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Trade Show Material Handling Overview

Material Handling at trade shows has a long history. The old-school definition of Drayage is the work and cost of hauling something a short distance using a strong cart or wagon without sides. In the trade show world, drayage (now called Material Handling) pertains to moving displays and exhibit materials within the exhibit hall. Click here to learn more about the history of Drayage

Today, exhibit material is moved by forklifts and electric carts and defined as
– The labor charge to bring exhibit material from the convention hall loading dock to an exhibitor’s booth.
–  Storing of the empty containers/pallets/boxes during show hours.
–  Returning the empties to your booth at the end of the show.
– Bringing the repacked items back to the loading dock.

Today the term “material handling”  is being used as an effort to remove the negative connotation of drayage. But material handling is really no different than it’s ancestor.

trade show material handling
Material handling can be frustrating and expensive – even for veteran exhibitors.

So Why is Material Handling So Expensive?
The worst part about material handling – it’s an unavoidable expense. Even experienced exhibitors are shocked when they receive their trade show bill from general contractors like Freeman or GES at the close of the trade show or convention.

It is not uncommon for drayage fees to cost more than the shipping of an entire exhibit to and from the trade show.

All trade shows require exhibitors to use the approved trade show general service contractor to handle freight. Companies like GES, Freeman, and others vendors are hired by show management, event producer or association to handle freight.

First, the job is contracted to ONE company to handle ALL freight. Add union labor and you can see why the fees are so high. The trade show’s General Service Contractor and Teamster Union control the loading docks. Exhibitors and display companies cannot simply carry or cart items through the loading dock doors or front entrance of the convention center. Could you imagine the chaos at the convention center loading docks and on the exhibit floor if exhibitors were allowed to move their own exhibits through the exhibit hall.

The material handling fees are pre-set well in advance of the show. Rates are typically based on the total weight moved in and out of the trade show from previous years. The exhibitor has no say in negotiating the material handling price or to find a trade show contractor with less expensive rates. Even Exhibitor Appointed Contractors (EAC) like Vegas Display are required to use the general service contractor’s material handling services at trade shows.

How Material Handling Fees are Calculated
Drayage is calculated by weight – per 100lbs increments.  Usually there is a minimum of 300lbs. For example, if the drayage rate is $100 per 100cwt (per 100 lbs.) with a 300lbs. minimum, the material handling bill would be $300. If your freight is 305 pounds the bill jumps $100 for a total of $400. If you have separate shipments of 200lbs, you could be billed twice at $300 for a total bill of $600. It’s important to check the billing of all material handling invoices for accuracy.

Best Practices for Reducing Material Handling Fees
You can’t eliminate drayage or material handling fees, but you can make efforts to reduce your costs.

  1. Pallets always weigh less than a crate. Use pallets whenever possible.
  2. Do not ship individual boxes. Condense and shrink wrap items onto pallets.
  3. Reduce the number of product samples and brochures you bring to a show.
  4. Shipping just one late additional box to the convention center is extremely expensive. Plan accordingly.
  5. Know the weight you are shipping to the show. Bring your Bill of Lading receipts to the show. Check invoices for  discrepancies.
  6. If there are billing errors, go to the service desk while you are still at the show. The sooner the better!
  7. Rethink your exhibit. Do you have a heavy display that ships in a wood crate? Consider a lightweight display like Snap Panel to display products or large format fabric graphic exhibits.

Having a better understanding of material handling will help save money.  Be sure to check the show service manual for drayage rates and shipping deadlines to avoid surcharges. Get weight tare sheets from your shipper. Consider the overall savings of purchasing a lightweight exhibit.