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9 Surprise Freight Charges At Trade Shows

December 26, 2014

By Steve Hoffman, Skyline Exhibits & Design

Exhibiting at trade shows can be expensive and some of the most frustrating costs are those that don’t make an impact on your clients.  Then just when you think the worst of the expenses are over, a freight bill arrives and you scream “Why is my freight bill so darn high?”

At my firm we hear this question often.  Sometimes the client is informed and simply shares our frustration; however, some exhibitors don’t take into account many trade show specific considerations.  Here are 9 things to think about regarding costs and trade show freight:

1)    First and foremost, the stuff has to both arrive and arrive safely!  There are often “cheaper” shipping options.  But, when your company’s largest branding piece is going to an important event, things like reliability, on-time delivery and trackability matter.

2)    Shipping directly to a trade show differs from shipping costs to that same show’s advanced warehouse.  Unless you’re up against an advanced warehouse deadline, you can usually ship to ‘advanced’ using a “deferred” or “ground” timeframe.  Shipping directly to show site usually involves a more condensed timeframe and a targeted delivery window, both of which add cost.

3)    Another cost that is factored into trade show display shipments going direct to a show is (the potential for) “wait time.”  When your shipper provides an upfront estimate they can’t know if their deliveryman will be stuck waiting in the Marshall Yard for hours – or in drastic cases overnight.  Some shippers will build-in a cost for the wait time on the front side while others will either adjust and/or re-bill the actual.

4)    Like so many other trade show related costs the “when” often impacts the “how much!”  Deliveries or pick-ups after-hours or on weekends will incur premium pricing.

5)    While nothing new, Interstate Commerce regulations call for freight companies to maintain documentation on “what” is being shipped.  These “classification codes” impact pricing.  5000 lbs. of trade show freight (class 125) will cost more than 5000 lbs. of most other classifications.

6)    Unions that impact pricing on many show-related services also plus up the cost of moving freight to/from trade shows.  Many reputable (read: reliable) freight firms will only employ Union drivers.   In some cities, because venues are staffed by union workers, Fed Ex is prohibited from picking inside the show so sometimes even for smaller post-show shipments the less costly common carriers are not available.

7)    One of the biggest “gotchas” we see in freight costs are when an exhibitor bases their expectation of freight fees on ‘the weight of the shipment.’  The shipper will usually bill the higher fee based on actual weight OR, if higher, on ‘dimensional weight.’  Dim weight is usually higher (your crates are always larger than the items inside).

8)    The same frustration we all feel each time we pull up to a gas station to refuel our cars also impacts your freight bill.  Similarly, if you’ve shopped for a new car lately and had sticker shock, think about the cost of ultra-sophisticated truck cabs or chassis and know they too are going up.

9)    Changes that occur between getting an initial estimate and actual shipping are sometimes significant and often forgotten!  Those extra few cases of literature, that product sample, consolidating your co-exhibitors’ machine with your outbound items….And when you leave the show and decide to “ship” a week’s worth of dirty laundry back with your booth to avoid checking a bag on the plane – it too may be a ‘change.’  If you plan for “X” and “X” becomes “Y” then your original quote for “X” is no longer valid.

Don’t let the high cost of trade show transportation keep you from exhibiting.  Work with your trade show exhibit house to get both great results and great logistic efficiencies.


Need help estimating the return on investment your company gets from exhibiting at a trade show? Or need help tracking costs and identifying new leads and sales opportunities?

Then these are the tools for you! Request your free worksheets today. Complete the form below and we will send you these two Excel spreadsheets today!

drayage, trade show shipping, trade show planning, trade show logistics
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