“ADVICE FROM THE BOOTH MOM®” BLOG #13: Exhibit Transportation Carriers

The Booth Mom’s Hot Buttons

Exhibit Transportation Carriers:

What does your Ad REALLY Say About You?

I was reading an advertisement placed by a trade show carrier in a trade show industry publication this week who purports to manage exhibitors’ small package freight.  I had to shake my head in disbelief. [See Small-Package Carrier Ad #1 below.]

Sadly, I felt the same way earlier this year at an industry conference when I read a van line’s “stuffer” in my attendee bag. [See Van Line Ad #2 below.] 

What’s going on in the heads of the marketers for specialized exhibit transportation carriers?

Well, I don’t know now naive the specialized exhibit transportation carriers think we exhibit managers are, but I’m wondering about the following statements, verbatim from these two carriers’ advertising:

[Ad #1] A line in the ad content that I read earlier this week states: “Experienced trade show logistics team and guaranteed services*.”  [You didn’t miss that asterisk, did you?]  Now, if you get out your magnifying glass to read the very, very, very fine print that I’d guess to be about a 4-point font — the asterisked bottom line of the the ad says “*For inbound trade show shipments only.  See XXX Freight Tariff and Terms and conditions at XXX.com”. OK, so I contract your trucking services to get my small-package freight INTO the show.  Now, help me out here. Exactly HOW would you suggest I get all my freight back to its origin if you only manage inbound trade show shipments?  And why would any exhibit manager in their right mind want to work with two different transportation carriers just because this carrier has selected to market to an industry that their business model doesn’t fit?  Is there a benefit so great to me that I’d actually contract with two carriers — one for the “in” and one for the “out”? Read on…

So let’s take this small-package carrier’s service model a step further in how it “benefits” us. Since your small package freight doesn’t come with a bill of lading (B/L) that is recognized by the General Services Contractor (GSC), do you really want to pay a 200-pound, or even a 300-pound material handling minimum (at about a dollar a pound, based on current average material handling rates) on each and every box? Because as the truck is unloaded at the special small-package dock at the show, my shipment (that didn’t come with a bill of lading) has to be weighted and have paperwork written up by the GSC to charge this minimum for each and every individual package in my shipment. (With three separate 62-pound boxes coming in on a 200-pound minimum, I would be charged for 600 pounds at a dollar a pound or roughly $600 just in material handling, not even shipping!)  Any savings I might have gleaned by using my company’s corporate discount to ship with this well-known small package carrier, I’ve more than lost by paying multiple material handling minimums to the GSC because the carrier doesn’t provide usable bills of lading that keep our shipment together.

And then there’s that pesky detail of having to hire a different carrier to get your freight back home after the show…

[Ad #2] Now let’s go back to the bag-stuffer advertisement from a major van line that set off my hot button this past Spring. If advertising is supposed to make you feel warm and fuzzy –and understand the benefit of using the services of the company advertising – why would you lead with a statement that basically translates as: “We’re planning to fail in delivering the services we promised, but will cut you a deal when we do!

Specifically, the ad’s headline read: “Shipments arrive on time, every time, guaranteed”. So far, so good, until you turn over the ad and read the following: “With ZZZ’s on-time, day-specific delivery guarantee, you will receive your shipment when we promise, or we will refund 25% of the line haul transportation.”  Did you notice that phrase “when we promise”, not “when you ordered”?  Hm… I’d be checking my shipment confirmation to see what kind of window of time they did promise!

So, what’s the downside of using this van line’s services?  Well, they’ve already told me that even if my shipment doesn’t get to the show when I’ve ordered it delivered, that they’ll still charge me for failing to live up to our contract of carriage, but out of the generosity of their itty-bitty heart, I will receive a 25% discount on part of my bill. [More on this later…see more **’s below.] That discount isn’t going to mean squat to make my client/employer happy when 1) my carrier missed my targeted inbound date/time and I have to pay the GSC a material handling penalty for missing it, 2) my truck (and time-critical show freight) go to the end of the line in the marshaling yard to wait because my carrier missed my targeted inbound check-in, and 3) if they don’t unload that day, I could even have an extra overnight “wait time” charge to pay for the driver and equipment.  Oh, and don’t forget about 4): that I & D labor crew I had scheduled. I’ll have to pay my labor crew either for dead time waiting for my freight to arrive, or pay their “mini” (multiple-hour minimum) and send them home, or pay a crew overtime to try to catch up to be ready for the show to open since my carrier threw me a day behind.

[And here come the two **‘s I mentioned above]: Don’t forget that the **line haul that’s discounted by 25% is only a portion of the freight bill and doesn’t include any of the ancillary equipment charges, fuel surcharges, wait time, extra pick-ups and deliveries, etc. that they won’t discount.

Does this carrier even remotely comprehend the time that goes into planning a show’s set-up schedule, how bad the exhibitor looks with an empty booth space, and the lost opportunity cost if the van line decides that it’s cheaper not to bother to deliver on time and pay their 25% discount than it is to show up when ordered?  And yes, I’ve known it to happen,because sometimes it’s cheaper for them to be late than deliver on time, based on available equipment and drivers.

So now I’ll ask you the tough question:  Do you know what your carrier’s policy is on on-time deliveries?  Do you know who to call if your carrier doesn’t show up when you’ve ordered them to deliver to the advance warehouse or check in at the marshaling yard?  Will they show up on time to pick up your outbound freight before your freight’s forced back to the GSC’s warehouse and held for ransom?

Regardless of what type of carrier you use — small package, expedited/airfreight, van line or common carrier, know their policies and what they guarantee. Then look at the fine print in their guarantee and decide if it works with YOUR business model.

Remember, the large print giveth, and the fine print taketh away!!


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