An Overview of the Material Handling Agreement (MHA) in Trade Show Shipping

Good document handling can make or break a company’s annual trade show budget. That’s because protecting your most valuable trade show assets starts with ensuring you have the right paperwork at the right time. But when you have more than one show on the schedule and multiple locations to ship to, it can be hard to get your arms around what paperwork you need to have on hand, and how each document is used.  

Some of the most important items for trade show managers shipping materials throughout the country are a completed Bill of Lading, Delivery Receipt, and Material Handling Agreement. When exhibitors ship items to multiple shows, the freight will often change hands more than once along the way. Proper documentation is essential to protecting your trade show assets while they are out of your sight and limiting your liability. It’s important to have each document complete in the event of an emergency,  shipping delay, or questions during the shipping process. 


One of the most important documents is your Material Handling Agreement. This is completed at the end of each event to ensure that all exhibit materials are accounted for and ready to ship to the next destination.  

 What is a Material Handling Agreement?  

Simply put, a Material Handling Agreement(MHA) is a document that provides authorization for the show contractor to perform drayage service at the end of the show. It also releases responsibility from the general service contractor to your freight carrier of choice so that the materials can be shipped to the next show or planned storage. A carefully completed MHA document is essential to ensuring that all your freight is picked up by your carrier of choice and transported to the next destination.     

The end of a trade show is a busy time. Freight carriers are checking into the marshaling yard and waiting for the green light to move into the loading dock. At the same time, inside the event on the trade show floor, exhibitors and I&D companies are hard at work packing up the remaining event materials and exhibit items. This is also when exhibitors must carefully complete an MHA and turn it into the Event Service Desk. The MHA must be turned in before the waiting carrier can be added to the queue of drivers waiting for the loading dock to pick up the freight assigned to them.  

Here’s an important tip for event managers to keep your paperwork safe and secure while on-site. Take a digital photo of the signed MHA before you submit it to the Event Service Desk, and send the photo to your carrier via text or email. This provides the carrier with the information they need to prepare for docking. It’s also an important copy of the MHA that you have saved if it is misplaced or lost by show personnel.  

 Complete Your MHA Carefully Each Time 

 You are wrapping up a long show, heading out of town, and looking forward to a new destination or some much-deserved R&R. Before you close out the current show, however, it’s important to complete the MHA correctly and accurately. Here are some of the most important MHA sections to look for:  

From – In this section, exhibitors should indicate the company name, the name of the event attended, the convention site address, and the booth number(s).

-Ship To – This section describes the shipping destination. Here, exhibitors must provide information about where the freight is going after the show. In this section, exhibitors also need to designate their carrier. It is important to note that a unique MHA must be completed for each destination if your shipment will be broken up into more than one load.     

-Descriptions – Exhibitors should indicate the number of pieces to be shipped and packaging information, including the freight’s color, weight, and distinctive markings. This section should be completed as thoroughly as possible to help ensure the correct freight is loaded on the right truck.   

-Authorization if the Carrier Does Not Check in on Time– Next, exhibitors will determine the destination of their freight if the selected carrier does not check in on time. NOTE: Some shows will provide the option to return the exhibit materials back to the GSC’s warehouse to await pick-up by a specific carrier. As a result of COVID, however, many shows no longer offer this option. Instead, they use their own carriers to forward freight to its next destination – which could impact the cost!   

-Don’t forget to check the back – Exhibitors should be aware of the terms and conditions located on the back of the MHA. These terms describe liability limitations from the GSC and the carrier handling freight movement. Most shipping documents limit carrier liability.  

Once the carrier is approved to dock, the freight is loaded onto a trailer, and the carrier signs the MHA, confirming the piece count for the shipment. After the MHA is signed, the responsibility of the freight shifts to the carrier. Once the freight arrives at the exhibitor’s next destination, the receiving party will sign a delivery receipt and note the condition of the shipment. At this time, the responsibility of the freight shifts to this receiving party.  The receiving party can request a copy of the delivery receipt from their carrier.  If freight is moving to the advance warehouse of the next show, we strongly recommend exhibitors request a delivery receipt.  Having a copy of a delivery receipt is always important when moving to the advance warehouse.  

Don’t hesitate to contact our team if you have any questions about this document or any other shipping documents.  We are always ready to help exhibitors simplify their event shipping needs.   

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