Drayage Cost – Know The Most Common Yet Puzzling Tradeshow Terminology.

Drayage Cost - Know The Most Common Yet Puzzling Tradeshow Terminology

Material handling and drayage at the most basic level is the same

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, drayage could be much higher than the other transportation expenses

Why Drayage Is So Expensive?

Basically, ‘skimming marketing ‘analogy applies here as well. Since a trade show in one location may not be that recurring, trade show organizers try to get maximum leverage in a short time. Besides, the trade show organizers depend on trade show decorators for setting up the booths. In turn, the decorators sub-contract the job to labor unions who handle internal transportation. As the union is involved, there is little option for negotiations. Hence the exhibitors are charged with exorbitant rates for drayage.

How are Drayage Charges Calculated?

The age old empirical formulae are still the basis of calculation. The weight per 100 Pounds is accepted norm. In America may be 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 to Save on Drayage?

Consolidation and proper packing would reduce the outgo on account of Drayage. Plus advance shipping would save.

Know Your Shipping Logistics Choices

Either you can engage your regular consignment agent or seek help from the organisers. They will be having a list of transporters in their approved panel. You should be ready with the number of packages, approximate weight, destination, time frame, delivery timings, etc. Many reputed carriers like Fedex, UPS or Blue Dart may not take the material directly to the exhibition sites. Their scheduled delivery will not match that of the trade show organisers. Their adherence is generally to their own storage yards rather than the advance warehouse of the trade show.

It is advisable to ship all material together to save the cost

The labeling of the consignment with the right address, your company’s name, and your booth number, etc. on as many sides as possible is a must to avoid mix up.

You have two choices:

  • Sending material to the exhibition site directly: 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 site directly save a bit but are subject to some drayage costs once they arrive. Shipping directly to a convention centre 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.


  • Shipping to the advance warehouse: 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 advance warehouse. And there are some significant benefits to shipping to the advance warehouse. Materials arrive in booth space faster. If you ship to the advance warehouse, you can be sure of the materials availability in your booth space.

Planning is the essence

Planning well in advance is essential. In case you notice that a critical item is missing among the exhibits in the last moment, you will have to get it at an enormous cost.

You may have more questions to ask from the organisers and decorators. You must feel free to ask for assistance from the trade show organisers as it is their reputation and future association which will be at stake. And that is the beginning of getting clarified and organised at your end.

You can get sub-contractors to do most of the work for a charge. The sub-contractors will have local knowledge which would make the entire process seamless.

Official Carriers of the trade show organisers can help you move your materials in many ways. The experience of the staff you are deploying with you for the trade show can be a great help right from the planning stage onwards up to dismantling and return. Trade shows would have a number of unforeseen situations and bottlenecks.

Avoid Surprise and Hidden Drayage Charges

Drayage costs are difficult to estimate

It may and seem to blindside exhibitors at the end of every show.

It’s not unusual for drayage costs to exceed the cost of shipping. Ironically, drayage is logically travelling the shortest possible distance for the highest possible price.

The organisers will certainly charge you for aisle banners, registration counters, decorative entrance units, etc. Besides you will find expenses towards face show signage, aisle carpeting, masking drape, and furnishings for common areas and show offices and the labour to install them may also be included. To avoid this, a package deal is ideally recommended.

Clarify the Billing Process

What you get at the end of the day is a consolidated bill from the trade show organisers. It is better to have the estimate for the Drayage charges along with the contract with a break up like move-in charges, demurrages, etc. The cost of Drayage varies substantially over the time, season and climate. So while preparing the budget, an explicit allowance needs to be built in. Trade shows are invariably calls for amicable negotiations and settlement.

Other Cost-Cutting Tips to Consider

The labour rates may vary from place to place and country to country.

As far as possible you may settle on for a package deal with an ‘almost sealed cost outgo’ basis. That includes power, cleaning, dismantling, labour, carpet, furniture, etc.

Use pallets and skid as far as possible. Many a requirements like welcome sweets, flowers, table covers , fans etc. can be locally procured rather than bringing from far way.

Also, multiple-piece shipments may not be processed on the dock at the same time, which causes you to pay multiple CWT minimums. You can band together like-sized cartons or pack smaller boxes in a single large carton to avoid various minimums. You may ship small packages to your hotel. Proper logistics would pave way for a smooth trade show.

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.