The Show Book: Material Handling

This is the 2nd installment in a series covering the many pages of the Show Book. 

Probably the single most misunderstood and confusing piece of paper in the entire show book is the material handling form. What are the materials? How will they be handled? Why does it cost so much? And most importantly, do I have to pay it?

A common misconception is that material handling charges represent the cost of shipping your materials to a trade show. Material handling is related to shipping, but is in fact a separate charge for a specific service.

The trade show's decorator or official contractor is responsible for, among other things, receiving shipments of displays, materials, and equipment at the show's advance warehouse or show site. The decorator charges a fee for this service, which is based on the weight of your shipment, how it is packaged, and who delivers it.

The material handling fee generally covers the following:

  • Unloading and receiving the shipment from your carrier
  • Storing the shipment until move in (if you are shipping to the advance warehouse)
  • Moving the shipment from the loading dock or the advance warehouse to your booth space
  • Storing your empty crates during the show and returning them to your booth once the show is over
  • Moving your outbound shipment from the show floor to the dock and handing it off to your outbound carrier at the end of the show

In most cases, if you are delivering your show items yourself via a personal or company owned vehicle you will be allowed to unload your items and move them to your booth space without being charged a Material Handling fee. While most decorators allow shelf loading, be sure to check the show book. Some jurisdictions may not allow self loading in certain situations, and material handling fees may apply.

In order to fill out the material handling form you will need to know:

  • Are you shipping to the advance warehouse or directly to the show site? Decorators generally charge different rates for advance warehouse shipments versus direct to showsite shipments.
  • Which carrier will you be using? Package services such as UPS and Fedex are considered Special Handling shipments and are billed at a higher rate than skidded shipments via Freight carriers.
  • What is the weight of your shipment?
  • Is your shipment skidded or crated, or is it packed in individual boxes or cases?

Material handling charges are figured based on a unit call a hundredweight. Abbreviated CWT, a hundredweight is simply an increment of one hundred pounds. Be sure to round up to the next CWT. For example a 225 pound shipment will be billed as 3 CWT. Also keep in mind that most decorators bill for material handling based on a 200 pound minimum, regardless of the actual weight of your shipment.

Using this material handling form as a guide, here is how to figure material handling for a sample shipment:

1 skid of tradeshow materials weighing 225 shipping via a freight line to the advance warehouse

First figure your shipment weight in CWT: 225 pounds ÷ 100 = 3 CWT

Then find the price for CWT: $74.25 (based on a crated shipment to the advance warehouse)

Finally, calculate the estimated cost: 3 CWT X $74.25 = $222.75

Another example:

2 crates weighing a total of 95 pounds shipped via UPS directly to the show site

95 pounds ÷ 100 pounds = 1 CWT. However, the shipment will be billed as 200 pounds based on the 2 CWT minimum.

Price per CWT for the direct to show site shipment is $100 per CWT (remember that UPS shipments are considered special handling shipments)

2 CWT x $100 = $200

We hope this article has helped to take some of the confusion about Material Handling. In our next installment, we'll cover some tips to help reduce your material handling costs and why you should (almost) always ship to the advance warehouse.