Planning for a trade show is a complicated process, which can be made even more difficult by complex shipping guidelines, processes and procedures that vary by location and event. The two most common shipping methods to get your exhibit materials to the trade show floor on time are advance warehouse and direct-to-show shipping. Understanding the difference between these two options and the pros and cons for each can help you reduce costs and better navigate your show schedule this year.

What is an Advance Warehouse?

An advance warehouse provides exhibitors a place to ship event materials before the show to a location nearby. The show’s general service contractor manages the warehouse and it is usually located within 15 miles of the event facility. The advance warehouse will normally accept freight 2-4 weeks prior to the start of the show. The contractor is responsible for storage and transporting the freight to the event site at the start of the show. This has recently become the most popular of the trade show shipping methods.

Pros of advance warehouse shipping include:

  • Priority Move-in – your items are the first to be delivered to the show floor, helping reduce delays
  • Early access to exhibit materials on move-in day – your materials will be there waiting for you when you arrive
  • More time to set up the booth – spend less time waiting on delivery and more time setting up
  • Avoid marshalling yard wait times – helps reduce delivery timelines and additional costs
  • Delivery flexibility to the advance warehouse – delivery timelines are less strict, giving your team more options for delivery
  • Ability to schedule labor effectively – labor has an accurate window for setting up your space, instead of waiting on deliveries
  • Overall peace of mind – know your items have arrived safely before the event

Cons of advance warehouse shipping include:

  • The middleman – introduces another step in the planning and delivery process
  • Increased drayage/material handling rates – can increase overall event costs
  • Additional handling of exhibit materials – items can be lost or damaged by the general service contractor
  • Overtime charges if materials arrive late – deliveries that miss the warehouse shipping window will be charged additional handling fees
  • Some freight is ineligible – not all exhibit items can be shipped to the advance warehouse
  • Wait time for warehouse delivery– delays can occur, especially the week before the event
  • Reduced time to prepare materials – shipping 2-4 weeks before the event requires careful pre-event planning and no last-minute changes

Before scheduling your advance warehouse shipment, remember to review the exhibitor service manual. Identify the hours of operation at the warehouse and what freight they can accept. Many exhibitors are seeing the advantage to shipping early, so delivery wait times are increasing, especially the week before a large event. Give yourself extra time when planning shipment to the advance warehouse to reduce fees.

What is Direct-to-Show Site Shipping?

Unlike advance warehouse shipping, this option allows exhibitors to ship freight directly the show venue. The delivery must occur on the specific date and time determined by the shows general service contractor. Direct-to-show is still one of the most popular and requested trade show shipping methods.

Pros of direct show shipping include:

  • Greater control – keep track of your shipment every turn, with a specific delivery window scheduled at the event location
  • More time to prep exhibit materials – gives your team needs more time to create materials and plan your event exhibit
  • Reduced risk of damaged freight – less handling of freight and allows you to supervise loading and unloading
  • Less material handling charges – reduced rates from the general service contractor to transport your freight to and from the show floor
  • Accepts oversized and special materials – transport all materials at once on event move-in day
  • Minimizes risk of shipping to a show with a late cancellation – respond to changing requirements or cancellations by shipping items closer to the event

Cons of direct show shipping include:

  • Timing – increases chance of delivery delays impacting the show
  • Marshalling yards and increased driver wait times – waiting time charges add up when drivers wait at the event location
  • Lack of control when planning I&D labor – set up time is depending on the arrival of freight
  • Higher shipping costs – shorter shipping and delivery timelines can increase costs
  • Impact of labor and truck shortages – nationwide shipping delays can impact your timeline and increase cost

Which option is best for my show?

How do you choose which trade show shipping option is best for each event? The choice depends on the size of your shipment, event budget and timeline. Here are some things to consider:

Incentives for advance shipping:

Many shows incentivize advance warehouse shipping with reduced rates, making the cost to ship to the warehouse similar to direct-to-show shipping. Without incentives, this option can cost as much as 30% more than direct shipping, with drayage costs making up the highest increase in fee.

Changing labor costs:

Truck drivers are in high demand and rising freight shipping fees caused by the complex labor market has made advance warehouse shipping a more cost-effective option in many cases. High costs for freight transportation and wait times, especially during targeted move-ins for large events, are leading to higher fees when delivering directly to show sites during the delivery window.

Type of materials and timelines:

If you’re concerned about having materials ready in time for your upcoming show, advance warehouse shipping may not be the best option. Direct-to-show shipments provide the time needed to react accordingly for event cancellations and postponements. In addition, the advance warehouse will not accept all items. If you require special handling, are shipping expensive or fragile items, or require oversized items, direct-to-show shipping may be the best choice.

Combining shipping options:

One solution for event planners is a combination of direct-to-show and advance warehouse shipping. If you have items that won’t be ready until right before the event, but you want to save time and money by shipping the rest early, this may be your best choice. Shipping some items to the advanced warehouse, such as flooring and signage, helps ensure important items arrive first to make set-up easier.

Rental materials:

Due to the longer timeline, rented materials will accrue a higher cost which may offset the benefits of shipping to the advance warehouse.

Sending items late to the advance warehouse:

Most events will accept late items to the advance warehouse, even after the delivery period closes.  Delivery late to the advance warehouse is an option if your freight shipment is delayed or additional items are added at the last minute. However, you will be charged higher material handling rates and are not guaranteed to have your freight delivered first on move-in day. The items delivered to the warehouse first will be first to the showroom floor followed by items delivered late. This is a good option for smaller shipments under 1000 lbs. Even with an increase in drayage costs, this option may still be less expensive than last-minute deliveries to the event location, considering wait times, time specific surcharges, and weekend surcharges.

Still have questions?

At Legacy, we are proud to be your trusted resource for trade show and large event logistics. It’s our job to consider time and budget requirements when planning your event logistics and ensuring your trade show items arrive on time. Contact our team for more information on which trade show shipping methods are best for your next event.


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