Exhibit Shipping 101


In order to have a great Trade Show experience you need to make sure your exhibit makes it to the show. This page is a guide to help you with the process.


  • MAKE YOUR CRATES AND CARTONS STAND OUT ON THE SHOW FLOOR:  All crates can be dull and similar and in many cases can be misplaced on the show floor. Pick an outstanding color or even a corporate color combination and paint the corners of your crates to identify among the sea of wood that this crate is yours. Any creative coloring ideas can be used, right down to painting the whole thing.
  • IDENTIFY YOUR CRATES AND BOXES SO THAT DESCRIBING THEM IS EASIER:  Once you color coordinate your pieces, a few may still be similar in size and type. This is where a clear description is invaluable. A fun way to identify each piece is to give them a name. Big crates can have burly names (Bruno or Thor) and small cartons can have something more appropriate for their size (Thumper or Peanut). They can be named after your staff or even named after favorite famous people (Mo, Larry & Curly). You can keep them all guessing by giving them names that are totally made up to make them truly your own (meepzork or huzyjaz)
  • RETIRE OLD CRATES AND BOXES: Packaging will only last so long. Boxes should only be realistically used for one round trip, and a new carton used for your next event. Crates will last longer but need to be inspected and repaired before they are used again. Remember crates are designed to protect the contents. Dings and cracks and dents will happen as they do their job protecting what’s inside.
    Remove old address and carrier labels. If you have multiple labels on your pieces, then any freight handler may not know which one is the current one to be using. Freight can be sent to the location that you just shipped back from if its not perfectly clear which label is providing the current address or shipping info.
  • PLASMA MONITORS NEED SPECIALIZED PACKAGING: If you are using your own plasma monitors make sure that they are packaged in heavy anvil type containers specifically designed for shipping these types of fragile glass screens. Many companies exclude plasma monitors from their shipping insurance liabilities. See your ELITeXPO rep for our Plasma Monitor Cargo Insurance that insures your high value product from the moment it leaves your door until it returns back home.
  • LEARN HOW TO COMPLETE THE MATREIAL HANDLING FORM (MHA, BILL OF LADING, SHIPPING FORM) BEFORE THE SHOW ENDS: This is the most important document that you need to complete to assure that your freight is shipped according to your wishes. Above all, never leave it sitting on a crate inside your booth. You MUST turn it into the Exhibitor Service Center once your entire shipment is packed and ready to ship. Write in your Carrier’s name in the box provided on the MHA. It may be hard to find, but you know you can always ask your assigned ELITeXPO account rep to assist you with any type of General Contractor paperwork that needs to be completed. Ask your carrier, “What is an MHA?” If they don’t know, give ELITeXPO a call.
  • PROPERLY LABEL AND COUNT YOUR ENTIRE SHIPMENT: It’s easy with ELITeXPO. Your account rep will pre-print a complete set of address labels and booth number labels for both the inbound and the outbound shipping of your show. Also our bright pink labels will assist in identifying your pieces for proper shipping. Put a label on each piece of freight because even though you have them shrunk wrapped to a skid, often times the skid is broken apart. No label, no delivery. Also don’t count your skid as one piece, because that is all anyone will be responsible for. If there are 10 pieces on the skid, count it as 10 pieces shipped on one skid.
  • CONDENSE THE SIZE OF YOUR BOOTH SHIPMENT: You can save a lot of money by using interlocking carpet panels. You don’t need carpet pad, or high rental costs as you can reuse these panels over and over again and ship them in a 2×2 shipping case instead of a 10 foot long roll. Its easier to ship, costs less and can ride on more carriers to get to its destination safely and on time.
  • SAVE SHIPPING COSTS BY WEIGHING AND MEASURING EACH PIECE IN YOUR SHIPMENT: This detail information is invaluable in providing an accurate description of individual pieces that you may be trying to locate for any reason. Have the dimensions and the weight permanently written on the outside of each box or carton. You would be surprised how many freight handlers will just estimate the size and weight of your freight. Overestimating increases your freight rate AND your drayage costs. Freight Handlers will use your figures and record that to your shipment paperwork. Be accurate, if you try to be cute here, it could work against you.
  • HOW ABOUT SUPPLYING YOUR SHIPPING REP, INSTALLATION AND DISMANTLE REPS, EXHIBIT MANAGERS AND ANYONE ELSE WHO WILL BE HANDLING YOUR FREIGHT, EMERGENCY CONTACT NUMBERS? This will help eliminate the possibility of your freight being forced at any show. It also allows your carrier to be able to contact you at any time in order to make any necessary changes or authorizations. As an added measure, put your 800 number with an after hours extension on your cases and shipping crates.


To be sure all will go well with the move out of your shipment from a tradeshow always follow these instructions:

  1. ACQUIRE A “STRAIGHT BILL OF LADING” (MATERIAL HANDLING AGREEMENT) This is obtained from the show’s General Contractor at their service desk.
  2. ASSIGN ELITeXPO AS YOUR CARRIER: In the Carrier section of the Contractors Bill of Lading you Must note ELITeXPO as your carrier. You can do this by applying one of your XPOTAG labels.
  3. AFFIX THE ELITeXPO SHIPPING LABELS: Place at least one label on each box. Leave all pieces in your booth.
  4. RETURN BILL OF LADING: When the shipment is packed and ready, complete the bill of lading and return the bill of lading to the Show’s General Contractor’s service desk.


Each time I am part of an industry freight session there is heavy debate that inevitably gets around to a discussion of forced freight. No one likes it, everyone hates it, and it needs to be fixed, it’s been said. I keep hearing all the time that carriers and general service contractors, GSCs, would prefer not to deal with dreaded freight of the forced kind.

There are so many parties living so far from the truth that I wonder if anyone believes us at all anymore. To paraphrase Gordon Gecko in the movie “Wall Street”, the reality is, forced freight is good. Maybe not from the exhibitors’ point of view, but certainly from those who receive those shipments at the end of any trade show anywhere.

The difference is, exhibitors can have full control on whether or not their shipments become part of this ongoing debate. Choose a good carrier, follow instructions to the letter and you never have to deal with the controversy. Official Show Carriers (those assigned by show management to be the preferred carrier on show site) and Exhibitor Assigned Carriers on the other hand are at the mercy and discretion of the general service contractor once they hit the marshaling yard. Official Carriers are there to service exhibitors and create business by securing freight shipments. Forced freight assists in that goal, albeit with some thorny side effects. At the end of the day, however, I find that I prefer to be able to talk to customers who have had their shipments forced so that I can extol to them the benefits of using my company and how this would never be an issue with our service guarantees.

I won’t hide behind the fact that this is also premium freight and revenue that offsets our expense to be on show site until the last piece of freight, like Elvis, has left the building. And I know that general service contractors feel the same way too, since there is a dance of the living dead on show site when it gets around to assigning forced shipments. I know that there will be adamant disagreement on this statement, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em. I just think that the corporate mandate hasn’t made it down to the individual city level yet.

It should be noted that neither every carrier, nor every general service contractor are culprits here. In fact, I have been able to see great progress by working together with some GSCs on the “Carrier Performance Standards” which is an endorsed document by the Exhibitor Appointed Contractor Assn. and Exposition Services and Contractors Assn. aimed at solving show floor shipping problems.

The following list explains 10 ways that your freight shipment will get forced. Since everyone will tell you hot tips on how to avoid show floor problems, I thought that I would provide real ways to create show floor havoc, mostly for yourself. Since these examples are most often already followed by those companies that have their freight forced often, here is a recap of those most frequently used:

  1. Tell anyone you speak to regarding the recovery of your shipment that “no one told me about that” when asked if you know the show rules. Don’t read the exhibitor service manual and above all don’t look to see what deadlines there are for your carrier to check in line and at what time the shipment will need to be removed from the floor. If you didn’t read it, then it can’t be true.
  2. Use Elmer’s Freight & Pizza Emporium to handle your tradeshow shipment because they have the best rates around. Make sure that you take the cheapest quote and don’t worry about asking them for their tradeshow credentials. That may ruin your rate.
  3. Leave your Material Handling Agreement, (MHA or shipping form) right on top of your recently packed shipment. There is no need to turn it in to the service desk, because some nice person walking the floor will do that for you.
  4. In fact, don’t even worry about packing your shipment at all. Just leave it. If you time it right you can be first in line for those little hot dogs wrapped in bacon at happy hour because all those other poor saps will be back at the hall feverishly packing their shipment to make their flights.
  5. Don’t listen to your booth manager about the specific instructions on what to do once the show breaks. What do they know? They aren’t going to be there at that time anyway. If you’re lucky, maybe they won’t even bother to leave you instructions and you can do whatever you want.
  6. If you have to complete the MHA because you are the kind of person who has to have a receipt to prove that you really were working, don’t worry about assigning your carrier to the “Carrier” box on the MHA. In fact, if you just check the first box you see that says freight, there is a good chance you are assigning it to the GSC who will be happy to tell your carrier when it shows up, “Nope, sorry.” The attempted pick-up charges should not be that expensive.
  7. If your assigned carrier is not able to get your shipment because “he was told that it was not there” and they didn’t bother to call you on the emergency contact numbers that you provided, don’t be angry with them and don’t look for another carrier. Use them again and again until they use this excuse at least three more times because, as you know, it really wasn’t their fault.
  8. Use one of those national package express carriers, because your traffic department told you that you have to. Don’t worry that they won’t wait in line for 10 hours some day, that they will leave after their cutoff time or that it’s Sunday and they don’t make pickups on that day. The advertisements that you saw on the Super Bowl telling you how absolutely perfect they are have to be accurate– otherwise they wouldn’t be on TV, right ?
  9. You should assume that smaller independent tradeshow carriers cannot handle your shipment because sometimes even the owner of the company will get involved with your freight or be seen on show floor. You don’t want to use a company where most of the employees can work any job in the company. Owners should be spending their time making commercials that you can watch on Super Bowl Sunday, where you learn everything that you need to know.
  10. Don’t go to any industry association educational sessions and please don’t report your gripes to show management. Freight is not all that important. You don’t want any trouble. After all you have heard that troublemakers are the last ones to receive their empty crates and cases, if at all.

Remember, if your freight does get forced and you are left with a larger freight bill or worse–missing freight for ransom–you can always threaten to sue the Carrier, Show Organizer, the GSC and the bartender. You can explain that you didn’t really understand what you were signing when you authorized the GSC to re-route your shipment to a carrier of the GSC’s choice on the MHA. If that doesn’t do the trick you can always tell them that you didn’t see the terms of your agreement for exhibit space because you didn’t feel that it was really that important to read.