October 16, 2023
If you’re an event manager or producer who works with exhibitors, you know that union rules and jurisdictions can be confusing.
One of your jobs as an event manager is to help exhibitors navigate through the process and make the experience as smooth as possible for them.
There’s a lot to know.
This guide will be a great way for you to start getting acquainted with the world of exhibiting and union rules, so that you can help your exhibitors navigate through the experience. Your exhibitors will be looking to you to help them, so let’s start digging in!
There are commonly two options when it comes to shipping exhibitor material. They can be shipped to the advanced warehouse, or direct to onsite.
When items are shipped to the advanced warehouse, there’s typically get a 30 day window in which the items can arrive. Items can arrive anytime within that window during normal business hours. The items will be stored at the advanced warehouse and brought over to the venue during move-in times. The freight is delivered to the booth so that the exhibitor will have their freight in their booth when exhibitor move-in begins.
When items are shipped direct to show site, exhibitors will have a window in which their freight carrier needs to check in. Oftentimes an off-site marshaling yard is used. A marshaling yard is an offsite location where trucks check in and wait in order to avoid congestion at the venue site. Carriers check into the yard and wait there until its’s their turn to be called up to the loading dock at the venue. Wait times can vary.
It is important that exhibitors use carriers who are experienced in delivering show freight and anticipate the wait times. Some carriers will not wait, which means that exhibitor freight is turned away (and therefore incurring additional cost).
Smaller loads of material can also arrived in a POV (privately owned vehicle). If items are delivered in a POV, oftentimes they still need to check into the marshaling yard. I always recommend that exhibitors ship to the advanced warehouse if at all possible, for a few reasons.
As I said, when exhibitors ship to the advanced warehouse, freight will be delivered to their booth and available when they arrive. If the exhibitor is scheduling labor, they’ll know that they can schedule labor at any time that they would like. If shipping direct, they could incur unnecessary labor charges if the wait time at the marshaling yard is longer than anticipated. I’ve seen A LOT of exhibitors waiting around for materials that they need to move forward with building their booth, and it’s stressful for everyone.
When shipping direct, exhibitors may be penalized if you ship outside of their target delivery dates. Off-target charges can be steep. In addition, there are times you won’t be allowed to deliver off-target at all, which means that the freight can be turned away.
Let’s talk about an often confusing topic – material handling and associated special handling charges.
Material handling is the cost to receive the freight (this is different from the cost to actually ship the freight), move it to the booth, store the boxes during the show, return the boxes, and move the freight out of the venue. These charges are oftentimes a
surprise to newer exhibitors or international exhibitors, so it’s important to educate them.
Special handling is charged on freight that isn’t properly skidded/crated. If it can’t be easily moved on a forklift, it will incur these special handling charges, which can be quite costly.
By far the most common question I get asked is “Can I bring in and move my own fright? Labor rules vary from venue to venue, but the general guideline that an exhibitor may bring in what they can hand-carry in 1 trip without the use of a hand- truck or loading dock. All items brought in through the loading dock will incur material handling fees.
Again, labor rules vary from venue to venue, so it’s important that you are clear on what the union labor rules are for the event that you’re managing. For a lot of events, the general rule of thumb is that an exhibitor can set up their booth if it’s no larger than a 10×10, and exhibitors can set it up in 30 minutes or less without the use of tools or ladders. This work needs to be done by one full-time employee of the exhibiting company.
These union rules (and therefore surprise charges!) are oftentimes a huge hit to new or international exhibitors, so it’s very important to educate them.
It’s a good idea to remind your exhibitors time and time again of the union rules. Yes, it’s in the exhibitor service manual (ESM), but we know that there’s a lot of info in there, and our job is to simplify the mot important parts. I like to repeatedly let them know about both the material handling and Installation & dismantling union rules. Be proactive and avoid issues onsite.
There are other services that are exclusive (rigging and electrical, for example) and some that tend aren’t (for example, most events have a preferred AV vendor who is onsite, but it’s not an exclusive services.
Do your best to educate exhibitors to avoid as many issues as possible onsite, but be prepared to deal with challenges as they come up.
I recently had a few exhibitors who ignored the fact that the electrical vendor was exclusive despite being told numerous times. They ended up completing the electrical work themselves after-hours, and covering up the work inside of a structure with graphics on the outside. Because the electrical wasn’t verified and we couldn’t open the show with a potential fire hazard, I required that they do what they had to do to allow the electrical vendor to look inside and verify that the work had been completed safely. Unfortunately, this required that they cut their graphics so that they could open the structure. And in case you’re wondering, once we got in there, the electrical was found not to be safe and had to be redone, which cost them money.