drayage, loading docks at a convention center
Ever wonder why your trade show budget seems to balloon out of nowhere? One word: drayage. Understanding drayage is essential for a smooth and successful trade show experience. So, let’s break it down and see how Local Exhibits can help you navigate this critical element.


Drayage refers to the transportation of exhibit materials from the loading dock to the exhibitor’s booth within the trade show venue and back to the loading dock after the show.

Unlike cartage, which typically involves short distance hauling of goods between local warehouses and businesses, drayage specifically focuses on the internal logistics of moving exhibit materials within the confines of the trade show environment.


A couple examples of well-known drayage providers are Freeman and Global Experience Specialists (GES). Freeman coined the term ‘Material Handling’ because ‘drayage’ had become a “dirty” word among exhibitors. Drayage involves the general contractor taking ownership of the freight from the carrier at the advance warehouse or marshaling yard docks, delivering it to the booth, storing empty containers during the show, and returning them to the booth and docks for carrier pickup after the event.


It is not because your crates are stored in stale air trailers or slid on dirty floors or used as battle rams from unqualified forklift riggers, but it is because of the amount charged by the general service contractor, or GSC. The GSC typically charges by 100 lbs. increments and with a 200 lbs. minimum charge. Your 6 lbs. box is charged as a 200 lbs. minimum so depending on the show rate could cost you anywhere from $120 – $200. Additionally, expect a 30% surcharge for special handling.

What is Special Handling & Why a 30% Upcharge??

Special Handling applies to anything shipped to the advance warehouse or directly to the show that is not palletized or crated. Items shipped via air freight (e.g., FedEx, UPS) are automatically considered Special Handling. If you send four boxes of literature in separate shipments, you’ll pay the 200-pound minimum plus a 30% surcharge for each shipment. This markup covers the extra labor required to handle non-palletized items.


Cost Management: Drayage fees can be a significant part of your trade show budget. Understanding these fees allows you to allocate funds accurately, optimize costs by consolidating shipments and ensuring proper packaging, and leverage this knowledge to negotiate better rates with service providers.

Time Efficiency: Proper management of drayage services ensures the timely delivery and setup of your booth materials, aligning with the trade show’s move-in schedule. This prevents delays, avoids bottlenecks, and ensures your booth is ready when the event starts, maximizing your exposure and engagement.

Damage Prevention: Professional drayage services minimize the risk of damage to your exhibit materials during transportation within the venue. Trained professionals use specialized equipment to handle your materials carefully, and insurance coverage provides additional protection and peace of mind.


The drayage process involves a series of interconnected steps aimed at ensuring your freight is efficiently transported, stored, and managed throughout the event. Let’s explore the five key steps involved in the drayage process to gain a comprehensive understanding of its importance and execution.

Advanced Warehouse vs. Direct to Show-Site

Before the drayage process begins, exhibitors must make the decision to ship direct to show site or to the advance warehouse— this is a common struggle for exhibitors as they work to plan the logistics of their exhibit materials. Exhibitors should determine which option is right for their freight, timeline, and budget.

Advanced Warehouse

The advanced warehouse is an option for exhibitors to deliver their trade show booth and materials during the weeks leading up to an event. The show decorator accepts and stores freight at an offsite location, known as the advanced warehouse, up to 30 days prior to the start of the show.

Direct Shipment

Shipping direct to show site is an option in which exhibitors must deliver their freight to show venue during the dates and official target move-in times listed in the show kit. Move-in typically occurs in a short window right before the official show dates.

Drayage, Forklift Transporting Trade Show / Exhibit Materials to Storage Area Near Convention Center

STEP 1: Unloading Carriers and Completing Inbound Receiving Documents

Once the freight arrives at the venue, the carriers are directed to the designated unloading area where the freight is inspected for any damage and matched against the shipping documents. Any discrepancies are noted. Inbound receiving documents are completed to confirm that the shipment has arrived and is ready for the next step.


STEP 2: Delivery of Freight to the Exhibitor’s Booth from the Receiving Dock

The drayage team transports the freight from the receiving dock to the exhibitor’s assigned booth location on the show floor. The freight is placed in the booth according to the exhibitor’s specifications, and verification is made to ensure that all items have been delivered correctly.


STEP 3: Storage of Empty Crates and Extra Products On-Site or Close By

Once the exhibitor has unpacked their freight, empty crates and extra products are collected by the drayage team. These items are then stored in a designated on-site storage area or a nearby facility, ensuring they are easily accessible when needed after the show.


STEP 4: Transfer of Freight from the Booth Back to the Receiving Dock

At the end of the trade show, the exhibitor repacks their freight and labels it for outbound shipping. The drayage team collects the packed freight from the booth and transports it back to the receiving dock.


STEP 5: Reloading Carriers and Completing Outbound Shipping Documents

The freight is loaded onto the outbound carriers for transportation. Outbound shipping documents are completed, ensuring all necessary information is provided for the shipment to reach its destination. The carriers depart the venue, and the drayage process is complete.


Make sure to notify your exhibit house to ship your booth properties crated and, if needed, palletized, shrink-wrapped, and banded appropriately. This will not only ensure you aren’t hit with a special handling 30% upcharge for your booth properties but also minimize the risk of losing booth properties that were shipped loose from a secured crate or pallet. When shipping your products or marketing promotional items, minimize your shipment and consolidate your items on a pallet, shrink-wrapped and banded appropriately. 

If you can’t palletize your shipment, make sure to ship all the boxes at the same time and keep your tracking receipt to account for all your boxes at your booth space. This will also ensure your individual boxes are charged as a combined weight shipment, so you don’t receive a 200 lbs. minimum charge per box.


At Local Exhibits, we understand the complexities of drayage and are here to simplify the process for you.

Expert Guidance

Our knowledgeable team provides comprehensive support to help you understand and manage drayage services effectively. We explain the intricacies of drayage, including how fees are calculated and best practices for packaging and logistics. From pre-show planning to compliance and documentation, we ensure you are well-prepared and informed, minimizing the risk of delays or additional charges.


We coordinate with drayage providers to ensure your materials are handled efficiently and safely. Acting as the liaison between you and the drayage vendors, we manage scheduling, tracking, and on-site management of the material handling process. Our team oversees the unloading, transport, and setup of your exhibit materials, ensuring clear communication and a smooth, error-free process.

Cost Management

Our expertise helps you navigate drayage fees and optimize your budget. We provide tips on consolidating shipments and packaging methods to reduce handling fees and avoid surcharges. Leveraging our industry relationships, we negotiate better rates and potentially secure discounts. Additionally, we track all drayage-related expenses, providing detailed reports for transparency and control over your trade show budget.

Set Up Assistance

Once exhibit materials reach the booth space, our experienced team assists with the setup and breakdown of your booth, ensuring everything is assembled correctly and efficiently. We coordinate on-time delivery, provide technical support for elements like lighting and AV equipment, and adhere to your design specifications, making the setup process smooth and stress-free.

Problem Solving

Encounter a hiccup? Our team is on-site to address any issues that arise, from lost shipments to damaged materials. We act quickly to resolve problems, ensuring minimal disruption to your trade show experience. We also develop contingency plans to handle unexpected situations and assist with the breakdown and packing of your booth materials after the event. Our post-show follow-up helps identify areas for improvement for future events, ensuring a better experience every time.

By partnering with Local Exhibits, you can focus on what matters most—showcasing your brand and engaging with potential clients—while we handle the complexities of drayage and material handling. Let us simplify your trade show logistics and make your next event a seamless success.
Drayage might seem like a minor detail, but its impact on your trade show success is significant. By understanding how it works and following our tips, you can manage drayage effectively. Have questions about drayage or any other trade show topic? Connect with one of our exhibit experts today and let’s build something awesome together.