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Posts Tagged ‘trade show freight’

All About Trade Show Crates & Shipping

March 21st, 2024 COMMENTS
trade show crates

When you purchased your custom or modular trade show exhibit, you probably didn’t give much consideration to shipping or the wood crate(s). After all, it’s just a wood crate, right? What could go wrong during long interstate shipments, casual forklift handling, and untrained show labor to your very expensive and stunning beautiful trade show exhibit? 

The answer is… a lot. Exhibit crates and roto-molded cases are generally well-designed and durable. Your exhibit provider builds and packs hundreds if not thousands of exhibits every year. However, you shouldn’t assume every exhibit house has the same commitment to quality and packing efficiently. Some are amazing. Others are simply OK. 

Knowing the difference, asking questions, and taking responsibility for your crates will go a long way toward ensuring your exhibit packs in the fewest number of crates/cases, arrives safely, and minimizes your labor costs at the show.

Understanding Trade Show Crates: The Essentials

Essentially, trade show wood crates are glued and screwed boxes constructed with plywood. The type of plywood varies by builder but birch plywood is common. Some are tall and square. Others are shorter and long. The size depends on the exhibit components and the preference of the builder. 

Most crates have some internal jigging, like shelves or compartments. These allow for greater space utilization and protect the contents from shifting during shipping. Doors vary by builder even more than the basic construction. Some have heavy-duty latches. Others rely on bolts and wing-nuts. Still others use flexible cables and basic catches. Horizontal crate designs often include hinged doors for convenient access on the longer side.  

Nearly all crates have wood skids on the bottom. This makes it much easier for forklifts and pallet jacks to lift and transport them, and hopefully minimize damage. 

The video below shows how smaller crates are built, but the basic construction is the same for all sizes of crates.

Trade Show Shipping Crates: Maximizing Protection and Efficiency

Well-constructed wood crates are designed to protect your exhibit during shipping and maximize the available space to minimize your total crate count. Minimizing your crate count will reduce your overall shipping and drayage charges. Exhibit builders know those charges are pain points for their clients and work hard to reduce those costs.  

If you’ve ever played Jenga, you’ll understand the challenge of designing a crate that’s both the right size and shape and designed to maximize interior space. There are two major challenges:  (1) ensuring the individual components don’t move during shipping, and (2) preventing components from rubbing against one another or the crate. That’s when damage occurs. As a result, you’ll often see a series of vertical and/or horizontal dividers built to isolate the components. Those dividers may have jigging blocks as well to secure the components. 

Some exhibit builders, like Classic Exhibits, go one step further and cover the crate, dividers, and jigging with a soft but durable fabric similar to a felt material. This not only provides an extra layer of protection, but it also reduces movement (and rubbing) during transit.  

Why There’s No Such Thing as a Standard Crate:

Selecting the Right Trade Show Shipping Cases

Cases, unlike crates, are designed primarily for lightweight portable displays. Trade show shipping cases are essential for protecting your valuable displays and promotional materials during transport to and from trade shows. With a variety of factors to consider, choosing the right case can seem daunting. In most cases, the manufacturer will have already selected the ideal shipping case for your display, but if you are choosing one based on several choices, consider the following. 

Types of Trade Show Shipping Cases

  • Hard-shell Cases: These cases are typically made of durable plastic or aluminum and offer the most protection for your belongings. They are often watertight and dustproof, making them ideal for delicate items. Hard-shell cases frequently come with wheels and handles for easy transport.
  • Soft-shell Cases: These cases are lighter and more portable than hard-shell cases, but they don’t offer the same level of protection. They’re a good option for lightweight displays or for displays that can be broken down into smaller components. Soft-shell cases may also come with wheels and handles.

Choosing the Right Size Case

  • Measure Your Display: The first step is to measure your display to ensure the case you choose is large enough. You’ll need to consider the length, width, and height of your display, as well as any additional items you need to pack, such as brochures or tabletops.
  • Allow Extra Space: It’s always best to err on the side of caution and choose a case that is slightly larger than your display. This will give you extra room for packing materials and padding.

Additional Considerations

  • Weight: Consider the weight of your display and choose a case that can accommodate it. Cases often have weight capacity limits.
  • Wheels and Handles: Look for a case with wheels and handles for easy transport, especially if you’ll be transporting your display yourself.
  • Padding: If your display is fragile, you’ll need to choose a case that comes with padding or purchase padding separately. Padding will help to absorb shock and vibration during transport.
  • Security: If your display contains valuable items, you may want to choose a case with locking latches.

By considering these factors, you can choose the right trade show shipping cases to protect your investment and ensure your display arrives at the trade show in perfect condition.

trade show shipping crates

Notification Regarding Forward Air

“One of the nation’s largest wholesale providers of LTL ground expedited services, Forward Air, has announced major changes to their service offering, effective August 1, 2021. The overwhelming majority of our freight providers utilize Forward Air for their point-to-point linehauls for their client’s needs.

Effective August 1, Forward Air will no longer accept shipments that are not skidded or crated, and they will no longer accept shipments that are over 96” L or 96 H. The rationale and reasons for this industry change are lengthy, but the major driving force is simply the overwhelming amount of freight traversing the United States and the overall lack of capacity from a labor and trucks on the road.”

What Does This Mean?

  1. There will be very large “oversized” charges issued to shipments that are longer or higher than 96 inches. Meaning higher freight prices.
  2. In our opinion, Dedicated Shipments are the safest way to plan for these shipments. Plus, it helps to ensure a timely delivery.

See the full letter below or click to download the PDF

Freight Size Limitations

Trade Show Shipping Containers: Understanding Sizes and Limitations

Thankfully, most of us are blessed with a knowledgeable Shipping Department that handles these details. Or, we rely on our exhibit house to make the freight arrangements. However, knowing what is and isn’t permissible goes a long way toward understanding whether your shipment can be handled by a freight carrier or FedEx/UPS. 

LTL (less than loaded) and FTL (full loaded) trailers typically use the same size trailers. Here are the interior dimensions of both:

  • Length: 48 ft. – 53 ft. (14.6 m – 16.1 m)
  • Width: 8.5 ft. (2.6 m)
  • Height: Interior heights can vary depending on the trailer type, but common heights are:
    • Rear: 10 ft. (3.0 m)
    • Center: 11 ft. (3.3 m)
    • Front: 12 ft. (3.6 m)

trade show case

Door opening dimensions are also important to consider when shipping freight via LTL. Industry-standard roll-up door dimensions are:

  • Width: 96 in. (2.4 m)
  • Height: 96 in. (2.4 m)

This means that individual pieces of freight for LTL shipment should ideally be no more than 94 inches tall and wide to fit through the door comfortably.

The maximum dimensions for UPS and FedEx packages depend on the service you choose and whether the shipment is domestic or international. Here’s a breakdown:


  • Maximum weight: 150 lbs (68 kg)
  • Size Limits:
    • Combined length and girth: 165 inches (419 cm). Girth is calculated by adding the width and height of the package and multiplying by two (2 x width + 2 x height).
    • pen_spark
    • Length: Up to 108 inches (274 cm)
trade show shipping: image of UPS package dimensions


  • Maximum weight: 150 lbs (68 kg)
  • Size Limits:
    • Domestic:
      • FedEx Express U.S. services: Up to 119 inches (302 cm) in length and 165 inches (419cm) in length and girth.
      • FedEx Ground® and Home Delivery® Services: Up to 108 inches (274cm) in length and 165 inches (419cm) in length and girth.
    • International:
      • FedEx Express international services: Up to 108 inches (274cm) in length and 130 inches (330cm) in length and girth.

trade show shipping containers: Image of FedEx package dimensions

Important Notes:

  • Packages exceeding these limits may require special handling or freight shipping, which can be more expensive.
  • Always check with UPS or FedEx for the latest size and weight restrictions before shipping.

Trade Show Shipping: Planning for Timely and Cost-Effective Delivery

This won’t come as a surprise to you but planning and preparation are the keys to a stress-free and cost-effective shipment. And, unlike other shipments, you’ll need to arrange for shipping to and from the venue. That’s often overlooked by exhibitors, who then scramble to arrange shipping on the last day of the show. Which is anything but stress-free.

Here’s a breakdown of how to plan for a smooth trade show exhibit shipment:

Early Bird Gets the Booth:

  • Start Early: This is the golden rule! The earlier you plan, the more options you have for carriers and potentially better rates. Many venues have deadlines for receiving shipments in advance warehouses, so give yourself ample buffer time.

Know the Show, Know the Shipment:

  • Show Requirements: Every trade show has its own guidelines for shipping and receiving exhibits. Dig into the exhibitor manual provided by the organizer. This will outline critical details like:
    • Deadlines for advance warehouse storage vs direct-to-show delivery.
    • Designated shipping addresses for warehouses or the venue.
    • Any weight or size limitations for booths.
    • Rigging or special handling needs for complex displays.

Choosing Your Carrier:

  • Research and Compare: Look for reputable carriers experienced in trade show shipping. They’ll understand the time-sensitive nature and potential complexities of exhibit transport.
    • Consider carriers recommended by the venue itself.
    • Get quotes from multiple carriers comparing factors like price, service offerings (tracking, insurance), and transit times.

Labeling and Documentation:

  • Clear and Conspicuous: Clearly label every box or crate in your shipment with:
    • Your company name and contact information
    • Trade show name and location
    • Booth number
    • Content description (e.g., “Display Panel A”, “Brochure Box”)
  • Documentation in Order: Have all necessary paperwork readily available:
    • Bill of lading (receipt for your shipment from the carrier)
    • Commercial invoice (details the value of your goods for customs purposes if shipping internationally)
    • Insurance documentation (if you opted for additional coverage)

Double-Check and Breathe Easy:

  • Confirm Everything: Double-check all your arrangements before the shipment leaves. This includes confirming arrival dates with the venue and ensuring the carrier has the correct address and contact information.
  • Relax and Focus on Success: With a well-planned and executed shipment, you can focus on what truly matters – showcasing your brand and making connections at the trade show!

trade show shipping cases

Have More Questions About Trade Show Crates & Shipping? 

Protective crating and casing should be one less thing you have to worry about when purchasing a new trade show display. No builder in the exhibit industry builds better packaging solutions than Classic. 

Classic Exhibits has been designing and building trade show exhibit solutions since 1993. We’ve been honored as an Exhibitor Magazine Find-It Top 40 Exhibit Producers and an Event Marketer Fab 50 Exhibit Builders multiple times. Along with numerous Portable Modular Awards. 

With over 200 Distributor Partners throughout North America, there’s a Classic representative closer by. Contact us today whether you need a durable hand sanitizer stand built to last, a rental display guaranteed to attract trade show attendees or a custom 30 x 40 exhibit with all the bells and whistles. We’re not just different. We’re better. 

What You Should Know about Trade Show Services

September 12th, 2023 1 COMMENT
trade show services

Your trade show success hinges on your preparedness and experience. This article will explain trade show services in order to best prepare you for the big event. Whether you’re a trade show expert or a newcomer, this guide will help optimize your trade show experience.

Onsite Trade Show Services vs. Offsite Trade Show Services

Onsite trade show services include services available at the convention center, exhibition hall, or meeting space. General Service Contractors (GSC’s) typically provide these services for show management.

Several months before the show, the GSC or Show Management will email exhibitors a link(s) to show services. The website will list the available services prices, ordering, and deadlines. In addition, the site will explain the services the exhibitor must order from the GSC or subcontractor and the union regulations at the show site. Details matter. Not every show or every venue has identical regulations and ordering processes. If in doubt, contact the GSC or show management with any questions. 

Finally, the deadlines for ordering services are not arbitrary. The GSC’s have early bird prices to encourage exhibitors to order them weeks, even months, in advance. It allows the GSC to plan for the equipment they’ll need and to schedule the appropriate number of employees. Ordering early not only saves the exhibitor money but it also gives the GSC the opportunity to contact the exhibitor if they see any issues on the order form. 

Trade Show Onsite Labor

Show management contracts with the GSC to provide the show site installation and dismantle labor services (I&D). The GSC labor company may also provide the decoration (pipe and drape, aisle carpet, and registration counters). They are responsible for ensuring each installation is completed on time and the facility is cleared after the event.

Using onsite labor is convenient but not mandatory. Exhibitors can contract with any labor company as long as the labor company complies with the local rules and regulations as well as the show policies and procedures. These independent companies are called Exhibitor Appointed Contractors (EACs). For a list of North American EAC’s, see

The onsite labor contractor has a service desk onsite, and their labor forms are conveniently included with the show forms. If you need more labor on the show floor, you can easily request it. Many exhibitors use the show labor since it is convenient… Those that don’t use onsite labor generally have a working relationship with an EAC labor company. 

At a union-regulated show site, the unions define what you can do during set-up and dismantle. Generally, there is a ratio of a few laborers to one company representative. You are permitted to handle all your products. The labor crew is responsible for handling display components, power tools, and ladders. However, most crews are flexible if you demonstrate good faith.

Planning is very, very important. Remember to schedule time for flooring and electrical before you schedule a set-up crew to assemble your booth. Likewise, plan for a delay in getting your crates delivered to your booth space at the end of the show. It may take the GSC several hours to deliver all of the crates so coordinate labor and freight appropriately.

Trade Show Onsite Electrical / Internet

The GSC also provides electrical services. Only licensed electricians can set up and dismantle electrical wiring and connections in your exhibit. In the most literal sense, this includes screwing in a light bulb, but most exhibitors take this to mean the wiring and circuitry. Electricians review the wire grounding and the breaker loads and look for exposed or unsafe hacker wiring and connections. Electricity is the primary threat on the show floor. High power runs everywhere. Fires are a real danger when you consider all the wood, carpet, and plastic concentrated in an exhibit hall. 

Internet services are typically handled by the show hall. Basic Internet service may be available at no charge, but high-speed service, either wireless or wired, must be ordered. A warning regarding Internet connectivity. Exhibitors often assume the Internet connection during installation will be the same speed during the show. It’s not. During the show, the hall will be packed with exhibitors and attendees, all tapping into the wireless connection. If your marketing and sales presentations in the booth rely on a stable Internet connection, you would be wise to spend a little extra for a secure, high-speed connection.

Trade Show Electrical Requirements

The online services website will include a form for ordering electrical services. You will need to specify outlet location(s) with a floor plan, along with the total watts or amps. Most people are unfamiliar with how to add up all their electrical needs, but it’s less complicated than it may first appear. Monitors, LED light fixtures, and computers have published watt and amps. For other equipment, consult with your internal experts or contact the GSC’s customer service team. 

Wiring between outlets to fixtures and electronics poses the most obstacles. Exhibits in the US require grounded power cords (3 prongs), which translates into larger wires. Hiding these wires can be challenging if you don’t prepare in advance. Buildings hide wiring under the floor, in the roof, and in the walls. Exhibits don’t always have that option. They hide wires under sub-flooring or carpet padding or drop power from the ceiling overhead.

If you have a lot of electrical requirements in your booth, then consider adding a list of the items to the electrical floor plan you send with your order. Better yet, indicate on the floor plan where the electrical items will be needed. Electricians are very good at reading and extrapolating electrical information. They frequently catch errors and make adjustments on the fly, thereby saving you time and hassle during the exhibit set-up.

If you have questions, call the GSC. These are routine questions for them.

Wiring Your Trade Show Booth Space and Exhibit

Visionary Designs DM-0264 Trade Show Exhibit

You have two options. Power can be run beneath your flooring or dropped from the ceiling. If you choose the floor, you will want your flooring to hide the wiring. Carpet padding combined with plush carpet conceals most wires. Other flooring such as wood and flooring tiles require a channel routed in the underside of the material for the wiring. Whenever possible, request that the electrician use flat cords rather than round cords.

An electrical ceiling drop is more expensive than running wires across the floor but may be necessary depending on the booth configuration and power load requirements. If you are considering a ceiling drop, contact the GSC to discuss the ceiling configuration over your booth space. Also, discuss the option of floor outlets. The GSC can help you determine which is best for you.

When you select an exhibit to purchase, make sure you understand and are comfortable with how the booth will be wired at the show. Just as important, make sure you communicate where you expect electrical devices in the exhibit, including all lighting fixtures. Be proactive about wire management and discuss with your exhibit consultant during the design phase. It’s much, much cheaper to add grommets, electrical covers, and wire management during the build process than at the show.

Onsite Trade Show Audio/Visual (A/V) Rental

You can rent computers, monitors, LED video panels, touchscreen kiosks, projectors, and much more. They’re available from the show A/V contractor, independent A/V providers, and often from your exhibit house. And while renting A/V equipment can be expensive, it’s not nearly as expensive as purchasing the equipment. In addition, A/V providers often have a service desk onsite to assist with any issues before or during the show. For many exhibitors, monitors, video walls, tablets, and touchscreen kiosks are critical elements of their trade show presentation. Finally, shipping any A/V equipment requires custom packaging to prevent freight damage. Renting eliminates that cost and headache.

Your online show forms will have forms from the show A/V contractor. There is typically a discount if the equipment is requested in advance. Better yet, contact your exhibit house and ask them for their recommended A/V provider.

Onsite Trade Show Housekeeping Services

To keep your exhibit looking great throughout the show, there are two options. You can arrange to have your exhibit cleaned during the show with an onsite housecleaning service, or you can bring a vacuum and cleaning supplies and perform the task yourself. Onsite housekeeping companies contract with the show decorator to provide the service to exhibitors. Your online show services website should have a form for ordering this service. Cleaning typically includes vacuuming the carpet and emptying the trash. Cleaning fingerprints from windows and laminate surfaces remains the exhibitor’s responsibility.

Consider having plastic (called Visqueen) placed over the carpet during set-up. It isn’t cheap, but it is effective against spills, trash, and forklift tire tracks. Remember to remove the plastic immediately before the show opens.

Trade Show Booth Cleaning Tips

Vacuuming your booth daily is a good idea if you have any kind of plush carpet, especially if it is very light or very dark in color. If your carpet is new, then plan on heavy fuzzing for the first few uses. Whether you use a cleaning service or do your own booth cleaning, it’s a good idea to have a cleaning kit packed in your booth that travels from show to show. Below is a list of items to include in a cleaning kit.

Trade Show Cleaning Kit Contents:

  • Glass cleaner
  • Laminate polish
  • Paper towels
  • Scissors
  • Knife, razor, or box cutter
  • Velcro
  • Multipurpose screwdriver with flat and Phillips heads
  • Finger polish remover (acts like lacquer thinner for removing adhesive gum)
  • Clear packing tape
  • Carpet tape (in case you need to tack a corner down)
  • Duct tape

Onsite Trade Show Exhibit Security Services

Exhibit halls can be a magnet for pilferage and espionage. If you want to guard against either of these, show management or the exhibit hall can assist you in securing your exhibit area. The onsite trade show security provider can post a security officer in your booth for the times you specify. 

Pilferage can occur from labor, attendees, or employees. Because shows are known for giving away free stuff (incentives), some folks simply take this invitation a half step further. It’s a nuisance when pilferage involves promotional incentives, but it can be catastrophic if it is a product or prototype that will be missed by attendees if it is gone.

Store your incentives in a lockable storage cabinet. If you don’t have one, the next best place is behind the booth or anywhere out of site.

Wait until just before the show opens to set out your incentives. Many staffers from other exhibits prowl the aisles before the show opens collecting incentives. Pack incentives or any valuable product or electronic equipment in unmarked inconspicuous boxes. Consider sealing them after each opening especially if they are not under lock and key.

Espionage can be the double-edged sword of business-to-business exhibit marketing. While everyone is working to impress attendees with breakthroughs and innovations, they run the risk of providing proprietary technology to direct competitors. Make no mistake about a competitor’s willingness to take a quantum leap at the expense of a rival. There are a number of tips for protecting proprietary information. Consider having a security guard posted in the booth every day before and after show hours. The presence of these security officers will stop wandering competitors from trespassing.

Trade Show Freight ServicesOnsite Trade Show Freight Services

Onsite trade show freight shipping refers to the shipping company subcontracted by the GSC to provide inbound and outbound freight shipping service. Like all show services, onsite freight shipping has the advantage of convenience. The onsite freight company maintains a service desk at the show. They will be most familiar with the receiving and sending aspects of the show and facility. If you use a different shipping company and your company does not arrive to pick up your freight after the show, your freight will be “force shipped” with the onsite shipping company at your expense.

Most major carriers are familiar with shipping to trade shows and the general marshaling process that occurs as trucks line up to unload their exhibit freight on the docks of the show facility. Whatever means you use, you will want to provide clear instructions to ensure that your freight is received at the show facility and delivered to your booth space.

Freight is priced by dimensional and actual weight depending on the service. For exhibits shipped ground freight, the crate contents rarely exceed the dimensional weight formula. However, for exhibits shipped via air freight, there are limits in size and weight. Actual weight can easily exceed dimensional weight just as shipping a large box with light contents can incur an additional oversized charge. Freight companies are set up to provide instant quotes based on the shipment’s size and weight, your zip code, and the final destination zip code. These companies extend significant discounts on standard rates according to a company’s annual shipping volume.

Trade Show Freight Insurance

Regardless of how you ship your exhibit, you will want to insure it for its full retail value. Without insurance, if your booth is lost or damaged, the standard protection from the carrier is approximately .50 per pound. Consider this. If your $100K exhibit is lost in transit and it weighed 3000 lb. and shipped in three crates, you would be paid only $1500. Alternatively, if you paid the insurance, you would be reimbursed the full $100K with proof of value such as the invoice. Don’t take the risk. There is a good possibility you will experience some kind of freight loss or damage over a number of trade shows.

The Value of Offsite Trade Show Services & Support

Given the cost of trade show marketing, exhibitors are tasked with making wise financial decisions to ensure their investment is successful. One of those decisions is whether to use onsite or offsite providers for products and services. Offsite suppliers include rental furniture, A/V equipment, installation and dismantle labor, flooring, lead management, and even the design and build of your display. 

In most cases, the service will be comparable between onsite vs. offsite providers. However, onsite providers are focused on that specific show whereas offsite providers are more interested in your long-term business. They want you to contract with them when you have a show in San Diego or one in Chicago or your BIG SHOW every year in Las Vegas. 

Let’s use labor as an example. An offsite labor company that handles your exhibit multiple times learns the tricks and tips of your booth and your specific requirements. As a result, there’s a good chance they’ll not only be able to assemble it faster, but they’re also more likely to be extra careful when packing it. After all, they’ll be assembling it again and the last thing they want are surprises when opening your crates. In time, they know what to expect and the experience is less stressful for everyone, which is the gift that just keeps giving.

Trade Show Management Services

What are “trade show management services”? It’s less straightforward than it appears. We’ve already discussed “services” in earlier sections. Who handles them can vary, not only from show to show but also depending on the venue. 

Exhibition, Convention or Show Hall Management:  Every exhibit hall or event venue has a team who handles sales and marketing, schedules shows, maintains the facility, and negotiates contracts with unions, food vendors, and janitorial services. They are responsible for the management and success of the building. For smaller shows, meetings, or events, they may even serve as the show management. 

Show Management:  Whether it’s a local boat show or the annual trade show for the American Cardiology Association, the “show” is owned and managed by a company or an association. They are responsible for everything associated with the show without necessarily handling every activity. For example, they identify the location for the show and negotiate space and services with the facility management. They also contract with a General Show Contractor to handle drayage, electrical, pipe and drape, signage, labor, etc. However, the show management devotes much of their time to marketing the show, developing education sessions, scheduling speakers, creating social events, soliciting sponsors, and registering attendees and exhibitors. 

General Show Contractor (GSC); Most exhibitors interact primarily with the General Show Contractor and often confuse the GSC with both Show Management or Show Hall Management. As mentioned before, the GSC handles a variety of functions for exhibitors, depending on the show. These may include moving and storing freight, electrical services, cleaning, labor, sign rigging, rental furniture, and in some cases even renting exhibits. The GSC has a contract with Show Management and when an exhibitor hits a wall resolving a problem with the GSC, they should contact Show Management, who typically has a temporary office in the show hall. 

Expert Trade Show Services with Classic Exhibits!

If you’ve made it this far and are still confused, you are not alone. It’s very confusing, which is why working with exhibit professionals is a must. Classic Exhibits has over 200 Distributors throughout North America who are trade show pros when it comes to onsite and offsite services. They’ll guide you through the trade show maze so you can concentrate on achieving your marketing objectives. For more information, contact Classic Exhibits at  

How to Tame Your Trade Show Costs (and Still Be Wildly Successful)

July 15th, 2021 COMMENTS

Guest Post by Max Maxwell and Jay Menashe from EDE Corp

Large Island Exhibit

What Do Trade Shows and New York City have in Common?

Bright lights, crowded walkways, excitement. Oh, and both get expensive quickly if you aren’t paying attention!

Nowadays, with months of planning, you can save big bucks with a little bit of help when traveling to expensive cities. There also must be a way to avoid the sticker shock of a trade show, too, right? How can you save money while making an impact and enjoying an event?

Knowing your way around like a local might just make your next trade show as easy and cost-effective as booking an NYC vacation.

Next Stop, a Healthy Budget

Healthy Budget

If you’ve ever asked a New Yorker how to navigate the subway (here’s a handy guide in case you’re interested), their answer likely made your head spin. Uptown, downtown, express trains, lines with numbers, lines with letters; it’s a lot to take in.

Trade shows can be the same. However, just like the subway, once you get the lay of the land, you can easily get from point a to point b.

Let’s take a look at a few of the stops that can make you feel stranded on the trade show train.


One of the most common mistakes when planning a trade show is not knowing the difference between material handling and shipping. Shipping is the process of getting freight to a show location or advanced warehouse. Material handling is the process of getting the freight from a loading dock to your booth, storing your crate, and returning it during move out. And let’s not forget special handling; stacked shipments save space, but you get hit big time with material handling fees. So, while it seems like shipping and material handling should be a single process, it’s not. Most people aren’t aware of what happens with crates and skids once they’re pulled off the show floor ─ out of sight, out of mind.

Shipping is handled by your shipping company (i.e., UPS Freight, Sho-Air, FedEx Ground). Material handling is controlled by the General Services Contractor (GSC). Each has its own costs. For this post, we’re talking about what happens once freight is in the hands of the GSC.

Freight at a Trade Show

Freight is measured in CWTs. Have you ever heard that outside of a trade show? Probably not. Essentially 1cwt = 100 lbs. So, if your booth weighs 800 lbs. you will be charged for 8 CWTs (don’t get us started on what happens if your booth weighs 849 lbs!) The charges per CWT are a whole different story and are based on several factors, including freight classification. However, there are multiple freight classifications. Crated is the most common (i.e., freight neatly wrapped on a standard pallet or in a crate.) Special handling (oddly shaped items or items not on a pallet) and small package (usually solo packages under 75 lbs.)

Generally, you’ll have the choice of sending items directly to the show site (host facility) or to the advanced warehouse (location operated by the GSC). There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Show site is typically less expensive because there is less movement of the materials. But, if a shipping company misses dates, you could be left without an exhibit. On the other hand, the advanced warehouse costs slightly more because they have to store it (normally you’ll get 30 days included) and move it around (onto a truck to take to show site), but you have the security of making sure your freight arrives in time.

Insider Tip: Combine shipments and make sure they’re in a self-contained crate or shrink wrapped on a standard pallet. Avoid sending materials, like flooring, which may be awkward to store or manage, and stay away from sending a series of small items that will be charged on a per-package basis. You should also talk to your other partners about any shipments they are sending. Make sure they have step-by-step instructions on how to send shipments to avoid excess charges.

Installation and Dismantle Labor (I&D)

Probably the second biggest trade show planning mistake comes to scheduling labor. Always ─ and we mean always ─ know your location. As soon as the destination is revealed, call your exhibit partner and start your research. Unions in every city operate differently, so you’ll want to understand these key takeaways:

  • When are straight time (ST), overtime (OT) and double time (DT)?
  • What is the minimum hourly charge (most unions require you to pay a worker for a minimum of 4-hours even if they don’t work that long.)
  • What constitutes a crew (typically applies to riggers or electricians who may operate machinery that requires a spotter.)
  • How many unions are on the floor? What services does each one offer?  (i.e., booth set up, electrical, freight, rigging, etc.)

Installation and Dismantle at Trade Shows

These last questions can save you A LOT of grief. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve witnessed exhibitors complaining that a laborer was unhelpful. Consider the possibility they cannot help, rather than they don’t want to help. Union workers will not cross jurisdictions — doing the work of another union can result in fines and infractions for that worker. There is a common misperception that this doesn’t apply in right-to-work states. Unfortunately, that term is not fully understood despite being thrown around loosely in the industry.

Right-to-work means forcing union membership on a worker is illegal and a violation of their individual rights. We’re not going to debate the merits for, or against, right-to-work, but consider this: Nevada is a right-to-work state, and Las Vegas is the #1 trade show destination in the country. Meaning anyone willing to work a show floor is allowed to, regardless of whether they have been to a trade show or know how to operate the equipment.

Any section on I&D wouldn’t be complete without mentioning I&D supervision. This is another grey area that can blow your budget as quickly as NYC taxicab. Supervised labor gives authorization for your exhibit structure to be built, even if you’re not on-site. You roll in an hour before the show starts, and the booth is ready. Sounds awesome, right? Honestly, it is pretty awesome, but awesome comes with a price; generally, a 30% markup on top of what you’re already paying. This isn’t just for the construction of the booth; it’s for all services related to the booth ─ electricians, riggers and anyone else. We’ll stop there and let you do the math.

Insider Tip: Always do your labor homework! Unions can be tricky, so lean on your exhibit partner to help you. They’ve likely worked in these cities before or will have resources to get the correct information. Your partner should also help you accurately estimate the labor needed and advise whether you should opt for supervision. And, in some cases, your partner contract might include on-site supervision.

Additional Show Services

Trade Show Budget Busters

Hold on to your wallet. Here are other services you should watch and plan accordingly.

  • Lighting – You would assume when you order lights it comes with power. Not necessarily. Generally, if you require additional lighting for a booth, make sure to ask for everything you need; extension cords, the correct outlet and WHO plugs it in (the person installing the light may not be the person allowed to plug it in.)
  • Electrical – When you order an outlet it’s typically dropped in a single location. If your booth demands power in more than one location, you will need to order electrical labor to distribute the outlets throughout the space. You’ll also be asked whether you want the power under the carpet (ideal) or on top of the carpet and taped down.
  • Catering – Having food or beverages in your booth seems an attractive way to lure in attendees, but it can be tricky. Catering is generally offered through an exclusive partner of the facility. Because they’re not subject to competition, the rates can be hard to swallow (pun intended!)  

General Considerations

Balancing Your Trade Show Budget

While these may not directly impact your budget, they are things that lend to an ideal trade show experience.

  • ALWAYS arm the people on-site with the name of the shipping company, their customer service number and all tracking numbers. Make sure they know how it was shipped (name of the carrier) and where it was shipped (advanced warehouse or directly to show site.)
  • If anything is shipped from outside the United States, make sure enough time is left to clear customs, and routinely track any packages.
  • Watch deadlines — from graphics approvals to hanging sign plans, deadlines can catch up with you. Nearly everyone has a surcharge for missing a deadline, so make sure to mark your calendar accordingly.
  • Pay attention to your bill from the General Services Contractor and other show providers. There’s a lot going on and mistakes happen. You will always have better success getting them corrected while at the show. After the show… it’s out of sight/site, out of mind for everyone involved.

Get Your Trade Show CityPass

When visiting New York, you can pick up a CityPASS. It gets you discounted entry at top attractions, helping to stretch travel funds. Heading to another big city, see if they offer something similar! If you’re going to travel to fun places, you should take advantage.

Planning a trade show exhibit isn’t all that different than a CityPASS. With a little advanced research and knowing how you can save on top trade show attractions, your budget stays on track, and you make the best of your trade show experience.

About EDE

EDE is a family-owned, exhibit agency. EDE designs with intention and impact to create personalized solutions for trade shows, environments, and events. For more information: