Transportation fees represent a significant portion of an exhibit’s overall cost. But, estimating those costs is often challenging. A booth is composed of hundreds of parts, from structural elements and lighting to flooring and furniture.

To get an accurate estimate for shipping, you need to know what all those parts weigh and how much space they take up when packed. Plus, once your booth arrives at the venue, you need to understand each trade show’s drayage policies to avoid paying special handling fees.

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To help take the stress out of shipping, we sat down with Corbin Rowley, our Director of Operations, to find out what it takes to get a truly accurate weight estimate. Here’s what he had to say.  


Q: What is the best way to make sure you get your weight spot on?

Corbin: Having an extremely accurate inventory — with weights and dimensions —is critical to getting your shipment weight correct and avoiding unplanned expenses.

We have a large scale to weigh properties, and we always get a "lightweight" and a "heavyweight" ticket from our carrier that coincides with the weights on our B.O.L. (Bill of Lading). Tickets are often required by the general contractor during offloading, and they’re also great to have for verification of drayage charges.


Q: How does weight impact pricing? What percentage of your cost is determined by shipping?

Corbin: Shipment weight can impact pricing a lot—from higher-than-expected drayage fees from the show decorator, to an unexpectedly higher transportation bill because the booth weight and type of handling required at the offloading were not calculated correctly. Why take that risk?

The largest variable is transportation, and exhibitors should plan on 10-20% of their total budget in drayage and transportation. This variance is highest when the distances are great, and an exhibitor’s booth requires additional trailers. 


Q: How does Steelhead address this?

Corbin: Each of our inventory pieces are weighed, measured, and recorded in our online asset inventory tracking system. This way, we know what the booth will weigh as we are estimating the project. Additional factors such as flooring, hanging signs, client-owned inventory, or giveaways, etc., are accounted for in this estimating process to ensure we have the highest level of weight accuracy.

We also map out the shipment within a premeasured space in our warehouse that mimics a standard 54’ trailer to guarantee that what we plan to load actually fits within the space provided. These additional, but necessary, steps makes it possible for us to guarantee our price on transportation and drayage.

There hasn’t been a single one of our projects where a customer has paid even a single cent for a weight overage. 


Q: Are there any tricks to keeping transportation costs down?

 Corbin: Sometimes, you get lower drayage rates if your truck is floor-loaded, rather than double-stacked. Depending on the distance, it might make more sense in those cases to send multiple trucks that are floor-loaded to avoid "special handling" drayage rates.


Q: What questions can you ask to evaluate if your vendor is dialed in on one weight and its impact on shipping costs?

Corbin: Some questions I'd consider when evaluating an exhibit house for transportation and drayage costs are:

  • Does the exhibit house have an accurate inventory management system with weights, dimensions, and accurate descriptions of the properties?
  • Is the shipment weighed in-house before loading?
  • What is the exhibit house’s process for providing accurate weights and dimensions?
  • Does the exhibit house have a process for checking the transportation carrier’s weight ticket and ensuring accurate data?
  • Has the exhibit been packed and loaded onto the carrier in a way that avoids unnecessary "special handling" fees during offloading?
  • What is the exhibit house’s relationship with its main carriers?
  • How long have they been using their carriers and why were they selected?
  • What makes them their carrier of choice?

Shipping and handling fees are just one thing you should consider when choosing your next exhibit design company. Get more tips on selecting the perfect design firm for you.

Download our free white paper: How To Evaluate And Choose An Exhibit Design Company.  

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