Understanding Scale Tickets in Trade Show Shipping

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Budget

By Ernie Magalotti, President Legacy Logistics

I have been in the trade show industry for the past twenty-four years. It still surprises me that there is not a standard document accepted by trade show contractors to measure the actual weight of exhibit materials received at the advance warehouse or show site. After all, DRAYAGE, the number ONE concern of trade show managers, is assessed by actual weight.


Each trade show consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of exhibitors needing to transport freight from the shipping dock to the show floor. The show General Service Contractor (GSC) has developed a sophisticated system to coordinate these efforts. The cost associated with this system gets passed on to exhibitors in the form of drayage.
Drayage, or material handling, is the round-trip charge exhibitors pay to transport their shipment from the carrier’s truck to the event space. It also includes the return trip back to the carrier after the trade show. Some trade associations charge customers a flat fee to handle their freight. However, most show contractors assess this fee by looking at the ACTUAL WEIGHT of the shipment. Typically, drayage is calculated at a rate per hundred pounds of actual weight. In some instances, there are minimum charges instituted as well for smaller shipments. The show contractor publishes show drayage rates in the show kit. (10 Ways to Save on Drayage)


Weight assessment is a grey area in trade show shipping. Many times, the critical detail of actual weight is overlooked, and assumptions are made about the responsible party. Shippers, whether they are the exhibitor themselves, exhibit houses, or a third-party warehouse in many cases are not putting weights on shipping documents (Bill of Lading) and assume the responsibility resides with the carrier.

There is a misunderstanding that leaves exhibitors exposed to the weight deemed accurate by the show GSC. Commonly, the GSC will specify “certified weight tickets required” in the “shipping and receiving” section of the show kit. Due to this inclusion, many exhibitors assume scaling will be done every time by the carrier. As such, exhibitors may feel that they do not have to weigh the shipment since their carrier must scale anyway.

The truth is, however, that carriers are not required to weigh every shipment. Out of standard practice, carriers will likely weigh full and partial truckloads. However, smaller shipments are typically not scaled for delivery. If a question arose during an invoice audit, more than likely actual weights would not be available. Exhibitors would not have the documentation available to request a charge reversal.


  1. Document the Freight Weight Before Shipping. An ideal action step is to weigh the freight before shipment. Piece descriptions and weights are essential inclusion on a Bill of Lading (BOL) to minimize the potential for billing errors. A BOL is a legal document and should be completed accurately. It is in the best interest of the shipping party to properly weigh their freight and append that information to the BOL. The weights listed on the BOL is what the GSC will use to determine drayage, except for any freight re-weighed at the advance warehouse or show site.
  2. Ask Your Carrier. Not everyone has access to a calibrated scale. If you cannot weigh your trade show freight, find a trusted transportation partner that can obtain a scale ticket or weights for your shipment. A ticket from a certified scale will indicate the date, the weight of the shipment and the vehicle ID of the truck. Your carrier will need to scale light, pick up your freight, and then scale heavy to determine the precise weight of your shipment. Having a scale ticket will help exhibitors estimate drayage costs and determine the accuracy of the final show invoices.
  3. Consider Purchasing a Scale. Surprisingly, many exhibitors and exhibit houses do not possess a scale at their facility to weigh freight before shipping. As discussed, not having an accurate weight can significantly impact your ability to dispute drayage charges. A quality scale can cost approximately $500-$1500. This cost is minimal compared to what you could save when questionable charges appear on your invoice. After all, weight adjustments are one of the most commonly disputed adjustments in the trade show shipping industry.


Weight is most certainly a gray area with trade show shipping. Even with a certified scale ticket in hand before arriving at the show or advanced warehouse, the show decorators may require a reweigh using their own scales. We see this a lot with larger shows or events in major convention cities. The weight from these scales is what the decorator uses to calculate drayage costs. In the situation, it is still essential to documented shipment weight so you can adequately audit your drayage bill.


If possible, a drayage audit should be done at show site, as it is almost impossible to have charges reversed once the freight has left the show floor. Understand that even the show GSC can make mistakes. Take the time to review each line item on your invoice. In most cases, an in-person discussion with the service-desk staff will make a difference, especially if you have documentation to prove the invoice error. Once you depart from the show site, it can be challenging to reverse questionable charges.

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