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Managing Tradeshow Shipping: What You Need to Know

Posted by
Simon Morrison Warehouse Manager
Vincent Crolla Warehouse Operative

Based in London, Outsourced Events supports our clients’ tradeshow presence around the world. We are global shipping and inventory management experts with strategically located warehouses in the UK, US, and EU.

Here is our expert guide to everything you need to know to avoid a tradeshow shipping nightmare.

Never Miss your Deadlines

It’s key to keep track of your deadlines, to ensure you don’t end up with an empty booth on a tradeshow floor. 

Shipping to and from tradeshows in other countries is often tricky, with many things to consider from freight options to tricky customs forms, to shipping time, and HS codes*.

Carefully review the exhibitor’s manual and plan accordingly, making sure your carrier is aware of your “move-in” and “move-out” dates in advance of any freight collected. This is key to prevent added fees or, worse, your freight from being returned. 

(*Among industry classification systems, Harmonized System (HS) Codes are commonly used throughout the export process for goods. The Harmonized System is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products. It is used by customs authorities around the world to identify products when assessing duties and taxes and for gathering statistics. Source: International Trade Administration.)

Plan in Advance

As soon as you’ve booked your tradeshow, develop a detailed timeline! 

Make sure you know the requirements for delivery and pick up of your booth items and calculate how low long you have for shipping and transportation to and from the show. Often, when compared with traditional freight, tradeshow shipping has longer timelines. You may need to send your materials and booth items weeks in advance.  

The more time you allow, the more likely you will be able to ship your exhibit using slower means of transport such as by road or ocean freight, which can save money as you won’t be reliant on expensive last-minute shopping costs, and could lower your carbon footprint. Also, by giving you and your carrier plenty of time to plan, you allow for plenty of time to address any challenges.

Get your Paperwork Sorted

You’ll need to keep track of all your shipped items, recording the total number of boxes or crates, location details, freight dimensions and weight, booth details, and specific handling instructions. You will also need to complete customs forms making sure you have all the information required such as the EORI number, and HS codes. 

Choose the Best Carrier 

Shipping a tradeshow exhibit is different from sending parcels in the mail. There are many things to consider such as item value, shipping policies, delivery procedures and deadlines, number of packages, and freight options. Your choice of carrier is key to ensuring your tradeshow exhibit arrives on time, safely and in one-piece. 

Get quotes from multiple companies for competitive pricing, but don’t just settle for the cheapest. Given how complicated shipping can be, there are a few things to consider before hiring a carrier:

  • What are their reviews?
  • Who do your industry partners use, and can you get a referral?
  • How much is insurance?
  • Are they familiar with tradeshow exhibits?
  • Do they charge extra to wait for dock space?
  • Is customer service offered after shipping?

Once you’ve found the right carrier for you, establish a good supplier relationship and return as a loyal customer for future tradeshows.

Choose the Right Shipping Method

Selecting the right shipping method is essential to ensure your materials arrive at the tradeshow on time and in good condition. Here are some shipping options to consider:

Expedited Shipping

If you’re running short on time, expedited shipping can get your materials to the trade show quickly. However, it can be more expensive, so factor this into your budget.

Road/Ground Shipping

Road or ground shipping is a reliable option for domestic tradeshows. It’s usually more affordable than air shipping and offers a balance between cost and speed.

Air Freight

For international tradeshows, or if you need your materials to arrive as quickly as possible, air freight may be the best choice. It’s faster, but comes with a higher price tag and the highest carbon footprint.

Advanced Shipping to the Show

Some tradeshows offer the option to ship your materials in advance and store them securely until your arrival. This can save you time and effort in setting up your booth.

Shipping and Logistics Services

Some companies, such as Outsourced Events specialise in tradeshow logistics. They offer services like warehousing, transportation, and on-site setup. This can streamline the process and reduce the stress of managing shipping on your own.


Our global reach: Outsourced Events works in 40+ countries


Pack Items Well

It is vital to protect your exhibit during transit and ensure it arrives in excellent condition, by packing everything well.

When packing, consider: 

Sturdy Materials

Opt for robust boxes, crates or containers capable of withstanding the challenges of the shipping process.

Bubble Wrap and Padding

Envelop delicate items in bubble wrap and use cushioning materials like foam or packing peanuts to minimize damage.

Clear Labeling

Clearly mark every package with your company's name, booth number, and the address of the trade show. This aids in swift identification and proper routing. 

Inventory Checklist

Create a comprehensive inventory list containing all the items you're shipping. This list will prove invaluable in case any items become misplaced during transit.

Avoid Extra Items

Exhibiting at a tradeshow is costly, and companies often seek ways to reduce costs. One way is to ensure you only send items that you actually need. 

Although it is tempting to send items ‘just-in-case’, this will end up costing you more, not just to ship these extra items out, but also to store and return them.

Limit Drayage Fees

Drayage, or material handling, is what the venue will charge you to handle the movement of your exhibit freight from your carrier’s delivery vehicle to your booth space.

Services typically include:

  • Unloading your freight once it arrives at the receiving dock
  • Transporting the freight to the trade show booth space
  • Removing the empty shipping container during install
  • Temporarily storing your empty shipping items during the show
  • Returning empty shipping items for dismantle once the show is closed
  • Transferring the freight back to the loading dock and loading your items to your carrier’s vehicle. 

Avoid paying extra fees by combining your freight to a single pallet with no extra boxes.

Tradeshow Budget

Shipping and material handling expenses can significantly impact your tradeshow budget. To minimise these costs, it's a good idea to estimate the combined weight of your booth materials and necessary supplies well in advance of the event. Additionally, you should compare the material handling fees associated with shipping to an advance warehouse versus direct delivery to the show. Don't forget to consider all associated shipping costs, including waiting and detention time.

If your company is participating in multiple shows with tight turnaround times between them, it's a good idea to reach out to the carrier to plan your shipments. To ensure a cost-effective shipping process, plan your shipment well in advance of the arrival deadlines. More lead time for shipping typically translates to lower costs. 

Track and Confirm Delivery

Once your materials are on their way, keep a record of tracking numbers for each shipment so you can monitor their progress and ensure they have been delivered to the venue. By doing this you can quickly address any issues that may arise, such as delayed shipments or missing items. Remember to check in with the tradeshow organisers to confirm that your materials have arrived and are ready for setup.

Plan for Return Shipping

Don’t forget to plan for the return shipping of your materials after the tradeshow. Have a strategy in place for repackaging and arranging pickup or delivery of your materials once the event concludes.

Need Help?

  • Struggling to manage your EMEA events?
  • Don’t have a team on the ground in EMEA?
  • Shipments held up at Customs and Border Protection?

If your answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes’, then you need us!

With our Event Assistant Services, we take the pressure off by helping you manage your inventory, including shipping, deliveries, and paperwork. Get in touch today so we can start helping you right away:  

  • T: +44 (0)330 460 6007
  • E:

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