Road Rash! The beating our tradeshow freight takes from the VanLines and General Show Contractors is substantial. While management of the companies responsible for your freight may be concerned with the safe arrival to your booth space, the workers actually handling your crates may not. Freight damage is unfortunately an inevitable part of exhibiting at trade shows and it almost always is a result of negligence by the handlers. I recently had a run in with a forklift driver at a trade show. His attitude reflected the lackadaisical concern many of the union workers have for your properties.

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Road Rash

Standing in the aisle with my hat backwards, sweat dripping down my face from finishing our set, I was taking in the damage of a product display our Client would not be able to use. The damage was significant enough that the Client opted not to use the new display. I was waiting for the decorator’s Claims Manager to arrive to start the claims process. As I stood there, a forklift driver drove by and sarcastically boasted, “Looks like you got yourself a bad case of road rash, ha, ha!” I was slightly taken aback by the comment. I sheepishly grinned, wondering why he would make that comment to me. My guess was he thought I was one of the run-of-mill union workers and not the exhibitor.

If it weren’t for the fact the display cost the Client $4,000 plus shipping, the comment may have been clever and even mildly funny. After 22 years of working these shows, I find the general disrespect and lack of concern for the enormous costs the exhibitors incur at these shows, extremely irritating. The labor unions have a stronghold on all services in most of your larger trade show cities like Chicago, San Francisco and Las Vegas. We are forced to work with them and as a result, the service is generally horrible. I think most of us in the private sector would love it if our Clients had to work with us regardless of price, quality or service.

Now that my rant is done, the unions are part of trade-shows and I doubt anything will change this fact. That said, how do we prevent damage to our freight in transit and during the trade show’s material handling process? In this case, the display was very well packed for a one-way shipper. It was sitting well within the sides of the pallet. It was packaged with cardboard, shrinked and banded. In any normal shipping scenario, this should have arrived with no damage. The forklift operator’s comment is a reflection of the general attitude that seems to dominate the halls and our freight needs to reflect this.

In our opinion, about the only way to prevent damage to our trade show and event display booths and graphics is to build bullet-proof shipping crates. The cost to build high-quality crates is significant, but in the end worth the cost. Using high quality lumber, heavy gauge birch or veneered plywood, gluing and screwing everything together also helps. In the past to save our Client’s money, we’ve built “cheaper” crates using less-expensive materials and production techniques and inevitably the crates end up damaged and needing repair.

Protect your investment and build your crates to withstand a hurricane!