in the sidebar of the show notes at Well, that's it for this episode of Trade Show Insights. Be sure to check out our show notes and archives at You can also connect with me using the social media links or the contact page on the site. I'm Marlys Arnold. Thanks for listening and be sure to join us next time for more tools to improve your exhibit results.


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