Shipping Your Trade Show Booth: Insider Tips for Experiential Marketers

guide to shipping your trade show booth

The show must go on, as they say in show business. In the trade show business, we have another saying: the show must go on without you if you haven’t sorted out the details of shipping your trade show booth.

With a little industry know-how and some advance planning, you can send your show out into the world with the peace of mind that it will be ready when the curtain rises.

Test the Waters

Debuting a new booth exhibiting for the first time? Think about starting small and lightweight to try out a design before expanding and investing in a custom-built booth. A layout on paper may look perfect, but there’s no substitute for spending time in a space to see how it functions in real-life scenarios. Lighter options will also be gentle on your budget when it comes to shipping and drayage costs. Many companies start with rental properties that can be customized with branded graphics, or easily changed backdrops and fabric frame systems before committing to larger booth that’s built to last.

Ship it Early

You might think shipping your trade show booth directly to the show site makes the most sense, but the direct-to-show process can take a significant amount of time. On the first day, trucks line up waiting to unload their cargo. A great alternative worth the extra dollars is to ship to the advance warehouse whenever possible. Do this, and your cargo is guaranteed to move into your spot first thing. If nothing else, at least consider the advance warehouse for your hanging sign, graphics, flooring, pad and baseplates. This lets your team start building as soon as they are allowed based on the show’s installation schedule.

Set Your Shipping Terms

The devil’s in the details of the shipping plan. Make sure you establish a set rate on straight time (i.e., 8am to 4:30pm) and overtime (i.e., everything else). Not surprisingly, rates increase with overtime. Clearly stated dates and times are a must have. Make sure the delivery times are carefully read, monitored and communicated. The last thing you want is for the show to start without you because of a simple typo or miscommunication.

Label Like Your Life Depends on it

Have you ever had the experience of building a Lego design or a new piece of IKEA furniture and not being able to find the next piece that you need? Imagine that on a much larger scale with money and reputations on the line. Don’t let that happen. Organization before shipping is essential. Be certain that all components are inventoried, labeled, and related pieces are boxed together. A scavenger hunt for a missing item in the dwindling hours before a show opens is an experience best avoided.

Hire a Show Supervisor

If your booth is more complex design than a standard inline booth, hiring a supervisor through your experiential partner will greatly ease the process — and the weight on your shoulders. A seasoned supervisor will give your peace of mind that your crew is working as they should. They can help you remain on schedule and let you stay cool and collected for show time.

Avoid the Nasty Surprise

Forced freight is when something gets left behind at a trade show and, well, you’re forced to pick up the tab. If you forget to turn in an outbound shipping form to the General Service Contractor’s desk at the end of the show, your freight gets moved to their warehouse and put onto the truck of a show-appointed carrier. You end up paying for the cost of your truck you already scheduled for your booth, plus the show’s truck as well — nobody’s idea of a good time.

If you want to stand out at a trade show, there’s more to it than just showing up. See our guide to everything you need to know about trade show signage.

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