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Balancing Act

By Kristan Obeng and Zeenath Haniff

Getting freight to a tradeshow is among the top priorities for any exhibitor. The question is how to get it there. Weighing the pros and cons can mean the difference between a beautiful booth and an empty exhibit space.

We’ve all seen what happens when corners are cut. For freight that didn’t arrive directly at the show site or on time, this often requires an exhibit manager making a mad dash to the closest discount retailer to buy tables and chairs to try to exhibit without their marketing materials and giveaways.

If you’re an exhibit manager, you’re probably thinking – please don’t let that be me. This scenario could, of course, be avoided.

There are numerous transportation companies capable of delivering freight to tradeshows. To get the best quality, experience and expert help, exhibitors must make wise investments as well as do research on their options.

Exhibitors may be familiar with the three big names in small package handling — UPS, FEDEX and DHL. Exhibition freight forwarders, which are more expensive than small package handlers, usually offer customized and expanded services.

Industry insiders talked to Exhibit City News about common problems that transportation companies specializing in tradeshows go out of their way to avoid.


CON — Most small package handlers operate Monday through Friday, with some Saturdays.
PRO — Exhibition freight forwarders operate 24/7.

When shipping freight to a show, every second leading up to the opening counts – as straight time, overtime, double time, etc. Having limited availability any day of the week works against the time-deprived exhibitor.


CON — When it comes to customs clearance, small package handlers can only do permanent entry.
PRO – Exhibition freight forwarders can do permanent and temporary entry.

Those exhibiting overseas may want to ship freight back across the ocean at the end of a tradeshow. Importing freight on a permanent entry would not allow for booth and marketing materials to be re-exported out of the country.


CON – Small package handlers deliver packages to the convention center in general.
PRO – Exhibition freight forwarders collaborate with agents who deliver directly to the show site 24/7.

If a convention center has multiple shows occurring, the deliverer must know the exact days, times and precise location to drop off the package to get to the correct show.

Pick up

CON — Small package handlers only provide inbound service at convention centers.
PRO — Exhibition freight forwarders and their partners have authority to both drop off and pick up freight at convention center docks.

Freight delivered to the show via small package handlers cannot be picked up again by the delivery companies. Instead, exhibitors must ship freight as mail from the storefront, which may or may not be have a service desk within the convention center itself.

Marshalling Yard

CON – Small package handlers do not have access to marshalling yards.
PRO – Exhibition freight forwarders have full access to marshalling yards

Waiting to be called for scheduled move-in and move-out of freight at a show can last hours longer than a wait at the DMV. Since small package handlers are unable to drop off freight at marshalling yards, they risk not getting shipment to the tradeshow on time versus exhibition freight forwarders who not only have access, but also formulate multiple back-up plans.

Bill of Lading

CON— Multiple packages delivered by small package handlers do not ship on a single bill of lading.
PRO — Exhibition freight forwarders ship all freight simultaneously on a standard bill of lading or air waybill.

Material handling fees can add up quickly without a proper bill of lading. Small package handlers who deliver packages separately could cause exhibitors to be billed separately as each item comes in. Alternatively, exhibition freight forwarders both transport and unload multiple packages all together on a single bill of lading, minimizing costs.

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