Making the right transportation decisions for your display, and materials will not only save you time and money, but also a lot of aggravation.
Twenty years in the trade show business have taught me a few key things about shipping. Here's the big surprise: relying on your exhibit house (me!) for storage and freight solutions is often NOT the best way to go. That's right, I'm talking you out of buying something from me! The fact is, managing your own freight can be easy if you establish a good relationship with a reputable dedicated trade-show-savvy carrier. Where I can often help best is in assisting you in that process. Of course, if you really want to store in my warehouse and have me handle all logistics, I'm happy to.... but I'm just sayin'!
The more time you have to plan, the better able you are to organize the best transportation options for your specific needs. Your four main choices are common carrier, van line, air freight or courier service (DHL or FedEx). Leaving transportation to the last minute will reduce your options and raise your costs. You can often schedule your freight six months to a year in advance!
2. Choose what's right
To determine your right transportation option, consider the following: the packaging needs of the shipment (portable modular with wheels? Mixed freight? Crated materials only?), the origin and destination of the shipment; the amount of time set aside for transportation, and pick-up and delivery requirements (just how complicated are the mashalling yard requirements at your shows?).
3. Advantages and disadvantages
Common carriers are less expensive but there's a reason for that.
Van lines / Specialist exhibition freight companies
Air freight offers the quickest means of transportation to show sites as they are specialized air freight forwarders. The disadvantages of air freight are that brokers don’t have allegiance to any one freight or commercial airline, high costs, airline baggage handlers often use harsh handling techniques, and freight is limited to certain sized pieces.
Courier service is the quickest means of transportation to show site for last minute details. A drawback is the expense.
4. Do your homework
Select a carrier that has a dedicated exhibition services, 24-hour tracking capability and drivers who have experience delivering to show sites. Check references. Find out what procedures they take for support before, during and after the move. Have them walk you through a simulated tracking so that you don't panic at 3 AM!
5. Check for official carriers
Find out from show management if they have an official carrier for the event. A recommended carrier is likely to offer special prices as an incentive to use its services. Compare their quoted price to other carriers.
6. Leverage volume discounts
To get the best pricing from your carrier, consider bidding annually or consolidating all your corporate shipping needs. You may be amazed at the cost savings. Additionally, some carriers who combine storage AND shipping can save you tons of money. Shop and compare!
7. Insure shipments
There are several insurance options available for your exhibit: corporate insurance policies, common carrier or van line insurance, and extended liability coverage. Ask your carrier what insurance coverage they carry for individual shipments, whether they offer an exhibition floater insurance policy (covers the exhibit for the entire show), and what their procedure is for taking care of damage claims. Every reputable carrier is insured against loss or delay. Check for specifics. Ask about reimbursements for loss and specific guarantees concerning inclement weather or natural disasters. If they seem at all reticent about this subject - RUN!
8. Label correctly
Label every box, carton or crate with the show name and booth number you are shipping even if you are creating a skid of boxes. Make sure all shipping labels are securely attached on top of old labels. Take pre-printed labels with the return address to replace in-bound ones.
9. International exhibiting
When exhibiting internationally, consider using a shipper that has a worldwide fleet or established subsidiary connections. Check what help they will give you with customs, documentation procedures, temporary import bonds, warehousing and consolidation. Ask for guarantees for quick customs clearance and the shortest, least expensive delivery route.
Paul Bridson and Kelly Sargent
We've been helping companies achieve lofty goals for over twenty years now. Here's the benefit of our experience!