Trade Show Logistics: Everything You Need to Know

Trade show logistics is the process of managing shipping, booth setup, booth utilities, booth breakdown and more....
Randy Hauck
November 21, 2019

Trade show logistics is a significant undertaking. If you want everything to come together flawlessly, you must arrange your resources effectively. The last thing you want is problems with deliveries on the day of the show. Fortunately, trade show logistics provides your business with the tools it needs to transport all its freight, liaise with General Service Contractors (GSCs), and deliver goods to advanced warehouses, without any of the usual hassle. 

Trade show logistics is more than moving your booth to and from the show site. Trade show logistics is the process of managing shipping, booth setup, booth utilities, booth breakdown and more. Trade show logistics is essential. It takes care of handling the important details essential to trade show execution.

If you need to organize the logistics for a trade show, you're in luck. Here, we’re going to take a look at all of your most pressing trade show logistics concerns, including how to choose a shipping service, and how to send your booth and materials overseas. Trade show logistics don’t need to become all-consuming: with a little planning and active partners by your side, bringing everything together for a show is actually a lot easier than you think. With the right partners, you can concentrate on the show itself, without having to worry endlessly about all the background details. 

Getting Your Booth and Materials to a Trade ShowGetting Your Booth and Materials to a Trade Show 

Companies wanting to display at a trade show generally have two options. They can either transport their booth and materials to the show themselves or hire a specialist trade show logistics company to do it for them. 

It’s crucial when choosing a logistics company that you find one that specializes specifically in providing logistics for trade shows. Ideally, you need professionals who understand the importance of time-keeping and who have facilities to keep delicate show items safe. You need carriers who can deposit and collect materials at precise time slots. What you don’t want are logistics companies that work to wide open “delivery windows” and can't deliver at a specific time. 

You also need to consider the level of logistics support that you need. Remember, even after a logistics company delivers your product to the show, there’s still work to be done. Somebody has to take the booth and materials to the exhibition hall and construct the stall. While you can opt to do this yourself (or internally in your company), most trade show veterans hire a logistics company to take care of it for them. 

As you might guess, it’s crucial to choose a logistics company with experience with setting up trade show items. You don’t want to arrive at the show, stuck with inexperienced crews who don’t understand how to erect your stand. 

Need help shipping your trade show booth and materials?
Fill out a short form or give us a call and one of our trade show specialists will answer your questions.

Advance Warehousing

Shipping materials to a trade show is a complex logistical operation, often involving hundreds of exhibitors and dozens of carriers. Through bitter experience, many trade show venues have learned that it’s not wise for all exhibitors to ship all their items from warehouses around the country on the day of the event. More often than not, it leads to confusion, chaos, and unhappy exhibitors who lose their materials. 

Many venues, therefore, provide “advance warehousing” - a place for exhibitors to store their goods before the show. Because it’s nearby, companies can quickly transport their booth materials to the show floor, set them up, and get on with the business of selling, instead of fussing about deliveries and timings on the day. 

The length of time that you’re allowed to store goods in an advanced warehouse depends on the rules of the venue. Some let you leave your materials in storage for a few days before the event, while others permit deliveries weeks in advance - it all depends on the specific policies. 

Here are some of the key features and advantages of using advanced warehousing: 

  • Deliver your goods near to the venue well in advance of the trade show, reducing the likelihood of mishaps
  • Avoid the need to wait for deliveries on the day 
  • Reduce the level of risk involved in setting up a trade show stall and ensure that you have access to your booth and materials from the start
  • Quickly retrieve materials and get them onto the show floor on the day of the show. 
  • Cut the overall cost of shipping substantially by avoiding the need for deliveries in specific time slots

While not all venues offer advanced warehousing, it’s certainly something that you’ll want to consider if it's available. Advanced storage can reduce stress and the need for “just-in-time” logistics to deliver material to the site. 

Direct to Show ShippingDirect to Show Shipping

Direct to show shipping is fundamentally different from advanced warehousing. Here, instead of keeping materials in a warehouse close to the venue itself, you store your booth and trade show materials off-site and then transport it on the day. 

Direct to show shipping has several advantages. The most obvious is the fact that you can ship your materials from one event to another in quick succession, without any break in between. You could, for instance, theoretically, open a booth at a trade show on Saturday, pack it up Saturday night, and then ship it overnight to your next location for another show on Sunday. 

Of course, while direct to show shipping has clear advantages for companies with a hectic schedule, you need to be careful. Again, it’s essential to choose a logistics company that understands the logistics needs of companies who attend trade shows. If you’re not careful with your choice of supplier, you could find yourself without the vital logistics support that you need to hop quickly from one trade venue to another. 

Direct to show shipping also has some distinct disadvantages. If your company and fifty others at the venue all choose to use direct to show shipping as their method of choice, then your truck could be in a long queue outside the venue. As a result, you might not get your materials set up in time for the opening - something you’ll want to avoid. 

If the venue doesn’t offer advanced warehousing, ask managers about the logistics arrangements. Do they have sufficient loading and unloading space for both you and the other companies at the show? Have exhibitors had problems setting up booths in time in the past?

Need help shipping your trade show booth and materials?
Fill out a short form or give us a call and one of our trade show specialists will answer your questions.

Avoiding Forced Freight Charges

Like it or not, forced freight charges are part and parcel of modern trade shows. Most trade show organizers hire a “general services contractor” (GSC) to manage the venue on their behalf. One of the roles of the GSC is to ensure that all of the exhibitors arrive, set up their stalls, and then pack them away according to the pre-specified contract. If an exhibitor doesn’t remove the booth, then it is within the rights of the GSC to remove it forcibly under the terms of the venue's original agreement with you. 

The term “forced freight,” therefore, comes from the situation where the GSC removes the booth and materials from the show floor and carts it off to a warehouse. You end up paying the logistics bill and storage costs to the venue if you didn’t remove everything within the allotted time. 

Is there anything that you can do to prevent forced freight? Check out the following: 

  1. Double-check that your carrier knows when they need to deliver and collect materials. Make sure that you speak to the person overseeing the operation and not another manager or member of staff. Where possible, try not to rely on emails. 
  2. Double-check the paperwork and contract with the venue to make sure that the timings are realistic and correspond to the duration you want to attend the show
  3. Properly pack, store and prepare materials for pickup, or ensure that your logistics provider can do it for you in advance of the deadline
  4. Make sure that your materials are stored in containers that make it clear what your carrier needs to collect
  5. Accurately complete any forms required by the GSC. Get their contact phone number and stay in touch with them to make sure that there are no problems or hiccups along the way. 

Forced freight charges are a real risk at trade shows, but with the right planning, you should never have to pay them. Just make sure that you have a plan in place either side of the exhibition to both unpack and pack your items in a way that makes things as smooth as possible for your logistics provider. 

Arranging for Return TransportationArranging for Return Transportation

We’ve already hinted at the importance of arranging return transportation after a trade show, but it’s worth going over the benefits in more detail. 

Return transportation is simply a logistics service that removes your tradeshow booth and materials from the floor and takes it to a destination of your choosing, usually a warehouse operated or leased by your company. 

The comprehensiveness of return transportation can vary from carrier to carrier. Some offer full end-to-end services and will help pack away all your materials, put them into boxes, and then load them onto trucks with forklifts. Others will provide the truck and assume that you're doing the rest. Prices tend to rise, the more complete the level of service. 

The vast majority of exhibitors choose the same company to both pickup and drop off their materials. By using one company, companies can arrange all their logistics through a single point of contact, reducing admin time. They can also usually cut the combined cost of outbound and return transportation compared to the price of using two independent carriers. 

It’s important not to understate the importance of return transportation. If you need people with the specialist skills to dismantle your stand and load it onto trucks. Furthermore, you need logistics professionals who know how to handle the unusual and irregular materials that your company may have incorporated into its trade show exhibit. 

Need help shipping your trade show booth and materials?
Fill out a short form or give us a call and one of our trade show specialists will answer your questions.

Drayage And Moving And Shipping Instructions

The trade show event organizers will often hire drayage - a contractor who is responsible for movement and shipping of trade show materials around the site, both before and after the event. 

Before the event, the job of the drayage contractor is to liaise with shipping company drivers and arrange time slots for them to arrive in delivery bays and unload goods. They’re also responsible for things like moving exhibit crates from delivery bays to the exhibition hall and removing all of your items once the show is over. 

Drayage contractors, therefore, are people who help you manage the physical transportation of your goods, as well as the paperwork that goes with them. You should discuss your requirements with the drayage in advance of the show so that they are clear about your specific needs and what you want them to do. You’ll also need to make sure that your team knows who the drayage is and can coordinate with them to set up your stand on the morning of the event. 

Most venues provide you with what’s called an “exhibitor’s kit.” The kit details everything you need to know about the personnel who make sure that the show can happen, including a list of trade show freight services that you may require throughout the event. 

Shipping to an International Trade Show

Shipping to an international trade show is a little different from sending your materials to a domestic one. The main issue isn’t the distance, but the various border checks and rules. 

Regulations tend to vary from country to country. Some allow you to bring goods into the country without paying duties to display them at a show, while others don’t. In some cases, you have a time limit or have to sign forms. It’s essential, therefore, to have a logistics contractor by your side who understands international shipping rules and get your materials to the venue on time. 

The other big issue is the difficulty attaining the delivery window when the distances are longer, and the goods must cross more borders. Even small delays at customs can mean the difference between having your materials for your trade show, and not. 

Here are some of the reasons you should use a specialist international trade show logistics company:

  • Substantial expertise in helping get customs clearance for goods in advance of the shipment.  
  • Trusted trade show logistics companies are usually subject to fewer checks and procedures than those providing services on an ad hoc basis 
  • Special packing services to ensure the safety and security of booth and materials as they travel from country to country
  • Specialist insurance for trade show materials that covers the cost of replacement for costly, one-of-a-kind stands, and other items. 

Shipping to an international trade show, arguably, isn’t something that your business should do in-house. Getting trade show goods across borders requires the help of specialists who understand the rules of the process for a variety of countries around the world, including Europe and the Far East. 

Need help shipping your trade show booth and materials?
Fill out a short form or give us a call and one of our trade show specialists will answer your questions.

Choosing a Trade Show Logistics PartnerChoosing a Trade Show Logistics Partner

Selecting the right trade show logistics partner is a critical decision that both you and your team will, at some point, have to make. But what criteria should you use to make your decision?

The first question to ask is whether the trade show logistics partner can offer the level of service that you need. Some companies, for instance, need their logistics partners to provide only a skeleton service - perhaps delivering their booth and materials to the site on the day. Others, however, may need more comprehensive support, including help with setting up and packing away. You should, therefore, probe your logistics partner to find out whether they have experience in all aspects of the service that you want. If they don’t, then you may need to choose a different partner.

The next thing you want to check is communication. Will there always be somebody you can talk to at the end of the phone? Can drivers inform you if there are delays? Does the company have experience filling out paperwork for the GSC? 

Finally, you want to find out how flexible the logistics company can be. If you choose a direct to show delivery model, then you need a carrier who can bring your materials to the event “just in time.” You also need a partner who can pack up and remove your trade show materials from the site within the contracted time frame to avoid forced freight charges. 

Need Help With Trade Show Logistics?

Do you need assistance with your trade show freight? If so, R+L Global Logistics can help. Not only do we have experience with trade shows in general, but we have experience with specific shows, including the shipping to the Consumer Electronics Show, major construction trade shows, hospitality shows, SEMA, and many many more. With us as your shipping partner, you get all of the experience you need to ensure that your goods arrive safely and in excellent condition.

When it comes to trade show logistics, it's not worth taking chances. Trade shows are a significant investment, and so you need professional support in place to ensure that you can pull off the event without a hitch. With Trade Show Shipping through R+L Global Logistics, you get access to a team of professionals with immense experience delivering trade show items, both domestically and internationally. With the right support, you can get peace of mind and concentrate on what really matters: selling your products and building your customer base. Contact us today for help with trade show booth shipping and more.

Need help shipping your trade show booth and materials? Fill out a short form or give us a call and one of our trade show specialists will answer your questions.

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