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New to trade shows? Managing the logistics side of a live event can be a daunting task. I know—I’ve been there. Like you, I’m a marketer, and my degree simply didn’t prepare me for this aspect of my job.

That was years ago now but I can still vividly recall the distress. Today, I know the process backward and forward, and I’d like to accelerate your learning curve. So, I’m sharing the trade show shipping tips I wish I’d had years ago—the ones that would’ve eliminated my blind spots, preserved my marketing budget, and bought me some much-needed peace of mind.

Your essential trade show shipping tips

My experience with numerous shipping mishaps has made it clear that they are anything but uncommon. Let’s arm you with some smart strategies and insight to enhance your preparedness.

1. Study the show kit—know it like the back of your hand

Every show lists its do’s and don’ts—the potential stumbling blocks are all in there. Study it inside and out. When you have a clear sense of the details, you’ll be in a stronger position to ask the right questions and navigate the pitfalls, whether you’re partnering with a carrier or freight broker.

Be sure you know:

  • The last day to ship into the advanced warehouse without a surcharge
  • Your target ship-to-show delivery dates 
  • The first day of move-in
  • When you’re free to break down your booth

Get the timing wrong, miss something buried in the fine print, and the unexpected fees will take a bite out of your marketing budget.

2. Show services shipping is expensive—explore third-party options

It’s fairly common for marketers to use show services when they’re new to exhibiting. After all, it sure seems simple and streamlined. What’s not often understood is that they’re charging a premium to move your freight, and third-party options could save you a pretty penny.

One first-time exhibitor shared, “I wasted so much of our marketing budget because I just didn’t know. Show services were on-site and easy, but they weren’t my best option—not at all.”

3. If you do ship with show services, negotiate your freight rate

Want to use the show’s general contractor? That’s okay! But you don’t have to accept their first quote. When you do your homework first and present quotes from their competitors, you’ll often get a better rate.

4. Plan trade show shipping at least 45 days in advance (3 months is ideal)

When you start planning the logistics piece of your trade show season early, you’ll have time to shop for highly qualified partners and better rates. Even better, your partner will have the broadest possible range of shipping strategies available to help you cut costs.

Can you ship something on short notice—even same-day? Sure. But you’ll likely pay a higher rate, all while introducing risk (and amping up your stress).

5. Take advantage of inbound advanced warehousing every time

Advanced warehousing is typically available 30-45 days before a show opens, and it’s often cheaper than shipping direct-to-show—but not always. Regardless, we recommend it whenever possible. Besides the potential savings, it gives you peace of mind knowing your items are at the show well ahead of time, prepared and ready to go when you arrive.

This exhibitor’s story underscores our advice: “I didn’t do advanced because I assumed I had it under control if I shipped it out a week ahead of time. I didn’t anticipate that there would be an actual monsoon that would shut down highways for days. The driver couldn’t safely drive in the storm, and when the weather cleared, he’d already hit his eight-hour service limit. He couldn’t legally drive, so our stuff didn’t get to the show until after it had started. It was embarrassing and could have been completely avoided.”

In short, trade show shipping is complex, and ship-to-show doesn’t leave much room for error. Miss your targeted delivery window and:

  • You’ll be hit with an average (and painful) $30-40 charge per hundredweight
  • You could very well be paying for teamsters, who would otherwise be assembling your booth, to sit on their hands
  • When the event begins, you could be looking at an empty spot on the trade show floor where your booth should be

(Note: The decision may be made for you. Advanced warehousing is required for some booth setups, like those that include hanging signs.)

6. Dig into the material handling fees fine print to avert extra fees

Material handling is how shows cover event expenses and make their money, so give this section of your show kit special consideration.

A few common first-timer mistakes:

  • Stacking your freight will result in a special handling fee
  • Shipping two booths together and mixing that gear means you’ll be charged an additional fee for the general contractor to sort out the pieces

7. Contact on-site labor if your load is delayed to avoid added costs

Shipping a large booth direct-to-show? Keep tabs on your truck. If it’s running late, call the general contractor and reschedule your labor. The teams assembling trade show booths get paid a four-hour minimum and those expenses will add up fast if you encounter a hiccup and don’t keep the information flowing.

(If your broker or carrier doesn’t offer freight tracking via a customer portal or text notifications, their track-and-trace team can provide you with updates.)

8. Need to make a speedy exit? Take care of your show services team

Have a flight to catch? Need your empties back quickly? You can request early return stickers for a surcharge.

Ask any experienced exhibitor, and they’ll also tell you that it helps to grease the skids and take care of the people helping you. Teamsters aren’t supposed to accept tips, so bringing morning coffee or delivering afternoon treats is how things get done in the real world. Plus, these are hardworking folks. It’s an easy way to say thanks.

9. Work with experienced trade show partners

Already have a fantastic broker or carrier partner that manages your business’s freight? Great—but if they don’t have trade show experience, look elsewhere. The carrier you ship with every day may not be a carrier that does trade show shipping well, and this process is just too complex to risk it.

Besides, experienced partners will have the insight to work the system to your advantage. For example, if you’re doing a general move-in and can ship to the show anytime between Saturday and Tuesday, they may recommend shipping Monday so you’re not paying for weekend overtime rates.

Not sure where to turn?

Reach out to everyone in your network who’s exhibited at a trade show and ask for a referral. The great experiences of the people you already know and trust will be your best bet.

Knock your first trade show out of the park

Showing off your innovative products and game-changing services is always a big undertaking, but the investment can generate big rewards in terms of brand visibility and highly qualified leads.

So, begin your planning early, and get your booth delivered to advanced warehousing if you can. When you do, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your gear will be waiting for you—leaving you to focus on your strengths: the materials, swag, and experience that will leave a lasting impact on your future customers.

Have questions?

Want to know more about our trade show shipping tips or get deeper insight into our logistics strategies? Our team has an average 10 years of experience in trade show shipping, and we’re always happy to help.

Discover how we approach trade shows or contact us with your questions at or +1 732-333-3238.

Ready to simplify your logistics?

Let’s deliver on your customer promises now, and as your business grows—together.