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7 Trade Show Shipping Costs to Navigate

Particularly for trade show rookies, the transportation costs of a trade show exhibit might make a marketing budget feel like a sinking ship, but there are a number of seemingly hidden costs that can be accounted for without raising a white flag.

Shipping frequently costs 10-30% of your trade show budget, but with the proper knowledge, you can be prepared for all of it when drafting financial parameters. Additionally, shipping costs are never set in stone–they are always an educated estimate. However, if you understand how shipping is calculated, you can confidently take the helm with full control by planning accordingly to stay within your budget.


What To Expect About Trade Show Shipping Costs

These are the key factors that are important to understand when budgeting for shipping costs for your trade show.


1. Fuel & Waiting Time

If you’re sending your exhibit by truck, fuel needs to be taken into consideration when mapping out your budget. Furthermore, the wait time for the truck driver is on the clock, as well. The time your driver spends in line at the yard or dock can add up depending upon the queue, so that should be taken into consideration with your trade show budget planning.


2.  Advanced Warehouse

If you choose to send your exhibit to the advanced warehouse, you will help to avoid stress at the final hour by having the trade show display arrive early. All trade show booth displays that are sent to the show site in advance have the first priority for unloading onto the floor.


3. Excess Packages

Consolidating all of your items so that they ship along with the exhibit is an excellent tactic to save on shipping costs. If there’s no choice but to ship separately, you can add items to shipping pallets and have them sent out through a common carrier to circumvent the handling fees associated with small packages.

For companies renting their trade show display, it’s possible to elect to have materials shipped to the booth rental company’s location and have everything shipped together by experts. Smart packing by the trade show rental booth company will employ the most efficient and cost-effective use of the packages’ weight and dimensions.


4. Unnecessary Items

Unless it’s absolutely imperative to conveying your brand’s message, don’t send any papers or literature. Not only is it a waste of space and heavy, but it will contribute to a high shipping cost. If you need to distribute literature, consider finding a printer local to the show’s location, or purchase flash drives with memory just large enough to store your presentation. More often than not, distributed papers and pamphlets don’t travel past the show’s exit doors, so consider alternatives where possible.

Additionally, items like water bottles might seem like a great idea to have on hand, but companies including cases of them with shipments can see a rise in shipping cost of $2,000-3,000 dollars. Things like beverages and snacks can be purchased nearby the show’s location and save these unnecessarily steep shipping expenses.


5. Forced Freight

If carriers haven’t finished loading freight at the designated time, they will be forced to vacate the dock or loading area. This relocation can ultimately lead to separate shipments or storage at the show’s local warehouse at the discretion of the show organizers, both of which are extremely costly. Instead of scrambling at the final hour, have everything prepared for pack-up prior to departing the trade show in order to evade the addition of penalties, handling costs, shipping and storage fees that could have been easily prevented.

In some instances, a company’s own shipping company has neglected to fill out the material handling form (MHA), and as a result, was unable to complete shipment themselves. Due to the forced freight, the trade show shipping company ultimately sent the items, consequentially doubling the cost of shipping. Ensure that if an exhibitor-appointed shipping company is selected, that they have ample instruction to execute properly, and that they are present and ready at carrier check-in time.


6. Drayage

As broken down in a previous blog post, drayage is the cost associated with the handling of materials in the transition from the dock to the show floor. Drayage is a nonnegotiable cost, and it comes in different price brackets depending upon weight. Packages should be weighed again prior to shipping to ensure that insertion of additional items in crates hasn’t changed the drayage weight bracket and unnecessarily increased shipping cost.


7. Insurance

Know what coverage or insurance comes with your shipment. Some carriers have only a declared value that is allotted to any losses at their expense, and it usually amounts to between $10 for every $1,000, or $.85 for every $100 of declared value.

In the case of exhibit booth rental, trade show booth rental companies usually insure all exhibits leaving their warehouses to be safe. In the event that the insurance included by the chosen carrier isn’t satisfactory, purchasing full coverage insurance assessed by the replacement value for the trade show exhibit shipment is an option.


TL;DR – Trade Show Shipping Costs

While shipping is inevitably a large expense, it’s entirely possible to create a budget and stick to it when you account for the elusive, seemingly hidden costs associated with trade shows. Make sure that no cost is left behind, and your finances should see smooth sailing for your trade show campaign.


Bonus tip: Don’t let your boxes and shipments get lost in the crowd. Customize boxes with paint, bold labels or other ways to make them quickly identifiable and stand out from the other boxes and pallets on the showroom floor.

Trade Show Budget Worksheet

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