Planning For Success

SEMA News—September 2018


Planning For Success

Four Ways to Save on Exhibit Logistics

It’s best to have all of your event logistics (including outbound shipping) handled by a carrier that specializes in trade shows, especially if you ship to more than one show; it can save your company a lot of money.

Trade shows are all about doing business, but before the Show floor opens and the first meetings can begin, exhibitors have to arrive and set up. Then they have to pack everything up again five days later to hit the road for the next show. All too often, exhibitors arrive in Las Vegas unprepared, believing that if they order everything they require on-site they will receive it on the spot. The consequenses for that lack of planning can be costly in both time and money and lead to frustration. But, through proper planning, an exhibitor’s Show logistics can work smoothly and efficiently.

Exhibitors looking for support when planning for the SEMA Show can benefit from advice from the Show’s service contractor, Freeman. By tapping into best practices honed by years of experience, exhibitors can get their arms around the big the jobs of setting up a booth, laying down carpet, ordering furniture and equipment, or tearing down. Your primary resource for information and deadlines is the SEMA Exhibitor Services Manual (ESM; visit

SEMA News talked to Paul Cunniffe, Freeman’s vice president of business development, to share his experience on the best ways for exhibitors to streamline trade show logistics.

Plan Ahead to Earn Discounts

Exhibitors should begin planning between 45–180 days from the move-in date and arrive early to allow enough time for setup. Start the planning process by creating a budget and taking advantage of discount order deadlines via SEMA’s ESM. Exhibitors who order products and services by the proper deadlines can save between 30%–40%. Everything costs more at the Show site, so if you’ve ordered from Freeman before, copy your previous order to save time.

Freeman plans its labor force according to the orders already in place. So if an exhibitor orders booth labor in advance, laborers are scheduled to set up the exhibitor’s booth during a certain period of time on a designated day. If an exhibitor comes to the service desk at the Show and asks for labor, they will to have to wait longer and pay more.

To reduce labor costs, diagram your setup and number your crates accordingly. Any prep work you can do ahead (such as prewiring equipment or color-coding wiring) will save time and money. Whenever possible, request services during straight-time labor hours. That goes for both setup and teardown.

“All you have to do is look in your ESM and place your order with Freeman by the deadline for whatever you’re going to use, and you’ll save 30%,” said Cunniffe. “Unfortunately, service contractors and exhibitors have this sort of adversarial relationship. We’re the umpire at a baseball game. People don’t come to see the umpire; they only notice him if he does something wrong. Exhibitors should call us early and ask for help. After all, we’re their partner. We succeed if the Show succeeds and exhibitors succeed.”

Expect carpet on the first day of move-in or laid the day before your target date.

Consolidate and Organize Shipments

Another way for exhibitors to save money is to consolidate shipments to avoid weight minimums. Ship in crates or shrink-wrap to skids to prevent special-handling charges, and send shipments to the warehouse or Show site before the deadlines. SEMA offers exhibitors with 400 sq. ft. of exhibit space or less up to 500 lbs. of material handling free, and Freeman offers 30 days of free storage before exhibitors move in.

To help locate your shipment, keep a record of tracking numbers, and bring them with you to the Show. If you know your transportation provider, submit your outbound shipping information in advance. That will save you time at the Show site.

“If exhibitors contact us when they know how much weight they’re shipping to the Show, we’ll be able to give them a price on what their drayage will be,” Cunniffe said. “All contractors at any show have a minimum charge, so if your freight weighs less than the minimum, you will still be charged for the minimum. Bundle two or three shipments so you’re not getting nicked for several minimum-shipment charges. Pay attention to your target move-in time, because if you miss it, you’re going to slow down your day by waiting in line.”

It’s best when all event logistics, including outbound shipping, are handled by a carrier that specializes in trade shows—especially for exhibitors that ship to more than one show. For more information, contact the Freeman Transportation Support Center at 800-995-3579.

To reduce labor costs, diagram your setup and number your crates accordingly. Any prep work you can do ahead (such as pre-wiring equipment and color-coding wiring) will save time and money.

Verify Upon Arrival

After you get settled in, go to your booth space to make sure everything has arrived according to the Show delivery schedule. Contact the Exhibitor Service Center if anything is missing. If you ordered labor, check in at the labor desk at your designated time. Furnishings arrive according to the Show delivery schedule, which is posted next to the Exhibitor Service Center. Expect carpet in your booth on the first day of move-in or the day before your target date.

For the SEMA Show, Freeman staffs between 500 and 1,300 laborers per day. As the campus expands outside of the convention center, the location where Freeman stores its equipment gets pushed a little further away, so the reaction time may be a little slower than expected. However, if exhibitors know what they want beforehand, it will be in their booths before they arrive.

“Exhibitors should bring a hard copy of everything they ordered from every vendor so that they know exactly what they’re getting and when it should be at their booth,” Cunniffe said.

Often the staff member who submits orders at the office prior to the Show is not the same one who attends, which can lead to confusion. Keeping all the paperwork handy helps exhibitors get timely answers to any questions that arise on site.

Freeman also has concierge staff on the Show floor whose job is to stop at each booth every day of the Show. They leave their contact information in each exhibitors’ booth so that they can be reached if needed.

“It’s remarkable how many people don’t reach out and ask the concierges to get involved,” Cunniffe said. “They are management-level employees who interact with the union so you don’t have to do that.”

Once your containers are empty, get “empty” stickers at the Exhibitor Service Center and put one on each container with your company name and booth number. Make sure that you get everything you need out of your containers, since you won’t be able to access them during the Show.

Exhibitors can expect to receive invoices delivered to their booth on the day after the Show opens, along with any outbound shipping information and labels. If outbound shipping information was not provided in advance, visit the Exhibitor Service Center for assistance.

Post-Show Wrap-Up

Upon the Show’s completion, exhibitors should confirm their labor orders with the Exhibitor Service Center and check in at the labor desk to pick up workers. Allow up to eight hours after the Show ends for empty containers to be returned (after aisle carpet is picked up).

Refer to the Quick Facts (Show information at a glance) available at Freeman Online for the date/time the Show should be cleared and the time shipments should be picked up by your outbound carrier. Once your shipment is packed, complete the Material Handling Agreement and return it to the Exhibitor Service Center. Notify your outbound carrier that the shipment is ready for pickup, and ensure that all labels are applied. If you are shipping something especially valuable, don’t label boxes with their contents. In some cases, it’s best to wait for the carrier to arrive or hire a security guard, since Show security is not responsible for guarding freight.

Once you’ve finished packing, hop on your flight home and take a few moments to note any plan improvements you’d like to make next time. By saving your paperwork from this year, you’ll have a valuable process template for future Shows that will give you command of costs and logistics.

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