Drayage Cost – Know The Most Common Yet Puzzling Tradeshow Terminology


It is a coordinated effort that is happening behind the scenes. And these are ‘necessary evils’ which cannot be avoided. The drayage or material handling charges can come from the blue, especially towards the end of a trade show. These costs refer to the movement of exhibition material to the booth.

This unavoidable expense can be seaport/ airport handling charges, dressing up (removing of packing materials), temporary storage of packing materials, taking of materials back to ports, loading, and unloading, etc. To your surprise, the drayage could be much higher than the other transportation expenses.


What is Drayage?


Drayage specifically refers to the expense of unloading and moving your trade show material from the entrance dock of a venue or fairground to your booth before the show and also back to the dock after the show ends. The drayage also includes handling and storing empty tradeshow material crates and pallets during your show or conference. The drayage costs differ depending on the city and location of the show. This cost is always in addition to your shipping costs quoted by the booth builder because it needs to be paid to the organizer and not the booth builder.


Why Drayage Is So Expensive?


Your shipping company or booth decorator is not allowed to ship your booth material to your booth so they don’t end up charging for drayage, hence this cost needs to be paid to the organizer by you, the trade show booth participant. It is not surprising that the drayage cost for a show could at times cost more than shipping your booth across the country. This is because the drayage is charged per hour by labor unions of the fairground and is the only supplier for this service at that venue. Quite often the organizer uses ‘drayage’ as a means to levy their other operational charges to the participants. The labor charges are decided ahead of the trade show schedule and informed to the exhibitors with no scope for negotiations. Rush charges and weekend rates could make the deal very expensive, so it makes total sense to book it in advance.


How is Drayage Charges Calculated?


The age-old empirical formulae are still the basis of calculation. The weight per 100 Pounds is the accepted norm. In America maybe a $60 ~$160 per CWT is the average for common goods in pallets or crates that can be lifted by a forklift. For fragile items with special handling instructions, the rates would shoot up. The over-dimensional consignment (ODC), late arrivals, climate, etc. can call for extra charges.

Depending on the way you arrange packing, there can be cost escalations. Sometimes the number of small packages as well as the volume may be the criteria. There are no fractional charges for consignments. And rounding up the additional weight to the upper side is also usual. Here is an example: For a 410 Pound item you may have to shell out for 500 Pounds or 5 CWT. The individual packaging of small items would make you shell out as much as three times than when sent in one packing.


How Much Should You Be Prepared to Shell Out?


The shown decorators calculate the movement and distribution of materials to different booths in a variety of ways. An indicative figure as approved by the 2011 guidelines of the Event Marketing Institute (EMI) and the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association (EDPA) is as follows:

Description Cost
Advance Shipping to Warehouse for Storage $83.51
Crated Items Directly Sent to Exhibition Hall $76.72
Fragile Items Directly Sent to Exhibition Hall $99.78
Uncrated Items Sent Directly to Exhibition Hall $112.19


How Can You Save on Drayage?


With little or no room for negotiation on drayage costs, there are still ways to minimize them and save on your trade show expense. We enlist some tips here

1. Know your shipping choices

As an exhibitor, you are free to use your regular (or any) consignment agent to ship your trade show exhibit to the fair location. Many reputed carriers such as UPS, FedEx may not take the material directly to the trade show site and would ship only to their local warehouse. Organizers have a panel of shipping companies that are their preferred partners. These are often listed on the official show website. The advantage of these is that they could quote you standard rates for shipping + drayage and you could steal a deal and save cost there.

2. One booth one shipment

It is advisable to ship all the material and send it as one consignment rather than dividing it into different shipments. The moment you divide your booth crates into typically one for structure, another for graphics, and a third for lights, it makes it difficult for the organizers to sort and track your shipments and needs more man-hours to ensure your material reaches the same booth on time. And more man-hours always adds more dollars.

3. Package and label your booth well

Trade show exhibits that are custom designed using modular construction are best suited to reduce drayage cost. This is owing to its structure that can be packed flat and needs compact crates and pallets to store and transport. This lowers the labor cost for internal movement, packing and unpacking, and loading/unloading that considerably brings the drayage charges down. Compact packing crates that are empty take less space for storage and so reduce the cost of storing them during the show.

4. Shipping to the advanced warehouse

Direct shipment to a trade show site is a plus point provided you take care of the exact days the consignments are allowed to be taken in. But remember packages delivered by the carrier to the site directly save a bit but are subject to some drayage costs once they arrive. Shipping directly to a convention center can sometimes have unforeseen challenges too. It could be an arduous task to track down your package, especially if there are multi-shows in the same facility. It will also reduce your material handling charges considerably. This is because the decorator is handling your freight items much less when they are moving things from an advanced warehouse. And there are some significant benefits to shipping to the advanced warehouse. Materials arrive in booth space faster. If you ship to the advance warehouse, you can be sure of the availability of the materials in your booth space.


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    The Final Word

    If you’re exhibiting at a tradeshow, you will most likely be presented with a hefty material handling and drayage bill at the end of a show. To avoid the shock you must implement some of the suggestions listed above. These precautions may not solve all of your drayage worries, but they can help you minimize expenses and avoid extra charges. Every little bit helps in cutting the cost.