What is Drayage? 5 Ways to Lower Your Trade Show Costs

Sarah Leung
March 31, 2016

Exhibitors expect to pay freight costs for shipping their booth materials to each and every trade show. What they may not be expecting is that once their exhibit arrives at the show, there are additional costs to unload and move it to the exhibit space––and to move it out after the show. These unexpected costs are called drayage, and they blindside many first-time, inexperienced exhibitors. In this primer, we’ll explain more about what drayage is, why it costs what it does, and some ways for you to reduce your drayage costs.

What is Drayage?

Some in the trade show industry joke that drayage involves charging the highest possible amount to move your freight the shortest possible distance. And while it is a funny way of looking at drayage, the fact of the matter is that the joke is not that far off the mark. Drayage is essentially the transport of goods over a short distance––in this case, between your carrier’s vehicle and your booth space. Many exhibitors actually do find that when they compare their shipping costs to get their exhibit to the show against the drayage costs associated with handling it at the show, their drayage costs are actually higher. So you might well ask, what is the deal with drayage? If the materials aren’t moving very far, why does it cost so much? The deal is that drayage costs are dependent upon a number of factors, including labor rates, how you pack and ship your freight, and the specifics of your booth itself. Let’s take a closer look at some of these factors, how they may impact your trade show costs, and how to save money in the end.

How to Lower Your Drayage Costs

1. Choose the right carrier.

Shipping with carriers that load your entire crated exhibit onto the floor rather than leaving it in pieces at the dock is less expensive than choosing a carrier that drops off a bunch of packages that then have to be moved by the drayage contractor. The trade-off is, of course, that shipping an entire exhibit in a crate may involve higher shipping costs to get to the show in the first place. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’re saving money on shipping if you’re going to lose whatever you saved and more on drayage.

2. Crate your freight.

The packaging you choose for shipping your booth matters a great deal when it comes to drayage. That is because palletized and crated exhibits are cheaper to move than pad-wrapped or mixed freight, as they can easily be moved with a forklift in a single trip. Obviously, the less time and effort the drayage company has to make to get your exhibit to the booth space, the less they will charge you. So, the take-away here is: palletize and crate your freight.

3. Watch your weight.

This may seem obvious, but the heavier your exhibit and materials, the higher the cost to handle them. Even if your exhibit is crated and palletized, the weight of your exhibit will impact not just your shipping costs, but also drayage at the show. The top piece of advice for cutting down on both costs is to reduce the weight of your freight. When looking at designs for your booth and determining what will be sent, consider the weight of everything you will be sending, and if it isn’t necessary, leave it at home.

4. Don’t be late.

It may go without saying, but in the world of trade shows, deadlines are important. Drayage companies may charge up to 35% of your total bill if your exhibit is delivered to the advance warehouse after the deadline, or if your driver misses your assigned check in time. In reality, this is up to the driver and shipping company and can be difficult to control, but you should take care to do what you can to ensure those deadlines aren’t missed.

5. Know your labor costs.

According to a recent survey, labor costs associated with drayage average more than $85 per hour nationwide for shipments to an advance warehouse, $76 per hour for shipments to the tradeshow floor, and $99 per hour for shipments requiring special handling. Investigate the specific costs for the show you will be attending and let this inform your decision about where your freight is to be shipped.

6. Cut down on collateral.

Paper is heavy, and one of the easiest ways to cut costs is to ship less of it to your show. The reality is that the majority of the time, booth visitors won’t take the time to review those materials anyway, and it is generally better to find a more proactive way to follow up with prospects. One method many trade show exhibitors are using to reduce the amount of collateral they ship and hand out is to email a PDF of the collateral to each interested party. The added bonus is that by asking for email addresses, you will be in the driver’s seat with any follow-up efforts.

7. Look for a package deal.

Sometimes, shows offer a deal on a drayage package that can be offered for exhibits that fit a certain profile (for instance, a 10x10 booth that doesn’t exceed a certain weight). Check your exhibitor manual to see if any drayage packages are being offered.

8. Watch your invoices and freight slips.

It is not uncommon for drayage companies to overcharge exhibitors, so watch your invoices and freight slips to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Keeping these tips in mind should help you control your drayage costs and prevent any nasty surprises at your next trade show. Do you have any tips for lowering drayage costs? We’d love to hear about them in the comments. We hope that answered your What is Drayage? question! For more tips on cutting trade show costs, check out our 3-part blog series on just that subject by clicking here for part 1.