Taking the Fright Out of Freight

Best practices for avoiding glitches in trade-show shipping

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Don't Forget
You must turn in post-show paperwork. If you do not, your freight may be rerouted via the carrier of the decorator's choice -- and you will be contractually on the hook.

Be sure to always purchase proper cargo insurance.

Develop a Plan B in the rare instance that your shipment is lost in transit and misses the show. It's better to have a downsized booth than nothing in the space at all.

The following checklist
 was created by Brian Rutter, partner and station manager of the ICAT MDT division of ICAT Logistics, headquartered in Elkridge, Md. The MDT team (based in Harrisburg, Pa., where the airport is known as such) specializes in trade-show logistics and serves as consultants within this unique segment of the shipping world.

Know Your Packages
 Know the difference between a pallet, a crate and loose pieces. These terms make a big difference to the carrier when picking up.

 Have accurate dimensions and weight for the goods after they're fully packed. This ensures accuracy when it comes to handling fees.

 Know the exact pieces that are in your shipment, and document the process from start to finish. You should be able to determine quickly and efficiently if there are any shortages at your booth.

Mark Everything Clearly
 Ensure that at least four sides of your freight have accurate labels and are securely attached.

 Always remove old labels. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is the source of one of the most common errors and creates issues with the delivery location.

 Communicate changes with the carrier as quickly as possible. Changes can include a different pick-up or delivery date, changes to the freight itself, whether a lift gate is required -- really, anything the carrier must know before picking up or delivering your freight. Once dispatched, it's often costly to contact a driver en route and communicate your needs.  

Choose an experienced carrier
 Carriers that specialize in serving trade shows know the process and typically have a relationship with the facility where they'll be delivering. One unique aspect of trade-show delivery is that drivers have to check in at a different area than the final delivery point, known as the marshaling yard.

 At trade shows, drivers are required to wait for their turn to deliver. This can often take hours; carriers who are not familiar with trade-show delivery often will leave because they are afraid that waiting will jeopardize their other deliveries or pickups for the day, which means your freight could be left undelivered or unattended.

Prepare for Shipping
 When hundreds of deliveries or pickups occur simultaneously at the venue, the margin for human error increases tremendously. Be sure the trade-show decorator knows precisely what materials are expected for your booth. With this extra level of communication, it's easier to sort through the chaos when issues inevitably occur.

 Be sure you know whether you're shipping to the advanced warehouse or direct to the show site, as determined by the delivery dates. Check the material-handling fees to each location, as they vary by show and it might be more cost-effective to go to one vs. the other.

 Have the freight ready to ship the day before pickup. Most carriers pick up during business hours; if they show up at 8 a.m. and you haven't packed your freight, you might be subject to an "attempted pick-up" fee.

Send It Back
 Ensure that the outbound paperwork refers precisely to the freight your carrier will be picking up.

 Check it twice; any mistakes in delivery destination, booth number, exhibitor name or freight count could mean the driver doesn't have permission to pick up your freight.